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by GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003 at 8:37 PM
SCABS OF NEW YORK...rat contractors, company unions and the decline of union labor in the Manhattan residential construction sector
SCABS OF NEW YORK...rat contractors, company unions and the decline of union labor in the Manhattan residential construction sector
By Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter
On Thursday, October 16th, Scabby the Rat took over the street in front of the Hampton Inn on the corner of 6th Avenue and West 24st Street. This was all in a day's work for Scabby, since he's a regular at New York building trades picketlines, of course.
The big guy is just a little bit "mobility impared" (which is really not that surprising, since he's a 15 foot tall inflatable rat) he needed a little help from about 500 of his friends (union construction workers just come from work) to block the sidewalks
Why were Scabby and his buddies so pissed off at the discount hotel chain?
Simple...they're currently building 6 hirise hotels around Manhattan..
And all of them are being built under substandard conditions.
Those jobs are still in the concrete work phase, and Flintlock, Hampton's general contractor for this project, and concrete subcontractor IBK Construction are, kindasorta, working under a union agreement.
Problem is, it's NOT a building trades agreement..
They have a contract with a bogus Brooklyn-based "labor organization" called Local 98 of the National Organization of Industrial Trade Unions, instead of allowing their concrete workers to be represented by the building trades unions with jurisdiction over hirise concrete work; the New York District Council of Carpenters (NYDCofC), Lathers local 46, Cement Masons Local 780 and the Concrete Workers District Council of the Laborers Union.
Needless to say, the wages, benefits and jurisdictional work rules that would normally apply are not being provided by Local 98, NOITU.
That's why the NYC Building Trades Council called for a rally on 6th Avenue and West 31st Street, the site of one of the scab-built Hampton Inns.
About 2,000 construction workers showed up for the 2:30 PM rally. That's very small for a New York City Building Trades rally, (usually, attendance is 40,000+) but, that might have been because, typically, our rallies are at lunchtime, and this was at the end of the day.
Actually, the cops, and Flintlock, had expected a noon rally, and had shut down the job on West 31st. earlier in the day.
That's why, about a half-hour into the event, a contingent of workers was directed to march down to West 24th, where there is an occupied Hampton Inn (which, ironically enough, was actually union-built). About 500 workers were sent down to that site (Scabby was already inflated and in position when we got there).
Now, it used to be pretty damned unusual to see a hirise construction project in Downtown Manhattan being built under non union conditions... Lately, it's become more and more common, even in a part of town that used to be 100% union.
The Building Trades still control about 80% of the commercial construction market in this town.
However, that side of the construction market is in a long term decline.
New York has long had a chronic surplus of office space, with many buildings having substantial vacancies, especially in the Financial District. Many of those buildings, like 40 Wall Street, have actually been converted into luxury residential apartments.
Since September 11th, things have gotten worse.. FEMA, as well as many of the major insurance carriers, have advised many financial service firms to disperse as many offices out of Manhattan as possible, to prevent any future terrorist attack from paralyzing America's entire financial sector.
Some firms have moved out to Long Island or to nearby places like Downtown Brooklyn, Mamaroneck, Jersey City and many locations across New Jersey...and some have gone as far afield as Wilmington, Delaware, Stamford, Connecticut and even the Midwest.
This is not good news for the NYC Building Trades..ever since we lost control of most of the residential construction market here 30 years ago, building those offices was our bread and butter work.
And, as I will explained below, we are losing more and more control of residential construction every day.
The Downtown Manhattan residential renovation market is overwhelmingly scab..and, besides luxury hirises, new construction is dominated by the non union contractor as well.
And, once you go across 110th St to Upper Manhattan, or across the river to the outer boroughs, forgetaboutit, most residential structures, and even a lot of schools and commercial buildings, are being built by non union labor..or, by workers "represented" by substandard "unions" like the NOITU.
Even in Downtown Manhattan, things are getting scabbier and scabbier by the day....
Flintlock even built a 100% non union hirise office building last year, on 6th Avenue and 19th St.
There's a public high school that's being built 100% non union on the Upper East Side at E 76th St...one of many rat jobs being done for the NYC School Construction Authority, a state entity who gos out of their way to use as few union contractors as possible.
The New York City Housing Authority is even worse....they do all their work with rat contractors, and currently just about 100% of their exterior waterproofing and interior painting and renovation work is done by non union contractors.
The Dormatory Authority, New York State, which builds the city and state's public colleges as well as their jails and prisons, are almost as bad..they are ideologically committed to doing as much of their construction non union as possible...outside the city, they're almost entirely non union..down here, they go with rat contractors whenever and wherever they can do so.
