Thursday, August 4, 2011

Concrete workers return, but Carpenters OK Strike

Walkouts at the World Trade Center and other construction sites end as concrete workers extend a deadline for a new contract. Meanwhile, the carpenters union authorizes a mid-August strike.

Carpenter Rally April 12, 2011

By Daniel Massey

While one construction labor dispute cooled this week, another heated up, posing a new threat to projects across the city.

Concrete workers, who walked off their jobs at the World Trade Center and other sites Monday, agreed to return to work Thursday and extended their deadline for a new deal to August 16, labor and industry sources said. If no deal is reached by then, the workers could strike again.

Representatives of the Cement League and the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council declined to comment.

Meanwhile, delegates of the second largest construction union in the city, the 25,000-member District Council of Carpenters, voted unanimously Wednesday night to authorize their union to strike if agreement on a new contract isn't reached by Aug. 15, a source close to the building trades said. The carpenters' deal expired at the end of June.

Negotiations for the carpenters are being led by Frank Spencer, who was appointed in 2009 by the general president of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America to oversee the local union after several of its officials were indicted for bribery. He's negotiating new deals with a half dozen contractor associations, including the Cement League and the General Contractors Association of New York. Current rules forbid the 25,000 members of the carpenters union from ratifying their own deals.
Denise Richardson, GCA

“We have an extension in place,” said Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association. “I'm sure the carpenters will honor the extension, and we'll continue to negotiate.”

Carpenters union officials, including Mr. Spencer, did not return calls seeking comment.

But rank-and-file members of the union said the main sticking point in negotiations has been contractors' attempt to abolish the union's hiring hall system. Currently, half of the carpenters hired for a job have to come from the union's out-of-work list. Contractors want to do away with the system so that they can hire any union member they want, union members said.

“You're turning from the union being a source of employment to the contractors being the source,” said John Musumeci, a member of Local 157 of the District Council, who runs a blog on the union.

Workers say getting rid of the union list would lead to contractors making under-the-table deals with carpenters to skirt union salary and benefit requirements. “If this goes through, the official posted union scale will have no relationship to what's actually being paid in the field,” said Gregory Butler, a 20-year member of Local 157. “I guarantee it's going to lead to ‘let's make a deal'— people doing what they have to do to get a job.”

Mr. Butler said contractors would have an “easier time pushing a pay cut” than eradicating the hiring hall. “That's something that's incredibly unpopular,” he said.

Industry officials had not expected talks with the carpenters to be contentious. Then again, they hadn't expected trouble from the concrete workers either. In the run-up to the June 30 expiration of about two dozen construction contracts, the primary concern had been the operating engineers, who control the cranes that are a vital cog in building. But more than a month after the deadline, the operating engineers have a new deal while concrete workers have staged a three-day strike and the carpenters are now preparing for a walkout of their own.

The talks are occurring against a backdrop of a carpenters union that has a history of corruption. In 1990, the federal government brought a racketeering suit against the union, beginning a two-decade long period in which the organization has been formally monitored by U.S. officials. In 1994, the government entered into a consent decree with the union, and last year, a federal judge appointed a review officer, Dennis Walsh, to oversee the operations of the union and its benefit funds.

1 comment:

I would ask that if you would like to leave a comment that you think of Local 157 Blogspot as your online meeting hall and that you wouldn’t say anything on this site that you wouldn’t, say at a union meeting. Constructive criticism is welcome, as we all benefit from such advice. Obnoxious comments are not welcome.