Monday, June 28, 2010

Labor Pains: Terry Nelson vs. Everybody Else

St. Louis Business Journal - by Evan Binns

Terry Nelson’s (right) efforts to launch a new electrical union have jolted the St. Louis construction industry and ignited a national battle between labor organizations.

Nelson, executive secretary of Carpenters’ District Council (CDC) of Greater St. Louis, began organizing Associated Electrical Contractors Local 57 about a year ago, recruiting independent electricians to his union’s ranks by offering lower rates to garner more business, according to International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1, the nation’s oldest chartered local union.

Nelson alleged in a radio interview May 21 that the cost of construction in St. Louis was 28 percent higher than larger markets, such as Chicago, due to unproductive practices on the part of local unions. That charge, he said, was the impetus to form Local 57.

“This is business 101,” he said. “Contractors want cost-effective work, so you have to become accustomed to this economy in order to survive.”

But members of Local 1, led by Business Manager Steve Schoemehl, counter that Nelson’s tactic is an example of “union raiding,” one union stealing work from another by undercutting prices. “(Local 57) are union raiders willing to do work that another trade has performed, for a lot less than the standard wage and benefit package,” Schoemehl said. “They signed non-union contractors to a union contract at a severely reduced wage and benefits package.”

The battle has drawn the attention of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a national association of 56 member labor organizations.

On June 16, an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 people — including tradesmen from around the Midwest — rallied against Nelson and CDC in Forest Park, led by Mark Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, along with nine other AFL-CIO bosses. Throughout the metropolitan area, Local 1 has begun a media blitz against the carpenters union, including print, billboard and online advertisements warning against hiring allegedly poorly trained Local 57 electricians.

Now as the fight escalates, boiling over in the form of construction-site pickets, it threatens to disrupt the local construction industry at a time when union jobs are coming at a premium.

Ed Finkelstein, publisher of Labor Tribune, the official labor newspaper, wrote in the June 17 issue that, if the feuding continues, “the door will be flung open to major non-union contractors who flood into town with their own work crews. At that point, the livelihood of some 30,000 plus union workers and their families will be in serious jeopardy.” Finkelstein said the detriment to the local economy would be profound, given the impact of high unemployment among local construction workers. “Their current unemployment rates, which are over 40 percent in some crafts, are a major reason for the local recession,” he wrote.

Missouri lost 18,000 construction jobs during the past 12 months, a 15 percent decline, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Missouri saw one of the highest percentage drops among 25 states to experience declines in construction work, according to the association.

Local 1 is struggling with an unemployment rate of about 35 percent among its active members. Schoemehl said added competition would only compound his members’ current employment woes. “It’s hard enough to secure projects today, and it’s hard to convince some owners to build 100 percent union,” he said. “All this (fight) does is drag everybody down.”

The carpenters also have been hit by high unemployment. CDC’s unemployment rate hovers between 25 percent and 30 percent for 18,000 members in Missouri and Illinois, according to Nelson. Nelson said Local 57’s affiliation with the carpenters would help create a one-stop shop for construction services in the wake of lagging activity.

“You have to compete (for work),” Nelson said. “I don’t have time to worry about anything other than man hours.”

Local 57 has about 100 members working for 12 contractors, including St. Louis-based Crown Electrical Contracting and Birkel Electric in Chesterfield. IBEW Local 1 represents 5,600 active members working for 147 electrical contractors in eastern Missouri and Illinois.

With construction activity slack throughout the industry and rampant unemployment among local unions, St. Louis construction workers would benefit from a resolution to the dispute, according to Jim LaMantia, executive director of PRIDE of St. Louis, a construction labor-management group. “The people out there are very hungry for jobs,” he said. “This (fight) should not be disrupting this town.”

In order to compete, Local 57 lowered its construction rates to entice contractors to hire its own electricians, rather than those of Local 1, according to Schoemehl. Local 57 electricians were recently hired by Chicago-based Ledcor Construction Co., which is building a Wal-Mart in Godfrey, Ill.

Members of IBEW Local 649 in Alton, Ill., the local union covering Godfrey, picketed June 16 against the St. Louis carpenters and Local 57, alleging that Nelson’s startup union was raiding work from Local 649’s electricians.

“Terry Nelson and these Local 57 contractors signed a sweetheart agreement that undercuts the wage and benefits standard that Local 1 members have bargained for over the years,” Schoemehl said. Local 57’s lower rates entice builders away from other unions, according to Schoemehl.

IBEW Local 1’s standard wage and benefits package is $51.43 per hour, as of June 1, according to Schoemehl. Local 57’s wage and benefits package is about 20 percent less, or about $41.14 an hour, Schoemehl said.