Downtown Manhattan neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Turtle Bay, the East Village, the West Village, the Lower East Side, Chinatown and SoHo are dotted with scab residential and light commercial jobs. Mostly luxury apartment and brownstone renovation or construction of small stores..but, there are some big jobs too...
For instance, one of the Hampton Inn's non union jobs, also being worked on by Flintlock and IBK, is right on Hudson Street in SoHo, just across from a 100% union job being done by Gotham..and just blocks away from the headquarters of the NYDCofC.
There's even a scab job near Ground Zero..the strip of small apartment buildings on Liberty and Church, just south of where 4 WTC used to be, is being renovated by a scab GC, Riser Construction.
You'd think...with all the blood, sweat and tears that the New York unionized building trades shed at the World Trade Center site...we could at least have the renovation of that area be 100% union...
But, considering the fact that the cleanup wasn't even 100% union (there was an army of non union illegal immigrant day laborers doing apartment and office decontamination, alongside the unionized building trades in the pit)..it's really not that surprising that some of the rebuilding has gone scab....
Even the protective sidewalk scaffolding around a lot of these jobsites is mostly done by scabs..and, until just a few years ago, that work was almost 100% union. But today, that work is dominated by formerly unionized companies like Rockledge and Colgate, and companies that were never union, like Lally and B Construction, Hi-Tech Bridging, Perimiter Scaffolding and All State Scaffolding.
There's been a lot of residential development in Downtown Brooklyn, and in other neighborhoods that are close to Lower Manhattan, like Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Heights, Vinegar Hill/Farragut, Fort Greene ect. Also, Orthodox Jewish developers have been building up apartment buildings and multifamily houses in Williamsburgh and Crown Heights for the last few years as well.
In Central Brooklyn, the city has been using Davis Bacon funding from HUD to build low income apartment houses as well as attached single family homes for middle income first time homeowners.
Almost all of the single family, brownstone and lowrise construction and renovation is non union..and even some of the hirise development as well. The big hirises going up on Flatbush Avenue and out in Coney Island are union..but most of the rest of the residential work in that borough is not.
The same situation prevails in the Bronx, where HUD financed residential development is overwhelmingly being done by non union contractors.
Residential construction in Queens has also been dominated by the rat contractors.
And let's not forget Staten Island... There is a massive building boom in that borough... 70,000 people have moved there in the past decade, with tens of thousands to follow, and there are thousands of detatched single family houses being built, as well as hundreds of townhouses and multi family dwellings.
And every single one of those houses is being built non union, mostly by Mexican immigrant carpenters being paid $ 80/day.
The irony is, a hell of a lot of unionized tradespeople actually live in Staten Island.
But, damned few of them work there...
They get on the ferry and go to work on commercial jobs in Manhattan, as all those new houses in their borough are being constructed by a completely non union workforce.
Besides Staten Island, there are few places in New York City that see as much non union work as Harlem.
There's been a massive building boom up here for the past few years.
The City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Housing Development Corporation have been using Federal HUD funds to develop luxury housing.
There's big time private money involved here too...a broad spectrum of bankers have a piece of this market, from major Wall Street money center banks like Citibank and JPMorgan Chase, to out of town-based sub prime market mortgage bankers like M & T, Washington Mutual and Fleet and even Black-owned banks like Carver Federal Savings and Banque de l'Habitat du Senegal.
Ironically enough, those funds were actually intended to build LOW INCOME housing for longtime Harlem residents..but, instead the monies are being used to build appartments for rich people who are moving into the area, displacing the community's current working class population...a process known as Gentrification.
The bulk of this development has been concentrated along Fredrick Douglass Boulevard, from 110th St (where the largely White and affluent Upper West Side turns into predominantly Black and Latin and poor Harlem) up to 148th St.
The luxury buildings going up on W. 145th and Bradhurst and W. 135th and Fredrick Douglass are being built by union labor..but, those are just about the only union residential developments in the neighborhood.
Besides the men and women on those two projects, the great majority of the workers who are building these luxury apartments are being paid poverty level wages..around $ 80 a day for skilled carpenters, bricklayers, painters and plumbers and $ 40 a day for laborers and helpers.
Back in May, the Organizing Department of the NYDCofC had an NLRB election victory at one of the General Contractors doing this work, a firm called Gaetano & Associates Construction.
Gaetano is currently building the Gateway To Harlem project, several buildings clustered around West 115th Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd..
This union representation victory, one of the biggest in recent memory, was written about both in the NYDCofC's quarterly newsmagazine "The Carpenter" and in the Harlem-based Black newspaper The New York Amsterdam News.
However....Gaetano may have been turned, and signed to the NYDCofC's Independent Building Construction Agreement...but the rest of the market they work in remains non union.
