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by GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
Monday, Jan. 05, 2004 at 8:16 AM
THE JAVITS CENTER SHUFFLE...discrimination, unequal distribution of work and the pitfalls of seeking workplace justice in the court system at New York City's convention center
THE JAVITS CENTER SHUFFLE...discrimination, unequal distribution of
work and the pitfalls of seeking workplace justice in the court system
at New York City's convention center
By Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter
On Friday, December 19th, a group of Black and Latin carpenters,
teamsters and housekeepers gathered in a conference room at the 1 Penn
Plaza offices of Milbank Weiss, a civil rights law firm. The workers
were part of a group of 80 minority employees of the Jacob K Javits
Convention Center Operating Authority who, back in the year 2000, filed
suit against the State of New York authority that operates the center,
charging racial and sex discrimination.
Some of the discrimination charges were quite extreme.. For instance, a
Black teamster even accused a group of White electricians of urinating
in his Gatoraide. Also, a White dock master allegedly referred to Black
male teamsters as "my monkeys" and called Black woman teamsters "black
bitches" who should be mopping floors, rather than driving forklifts
for $ 25/hr.
Despite those dramatic charges, the main issues behind the suit boiled
down to dollars and cents, and who got to work while others sat
home.... specifically, White workers allegedly getting to work more
frequently than Black, Latin or Asian workers, and males getting more
work than women.
Now, it's kind of interesting that these unionized workers have had to
go to an outside law firm to attempt to get justice, rather than being
protected by the unions they belong to.
The unions that represent these workers are all supposedly strong labor
organizations...the carpenters are represented by the New York District
Council of Carpenters [NYDCofC], the teamsters are members of local 807
of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the housekeepers,
along with the security guards and clerical workers at the Javits, are
members of another Teamster local, City Employees Union local 237 of
the IBT...a local union that actually has a Black president, one Carrol
"Carl" Haynes, who's also the head of the Teamsters Public Employee
Department and a Teamster international vice president
There's another union at the Javits too, local 3 of the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents the electricians at
the center, but none of their membes are plaintiffs in this suit.
But, the unions have done almost nothing to protect their members from
these injustices.. The NYDCofC, Teamsters local 237 and Electricians
local 3 have done absolutely nothing.. The officers of Teamsters local
807 referred their members to civil rights law firm Leeds, Morelli and
Brown..and then washed their hands of the matter.
Leeds initially handled the case rather poorly. The lawyers implied
that the State of New York would quickly cave in with a generous
settlement. That was in line with Leeds previous experience suing
consumer products companies like Met Food Supermarkets, Nextel,
Prudential Insurance and Coca Cola..companies that can lose a lot of
sales to Black and Latin consumers due to bad publicity.
However, the Javits Center is a state authority (that is, a corporation
owned by the State of New York) that provides business services
(specifically, a venue and labor for trade shows) to businesses and
And, for the most part, those exhibitors are WHITE OWNED businesses and
Bad publicity about racial discrimination wouldn't make a damned bit of
difference to these customers..hell, some of them might even support
the state's racial and sex discrimination.
The only shows hosted by Black businesspeople at the Javits are
Kwanzaafest and the Black Expo..and they are among the smallest shows
at the Javits...
Usually, both those shows use the smallest exhibit hall in the
building, 1A Hall on the lower level...
Laborwise, these shows are usually "4 man calls"..that is, only 4
carpenters are required to set up the entire show, with ususally one
long day to move in, and a 4 to 6 hour "down and out" 1 day moveout.
Typically, similarly small numbers of teamsters and housekeepers are
also called for these shows.
Kwanzaafest didn't even come to the Javits this year, it went down 34th
Street to the Hotel Pennsylvania
In short, the only businesspeople who might even care about the Javits'
civil rights record (that is, African American businesspeople) have
damned little leverage against the house.
Beyond the lack of leverage against the center, the State of New York
has a lot more power than Coca Cola or Met Foods had..they are, after
all, a government, and they can actually arrest people.
15 Javits Center carpenters and housekeepers found that out the hard
way in December 2000.
They got arrested on trumped up "unemployment insurance fraud"
charges..an act that was clearly intended as retalliation against the
12 of those workers were among the 80 plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a
13th, a Black woman carpenter, had met with Leeds but had not yet
officially signed on to the case. Two White male carpenters were put in
the mix....just so the case wouldn't look so blatantly retalliatory.
Then 3 teamsters were fired by the house... 2 were reinstated, but one
was fired again. The third was offered his job back..on the condition
that he sign a "yellow dog contract" barring him from ever publicly
criticizing the Javits Center ever again in his life.. He refused to
sign away his 1st Amendment rights..and the house refused to give him
his job back.
Bottom line, the state didn't have to roll over..and they didn't.
They actually went on the offensive, where they remain to this day.
That's why the lawsuit is still dragging on..and Leeds actually had to
bring in another law firm to help them handle the case. Millbank Weiss
does class action lawsuits..and that's how Leeds plans to salvage the
Using lawsuits to resolve job discrimination is a very common tactic
among workers both union and non union in this country...and, a whole
specialized branch of the legal profession has emerged to handle these
cases... including firms that solely focus on discrimination law.
However, leaving workplace justice in the hands of lawyers has serious
Number one, using lawsuits instead of struggling on the job leads to
worker passivity... Instead of taking matters into their own hands and
fighting for justice on the job, workers turn their struggle over to
the "professionals"..and the government's corporate-dominated court
Historically, Black and Latin carpenters, as well as other
tradespeople, have gotten racial justice on the job by taking the fight
to the streets under our own leadership, rather than passively waiting
for lawyers and courts to save us.
I've written about that history of struggle by minority construction
workers on GANGBOX before, at :
Beyond that political question, there is the reality that the law firms
are free to make deals with the employers at the expense of their
clients..and actually have an economic incentive to do so.
In Leeds Morelli and Brown's case, they were accused by WNBC-TV Channel
4 News of doing just that..
Leeds allegedly pressured workers at Prudential Insurance, Nextel
Communications and Penguin and Putnam Publishing to take small
settements...after Prudential, Nextel and Penguin and Putnam shelled
out millions of dollars to cover Leeds legal fees.
