A Line in the Sand
“A Carpenter’s Call to Arms”
By Bill Walsh
Until the day that New York City Carpenters acknowledge the hypocrisy that we have all been living, our union will gradually keep failing. We as a labor force have become two unions split by the companies we work for, our past corrupt leaders and our own International Union.
We have lost our moral compass and have let the powers that be manipulate our personnel and distill our most important commodity, our Out of Work List. Over the last ten years our fraudulent leaders and crooked contractors have set up the perfect scheme to profit from our labor force. With collusion between deceitful contractors, fallacious benefits staff and free reign given to the leadership, they have pulled off a despicable crime. They have successfully divided a once strong union into an alienated work force of apathetic members. Members placed their trust in elected officials who have misused and ravished our sense of pride. They have turned our membership into a multitude of disenfranchised members. The sentiment of a Brotherhood has been used to betray its membership and fleece our trust and resources.
Ordinarily when a member is dispatched to a jobsite from the Out of Work list, the first encounter is to meet fellow members. Almost always, the company man sees the OWL dispatch as an outsider. The company workers know they are bound for the next job and the OWL member will surely be laid off to find their place back on the list, for who knows how long. There has been a line in the sand drawn and a disconnection of camaraderie established into the mix. The fact that this happens all the time on our job sites is where the hypocrisy lies. The company “ostrich” sticks his head into the sand and says “that’s the way the rules are set up”. They know and feel the system is set up incorrectly. If the steady worker would admit they feel awkward that they never miss a days work and that their family is secure, it would shine a light on the core of our problem. “Hey, that’s the way it goes!” Well, we are all in this together and we should all equally bear the load of a union member. The company worker works steady and hardly ever misses any time from work. They never have to apply for an unemployment claim or have their medical benefits in jeopardy. They just get requested from job to job, follow the company rules and don’t make any problems for the boss. Why haven’t we had a furlough system put in place, at the minimum? The Full Mobility issue that is being suggested is playing into the hands of the contractors. This policy will never give members who work off the list a fair chance. It will most definitely discriminate against older members, women, minorities and apprentices. It is fundamentally opposite of what a union should be about. This opens the door for corruption and will perpetuate the reluctant union sentiment. These company requests are for the seasoned worker who knows his craft, a family relation, friend or just a worker who will look the other way when asked by the company. This permits intimidation and the practice of compelling members to “take cash or lose their job”. If all members were dispatched from the OWL and knew they would be returning to the list with their fellow workers at the end of the job, it would eliminate most of the corruption.
How can the International union not recognize this unfair issue? They obviously have an agenda and marching orders to follow. It’s all about the UBC “bean counters” keeping the numbers up and not the solidarity and fairness for our members. New York City carpenters have had enough of these tactics as one can see from the past rallies in front of the District Council. Over one thousand members united to let them know how they felt recently. You can rest assured there will be more of these rallies if the International doesn’t ease up on New York City’s resources.
As in any trade, business or sport there are high achievers and these people are selected over others. This process is human nature and is often practiced, but when it comes to a union environment, it is different. Unions are based on fairness and representation. These steady company workers seem to conveniently overlook that they also carry a union card and owe what they have to our collective union. Our most important commodity is our work force and how our workers are distributed into our business. This is the fundamental basis of merging together and getting the best for all members. When joined together there is strength, not when it’s fitting. It is how this country has been built and how the middle class has always been represented. There is power in numbers and the little guy should also get representation and respect. Many things have changed over the years. Corporations have taken control and the honorable workers rights have been ravished. Just look at the record profits that these Wall Street companies have been enjoying during our worst recession.
You see, these OWL rules have been put in place by past corrupt leaders in collusion with the fraudulent companies. Many have been exposed and we will keep seeing more of the companies that were criminally involved come to light. They all benefited from the request system and have taken control of the members moving them from job to job. Don’t forget the honest contractors who unsuccessfully tried to compete with this compromised system. They only get to pick from what is left in the work pool left behind. This notion of full mobility where a contractor can pick their entire work force from our unions work pool is absurd. This is the opposite of where we should be going. This will leave room for corruption, intimidation, favoritism and it excludes any member who will sign the OWL in the future. I can’t believe that the UBC International union approves of this and would like to see it come to fruition. Well, maybe I am not surprised by the way we have left the AFLCIO and are going against all the other organized labor trades in America. It has become all about the numbers, not the members concerns.