Just a few blocks away from the Gateway to Harlem site, non union GC Strategic Construction, and their rat steelwork sub Metro Structural Steel, are building several large steel framed apartment buildings.
And they're not the only non union contractors at work in the neighborhood, there are many many others; Artimus, Vertex Restoration, L & M Builders, Central Development Corp., Pythagoras, BFC, Transcorp, Nativo, Novalex, Mega Contracting and J.F. Contracting all are building HUD financed luxury apartment houses around the neighborhood.
And it's not just the residential sector around here that's scab dominated...even the public school work here is open shop. For instance, all of the work for "Field of Dreams"..a federally financed program to equip schoolyards with astroturf....is being done by non union concrete contractors like Advance Builders.
Bottom line, in this overwhelmingly open shop non union environment, where contractors only pay $ 80 a day for an 8 hour day, now that Gaetano is union, and, on paper, has to pay $ 271.46 in wages and $ 184.17 in benefits per day (a total of $ 455.63 for a 7 hour day), it's hard to imagine Gaetano paying union scale and sucessfully underbidding these other guys.
What's more likely is one of two things...
Gaetano will be systematically underbid by it 's competitors who've remained non union, and will eventually leave the residential construction market, or go bankrupt.
Gaetano will stay in the game..by paying their workers non union wages under the table....
That's the folly of one-contractor-at-a-time organizing..
But, the broader question remains..how did all this work go non union in the first place?
Up until the 1960's, all this work was union..why did it all go rat?
It all started back in the 1970's, with something called "Lumping".
That meant union contractors who would pay some of their carpenters a lump sum for doing a particular amount of work, rather than paying union wages and benefits for hours actually worked. It's a form of piecework, and way of paying non union pay for union work.
And, the union let certain contractors get away with it.. As it happened, those companies were usually outfits that allegedly had some kind of mob ties, or those that allegedly paid bribes.
Allegedly, one of the worst offenders was a residential sheetrock contractor called Inner City Drywall, owned by Vinny Di Napoli, who did a lot of work in Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn.
Inner City could make lower bids than their competitors because they were not actually paying union scale, and soon came to dominate the market. Other contractors got in the mix, and started playing the lumping game, including, allegedly, drywall and concrete contractor P & M Sorbara.
Gambino Crime Family underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano also praticed lumping on the jobs run by his companies as well...and he wasn't the only mobster in the mix.
At the time, most of the major drywall jobs in the city were distributed by something called the "wheel", a bid rigging conspiracy run by the mob. Contractors who were "connected", like Gravano, would be allowed to be the low bidder on jobs, and then would have lumpers do the work, and bill as if they paid union scale.
A similar scam existed in concrete work..it was called the "concrete club" and, allegedly, it was run by one Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, the owner of S & A Concrete..and reputed underboss of the Genovese Crime Family. These companies also frequently billed as if they paid union scale..and actually paid their workers much less.
The NYDCofC tolerated this state of affairs for years...allegedly because some officials of the union took bribes to look the other way...and, allegedly, some BAs actually served as go betweens for the contractors rigging the bids on these jobs.
Other construction unions also let this go on..in particular the Mason Tenders District Council and Concrete Workers District Council of the Laborers Union. Officers of those unions at the time were, allegedly, also involved in taking bribes to tolerate these abuses.
The unions also helped lumping and cash work go on by tolerating out of work list abuses. Contractors were allowed to run crews that were almost entirely composed of company men, with few if any workers sent from the out of work lists to those jobs.
Naturally, if a worker is totally dependent on a contractor for steady work, and working through the union means long periods of unemployment, that worker is going to do what he/she has to do to keep that job.
Even if it means lumping or working for cash.
This situation, where union contractors were paying non union wages, was at it's worst in residential construction..so, big surprise, that whole sector ended up going almost totally non union...except for new construction of luxury hirise apartment buildings.
Outside of the hirise sector, companies that were outright non union displaced those who were nominally union but used lumpers.
Even in the luxury hirise sector, there were contractors who, on paper, were union, but who, in pratice, paid cash to their carpenters and laborers. The cash wages, of course, were lower than union rates, and no benefits were paid. Those firms got a competitive advantage over those who paid scale, and, naturally, became the dominant contractors that did concrete and drywall work on those jobs.
This cash activity spread beyond drywall and concrete work on hirise luxury apartment house jobs, and even seeped into some sectors of office interior construction, in particular, office furniture installation. The hotel construction sector also began to see cash drywall jobs. There was also some cash activity on Davis Bacon jobs for the city and state as well.