Even if the workers get fair representation from their lawyers, a
company can simply, in effect, "buy off" it's victims by paying out a
settlement..and then continue discriminating against future employees.
There is no guarantee that a company will stop discriminating just
because it's been sued.
In other words, the Javits could simply pay these 80 workers..and keep
discriminating against other current and future minority and female
Hell, depending on the terms, they actually could keep discriminating
against those 80 plaintiffs, as long as they paid them the settlement.
A class action lawsuit might require some changes to the job referral
system..or, it could just pay some cash to minorities and women who
currently or formerly worked at the Javits, and the house could keep on
Also, there's a wider pattern of unfairness at the Javits Center that
this case cannot even touch.
Race and sex isn't the only basis for favoritism at the center.
There is a small clique of workers who work every show.
Anonymous tradeshow carpenters have told this writer that there used to
be a book, where the names of 80 carpenters were listed..and those 80
carpenters got work before any of the other 1,000 or so registered
trade show carpenters got work.
Among the remaining 1,000 union carpenters registered at the Javits,
there are about 350 workers who don't work as steady as the top 80
people, but they work some of the time. A lot of times, they get on by
shaping up, and replacing workers who were called but didn't report to
Unlike the carpenters in "the book", who get first dibs on the jobs,
and are on the call at just about every show, these workers are told
that "this is a part time job, so don't expect to work every day".
And, the remaining 550 or so carpenters only work on the very big
shows, when the house needs a lot of labor for a brief period of time.
A similar 3 tier labor force situation prevails with the teamsters, the
electricians and the housekeepers.
Basically, there are three workforces at the Javits...a small steady
crew (who usually have some sort of family or social tie with
management), a larger crew who work sporadically, and an even larger
force who are only called in on the very big shows.
Now, there are Blacks and Latinos among the top 80 carpenters..some of
them are women too (a couple are even Black women)..but, that group is
largely White males.
And, of course, there are White males among the 350 or so workers who
work some of the time..and have to shape up to get on the rest of the
time. But, that workforce is disproportionately Black, Latino, Asian
There are White males among the 500+ workers on the bottom too..but,
again that workforce is disproportionately minority and female as well.
However, favoritism in job assignments is LEGAL..sanctified both by
federal and state law, and by the union contracts of the New York
District Council of Carpenters, Teamsters local 807, Teamsters local
237 and Electricians local 3. Favoritism is only illegal WHEN IT'S
EXPLICITLY BASED ON RACE OR SEX.
Non racist and non sexist favoritism is perfectly legal..and union
sanctioned as well.
This lawsuit will not even challenge that state of affairs.
At that meeting on the 19th, the lawyers from Milbank did actually tell
the plaintiffs that the case could drag on forever with no
The lawyers, partisan Democrats, blamed "Republican judges" for this..
This claim was made despite the fact that the biggest civil rights
victories in American courts happened under REPUBLICAN presidents,
Eisenhower and Nixon..and the DEMOCRATIC Carter and Clinton
administrations are largely to blame for gutting federal civil rights
Of course, the real reason it's harder to get judgements in civil
rights cases these days is simple, and it has nothing to do with the
party in the White House.
In the 1950's and 1960's, and even into the 1970's, there were people
marching in the streets, and even rioting in the streets. Revolutionary
Black workers groups like the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement in
Detroit and the Coalition in New York City's construction trades forced
the government to take action.
Those brothers and sisters won those concessions in the streets...
Today, with the civil rigths movement all but dead..the government
doesn't have to show any consideration to minority workers. That's why
the government has abolished welfare, sent 2 million Black and Latin
people to prison, unleased thousands of violent cops on inner city
neighborhoods, tried to dismantle public housing..and has let racist
employers have a free hand.
In this case, the government itself is the racist employer.
And fighting the government in it's own courts is not a logical answer.
To explain how things got as bad as they are at the Javits, it's
necessary to give a little background.
I've written about racism, sexism and other labor abuses at the Javits
Center before on GANGBOX, at :
Workers at the Javits Center, like many other carpenters, teamsters and
building service workers, are casual laborers. That is, they have no
guarantee of a full 5 day work week, or a full 52 week work year...they
actually aren't guaranteed any work at all. This "at will employment"
is very similar to the conditions that construction workers are
employed under..it's basically temp work with a union label.
The work isn't distributed equally either..some folks work all the
time..some folks work sometimes and sit home at other times..and some
folks hardly work at all.
For these workers, having a steady job (something which workers in
regular jobs take for granted) is considered a privilige, that has to
be begged and grovelled for, something that can be taken away by the
employer at a moment's notice.
The Javits Center opened in 1986, to replace the small and aging New
York Coliseum as the city's main facility for trade shows for various
industries. The Coliseum, which was at 59th Street and Columbus Circle,
was owned by New York State's Metropolitan Transportation Authority
(MTA), and was demolished 5 years ago to make room for the multiuse
hirise towers of the AOL Time Warner Center.
The Javits Center was run by another state authority, the Jacob K.
Javits Convention Center Operating Authority.
Originally, it was operated similarly to other government owned trade
show venues in the city (the old Coliseum, the National Guard's
Lexington Avenue Armory and the Port Authority's Passenger Ship
Terminal)..that is, the govenment owned the building, but the day to
day trade show operations were run by private contractors.
Decorating contractors like Texas-based Freeman Decorating Company and
Greyhound Bus Lines subsidiary GES actually booked the shows, and
hired the labor. Display houses built the booths used by the
exhibitors, and some exhibitors hired display house carpenters to
actually set up and take down their booths at the shows.
The workforce that did this work was all unionized. Originally, when
trade shows began in New York City back in the 1920's, the workforce
were all "expos", that is, stagehands from Exposition Employees local
829 of the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees (IATSE
- the Stagehands Union).
However, when the industry got big in the 1950's, after the MTA built
the New York Coliseum, other unions horned in on Stagehands local 829's
The New York District Council of Carpenters claimed setting up and
dismantling booths, putting down and taking up carpet, decorating
tables, and putting up and taking down drapery and signs.
Electricians local 3 claimed the plugging in and unplugging of
electrical extension cords.
