Thursday, September 15, 2005

Job Rules of Carpenters' Union Encourage Corruption, U.S. Charges

Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to hold New York City's carpenters' union in contempt for changing the union's job referral system without government approval, arguing that the changes will encourage more corruption.

The United States attorney in Manhattan, David N. Kelley, said in a motion that in changing the job referral system, the New York City District Council of Carpenters violated a consent decree it signed in 1994 in response to a federal effort to eliminate corruption. Prosecutors said the union was dominated by the Genovese crime family, and it was widely criticized for letting mob bosses pick carpenters to put up and take down displays at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The consent decree requires the district council, which represents nearly 25,000 carpenters, to obtain federal approval before changing its job referral system.

In court papers made public this week, Mr. Kelley argued that the changes give construction contractors far more leeway to hire whichever carpenters they want, irrespective of length of unemployment. The old system generally required them first to hire the carpenters who had been unemployed the longest.

Prosecutors say corruption will be easier under the new system because contractors will have more power to pressure unemployed carpenters to do their bidding.

"Because contractors can handpick virtually 100 percent of the work force at a job site, carpenters are now beholden to contractors for job opportunities," Mr. Kelley wrote. "Carpenters who are at the mercy of employers for job assignments know that if they stand up for the enforcement of union rules or legal requirements or refuse to work off the books or for cash when asked by a contractor, they run the risk of being laid off."

Many contractors prefer paying workers off the books, he said, to avoid paying fringe benefits and to hide evidence that wages are below those required by the union contract.

Mr. Kelley filed the contempt motion last month with Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of United States District Court in Manhattan, who oversees the consent decree. The government also wants the district council's president, Peter Thomassen, cited for contempt. The union has until October to file its response.

Gary Rothman, a lawyer for the council, defended the revamped system, saying it was part of a contract, signed in 2001, that is good for the city's carpenters.

"The employers wanted the ability to hire whom they want and when they want without restriction, and the union got a good deal out of it," Mr. Rothman said. "They got a 25¾ percent increase over five years. That was a magnificent contract. The journeyman carpenter makes over $70 an hour with benefits."

Mr. Rothman questioned why prosecutors filed their contempt motion four years after the contract was signed. He defended Mr. Thomassen, saying he was just one member of a 20-person negotiating team.
The United States attorney's office declined to elaborate on the motion.

Many rank-and-file carpenters say the current job referral system is unfair because it has left many of them unemployed for months at a time, while favored carpenters find steady work.

"This new job request system is horrible," said Gregory Butler, a Harlem resident who has been in the union for 13 years. "It's among the worst things that ever happened to us. They can get guys who work for cash. They can get guys to work for less than the regular rate."

Under union rules, companies must hire half of their carpenters from the union's out-of-work list. Before 2001 employers also had the right to give priority to unemployed workers who had worked for them in the previous six months.

But now employers can hire virtually anyone they want off the out-of-work list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Carpenters Hire New Independent Investigator

September 13, 2005 Delegate Body Meeting—President Peter Thomassen informed the delegate body Judge Charles Haight of Federal Court for the Southern District of New York has appointed Unitel Intelligence Groups Inc. as Successor Independent Investigator for the NYC District Council of Carpenters.

As of August 22, The Independent Investigator (Unitel Intelligence Groups Inc.) shall have the authority to investigate allegations of wrongdoing concerning the operation of the job referral system, and/or corruption or violations of federal, state, or local law by District Council representatives, including without limitation officers, employees, delegates, business managers, business representatives and shop stewards, or District Council signatory contractors; to recommend disciplinary charges against District Council Representatives as well as against officers, employees and members of the constituent local unions for such wrongdoing or for the failure of any officer or member to cooperate with the Independent Investigator; to make referrals to the District Council and/or law enforcement agencies for further investigation when appropriate; and to report to the Court and/or the Government as appropriate. "Wrongdoing" as used in the foregoing sentence shall include, without limitation, 

(i) manipulation of the job referral rules for political or personal gain;
(ii) falsified reports, including without limitation shop steward reports;
(iii) kickbacks and bribes; and
(iv) permitting contractors to pay workers in cash or violate the "50/50 rule. 

The Independent Investigator shall operate the toll-free "Anti-Corruption Hotline," 1-800-279-4707, telephone service in order to solicit and receive allegations of wrongdoing or corruption by any person in connection with the operations of the District Council, whether or not such allegations relate to the job referral system. 

The Independent Investigator shall also conduct an assessment of the District Council's anti-corruption efforts. 

Click here for the full text of the court order.

Monday, September 5, 2005

We Are In It To Win!

General President Doug McCarron, addressing the delegates at the 39th United Brotherhood of Carpenters Convention in Las Vegas, August 2005 “Rebuilding the UBC”.