I've written about this whole pathetic story at length on GANGBOX before, at :
Ultimately, the bankers and developers who pay to put these buildings up got wind of all this, and called in the feds. State and City investigators got involved as well..
They were NOT concerned about the underpaid construction workers, of course.
They cared about rich people paying union scale prices while contractors paid non union wages.
Basically, the bankers and developers wanted to profit from lower building trades wages..instead of those superprofits going into the pockets of the contractors and the gangsters. Since these same bankers and developers control the government, the federal, state and city law enforcement agencies, naturally, focused on helping the moneymen get control of those profits.
It took a long time, over two decades, for the police and the prosecutors to have an impact, but, over the years, a number of contractors, union officials and gangsters have actually been locked up.
As the anti racketeering efforts of law enforcement got more persistant and more effective, there have been changes in the form of construction industry labor racketeering as well...for example, the open gangsterism of the "wheel" and the "concrete club" of the 1980s gave way to contractors secretly paying cash in the 1990s.
Today, due to the high level of federal monitoring in the New York construction industry, and the fact that court monitors have made unions enforce their out of work list rules, it's become more and more difficult for contractors to pay non union wages on union jobs.
Remember, if a contractor has an all company man crew, those workers are more likely to tolerate abuses than a crew where 50% or more of the workers come from the hall.
This has created a situation where contractors who want to pay non union wages have to be..openly non union..or, have sweetheart contracts with dubious "labor organizations" like the NOITU. Also, developers who want low cost contracting have to go the scab route, since it has become extremely difficult for union contractors to make low bids by paying cash to their workers.
Of course, all those years of lumping, cash work and hiring hall abuses created a large pool of non union contractors experienced in residential construction.
And, a large pool of union tradespeople who have to go the scab route to get steady work, since you cannot depend on the out of work list for steady work.
And, another, even larger, pool of completely non union tradespeople who worked on these jobs.
Now, beyond the protests and Scabby the Rat, what have the unions, in particular the NYDCofC, actually done to change this situation?
Well, our District Council does have a very large Organizing Department, which was set up after our council was taken into trusteeship by the international union in 1996..and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America as a whole has 700+ organizers on the payroll.
And those folks are a very dedicated group of people, who really passionately belive in organizing the unorganized (or, to use the union's rather graphic official slogan, "Organize Or Die").
But...sometimes dedication and heart aren't enough..
The fact is, there are some very serious strategic problems.
Like the fact that, nationally, most Carpenters Union organizing is based on signing concessionary agreements with rat contractors.
And our organizing department has tried that same approach here...
For example, with the renovation contractors up in Harlem.
Back in 1996, one of the first initiatives of the Organizing Department was to approach these companies, and offer a wage scale that was 30% less than that earned by other carpenters.
This type of deal is very common in the Carpenters Union these days..in other parts of the country, it's called a "residential scale"..and allows union contractors to legally pay a substandard wage on any job connectied with housing.
But, since these contractors paid wage scales that were far below union scale, even the 70% scale was still too big a wage increase.
Also, this concessionary organizing drive lacked any kind of mass movement from workers on the ground to back it up, such as, for instance, a strike. So, the contractors were able to turn the deal down flat.
A similar approach was tried in the scaffolding industry..which had been, until just a few years earlier, an almost completely unionized sector.
But, then Colgate and Rockledge ripped up their union agreements with the NYDCofC, Laborers local 731 and Teamsters local 282. And, allegedly, Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting remained union on paper, but, reportedly, they began paying it's carpenters cash...$ 25/hr plus "profit sharing" instead of union scale and benefits.
The NYDCofC's answer to this?
A substandard wage for scaffold carpenters.
The scaffold carpenters were exiled out of the building construction locals, and annexed into Timbermen's local 1536, a sewer and excavation carpenters local union. That local makes less money than the building construction locals do..and, the scaffold carpenters (now known as "1536B" because they were the "B" division of local 1536) would make 30% less than regular timberman scale.
The scaffold contractors were also allowed to field all company man crews, with no more requirement that 50% of the crew be hired from the hall. The companies also now were allowed to have "area stewards", rather than a shop steward on every job.
The problem was, that deal just rewarded Regional for it's alleged cash activity..and, it didn't bring Rockledge or Colgate back.
Which opened the floodgates for contractors who were never union to come into the scaffold industry; Lally and B Construction, Hi-Tech Bridging, All State Scaffolding, Perimiter Scaffolding ect.
And set a precedent for multiple wage rates for union carpenters, instead of all of us getting the same scale.
