Sunday, October 30, 2011

NYC Carpenters Rat Ruling Regime

Submitted by mnadmin

The giant, snarling, inflatable rat has been widely employed by unions in labor disputes with employers and non-union contractors in recent years, but on the lower west side of Manhattan this past August, the iconic species of rodent bared its teeth at an unusual target: The headquarters of the New York City District Council of Carpenters (NYCDC).

Rank and file protests in the shadow of the District Council building on Hudson Street constitute a new high water mark for a rising tide of membership animus regarding the grip of the international. Opposition to newly enacted bylaws and a restructuring plan which promises to institutionalize top-down governance in the Carpenters union has prompted increased organization among the rank and file, while  dissatisfaction with the McCarron administration's bargaining table results have further galvanized the membership.

The protests on August 19th and August 25th were organized by Demian Schroeder, and were under the auspices of NYC Carpenter Rank and File Organized. In true democratic fashion, newly minted apprentices and long suffering journeymen alike talked with one another about the state of their union, with many bristling as fiercely as the rat they rallied under. The grievances presented were as diverse as the members attending, but each was understood to be symptomatic of ailing democracy in their union.

The situation the NYCDC rank and filers find themselves in is both unique and complex. The aspirations of President Douglas McCarron for full control of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters have in the past been partially mitigated in New York City by the power of the federal government. The presence of a federally appointed monitor with the power to enforce the dictates of a consent decree, arrived at as a negotiated settlement to a 1990 US RICO suit, has impeded the complete transfer of power from the New York District Council to the international. But previous review officers had failed to remediate rampant corruption. Ultimately this convinced Judge Charles Haight to appoint Review Officer Dennis Walsh to the post in 2010, with unprecedented, yet limited, power to combat corruption and promote democracy within the union.

However, the presence of the monitor and court order has not prevented McCarron from foisting a new trusteeship on the NYCDC that has not only granted McCarron's appointees interim control, but also a significant incumbency advantage as the organization now contemplates its first free elections since 2008.

In recent months, the two forces currently wielding power over the NYCDC, McCarron's trusteeship and Federal Monitor Dennis Walsh, have wrangled over the organizational structure, bylaws, and election procedures that will endure when the trusteeship is withdrawn. While empowered by the consent decree to check the influence of the International on the District Council by appeals to the court, Monitor Walsh has, to date, used that power solely as leverage to gain concessions from the UBC through an informal negotiation process. The specter of litigation is the sword of Damocles which Walsh is using to safeguard the election process and its aftermath unless and until he chooses to litigate before his authority to do so expires in December of 2012.

Despite significant influence, Walsh is disadvantaged in negotiations over the laws and structure of the emergent District Council. First, he is constrained by the express terms of the stipulation and order signed by Judge Haight which does not grant him the authority to rewrite the bylaws, but only requires the UBC and NYCDC to make certain limited amendments such as, for example, the establishment of a hearing and trial committee. Second, Walsh is tasked with the dual goal of eradicating corruption and maintaining union democracy within the District Council, and the International, through its appointees, could systematically trade corruption concessions for greater latitude on democratic issues.

But though the bylaws are still flawed, Walsh has pointed to several concrete achievements in improving the 1999 bylaws including: roll call voting, the recording of delegate meetings and the institution of a compliance office.

Long simmering resentment among the rank and file regarding the NYCDC's many masters boiled over into public protest when it appeared that, as a consequence of the power struggle, bread and butter issues paramount to the membership had become an afterthought. In June, the NYC Carpenters’ agreements with the contractor associations expired. During subsequent negotiations, word spread that the District Council and the employers' associations had tentatively agreed to a new five-year contract calling for five percent pay cuts in the first year on top of two previously forgone scheduled pay increases. Ironically, the United Brotherhood of Carpenter's argument for their consolidation of power over locals was an oft repeated but rarely substantiated "economics of scale" argument which posits that increased unit size results in increased bargaining leverage and better outcomes in contract negotiation. At the rally, Carpenters wondered aloud why, despite the NYCDC's status as the largest trade union in the city, the NYCDC was unable to secure raises commensurate with increases in cost of living as other city trades unions had done. Worse yet, the Building Trades Employers Association was rumored to be insisting upon full control over work referral, traditionally shared with the Union. A prevalent notion among the rallying carpenters was that the Building Trades Employers Association was insisting upon "100% manning" as a quid pro quo for the establishment and funding of a Labor Relations Committee; one of the many institutional safeguards against corruption Monitor Walsh has insisted upon.

Traditionally, the power of trade unions have in large part lain with their ability to control the supply of labor and provide jobs for their membership through the use of hiring halls.  However, in recent years, the rank and file had seen their control erode from a 50/50 to 67/33 staffing arrangement in favor of the employers. The new deal would strip control over work referral from the union completely.

On August 19th, mere days after learning of the tentative agreement negotiated by Supervisor Frank Spencer, a McCarron appointee, over 600 hundred carpenters turned out to rally. Two carpenters were arrested, as hundreds broke through the police barricade set up across the street from the council and charged the building with signs chanting, "This is our building," "Rats in the building," "Rats go home" and "No Pay-Cuts." The carpenter rank and file has no power to withhold ratification should a contract be signed. They lack the right to vote on their contracts. The absence of democratic institutions has, in this case, made rallies the last reasonable resort of the rank and file.

Carpenters rallied again on August 25th. This time, approximately four hundred rank and filers again gathered in the shadow of the District Council Headquarters on Hudson Street in Manhattan for round 2 of a confrontation literally billed by organizers as a title fight between Union Democracy and union officials McCarron, Spencer, and Ballentyne. While no arrests were made and the Carpenters in attendance remained inside the pen erected by the NYPD, there were no shortage of rank and filers spoiling to be on the undercard. Said one speaker upon hearing there were business representatives of the current regime in attendance, "If you want to crack 'em in the jaw, I'll bail you out!"  But despite the tough talk, the barbs, slings, and arrows all remained metaphorical.

Speaker after speaker rose to denounce the ruling regime and their most recent results, painting the latest rumored contract proposals the predictable result of negotiators with no skin in the game. Robert Makowski seized upon failures at the bargaining table as support for the proposition that, "contracts should be negotiated by the people affected by them." The rank and filers also expressed concerns about the effect current staffing arrangements and the prospect of losing what remained of union referral privileges. Speakers demonstrated that the out of work list was already untenably long with one speaker acting as a mock auctioneer and ralliers gamely shouting out ever increasing numbers that corresponded to their position on the out of work list.

Rally organizer Demien Schroeder easily identified the root cause of the various issues plaguing union members, "There isn't a lot of direct democracy in the carpenters," he said restating the case that so many had been making from the lectern. Schroeder went on to say that the Carpenters feel as though they are still being punished for the corruption that existed under the former EST Michael Forde, who is now serving an 11-year prison sentence on federal racketeering and bribery charges. First they suffered when the Forde regime accepted bribes from contractors to ignore their hiring of non-union workers, and again as Forde and his associates successfully stole millions from the benefit funds. Then, Schroeder said, after seeing their union profaned, carpenters are being forced to watch McCarron carry away what's left of it on his back.  But it looks like now they won't be watching it lying down.



  2. Demian didn't organize those protests all by himself. There were a lot of people involved. He must have had a friend write this article, to make him look like he was the big shot behind everything.


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