by Gregory A. Butler
In the summer of 2011, the leadership of the New York City District Council of Carpenters negotiated labor contracts with the Association of Wall Ceiling and Carpentry Industries (the main association representing contractors that employ union carpenters in the city) and several other associations.
So far, competed contracts have been negotiated with Wall Ceiling and Carpentry, the Hoisting Trade Association (scaffold contractors), the Building Contractors Association (one of the associations that represents general contractors) and the Greater New York Floorcoverers Association (the carpet laying contractors).
No agreements have yet been finalized with the Association of General Contractors (the heavy and highway contractors association) the Cement League (concrete contractors) the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association (woodwork manufacturers and installers) or the Contractors Association of Greater New York (the other general contractors association).
However, there is strong reason to believe that the AGC, Cement League , MWA and CAGNY would demand contracts that are substantially similar to the Wall Ceiling and Carpentry, HTA , BCA and Floorcoverers Association agreements were those contracts to be ratified.
The most radical clause in the agreements was the “full mobility” clause. This clause allows the bosses to evade hiring from the union’s Out of Work List. They still have to hire a shop steward from the OWL but the rest of the crew can be composed entirely of company men selected at the sole discretion of the employer.
This is kind of a big deal, for reasons that I will explain below.
There is also a 20% wage cut on hotel construction jobs and some residential projects. This “market retention rate” deal is also pretty important, since much of the commerical construction in the next few years in this city will be hotel work.
These contracts have not come into effect yet. Due to complications related to the racketeering case-related court supervision and international union trusteeship over the NYC District Council, these contracts have not yet gone into effect.
The newly elected reform leadership of the District Council have called for a direct membership vote on these contracts, the first time since the District Council was founded in 1872 that the members will be allowed to vote on the union contracts they work under.
The new District Council leadership have chosen to remain neutral on the contract. The Association of Wall Ceiling and Carpentry Industries and the contractors they represent are very much NOT neutral and plan to actively propagandize their employees to vote for this contract.
To balance out that pro contractor propaganda, I’ve written this brief essay to give some background to the contracts.
For decades, union carpentry contractors had to hire half of their crew from the out of work list, a practice known among union carpenters in NYC as “the 50/50 rule”.
Contractors have long resented this, in large part because it gives their employees an independent source of employment. In particular, the sizeable segment of union carpentry employers who have ties with cosa nostra or other organized crime groups, or who otherwise engage in corrupt practices independent of the mafia, have long had a preference for using the employment insecurity common in the industry as a way of manipulating carpenters to work for less than union scale.
This practice, known as “lumping” or “working for cash”, has long been a phenomenon in carpentry in New York City, dating back to at least the 1970s.
The NYC District Council has often been lax in fighting against this practice. In the past, there have been numerous District Council officials who have been prosecuted due to collusion with corrupt employers, often in the form of accepting bribes to allow for union contract violations.
The 50/50 rule was one of the few protections that union carpenters had from these type of employer abuses and union corruption.
However, starting with the 1996-2001 union contracts, the contractors were given a way of evading the 50/50 rule – the “request system”.
The employer still had to take whatever shop steward the list sent, but as for the rest of the crew they could request particular carpenters be sent from the list, even if that person wasn’t the next available carpenter with the job skills they required.
This let them pick and choose who they hired.
This led to some carpenters working all the time while others languished on the out of work list.
This also led to some contractors making deals with carpenters whereby a carpenter who wanted to be requested would have to work for less than union scale, often substantially less.
This pattern of corruption was widespread during the contracts that covered 1996-2001 and 2001-2006 and the first 3 years of the 2006-2001 contracts.
In 2009, the federal court that oversees the District Council under a 1993-issued racketeering consent decree substantially modified the request system, due to the rampant corruption.
Contractors are now only allowed to request 13% of their total workforce from the out of work list, with 50% plus the foreman being company men and 33% plus the shop steward being hired from the out of work list.
The contractors didn’t like this one bit, which is why they demanded the “full mobility” system in the current agreements.
Considering the sordid history of working for cash under the request system, there is every reason to believe that, if granted full mobility, those abuses would come back rapidly.
The pay cut that these contractors are demanding on hotel and residential jobs is added insult to injury. Union carpenters in New York City have already made substantial economic concessions on housing work, in some cases as much as 40% on some subsidized housing jobs.
The contractors in all trades pushed heavily for 20% pay cuts last summer – this current 20% pay cut on top of the current market retention rate concessions is excessive and we need to turn it down.
This is why in my opinion union carpenters in New York City should use our newly granted voting rights to VOTE NO on the current contracts.
- commentary by GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
FOR GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
“UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER”
Originally published on Friday, February 10, 2012
© 2012 Gregory A. Butler, all rights reserved.
FULL IMMOBILITY how the “full mobility” clause in the 2011-2016 NYC Carpenters union contract will hurt union carpenters