Thanks in part to that precedent, we now have a situation where interior work carpenters make $ 38.78/hr, heavy construction carpenters make $ 37.70/hr, carpenters on concrete jobs only make $ 36.13/hr in the 5 boroughs and $ 35.99 on Long Island, and timbermen and scaffold carpenters only make $ 34.47. Also, woodwork contractors are allowed to use $ 23.00/hr cabinetmakers on outside jobs, in place of $ 38.78/hr building construction carpenters.
Since the failed Harlem renovation and scaffold industry organizing campaigns, the NYDCofC claims to have signed up over 600 contractors, and recruited over 2,000 carpenters to the union.
Of course, many of those 600 companies are newly incorporated businesses, or out of town firms, seeking to compete in the 80% unionized commercial construction market.
And, as for the 2,000 newly organized brothers and sisters...well, for the last couple of years, there's always been about 2,000+ carpenters on the out of work list, even at the hight of the season.
Which means that there's just more carpenters chasing after the same number of jobs.
Which is typical nationally..the Carpenters Union has a policy these days across the country of having more members than their are jobs..this enables the contractors to pick and choose who they want to hire, discriminate freely against workers they don't like, and guarantees that, no matter how busy the local construction market is, there's always plenty of desperate hungry carpenters begging for a job.
Those kind of conditions pretty much guarantee that there will be abuses on the jobs..and, it's not surprising that quite a few "non union" carpenters on thos scab jobs are actually union members, working for rat contractors because they couldn't keep waiting on the out of work list.
Recently, as I mentioned above, the NYDCofC was able to unionize one of the General Contractors working in Harlem, Gaetano & Associates Construction. But, in a market that's overwhelmingly non union, with $ 80 a day pay scales that are low even by scab standards, signing up Gaetano may simply result in the company being priced out of the Harlem residential construction market.
Now, these problems are NOT because the staff of the NYDCofC Organizing Department are bad people.
Far from it, they are a dedicated, hard working and really committed group of brothers.
No, it's not the people..it's the system.
The problem is business unionism.
Business unionism is a system where union leaders serve as middle men between the bosses and the workers...they protect the workers from abuses from management..and keep a lid on worker boss conflict for the contractors. Business unionists basically belive in the capitalistic system, and call for the idea of "partnership" between contractors and tradespeople.
Here in New York, and in other major cities in this country, business unionists in the building trades praticed a type of business unionism that I call gangster unionism.
That is, they allowed contractors who paid bribes and/or were connected with the Mafia to violate the contract..while strictly enforcing the contract for firms that were not affiliated with organized crime. This led to the mobbed up firms having a competitive advantage over their rivals.
Because union corruption helped the mobbed up contractors, they had an incentive to stay union...and, at least some of the time, to pay union wages to part of their workforce. And, of course, for the scam to work, the union had to strictly enforce the agreement with the non Mafia-connected companies..which meant that everybody on those jobs got scale and benefits.
There was a time, long ago, when, business unionists were able to achieve real economic gains for some workers by striking a careful balance between "partnership" and class struggle with the contractors.
These days...that system has a harder time delivering the goods for any workers.
Much of the business is openly non union.
And, now with the feds making it harder and harder for dirty contractors to pay cash..we may see more and more sectors of the business going openly non union.
The only answer business unionism has for this is to make deeper and deeper concessions to "our good union contractors"...
And it can get worse..almost every other District Council and Regional Council in the Carpenters Union have abandoned mandatory hiring from the out of work list, allow contractors to let company men go from job to job while local carpenters sit on the list ("portability"), have imposed lower pay and inferior benefits for carpenters on residential work, and have even allowed carpenters to be paid by the piece instead of by the hour (this is especially true for sheetrockers).
Reportedly, in Las Vegas, there are some union carpenters who actually make lower wages than non union carpenters do!
Is their another way?
Do carpenters have an alternative to reunionizing our craft?
Are we doomed to a race to the bottom with the non union?
I don't think it has to be that way....
I belive there is a possiblity..I think there might be another way out.
That way is revolutionary unionism.
I've talked about revolutionary unionism on the GANGBOX website before, at :
and on the GANGBOX listserv, at:
Basically, revolutionary unionism is a system that recognizes the fundamental conflict of interest between workers and bosses under the capitalistic system.
The core of that conflict is a simple fact...our labor makes them rich..and we get paid less than the full value of what we produce. For example, on a hardware installation job, the contractor bills the client $ 250 an hour for carpenter labor..but the carpenter only gets $ 65.09 in wages and benefits.
In other types of work, the difference between what the worker creates and what the bosses pocket is even bigger..for instance, in concrete work, carpenters generate about $ 5,000 a day worth of production..but only recieve $ 455.63 in wages and benefits.