Teamsters local 807 claimed the loading and unloading of trucks,
operating hilos and driving trucks to and from the warehouses of the
As for cleaning work and the setting up and taking down of chairs and
tables, in the hotels, that work was claimed by local 6 of the Hotel
Employees and Restaurant Employees, in the Passenger Ship Terminal that
work was claimed by local 791of the International Longshoremen's
Association, and in the old Coliseum (and later on, in the Javits
Center) those workers were per diem government employees, represented
by Teamsters local 237.
After the other unions made their claims on the work of the expos,
local 829 were only left with taking freight from the loading dock to
the show floor, helping carpenters put up and take down booths,
dropping off and picking up carpet and furniture and other
miscellaneous tasks around the show.
Organized crime, specifically [the Mafia] had a lot to
do with how the work was parcelled out between the unions..as well as
which contractors did what work..and how work was distributed among
Many of the "company men" (workers who got steady employment) were ex
convicts, who had not ratted out the mob when they went upstate, and
were rewarded after release with the steady employment they needed to
keep out of trouble with their probation officers.
Some of those connected guys would steal while they were
working...mostly minor stuff that the exhibitors wern't going to ship
back to their companies anyway..but, occasionally, major items were
stolen too (computers, cars, fur coats..in one extreme case, a 60 foot
yacht was taken from the Boat Show)
When all of those connected company men were working, the remaining
jobs went to the union hiring halls, to be distributed among their out
of work members.
Basically, the steady carpenter, teamster, expo and electrician
workforce at the Javits and the other trade show venues were almost all
White males, many of whom had some sort of organized crime connection.
The only chance that Black, Latin, Asian males, or females of any
color, or White males who lacked mob ties, had to work there was when
they needed a lot of labor, and called the hall for extra workers.
But, if you came out of the hall, you only got the day, and then you
got laid off. The connected guys, however, worked every show every day.
Then, in the mid 1990's, there was a problem.
The exhibitors were having problems with the current workforce. The
stealing and limited work skills of the steady company men was starting
to have a financial impact on the cost of doing shows here.
Also, despite the fact that trade show a national industry, there are
radically different union rules, and radically different labor costs,
in different cities...
Places like Philadelphia and Chicago have New York-style union rules,
and New York-level labor costs.
Other cities with similar union rules, like Detroit and Las Vegas, have
slightly lower labor costs... especially Vegas, which is in a right to
San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas, where Painters do carpenter
work, or Orlando and Atlanta, where the Stagehands do all the work,
also have lower labor costs. Orlando, Atlanta and Dallas are, like Las
Vegas, located in "Right to Work" states..which makes their labor costs
Cities like Boston, Providence and the New Jersey Meadowlands, where
trade show work is done by all Teamster workforces, have even lower
The exhibitors wanted to push New York labor costs down - drastically.
It reached a point where the number of shows done in New York fell
drastically, and the Javits Center was "dark" (closed) for most of the
According to anonymous reports from trade show carpenters, Freeman
Decorating Company also supposedly privately threatened Giovernor
George Pataki that they would completely move out of the city, taking
the few remaining big shows (including the Auto Show and the Boat Show)
with them, unless they got the labor concessions they and the
Nationally, associations representing the business associations who put
on the trade shows have been demanding reduced labor costs and weakened
union rules at every convention center...Philadelphia, Chicago,
Atlanta, Las Vegas...and, of course, New York City.
In July 1995, Governor Pataki bowed to the demands of the exhibitors
and the decorating contractors, in very dramatic fashion.
First, Pataki pressured then Teamsters General President Ron Carey to
take over Teamsters local 807, and impose new leadership.
Then, the governor leaned on the New York District Council of
Carpenters' then President, Fred Devine, to impose an elaborate
training and screening process on trade show carpenters.
Electricans local 3 was also leaned on, forcing that local's leadership
to agree to their members becoming per diem state employees who would
no longer be employed directly by the contractors.
In the face of that union retreat, Pataki launched an armed attack on
Stagehands local 829.
A force of 200 New York State Police troopers were deployed to the
center, to remove the old workforce at gunpoint. About 300 carpenters,
expos and teamsters were barred for life from working at the center..
many of them were actually ejected from the building by the state
Although 93 of the banned workers were carpenters, most of them were
A new set of labor rules was imposed on the Javits Center from the
barrels of those state troopers' 9mm's.
From now on, every Javits Center worker would be a state employee..not
civil service, of course, but a per diem worker, hired by the day, with
none of the job rights and guarantees of regular state workers.
The company men from the old Javits Center would have to reapply for
their jobs..with the exception of the folks who'd been banned from the
building. The workers who had been dispatched out of the halls to work
at the Javits would also have to directly apply for work at the
center...along with anybody off the street, union or non union.
In the future, there would be no more workers dispatched from union
hiring halls..the state would operate it's own, non union, open shop
hiring hall in the center.
There would be no out of work list, and no pretense of job referral
based on the person out of work longest getting to work first.
Instead, the state's labor hall supervisor, one Phil Nepumuceno, and
his assistants, would refer whoever they wanted to jobs..
Incidentally, despite the minority status of the labor hall supervisor,
(Phil is Filippino-American), the center was soon back to it's old
discriminatory job referral tricks.
Nepumuceno has since been replaced..and now a woman, one Ann Tassone,
is in charge of labor dispatching. That hasn't helped women carpenters,
teamsters and housekeepers at the center.
To add insult to injury, besides the fact that job referrals are as
discriminatory as ever, Tassone is notorious for her rudeness and
verbal abusiveness to the workers..
Apparently, Ann has the cowardly and bullying habit of yelling at
people who can't yell back..because she could fire them at the stroke
of a pen.
This is a far cry from Nepumuceno's style. Phil could be icy and short
with people..and had an obnoxious habit of refusing to shake hands with
carpenters or teamsters, apparently because he felt our hardworking
hands were "too dirty" to touch his. But he almost never raised his
voice or insulted the tradespeople.
The labor hall was actually open shop for the first 3 years..it wasn't
until 1998 that they required every carpenter, teamster and housekeeper
to actually join the union or be fired.
