Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Carpenters union undergoes overhaul

By Matt Glynn

The Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters, a statewide organization of unionized carpenters whose pensions, insurance and health care funds were ravaged by Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, is being merged with a New Jersey-based organization.

The overhaul is also forcing the consolidation of Cheektowaga-based Carpenters Local 289 with two other locals, in Rochester and Olean, into newly formed Local 276.

The Empire Council underwent a leadership shake-up last year, amid allegations it had disproportionately burdened its upstate members with millions of dollars in investment losses stemming from Madoff’s massive fraud. An investment adviser working with the Empire Council had placed the money with Madoff.

The total losses to the Empire Council’s pension, annuity and health funds were estimated at more than $160 million.

After closed-door hearings last year, the Washington, D. C.- based United Brotherhood of Carpenters removed the Empire Council’s executive secretary and treasurer, then placed the organization under its supervision.

Now the UBC has decided to merge the Empire Council into the New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters, creating a 30,000-member Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters.

“This new council will help better position our carpenters given the current economic conditions,” said Frank Spencer, UBC vice president and the supervisor of the Empire Council, in a statement.

But some Carpenters members in New York State are unhappy with the way the changes are being imposed and question what the Northeast Council will do with members’ health and pension funds.

The UBC is combining 33 locals — including the one based in Cheektowaga —that were affiliated with the Empire Council and the New Jersey Council into 10 new locals. Two other New Jersey locals were left intact.

The UBC said the consolidation aims “to increase market share and man-hour opportunities.”

But a Buffalo-area Carpenters member who asked not to be identified faulted the UBC for the way it abruptly took charge of Local 289’s office last week.

“They did this totally classlessly,” he said. “There was no plan in place, no explanation.” It is not clear where the new Local 276 will be headquartered, he added.

A representative at the Carpenters office in Cheektowaga directed questions to the UBC in Washington, and Thomas Burke, who had served as Local 289’s president, could not be reached to comment. Last year, Local 289 said it had 1,400 members.

Richard Dorrough, a member of Albany-based Local 370 and a vocal critic of the Empire Council’s leadership, said he is also unhappy with the way the UBC, led by Douglas McCarron, is executing the merger.

“We don’t know where our money is going,” Dorrough said. He also faulted the UBC for imposing leadership changes on the locals.

Tricia Mueller, a Northeast Council representative, did not return a call to comment.

The Northeast Council will be headquartered in New Jersey. Its territory does not include the New York City area, which is covered by a separate council.

The Northeast Council will not be under the UBC’s supervision. “In light of past challenges, the newly formed NRCC will be committed to improving the oversight of the pension and benefit programs of all its members,” the UBC said.




  3. communication,communication,communication, is needed.


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