Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In blow to contractors, gaffe stalls union vote

Rank-and-file carpenters seeking to kill agreements negotiated by national union leaders benefited from a clerical error. The real losers may be contractors.

By Daniel Massey

Delegates being informed about the gaffe.
A clerical gaffe by leaders of the national carpenters union forced them to table a vote on several labor contracts that they had hoped to push through before a new braintrust is installed on Wednesday at the 25,000-member District Council of Carpenters.

The error casts doubt on the future of contracts negotiated between the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and five contractor associations. It also raises the possibility that the agreements might have to be renegotiated once the District Council's new leaders come to power. Additionally, it rendered moot a lawsuit filed Friday by rank-and-file carpenters who sought to delay a vote on the deals until the new administration was installed.

The hitch came Tuesday as a result of a federal judge's ruling that the deals had to be posted online for union members to view two weeks before the vote. At a meeting Tuesday afternoon, the union's incoming executive secretary-treasurer, Michael Bilello, made a motion for the vote to be tabled because important provisions of two of the contracts were not posted. Details of a so-called market-recovery rate, which would give contractors a 20% discount on hotel and certain residential work, were not included on the website.

The motion was accepted by a representative of the carpenters' union. No date has been set for when the deals might be considered. Mr. Bilello did not return a call seeking comment. A spokesman for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters also did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Mr. Bilello and his slate of administrators will be inaugurated Wednesday at 3 p.m.

“I would assume that the contractor associations and their counsel will be calling Bilello to find out his views on what has already been negotiated with the UBC,” said Dennis Walsh, a monitor appointed by the federal government to oversee the operations of the scandal-plagued union.

The District Council of Carpenters has been run by its national parent, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, since its chief was jailed following a 2009 racketeering scandal. But new local leadership was elected late last year, and national leaders—in their final move before ceding power—were trying to push through contracts they negotiated over the last six months.

Mr. Bilello ran for executive secretary-treasurer, the union's highest post, on a platform opposing so-called full mobility, one of the most controversial provisions of the contracts.

Under the tentative agreements, employers would no longer be required to hire at least one-third of their workers via union referrals, and would instead be free to select any member of the union to work for them.

Contractors have argued that so-called full mobility will save them money by increasing productivity, but union members contend that it will kill important protections like seniority and could lead to discrimination. Union members also say that the national union has pressed for the change because it will help it avoid the deluge of National Labor Relations Board charges filed by workers who challenge the union's role in hiring decisions.

But now the future of full mobility, and indeed the contracts themselves, remain up in the air.

1 comment:

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