The labor jurisdictions had been realigned too..IATSE local 829 was out
of the mix.
The work of the expos would now be done by low paid carpenter
apprentices and teamster helper checkers.
Previously, teamster helper checkers and carpenter apprentices had
recieved journeylevel wages when they worked at the Javits..no more,
now, they'd be paid apprentice or helper level wages.
In the case of the carpenter apprentices, they'd all get either AP 1
(first year apprentice) or AP 2 (second year apprentice) pay..even if
they were actually a third year or fourth year apprentice.
The state also took away time and a half for work after 4:30 PM, and
before 8AM..from now on, workers would get straight time for the first
8 hours of their shifts, and would only get time and a half for OT and
Saturday work, with Sunday and holiday work at double time.
How did the union's respond to this attack?
Did they fight?
Did they call a strike?
IATSE local 829, the expos union, the union that was literally driven
from the Javits at gunpoint by the State Police, did put up a
picketline when the state started hiring off the street.
But, their main strategy was...to file a lawsuit (as we will see, the
current case isn't the first time when Javits Center workers would end
up losing out by relying on lawyers and court actions rather than using
their own strength and power on the show floor).
The expos union went to the American Civil Liberties Union, and said
that the constitutional "freedom of association" rights of the 300
banned workers were threatened.
The ACLU's legal reasoning was that these guys were fired because they
hung out with gangsters and members of .
The theory was this; constitutionally, Americans have the right to hang
out with anybody they want to, even career criminals, as long as they
aren't committing a crime. According to this lawyerish reasoning,
firing a worker for hanging out with criminals was illegal.
That argument went nowhere..
And, quite honestly, it was not realistic to expect that argument to
get anywhere in today's "lock em up and throw away the keys" judicial
In a country that locks away 2 million of it's citizens, in a state
with over 77,000 of it's residents in cages (mostly for petty
victimless crimes) it was not realistic to expect the courts to defend
the freedom of association rights of workers who were ex offenders.
Unless, of course, the expos were prepared to fight in the streets for
The workers may or may not have been ready..
The leadership of Expos local 829, and the IATSE as a whole, certainly
It almost goes without saying, local 829's ACLU lawsuit got nowhere,
and all 300 of those workers are still banned for life from working at
Again..here's another case where trade show workers got screwed by
passively relying on lawyers, rather than taking action, and fighting
for their jobs.
Now, imagine if local 829 had, instead of relying on the ACLU's
lawyers, had instead simply had the 200+ banned expos, along with the
rest of the union's then 800 members, (and perhaps several hundred of
their brothers and sisters from Stagehands local 1 at the Broadway
theaters, along with several hundred other members of the 16 other
IATSE locals in the city) block the W 39th Street truck entrance to the
Javits Center (the only gate where trucks can go in to the huge
convention hall) during the July 1995 Fancy Foods Show, the first trade
show at the "New Javits Center"?
Now, all of the exhibits come in on trucks..without those trucks, the
show doesn't happen.
Even though most of the drivers are non union owner operator
truckers...the fact is, who's going to risk their life, and a heavily
mortgaged half a million dollar truck, in the face of 800+ angry
And some of those drivers are actually Teamsters..hell, some of them
are in local 807, the Teamster local with jurisdiciton over trade show
work at the Javits. Generally, New York teamsters are good about not
scabbing on picketlines...
The expos could have won their jobs back in the streets.
And, perhaps, forced the state to restore pre takeover labor conditions
for the carpenters and teamsters as well.
Instead, the union went the passive legal route..and lost, badly.
Today, with their ejection from the Javits Center and the demolition of
the New York Coliseum, the local has barely 400 members, who subsist on
trade shows on the piers, in the armory, at Madison Square Garden and
in the hotels.
The other unions did even less than local 829.
The NYDCofC and Teamsters local 807 actually encouraged their members
to scab on local 829, cross the expos picketline, and apply for the
Hundreds of union carpenters and teamsters (along with many union expos
as well) did just that, spending the day along with about 2,500 non
union workers standing in line on 11th Avenue and W 34th Street,
waiting for job applications from the center.
Many of the non union workers were Black, Latino or Asian..as were many
of the teamsters and carpenters who applied for work. Many female
workers were out on that line too.
About a thousand workers were hired, and assigned as either carpenters
or teamsters. Several hundred were called to work the Fancy Foods Show
a few days later.
Freeman Decorating Company still ran the show, and Canadian-based
display house Kadoke still had the contract to set up and take down
many of the booths.
The only difference was, none of the workers (except for supervisors)
were actually on Freeman or Kadoke's payrolls, they were employed by
the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Operating Authority, and
dispatched by the state to the contractors.
The contractors could lay them off as they saw fit, and could give them
as many or as few hours as they wanted (carpenters had to get a minimum
of 4 hours pay per call, and teamsters a minimum of 8 hours).
The contractors could also request particular workers by name if they
wanted too...a power that they would come to abuse in later years.
Initially, when the state took over the Javits Center, a lot of
minority carpenters and teamsters thought that job discrimination had
come to an end.
And, at first, the workforce had a lot more workers of color than the
old Javits Center ever had.
We honestly expected that we would finally get the same opportunites as
our White coworkers, and there'd finally be some measure of equal
distribution of work.
Boy, were we wrong!!!!
Cause we ended up going from the frying pan right into the fire...
Within a very short period of time, a system of favoritism emerged that
looked a whole hell of a lot like the old run Javits
Center had..different faces, but the same story.
As this writer described it at the time in an article I wrote for Hard
Hat News, the Javits went "From Goodfellas to Statefellas"
The steady carpenters and teamsters were disproportionately White
males. There were a few Black and Latino steady carpenters and
teamsters..but, disproportionately, they were low paid APs or helper
checkers.. while the White males were disproportionately journeymen.
Also, there were a few women, and even a few Black women, who ended up
being steady workers....unlike the old all male steady workfoce in the
However, reportedy, some of those women allegedly got their steady jobs
on their backs..
Allegedly, some White male supervisors, in particular at Freeman
Decorating Company, allegedly demanded sexual favors from women (in
particular from Black women) in return for steady work...