Another, even more extreme, example of that was out in Seattle, when Turner Construction built the new Seahawks Stadium. By their own estimate, after paying wages, benefits, and all other costs, Turner made over $ 19,000 in profit per month off of every carpenter, laborer, ironworker and cement mason on that job.
And, of course, for those carpenters who are lumpers or work for cash...the profit margin is even higher.
For instance, just imagine the amount of profit generated by those $ 80 a day carpenters and $ 40 a day laborers who built the $ 42.5 million dollar luxury apartment complex just completed on West 148th St and Fredrick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.
The wealth of New York real estate is built on our backs....and others are getting rich while we struggle to pay the bills....it's just that simple.
A revolutionary unionist Carpenters Union would recognise that fact..and realise that, as long as we live under a capitalistic system, there will be a basic conflict between those that do the work, and those that get to keep the profits.
When it comes to organizing the residential construction carpenter, a revolutionary unionist Carpenters Union would use the trade movement method to reunionize that sector.
That is, organizing an area-wide strike of every non union carpenter in the city, which would force all the rat contractors to sign up at the same time. If contractors tried to use scabs to keep their jobs going, then large flying squads of striking carpenters would visit those jobsites,and 'persuade' the scabs to pick up their tools and leave the site....
This method of organizing has been tried before.
In fact, that's how the anarchists, communists and socialists who originally built the Carpenters Union back in the 1800's were able to establish our union in the first place.
And those tactics still work today.
For instance, those were the type of tactics that the Coalitions used to wage the struggle to racially integrate our industry during the 1960's, 70's, 80's and 90's.
The NYDCofC itself, as well as other New York construction unions, used trade movement-style tactics ("wrecking crews" composed of large groups of union tradespeople sent to invade and destroy scab jobs) to keep the non union contractors out of commercial construction during those same years.
And, out in Los Angeles, that was how the residential sheetrockers were able to win the big drywall strike back in 1991.
We could definitely use similar tactics to reorganize our business here in New York...
We could organize a city wide strike of all the non union carpenters on all the scab residential construction jobs in the city..luxury housing in Harlem, single family houses in Staten Island, moderate income apartment buildings in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, HUD subsidized tenement renovations in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, loft and brownstone renovations in Downtown Manhattan and Park Slope, Brooklyn..in other words, take on the whole market at one time.
That would also be a good time to organize the carpenters on non union Davis Bacon jobs for the Dormatory Authority, State of New York, the School Construction Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the NYC Housing Authority.
The key would be to pull out everybody at the same time, so the whole market gets turned around at once.
I've written about that style of organizing on GANGBOX before, at :
Of course..the biggest problem that happened with the Los Angeles drywall strike was that they got sold down the river when the Los Angeles District Council of Carpenters leadership (run by Douglass J. "Cash" McCarron, our current General President).
The strikers, almost all of whom were Mexican, got signed to a substandard piecerate contract, with a far lower pay scale than the predominatly White commercial carpenters. And, the ["chiefs"] the carpenter leadmen who'd led the strike, were rigidly excluded from any kind of leadership position in the union..because they posed a threat to McCarron's machine...
This shows us that business unionism, while they can, in some cases, lead that kind of strike, are going to end up betraying the workers to the contractors.
So, this shows us that we need a whole different type of union structure to lead this kind of struggle.
We need a union run by member activists, and accountable to the men and women on the jobsites, rather than the current bureacratic system, where the members are forced to submit to the dictates of the union leadership.
In a revolutionary Carpenters Union, all political power would come from the membership, as represented by rank and file delegates.
I would propose that the District Council be run by a Council of Delegates, which would be elected by a one member one vote ballot, and would be composed of rank and file carpenters with at least 5 years in the business who are currently on their tools. They would be given paid release time for all the hours they actualy spent doing union work, and would remain on the job the rest of the time.
These delegates would be elected to a single, 3 year, non re electable term of office, and then would have to return to their tools for at least 3 years before running for office again.
This would be totally different from the current Delegate Body of the NYDCofC, which is composed, for the most part, of BAs, local union officers, union staff and even foremen. This Council of Delegates would be a rank and file-based body, that would serve as the main legislative and executive body of the union.
The Council of Delegates would decide on all union expenditures, make all policy decisions, conduct collective bargaining with the contractors, and supervise the work of all union committees, officers, BA's and staff.
There would still be union officers and BAs, but they would be subordinate to the Council of Delegates. If there was a question of corruption or incompetence, the Council of Delegates would have the authority to impeach a BA or officer.
Those officers would also be elected to 3 year, non re electable terms, would earn a salary equivilant to what a journeylevel carpenter would earn from a year of 35 hour weeks, and, upon completion of their term of office, would have to return to the tools for a minimum of 3 years before they'd be eligible to run for any other elected union office.