While Nelson maintains that local construction costs and unions’ “lazy” practices limit job opportunities, Labor Tribune’s Finkelstein wrote that too many variables went into Nelson’s calculating construction costs in order to find an overall higher average of 28 percent. Variables include financing, permitting costs and the cost of materials, according to Finkelstein.

Gerald Feldhaus, executive secretary of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, noted that the construction of the new Busch Stadium as well as the Highway 40 reconstruction, both union projects, were completed ahead of schedule. In the case of Highway 40, Feldhaus said, the project was completed one month ahead of schedule and $10 million under budget.

While the jurisdictional dispute has been simmering over the past year, it stems from a series of disagreements near the end of 2007. In November of that year, tensions erupted between the two local unions when the carpenters abolished a 53-year-old labor agreement with Local 1 and launched a new division, Associated Electrical Contractors Local 57. Local 57 was formed to help guarantee work for some 18,000 members in Missouri and Illinois after St. Louis city electrical inspectors issued stop work orders for unlicensed electrical work at CDC construction sites, according to the CDC’s Nelson.

“When an electrical inspector comes on a job and puts a red tag on my man hours and takes them away from me,” Nelson said “I’m going to retaliate.”


  1. Richard DorroughJune 29, 2010 at 3:28 AM

    Dear Mr.Nelson.Shut the Hell Up You McCarron Assclown

    Let’s hope that the IBEW does not make the mistake and make "Deals: with Nelson. That is what the UBC is counting on.

    What they must do for the sake of all of Union Labor in the US is crush this blatant attempt by Nelson and McCarron to steal the work from our fellow tradesmen and women. This is not the first time McCarron has tried this. He gave it a shot in NY when he created a new Tapers and Painters Union and tried to steal work of the Tapers and Painters International.

    McCarron had his ass handed to him. Now he is trying it in St.Louis. If the IBEW calls for representation votes from the NLRB McCarron will get his ass handed to him again in St.Louis.

    He and Nelson know this and are hoping for a "deal" to settle this dispute. The IBEW must crush this move by McCarron and his puppet Nelson for the sake of us all.

    McCarron left the AFL-CIO not over per capita tax as he claims but to pursue his delusional attempt to be "King of All Union Labor". He left the AFL-CIO so he would not be burdened with their anti raiding bylaws. He sees the UBC as the new AFL-CIO with himself as the King and his cronies as the new court jesters and robber Barons.

    Perhaps these new Local 57 inductees might want to take a look at their future as UBC electricians. Have they had a look at the destruction of the livelihood of UBC Carpenters perpetuated by McCarron and his new world order of district councils? Their future is to be robbed and raped by the McCarron machine just as he and Nelson have been doing to their own members.

    In New York the McCarron operated NYC District Council has been taken over by the Feds for bribes, kickbacks and drugs taken by McCarrons hand picked Officers as well as being infested with the mob.

    The Empire Regional Council of NY is in Trusteeship for corruption and financial irregularities and should be visited by the feds next. The Chairman of the Empire Council welfare fund was Joseph Olivieri one of the 9 indicted at the NYC District Council with alleged ties to organized crime.

    This is the future of the new Local 57 members. Welcome to the party boys. You have jumped out of the frying pan and directly into the fire.

    McCarron and Nelson will now do things to you that make the non Union look like boy scouts.

    This is not just about stealing work. This is about the destruction of Union labor as we know it. The McCarron regime have destroyed democratic Unionism in the UBC.

    The McCarron regime has destroyed the financial futures of its members as with the Upstate NY Carpenters who lost a majority of their Pension and 60% of their HRAs to mismanagement of a McCarron supported District Council. McCarron IGNORED cries for help for the last 3 years while the money was lost.

    The McCarron regime has supported and kept in office common criminals like indicted Officers like Michael Forde EST of the NYC Council. For ten years after being accused of taking bribes and cheating the members of the UBC.

    McCarron refused to bring Forde to justice and was instrumental in keeping him in office so he could steal more from the members. Forde was finally indicted again last year and failed drug tests. Finally, and only after being forced, did McCarron walk away from this criminal and his Unity Slate.

    This is what McCarron and Nelson wants to bring to the rest of organized labor.

    This is the destruction in store for the New Local 57 members. This is the corruption McCarron and Nelson would impose on the rest of the trades. Nelson sits there like some pompous wind bag bringing salvation to the trades.

    The fact is he is EST in an organization that steals and robs from its own members, denies them any form of democratic rights, [...]

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