Friday, June 10, 2011

Dual power in the NYC Carpenters Union

Submitted by mnadmin

Throughout the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, in all of the United States, there remains one last remnant of union democracy, and that's in the New York City District Council of Carpenters. International President Douglas McCarron would like to eradicate this vestige so that the 22,000- member unit can be forced into the authoritarian mold of unionism he has successfully devised for his union everywhere else.

Outside of New York City, Carpenter locals are merged into sprawling district and regional councils where virtually all aspects of member individual rights are effectively suppressed. Each council is dominated by an Executive Secretary Treasurer who is armed with powers that make him/her as close to an autocratic dictator as is possible under federal law. The EST is elected by vote of delegates from the affiliated locals, but that simulacrum of democracy is an empty fiction, because no one among all the members of all the locals can hold any paid union staff position without the O. K. of the all powerful EST. Delegates depend on the EST for a staff job. Locals are forbidden to pay salaries to their own elected officers or to any one else except clerical employees. All collective bargaining, selection of business representatives, negotiating contracts, processing grievances (if any), receipt of working dues -- in fact every meaningful union power and responsibility passes into the hand of the council, which means the EST. Locals are reduced to administrative shells with no more impact on union life than a social committee. Each EST is a kind of minor warlord; but over them all, armed with his trusteeship atom bomb, stands the great autocrat, the international president.

In New York City, there is one big difference. Here the top officers of the council, including the Executive Secretary Treasurer are elected not by delegates but by direct referendum vote of the entire membership. The NYC council remains exceptional because a simultaneous, overlapping, sometimes rival dual power rules the NYC council: on the one hand, the power of a federal judge; on the other, the power of International President Douglas McCarron.

For the last twenty years, after a RICO suit by the Justice Department against the Carpenters council, it has been subject to federal jurisdiction. After former Executive Secretary Treasurer, Michael Forde, was convicted on corruption charges, McCarron appointed a trustee to take over the council. But the power of a federal judge trumps the power of the union president. So it will remain as .long as the judge retains jurisdiction. By order of the judge, under a consent decree, McCarron is overruled. Carpenter council officers here, unlike the rest of the country, are elected by membership vote. But the distinction between rule by the judge and rule by McCarron goes far beyond the elections.

Here's McCarron's mode of operation: Frank Spencer, his appointed trustee in NYC, was also trustee over the New York Empire State Regional Council. One day in April, Spencer abruptly informed members that their up-state council had been dissolved and combined with Carpenter locals in New Jersey into a new 30,000-member council. Thirty-three locals had been abolished, offices closed, and their members merged into ten new locals. Carpenter officials have attained such a degree of contempt for the members that they no longer bother to go through the hypocritical motions of appearing to consult the membership. It all happened suddenly, overnight. You awake one morning to find that your council and your local have disappeared.

The same sudden fate befell Carpenters now homogenized into the Pacific Northwest Regional Council. In mid-March members of 11 locals learned that their locals had been dissolved. No immediate information on the precise nature of the reorganization. From now on, they can await job calls from a new computerized system.

In New York City, where council affairs are supervised by Dennis Walsh, the Review Officer appointed by the judge, union affairs are managed with at least a minimum respect for the membership. Violations are reported on a secure hotline. Walsh reported to a membership meeting attended by 300 rank-and-file carpenters, where he spoke of his stewardship and solicited their opinions and suggestions. Later Walsh encouraged members to nominate themselves for an advisory committee he hopes to appoint. Now, proposals are in order for what is to follow when the McCarron-imposed trusteeship expires.

1 comment:

  1. Is there a union class tonight ...

    ReplyDelete

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