To put it crudely, these unfortunate sisters literally had to "suck up
to the boss" to get a steady job!!!!!
For the rest of the workers, it was just like the Mafia days..and,
actualy, it was a little worse.
Since these jobs no longer came from the union hiring halls of the
NYDCofC, local 807 and local 829, there was no pretense of fair
distribution of work for the bulk of the employees.
Instead, jobs were handed out on the basis of pure favoritism...and,
the bulk of the workforce had to subsist on scraps, while a few got
It was in this climate of rank favoritism that the open racial and sex
Also, the business climate that the Javits Center operated in changed.
The late 1990's was the time of the Dot.com boom, when lots of stock
swindlers set up dubious internet companies, and burned through
billions of dollars of investment capital. Many computer industry
related trade associations held large shows at the Javits Center at
that time, drumming up lots of business, and creating lots of work
hours for carpenters, teamsters and housekeepers.
Of course, those hours of work were distributed unfairly, as I've
pointed out above.
But, the bottom fell out of that boom in 1999, and those shows started
getting smaller and smaller, with some being totally cancelled. Which
meant less work hours overall. And even less hours for the low workers
on the totem pole.
And, September 11th totally screwed things up.
The center shut down that day, and was used as a barracks for the New
York State Police and New York National Guard for several weeks after
the bombing. A few carpenters and teamsters got a few hours of work
dismantling the show that was moving in the week of the bombing, but
that was it for quite a while.
Many many workers found themselves sitting home jobless for a long
time..and, to add insult to injury, the New York County District
Attorney's office actually ARRESTED AND PROSECUTED several jobless
Javits Center workers for the "crime" of APPLYING FOR WTC DISASTER
When the center reopened as a trade show venue, there had been a great
decline in the number of shows that came here. This was due to the fall
of the Dot.com boom, and the declline of the computer shows, and the
fact that several other trade show venues had crammed Javits
Center-style "labor reforms" down the throats of their workers..in
particular in Chicago, Las Vegas Atlanta and Philadelphia.
The Carpenters, Teamsters and Electricians signed concessionary
agreements at Chicago's Mc Cormick Place, merging 6 crafts into 3, and
cutting premium wage rates for evening and late night work.
Billy Hogan, the head of Teamsters local 714, the trade show teamsters
local in Chicago was the architect of these givebacks.
Besides signing giveback ridden agreements, Hogan has actually gone one
step beyond in his betrayals of his members, and has openly stepped
over to the employer's side of the table.
He is actually the chairman of a national committee of trade show
exhibitors. Their goal is to weaken the union rules at all the
convention centers, and reduce conditions down to right to work levels.
Of course, it's really not that surprising that Billy Hogan would ally
himself with trade show employers against trade show workers...since
Hogan's relatives are actually EMPLOYERS at Mc Cormick Place.
The teamsters who work for those equipment rental companies have the
dubious fate to have members of the Hogan family on both sides of the
bargaining table when their contracts get negotiated.
Similar givebacks were made by the Stagehands union at Atlanta's World
Congress Center. Their union hiring hall was replaced by a management
controlled job referral system...with the same discriminatory,
favoritism ridden "hire by name" system we have at the Javits.
The Teamsters at the Las Vegas Convention Center actually signed an
open shop agreement that lets non union temps from scab employment
agency United Temps work on the show floor side by side with union
members, and legalizes favoritism, allowing contractors to pick and
choose which members they will hire.
Incidentally..United Temps just happens to be owned by relatives
of....our friend Billy Hogan.
The Carpenters, Laborers, Teamsters, Stagehands and Electricians also
signed a concessionary agreement at the Philadelphia Convention Center,
which forced the workers to be employed by a temp agency, rather than
being directly on a decorating contractor's payroll, gave up premium
pay for evening and overnight work, gave up the right of union workers
to shape up if they didn't have a call, and gave up union control over
job referrals, imposing Javits Center-style "hire by name" favoritism
on the workforce.
Interestingly enough, the Philly deal was held up for a while by a
racial discrimination issue.
The carpenters at the convention center down there are largely
White..and the laborers at that center are predominantly Black.
So, the jurisdictional disputes over trade show work between those two
unions had a strong racial subtext...
It wasn't just carpenters vs. laborers..it was really White vs. Black,
South Philly vs. West Philly, an economic race war brilliantly
disguised as a jurisdictional dispute..
In the end, the carpenters and laborers got lumped into a common labor
class...so, the racially charged disputes over work assignments will
probably continue..if anything, they might get worse.
The Carpenters in Atlantic City signed a giveback ridden deal similar
to the Philadelphia sellout at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
In New Orleans, the Carpenters Union actually scabbed on a Stagehands
Union strike at the Convention Center to assist Freeman Decorating
Company in ramming concessions down the workers throats.
Also, many cities, like Cleveland, Washington DC and Boston, are
expanding their convention centers, and trying to ram concessions down
the trade show workers throats as the price of getting more shows.
Up in Canada, in Edmonton, Alberta, the city actually openly broke the
union at the Shaw Centre. The United Food and Commercial Workers, which
represents all the trade show workers up there, was locked out..and
it's members replaced by scabs.
In other words, there's less shows to go around..and there's a race to
the bottom in the industry, with unions being pressured to lower
standards and wages to get the declining amount of work.
The Javits Center was a national leader in trade show industry labor
abuse and givebacks in 1995..but not anymore.
Of course, this attack on trade show workers had a sharp racist edge.
And that edge was keenly felt by workers of color at the Javits.
Over time, the Blacks, Latinos and Asians who were hired as AP 1s and
2s or helper checkers in 1995 became journeylevel carpenters and
teamsters..and saw their work calls be sharply reduced, and their place
taken by newly hired APs and helper checkers. This is especially true
for the Black women APs.
For the housekeepers, most of whom are Latina women, things were even
worse..they were the lowest paid workers at the center, unlike
carpenters and teamsters they didn't have the option of working
elswhere and they also had a rankly unfair system of distributing work.
Where were the unions when all of this happened?