Besides the officers and BA's, the Council of Delegates would also be assisted by special delegate subcommittees, in charge of important union functions; Organizing Committee, Out of Work List Committee, Trial Committee, Apprenticeship Committee, Pension Fund Committee, Welfare Fund Committee as well as a Communications Committee to run the lobbying operation at City Hall, in Albany and in Washington, the http://www.nycdistrictcouncil.com website and the quarterly "Carpenter" newsmagazine.
The organizing program that I described above would be supervised by the Organzing Committee.
That committee would be composed of directly elected delegates, elected under the same rules as the Council of Delegates. Those delegates would have the authority to hire organizers to assist them in carrying out the work of reunionizing our trade.
Also, considering the new ethnic reality of our business in this town, the Organizing Committee would make sure that the organizers that they hire look like the workforce they are trying to sign up, and speak their language..special efforts would have to be made to recruit organizers who were African America, West Indian, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Indian, Sikh, Chinese, Korean, Polish, Croatian and, above all, we'd especially need Mexican organizers...
This committee would carry out the urgently necessary work of making sure that every GC and sub in the NYDCofC area was using union carpenters...and organizing recognition strikes at those companies that try to go the scab route.
The first vital task of the Organizing Committee would be organizing that city wide trade movement that I described above.
But, once the work is organized, and every contractor is signed up to the agreements, we have to make sure that those agreements are actually enforced in the field.
Obviously, the BAs are a major part of that.
We also need a dense network of shop stewards.
As we have now, I would continue the pratice of having a shoppie on every site, with every company.
But, I'd give these stewards additional power..including the authority to authorize a walkout if there is a safety hazard, or if carpenters are working for cash, or if there is a scab contractor working on the site, or if there is any other contract violation occuring.
In addition to having a shop steward with every contractor on every jobsite, each contractor would also have a general shop steward on their payroll, who's job it would be to make sure every job is called in, every carpenter is getting union scale, and that union conditions prevail on every site. Also, the general shop steward would be in charge of investigating any contract violations at a particular company.
The general stewards at GCs and subcontractors would be appointed by the NYDCofC, the general stewards at cabinet shops, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Madison Square Garden and in the maintenance carpentry shops at department stores and office buildings would be directly elected by the workers they represent.
In either case they would serve 6 month terms of office, and, in the case of general stewards at GCs and subcontractors, they would have to work on their tools for at least 6 months before serving as a general steward for another term.
The general stewards would also have the authority to authorize a company-wide strike if a contractor has had a work stoppage on one of their sites for more than 3 consecutive days. Once the strike is on, the BAs would come in and assist the general shop steward and the job stewards in making the work stoppage into an officially sanctioned strike.
I would also have the union protect the shoppies from being retalliated against for doing their jobs. That would mean repealing the present rule where a contractor can fire a shop steward for "incompetence" by merely faxing a letter to the local union.
I would propose that contractors be forbidden for a contractor to fire a shop steward for any reason...
However, if a shop steward had been proven to have engaged in sexual harassment, assault, theft, willful destruction of property, drinking or getting high on the job, bribe recieving or extortion, or failure to report to work for more than 5 days without good cause, he/she could be removed from their post by order of the District Council.
I would repeal the current rule, where a shop steward can be fired, and blacklisted from that subdivision of the trade, for so called "incompetence" at the whim of a contractor.
But, a shop steward can only do so much if the workers he/she represents are afraid to stand up.
One way to empower members to stand up for themselves would be through bringing some form of job security to our industry, as well as protection against arbitrary termination.
Also, we need to have the union take control of hiring.
That would be the task of the Out of Work List Committee. This would be composed of delegates, elected under the same rules as the Council of Delegates. They would appoint the stewards and dispatch carpenters to the jobs...and, they'd enforce the 90/10 system I'm proposing.
Currently, under most of our agreements, a contractor can have half his/her crew be company men, with half hired from the hall..this is known as the 50/50 system.
I would replace that with what I call a 90/10 system, where the contractor would have to get 90% of his/her labor from the union, and could have no more than 10% be company guys..
Here's how it would work.
A contractor would be permitted to have a maximum of 5 of his/her first 10 carpenters be company men, with the remainder being carpenters hired from the hall.
After the 11th carpenter, a minimum of 90% of that contractor's workers would be hired from the out of work list, with a maximum of 10% being company men.
Considering the fact that the carpentry business, like the rest of the construction industry, has a long and ugly history of race and sex discrimination, and there's also a longstanding pattern of 3rd and 4th year apprentices getting less job opportunities than they should, as well as the fact that older carpenters often get cast by the wayside, we need to take some affirmative action-type measures to balance out how the jobs are handed out.
