Tuesday, July 27, 2010

KC worries about St. Louis union dispute

The Kansas City Star

With the St. Louis carpenters union’s expansion into Kansas City, local labor leaders will be sure to monitor the effect on the area’s union electrical work.

That’s because a battle over jurisdiction and work issues has erupted between the Carpenters’ District Council of St. Louis and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1 in St. Louis, the AFL-CIO’s longtime electricians union.

Earlier this year, electricians union officials in Kansas City voiced concerns over the St. Louis carpenters union forming its own electricians union in direct competition with IBEW Local 1. Those worries probably heightened when the Carpenters’ District Council of Kansas City was dissolved last week.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the union’s national organization, ordered that the 14,000-member Carpenters’ District Council in Kansas City be parceled out to three other districts, with St. Louis receiving the greater share. About 9,000 of the Kansas City district’s union carpenters living in western Missouri and Kansas now belong to the St. Louis council.

About three years ago, the carpenters and electricians unions in St. Louis feuded over which group should do a certain job on a big casino project in downtown St. Louis, according to a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.

The bad blood escalated to the point that in late 2008 the carpenters union formed Associated Electrical Contractors Local 57 of St. Louis, becoming a union alternative to IBEW Local 1, which has about 4,000 members.

Associated Electrical Contractors Local 57 has made inroads in St. Louis, signing up 200 contractors. But that has furthered the tension with IBEW Local 1, whose leaders have questioned the legitimacy of the rival electricians union.

The Post-Dispatch reported that vandals had destroyed property at the firms signed by AEC Local 57 in three separate incidents.

The national organizations of the two unions have asked their St. Louis units to resolve their differences.

But the conflict does not appear to be over. The carpenters union in St. Louis has been successful in signing up non-union electrical contractors that allow union carpenters to do electrical work, said Mike Damico, financial secretary of IBEW Local 124 in Kansas City.

“We’re afraid that could also happen on our side of the state,” Damico said at a labor/media meeting in early June, weeks before the St. Louis carpenters council took over the Kansas City membership. “We call them ‘carpentricians.’ ”

Damico and other Local 124 officials could not be reached last week following the announcement regarding the St. Louis Carpenters’ District Council taking over the Kansas City area.

A St. Louis carpenters council officer last week said he did not expect the battle with the IBEW in St. Louis to spread to Kansas City.

“AEC Local 57 is a St. Louis union, and I don’t think they plan on expanding into Kansas City,” said Dave Wilson, assistant organizing director for the St. Louis carpenters council. “We will continue to have the same relationship with the construction trades in Kansas City that we had under Terry Davis.”

Davis was the longtime carpenters union leader in Kansas City before last week’s developments.

While the union under Davis had its share of jurisdictional work disputes with other construction unions in Kansas City, labor observers agreed that they have not escalated to the levels currently seen in St. Louis.

Local labor leaders will see what happens now that Terry Nelson of St. Louis is responsible for the direction of the carpenters union in Kansas City. Bitter labor fights like the one in St. Louis are harmful in attracting new businesses to the area, Jim LaMantia, a St. Louis labor leader, told the Post-Dispatch.

“Anything that is a negative like this can have an impact on development,” he said.

To reach Randolph Heaster, call 816-234-4746 or send e-mail to rheaster@kcstar.com.

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