Let’s face some facts. We are basically turning into a glorified employment agency. All the benefits we receive and pay scale are what the union gets for us with collective bargaining. Yes, we have decent medical benefits but that has gone down hill over the last few years and now it looks like its going to get worse. Co-payments are going up and you have to pay thousands out of pocket for non-generic medicines that are mandatory for certain patients/members. CareMark worked out better for our membership compared to Medco that is helping to subsidize the whole east coast. If we don’t protect what we have in New York City, soon it will all be dissolved. Perhaps it time for New York to take care of New York? Workers from out of town are politely taking the jobs from the members who live here. This was one of the main reasons for starting the mandatory fines that we now incur with our mandatory member participation. It’s not right to let other outside carpenters to take advantage of what inherently belongs to the natives from that area. Some may say, “It’s a union, and we must help each other”. Try to go to a surrounding state and you will discover that you are put on the back of their OWL and told “when all our guys are working, then you will go out to work”. How is this practice rational and why is the New York City judicial system allowing this to happen? Anyone who wants to sign our list from anywhere in the country can just come down and sign up. Well, if we destroy something that is working to support somewhere else, are we really doing right by our members? Why can’t the leaders figure out how to shore up these outside areas without destroying what we have in New York City? When a person can’t introduce a new member, like someone in their family, it is a disgrace. It is preposterous that we aren’t allowed to sponsor a new member! This is one of the main reasons that our apprentice program has failed us so significantly. We accept funds from The Department of Labor, that we really don’t need and by doing this we are required to allow any one off the street to join the ranks of our union. Sure, it sounds great, but these new members usually leave the union right after their apprenticeship and all of our time investing into the future goes out the window. If it was a family member, they would be accountable to the sponsorship and privilege they were given to make a living in an honorable trade. Most other unions operate this way and are better off for it. Nepotism is in every business and well practiced today. The courts, IBM, Wall Street, the list goes on and on. A little nepotism is not a bad thing when kept in check. Some of our biggest leaders have their immediate family members running District Councils in our own UBC.
If one goes to an employment agency and gets a reference, the agency will get a commission and be happy to accommodate its client’s needs. The agency gets paid a fee and then they move on. They don’t get reimbursed for the person’s job skill placement every month and they are not allowed to garnish the workers wage when they feel the agency needs more funds to operate. Why do we pay assessments, dues, hourly fees towards our medical and the “agency “every day? When I joined the union 25 years ago, I saw this surplus of funds go to help and shore up other members who fell on hard times and needed assistance. Now we are subsidizing other parts of the country, training centers that our members don’t even have access to and paying exorbitant salaries to our select few. If you forget for one minute that each and every member who picks up a hammer, shims out a wall, installs drywall or does the layout, are the backbone of our industry, you will be in for a big surprise. It’s the sweat and skill level of each and every member that makes this union function. If we don’t get our OWL and dispatching of jobs correct now, we are finished as a union. We will have become an over priced, glorified employment agency using the word Brotherhood to disguise dishonorable conduct.
Please tell me what difference would it make if a steady company worker got paid from a different contractor instead of the same one, year after year? If you are getting a check and keeping your organization strong, why wouldn’t a steady member want to work for many different contractors? It is the nature of our business to show up and do your best no matter where you are. If you know your skill, you can still get paid and train the newer members, just like the way you learned. Why not strive to keep the organization strong that supplies your benefits, job wage and future pension. Until these steady company workers join the OWL and rank and file we will always be divided. It is not any carpenters real fault but the corruption that has seeped into our union and is destroying what a union carpenter should be. Let’s start a new script and not rely on the government to save us. We are in the process of setting up our council like a Fortune 500 Company by some external influences that have never even picked up a hammer in their lives. Why aren’t our members uniting and protecting our way of life the way other corporations and organizations do? We have decided to let outsiders come into our house and set up shop and slowly bleed what is inherently ours. This is our OWL and we rely on how it is used. We have been deceived by our own corrupt leaders and crooked contractors by the tune of over twenty million dollars. Carpenters are extremely smart individuals but you would never know this by the way we have let our most important commodity, the OWL be ravished.
It is time to embrace a new script and it must come from the members, not from any where else. Our own leaders are playing into the contractors hands and are more concerned about keeping the numbers up and collecting dues. A smaller, lean, cutting edge, unified union is what will bring us into the future. We don’t need outside influences introducing a hierarchy like a corporation when we really need is to keep our union viable, strong and put the real meaning of the word “Brotherhood” back into the mix.
The bottom line is that many say that contractors will go non-union if we resist in any way. The reality is that after years of struggle and six million dollars in the Organizing Department, we are not better off for it. On the contrary, contractors will be more likely to use union labor when we get our house in order. It’s your union, so join in to pull your weight and join the fight to unify our future. Perhaps Judge Berman will see how important this is and make it mandatory for all members to work from a centralized list and distribute our skilled, honorable workers to all contractors without corruption. Most other unions have this system of 90% from the union and 10% from the company. There is no reason why we can’t implement this system and make it work for our union in New York City. Let’s bring back the New York City District Council of Carpenters and make it the honorable trade it once was in the past for our future brothers and sisters. God bless the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
Bill Walsh Local157 June 17th, 2011
Well said brother - spot on!
Spot on, but he simply has no influence to change things @ 395
XXXXXXXX - Nice Try White Rabbit!
"We, as there are quite a few of us who gave of themselves"
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