The NYDCofC did next to nothing...they signed three back to back
concessionary trade show collective bargaining agreements (1995, 1998,
2001), allowed the Javits Center to use unlimited numbers of
apprentices in place of journeylevel carpenters, stamped the words
"TRADE SHOW ONLY" on the union cards of newly hired Javits Center
carpenters to bar them from work in outside construction, and generally
speaking let the house have it's way with Javits Center carpenters with
very little resistance.
Of course, the Javits Center, and the trade show industry in general,
have always been a sideshow for the NYDCofC. Even though the Javits,
with nearly 1,000 registered carpenters, is the largest single union
carpenter employer in the city (and probably one of the biggest UBCJA
signatories in North America), the overwhelming majority of the union's
19,000 active members are employed in building construction.
In the old days, the trade show industry was a minor carpenter
jurisdiction, which provided steady work for a few, mostly mob
connected, carpenters, and provided sporadic work for local carpenters
waiting for a regular construction job out of the hall.
Since the takeover, there are now a large pool of carpenters who almost
exclusively work in the trade show sector....but, still, the trade show
carpenters have generally been treated like red headed stepchildren by
There's a racial factor as well.
While the Javits Center's carpenters are heavily Black, Latin and
Asian, the the trade show carpenter workforce in the hotels on the
piers and in Madison Square Garden is largely White. And, the council's
construction membership is still majority White, and the union's
leadership is overwhelmingly so, with only 1 of the NYDCofC's 10 locals
(Brooklyn Carpenters local 926) even having Black officers.
This might explain why the NYDCofC has done next to nothing to aid in
the civil rights struggle at the Javits.
Teamsters local 807 did a little bit..they found a law firm for the
discriminted against members (Leeds, Morelli and Brown), and they did
try to fight the house on some of the unfair firings.
The fact that local 807 is more willing to assist trade show workers
than the NYDCofC may be due to the fact that the trade show teamsters
make up a large proportion of the union's membership.
807 mainly represents workers for unionized freight carriers like
Yellow, ABF and Roadway, and they also represent a number of factory
and warehouse workers as well..but, a big chunk of their members work
at the Javits, under the old union rules at the piers, the armory, the
hotels and Madison Square Garden or in the warehouses of Freeman
Decorating Company, GES, Convention Services Inc and the other
decorating contractors and display houses.
Also, in the future, 807 will probably more and more be a predominantly
trade show local. Many unionized freight carriers are either going out
of business or going non union..and, many New York City and Northern
New Jersey factories are reducing their workforces or closing down and
moving down south or to Mexico. This will probably lead to a long term
decline in 807's non-trade show membership.
The decline of local 807's freight membership is part of a general
crisis in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. I've written
about that crisis before on GANGBOX, at :
Racially, 807 is a White-led local..but, the membership is largely of
color. There are many White workers in freight, but that sector has a
substantial Black and Latin workforce. The local's factory workers are
overwhelmingly Latino as well..and, of course, since the takeover, the
Javits Center trade show teamster workforce has become largely Latin
and Black...while the trade show workforce in the hotels remains
Teamsters local 237 did next to nothing for the Black and Latin
housekeepers, or for that matter for the portion of the Javits Center's
security guards that they also represent..another low paid, largely
minority female job (many of the guards are Black women).
Ironically, Teamsters local 237 HAS A BLACK PRESIDENT, Caroll "Carl"
Haynes, who happens to be the most powerful Black man in the Teamsters
Union...since he's an international VP and head of the Teamsters Public
Employee Department, as well as the principal officer of the 25,000
member local 237, the largest local union in the entire International
Brotherhood of Teamsters.
You'd think that Carl would step up for the sisters and brothers from
local 237 at the Javits..
Of course, very few of local 237's members work for the Jacob K. Javits
Convention Center Operating Authority.
10,000 of the local's 25,000 members are New York City Housing
Authority building service workers, skilled trades construction workers
and office employees.
The local also represents lawyers for the City of New York, (they have
their own autonomous division of the local, the Civil Service Bar
237 also represents a lot of the city's legion of unarmed special law
This includes the unarmed special police who write tickets for the
Department of Sanitation and the New York Police Department's Traffic
The local also represents the peace officers who patrol the City
University of New York's campuses and the facilities of the NYC Health
and Hospitals Corporation.
The city's 'welfare police' are also in 237; the special officers who
patrol the Human Resources Administration's welfare offices and the
Department of Homeless Service's shelters, as well as HRA's welfare
The state employed special officers who patrol the Javits Center are
also 237 members...but, the private security guards from RAV and the
other privarte security companies are not.
The union devotes a lot of time and energy to defending and expanding
the authority of it's law enforcement members...it constantly appeals
to the legislature to increase their arrest powers, expand the range of
weapons they can carry, improve their body armor..and, increase the
amount of force they are allowed to use against the public.
By contrast, the 400 or so Javits Center housekeepers in the local are
There's also a racial and gender politics angle...the local is run by a
Black man..and the majority of the trade show housekeepers are Latina
women, with a large contingent of Latino males as well.
Also, the local is currently going through electoral turmoil, with the
local's leadership split between Blacks on the one side, and Whites and
Latinos on the other.
The Javits housekeepers have the bad luck to fall on the wrong side of
that racial divide.
Electricians local 3 has done absolutely nothing about these abuses
Of course, local 3 made it's own private deal before the state rammed
it's concessions down the other union's throats at the point of state
trooper's guns. And, the Electricians union's overwhelmingly White
leadership has never been particularly known for it's enlightenment on
racial or sex discrimination questions.
Neither has the expos union, Stagehands local 829. IATSE has done
nothing since the lawsuit for the 300 banned workers fizzled...they
haven't even tried to get their union back in the center, or to have
the AFL-CIO sanction the Carpenters and Teamsters for taking their work
and crossing their pickeline
Today, local 829 is down to 400 members, less than half what they once
Some of 829's members quit the union to join the NYDCofC or Teamsters
local 807 so they could stay at the Javits. The remainder work at the
other trade show venues that still employ expos, or work as local 1
stagehands at entertainment venues like Radio City Music Hall, Madison
Square Garden and the Broadway theaters.