So, I would suggest that a minimum of one out of every three carpenters referred to each contractor would be Black, Latino, Chinese or Indian, one out of every twenty would be a woman, one out of every five would be an apprentice (with at least half the apprentices referred to each contractor being a 3rd or 4th year) and one out of every ten would be a carpenter over age 50.
And, these local carpenters wouldn't be hired by the day, as they are now.
Instead, the contractor would take the carpenters from job to job, as long as work was available.
If the contractor had to do a layoff due to lack of work, the layoffs should be by seniority..that is, the last carpenter hired would be the first laid off.
If a contractor wanted to fire a carpenter for cause, they would have to have a good reason.
This reason would have to be presented, in writing, to the carpenter in question, as well as to the shop steward and the general steward for the company.
Then the contractor would have to go before the NYDCofC Trial Committee and prove that they had a legitimate reason to fire that carpenter.
That Trial Committee would be composed of elected delegates, elected under the same rules as the Council of Delegates.
The standard that would be used by the Trial Committee for these procedings would be preponderance of the evidence..the same level of proof required in civil court.
The only legitimate reasons to fire a carpenter would be sexual harassment, assault on a supervisor or fellow employee, theft, willful destruction of employer's or client's or a co-worker's property, drug or alcohol abuse on the job during working hours or unexcused absence from work for 5 or more days.
If an employer felt that a carpenter was incompetent in performing the type of carpentry performed by that employer, that carpenter would be removed from the job for a week, and sent down to the NYC District Council of Carpenters Labor Technical College to take a 40 hour, 5 day class in that particular type of work.
For certain highly skilled branches of our trade, such as woodwork or millwright work, the course would be an 120 hour, 15 day program.
Upon sucessful completion of that special refresher course, there would be a presumption that the carpenter was qualified to perform that type of work, and no contractor would be permitted to fire that tradesperson for incompetence in that particular type of work.
In the event that any carpenter lost his/her job, they would be provided with a supplimental unemployment benefit from a supplimental fund (similar to the Electricians' "B Fund").
That B Fund would be financed by $ 2/hr out of the benefit stamps, plus the current 1% assessment that's deducted from the vacation checks.
Funding permitting, the B Fund would provide $ 405/wk for each unemployed carpenter for 52 weeks.
Also, if unemployment among NYDCofC members should reach or exceed 10% of the membership, there would be a ban on all OT and work on Sundays and legal holidays, and Saturday work would be limited to a regular 7 hour day. Contractors who needed to do OT or weekend work to push a job would be instructed to hire extra carpenters from the hall, and, if necessary, add a night shift to their jobs.
Also, to discourage contractors from using OT, and to encourage them to hire as many carpenters from the hall as possible, I would restore double time for all OT, something that the NYDCofC gave up in 1993.
I would go further, and impose a $ 8/hr B Fund OT penalty payment on all OT, Saturday, Sunday and legal holiday work, in addition to the regular $ 2/hr payment into the B Fund for straight time work.
Just to make this clear, I repeat, the objective would not be for a few folks to make a lot of gravy from working lots and lots of OT..but to treat OT as penalty work..and to make it too expensive to have people routinely working OT, so the contractor would have to spread the work around, and hire more brothers and sisters from the hall...
Hopefully, those measures would enable us to reorganize how our trade is run, abolish the many abuses that both union and non union carpenters suffer..and, bring our industry roaring into the 20th century (just 100 years too late).....
Ultimately, that Council of Delegates model could also be the template for a revolutionary unionist restructuring of the local unions, the other District and Regional Councils, as well as the entire United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. This also could be a guide to how the entire building trades union movement could be rebuilt.
Now, of course, for all of these ideas to work, or, for that matter, even for us to suceed in reorganizing the residential sector of our trade, we'd have to have a radically transformed union.
And, of course, to carry out any of those ideas, there would have to be a massive political struggle by rank and file union carpenters, as well as our non union brothers and sisters outside, to change our union..
That struggle, of course, would be met by fierce opposition from the contractors (union and non union alike), as well as the bankers and real estate developers who stand behind them, as well as the corporate media and the city, state and federal governments who are dominated by the financiers, not to mention the gangsters who have long leached off of our industry.
There would also be opposition from within our union..from the current leaders of the locals, the District Council and the International UBCJA.
It would be a long and difficult struggle, and, against such massive opposition from all sides, we might not necessarily win..
However, the sad reality of the situation is, the alternative is to see our trade, and ultimately our entire industry, go completely non union.
Thats it for now.
Be union, work safe.
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