As for the racial stuff..local 829 has an all White leadership...and
the local had damned few Black or Latin members in the pre takover
days, and has almost none now. 829 shares that overwhelmingly White
status with the other major IATSE locals in New York, New York
Stagehands local 1 (Broadway theaters), Brooklyn Stagehands local 4
(shop workers who make sets for TV shows) and Studio Mechanics (motion
picture film crews) local 52.
There are very few Black or Latino males in local 1 or local 4, and
almost no Black women or Latinas.
Just about the only Black workers in local 52's movie set jurisdiction
are security guards and "parking coordinators" (the folks who keep
people from parking on streets where movies are being filmed)..and
IATSE has not organized either one of those crafts at this time.
Of course, since the lawsuit failed, the local has made no attempt to
reassert it's jurisdiction over the Javits Center..so it's not
surprising that they've turned their backs on what goes on out
there...as if the local's leaders would ever go out of their way to
deal with racial discrimination.
Nationally, there has been no attempt to coordinate any kind of
resistance by the main unions with jurisdiction over the industry;
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, International
Brotherhood of Teamsters and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage
Nor has an effort been made by the unions who represent smaller but
still significant numbers of trade show workers; International Union of
Painters and Allied Trades, International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees.
Nor has any effort been made by unions that represent small isolated
pockets of trade show workers; Service Employees International Union,
Laborers International Union of North America, International
Longshoremens Association, Communications Workers of America and the
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Despite the fact that this is a national industry, the workforce is
divided up into over 90 local collective bargaining agreements. Labor
conditions, union jurisdictions and wages vary radically from state to
state, city to city and even building to building..
For instance, the Javits Center has it's own union rules, but, just 10
blocks up 11th Avenue, there's a totally different set of contracts
that covers the Passenger Ship Terminal. And, just 7 blocks down West
48th Street from the Passenger Ship Terminal, there's still another set
of union rules that govern the Marriott Marquis. And, just 14 blocks
down 7th Avenue from the Marriott, there's still another set of union
rules for trade show work at Madison Square Garden.
The contractors like this, because they can whipsaw one cities unions
against anothers...notice how, as soon as Philadelphia's trade show
unions signed a concessionary agreement, Atlantic City's unions
And, of course, Philly's unions wouldn't have rolled over if Chicago's
And, the Chicago unions wouldn't have let the decorating contractors
have their way with them if New York's unions hadn't let the Javits
Center union rules get gutted by the state.
The exhibitors, along with Billy Hogan, the head of the Chicago Trade
Show Teamsters local, have been trying to simplify the different union
rules..with a view of dragging down high wage strict union rule cities
like New York, Chicago and Philly down to the low wage open shop
free-for-all conditions of Dallas, Las Vegas and Atlanta.
And, actually, we as trade show workers would be better off with one
set of union rules..but, of course, we should bring up the cities with
weak union rules up to the New York standard, not the other way around.
And, I shouldn't even have to add this, but there needs to be a demand
for fair hiring at these places, not only racially and gender-wise, but
in terms of equal distribution of work...everybody should get a shot at
work, and everybody should have to spend some time at home when the
house is dark. Nobody should be denied work because of their color or
their sex..and, it should almost go without saying, no woman should
have to have sex with a supervisor just to get a damned work call!!!
But, considering the inactivity of the unions..how do we carry this
A good place to start would be for trade show workers to start fighting
on their own. In particular, those Black, Latin and female workers
who've been harshly affected by discrimination should step up and begin
organising on our own, to pressure the convention centers, the
contractors, the exhibitors, the government and THE UNIONS to impose
fair hiring rules on these facilities.
This would be an especially good idea in cities where there are plans
to expand the convention centers.
As it happens, that's exactly what's planned for the Javits Center.
The State of New York, City of New York and the New York Jets, along
with private real estate developers and major Wall Street money center
banks, are planning to build a domed stadium over the Long Island Rail
Road Yards on West 32nd Street..which is immediately south of the
The Stadium will be built on top of a platform over the railroad yards,
and will be the anchor tenant for a huge multi block development,
involving a hirise office tower, a shopping mall, and lots of luxury
apartment houses..along with an expansion of the Javits Center.
The city and state have already met with bankers to get them to
underwrite a $ 2 billion dollar bond issue to pay for this development,
and NYC and NYS have each put up $ 300 million bucks apiece..and, the
Hess family, the owners of the Jets, will pony up $ 800 million.
Now, $ 3.4 billion dollars is a hell of a lot of money..and, a bit of
well applied political pressure and embarrasing publicity, and some
protesting and direct action thrown in for good measure, could act as a
wedge under the wheels of development...
Remember, if that project got delayed because the Javits Center's
racism and sexism towards it's employees suddenly became a public
issue, then they'd have to force the center's mangement to impose fair
hiring, just to keep the wheels of commerce moving.
The unions have also decided to support that project..and they wouldn't
want to have embarrasing public reminders of how those 2,000 or so
union members out at the Javits have been abandoned by their unions
like redheaded stepchildren.
The trade show workers are in a particular position here to get their
demands addressed (and hopefully resolved) by putting a spoke in the
wheels of commerce. This is a great opportunity for us, and, hopefully,
we will be able to take it.
Beyond that, we need to look at the big picture.
This is a national industry, and needs to have one unified national
labor standard. The construction unions have a history of signing so
called "international agreements" with companies that operate in
multiple cities (those agreements are typically used to undercut local
union rules, unfortunately).
Most of those international agreements are for companies who function
in that most localized of industries, building construction. There's no
real reason why a drywall or storefront or store fixtures contractor
should have an "international agreement"..they should be subject to the
same local agreement as everybody else.
But, in this most national of industries, the unions have all of these
local agreements, and the cities with weak contracts are used to
pressure those places with good agreements to lower their standards.
And, these days, the unions have been tripping all over themselves to
give the exhibitors and the decorating contractors whatever they
want...there's been no attempt to stop the race to the bottom, and
establish one national standard.
Why is that?
Why won't the unions fight back?
In a word..business unionism.
Business unionism is a political philosophy that is praticed by the
leaders of almost all of this country's unions. It's based on the false
idea that workers and bosses have some kind of common interest, and
that the union's job is to build a "labor management partnership".
Of course, in the real world, there is a very basic conflict between
workers and bosses..that's why we have unions in the first place.
Business unionism flies in the face of that logic..it's an attempt by
union leaders to reconcile the totally opposite interests of workers
and bosses, and to establish themselves as the middlemen who struggle
to maintain this alleged "partnership".
In the trade show industry, this has meant allowing employers to have
radically different wage scales and labor pratices in different cities
(and even different buildings in the same city), and allowing the
contractors and the exhibitors to play one city off against another.
Business unionism also leads to the unions letting the exhibitors, the
decorating contractors, the display houses and the convention center
operators use and abuse the trade show workforce as they see fit, with
little to no resistance.
Business unionism has been the ideology that has guided American trade
unions for the better part of the last 100 years. There was a time when
making deals with the employers led to unions being able to guarantee a
high standard of living for at least part of the membership (often at
the expense of the other part of the workforce...often, that other part
of the workforce being largely composed of minorities and women).
But today, business unionism has a hard time "delivering the goods"..
The leaders of these unions are in a crisis, and it's time for workers
to look for alternatives.
And I belive the alternative that workers should look at is something
called revolutionary unionism.
I've talked about revolutionary unionism on the GANGBOX website before,
and on the GANGBOX listserv, at:
Basically, revolutionary unions are based on the idea that workers and
management have a conflict of interest, and this conflict will exist
for as long as we live under a capitalist system.
Revolutionary unions do not belive in "labor management partnership".
They recognize the fact that workers and bosses are enemies, and always
will be as long as we live in an economic system controlled by a small
exploititave class of businesspeople and investors.
Until the day comes when workers run the society, revolutionary unions
will fight to improve workers conditions, to equalize distribution of
work, and to end all attempts by the bosses to discriminate against
workers based on color or sex..
We can clearly see this conflict between workers and bosses in the
trade show industry...
The decorating contractors, display houses and convention centers bill
upwards of $ 200 an hour for our labor (and that's just for straight
time hours), while the workers who actually do the productive labor
only get, at most, $ 38.78 in wages and $ 26.31 in benefits per
hour..and many trade show workers, even here in New York, make way less
Our labor creates all the value in the trade shows...our skills and
hard work builds, delivers, installs and takes down those pretty
booths, puts down the carpeting, hangs the signs, cleans up after the
exhibitors and the businesspeople who visit the shows, and do all of
the other productive tasks that enable those folks to generate all
those business leads and make all those sales.
Trade show workers create a lot of value for these shows...that's why
the contractors can bill the exhibitors $ 1,000 bucks a square foot for
the booths, and charge them hundreds of dollars for tables and chairs.
But, the bulk of the revenue generated by our labor goes to the
bosses....the convention centers, the contractors and the exhibitors.
We see very little of it..and, if it was up to the exhibitors, we'd see
even less than we do now.
The employers also want a divide workforce..a small but loyal minority
of employees who have something close to steady jobs..a larger group
that work sporadically, and an even larger surplus pool of labor who
can be called in at a moment's notice to provide extra disposable
Now, even the small priviliged group who work every day know that, at
any time, they can be cast into the pit with the rest of us who
anxiously wait by the phone for a call... And, the rest of us are in a
dog eat dog competition for the remaining scraps of work..
There is no seniority, and we can all be fired at any time, for any
reason, or no reason at all.
This form of economic terrorism is used to keep trade show workers in
line..and, unfortunately it does a really good job of that. Especially
since, as I pointed out above the hours are divided up largely along
racial and gender lines..
The unions have long tolerated this situation, and allowed the
contractors and exhibitors to abuse us. As I pointed out above, we even
have had an extremely disgusting situation where a union leader,
Chicago Teamsters local 714 President Billy Hogan, has actually joined
forces with the exhibitors to batter down trade show workers wages to
the lowest common denominator, and to create an open shop scab
workforce side by side with unionized trade show workers.
But, even those union leaders who aren't sellouts like Hogan either
stand idly by while we are attacked, or, at best, encourage us to use
the corporate dominated court system to fight for our rights, rather
than leading us in struggle on the show floor.
How would revolutionary unions deal with these attacks differently?
First of all, they would sort out the hiring situation.
In the case of the Javits Center, this means forcing equal distribution
of work, and, ultimately, forcing the State of New York to dismantle
it's private open shop hiring hall, and place job distribution in union
hands, where it belongs.
As far as job distribution goes, we need a 90/10 job referral system at
the Javits, and in the trade show industry citywide.
That is, on every call, the contractors would be allowed to have 1
supervisor for every 10 workers in each craft. The supervisors would
have to be union members, and would get foreman or general foreman pay
and benefits, and would be picked by management. They would not work on
their tools and function purely in a supervisory capacity.
The rest of the workforce would be referred by the respective unions
(that is, the NYDCofC for the carpenters, Teamsters local 807 for the
teamsters, Teamsters local 237 for the housekeepers and security
guards, and Electricians local 3 for the electricians).
There would be a rotating hiring list, so everybody would get a chance
to work, and everybody would spend time at home, rather than some
people getting work all the time, and others hardly getting calls at
Neither the house, or the contractors, or the exhibitors, or, for that
matter, officers of the union, would be allowed to play favorites. Who
worked and who doesn't would be determined by the schedule alone.
Also, since these shows are scheduled many months in advance, there's
no reason why we can't be scheduled for work in advance.
For instance, the busy part of the year for trade show work in New York
is from March to June. So, why couldn't workers get a schedule in, say,
February, scheduling them from March to August, and then, in July,
they'd get a schedule booking them from September to February. Then we
could make plans in advance, and, on the days when we're not scheduled
to work, we could try and find work elswhere.
Also, workers who are booked on a show should be scheduled for the
entire duration of the show, from setup to takedown. If there is a need
to schedule overtime, or maintenance work during the show, that should
be done by senority..that is, workers who've been in the industry
longer would get the first dibs at that work.
Also, each craft should have a shop steward with each contractor on
each show on each shift, as well as a general building-wide chief shop
steward for each craft, and 3 assistant cheif stewards for each craft
(one on the 8AM to 4:30PM shift, another working 4:30PM to 1AM and a
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