WORKING CARPENTERS RESPOND TO L.A. TIMES ARTICLE ABOUT INTERNATIONAL CARPENTERS UNION PRESIDENT, DOUGLAS MCCARRON (Organize or Die 03-14-02)
The March 10 2002, L.A. Times article " ORGANIZE OR DIE by Nancy Cleeland, about Carpenters Union president Douglas McCarron seems to ignore and downplay many pertinent facts.
From: tom crofton (editor of the Kerf, SWCC)
From The WarZone Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2001
Many negative possibilities will likely occur if the GEB follows through on what must be considered a maniacal withdrawal. Locals will no longer have a voice in central labor councils and delegates to local and state bodies will be removed from office and scores working for AFL-CIO organizations will lose jobs. The UBC will lose the protection afforded by the AFL-CIO constitution against raiding. Jurisdiction is already a source of pain for Carpenters and Millwrights, and as the market tightens, the current cannibalism between crafts will worsen and it is likely that UBC members and ultimately the staff will suffer as non-affiliates. When you consider a single trade union against the combined resources of all the other trades vying for construction jobs, it's not hard to imagine where union contractors will turn. While initially, McCarron may find some allies in contractors who want "wall to wall" employees, sufficient pressure from AFL-CIO skilled trades will overturn those alliances.
The real question is, what will the UBC mis-leadership give up in the interim? Will wages and benefits be substantially reduced to attract jobs? That is likely and in fact, some current agreements negotiated without rank and file approval, already contain concessions. The Westinghouse agreement for example, forces workers to take 90% of scale and on a recent power plant turbine job, Millwrights were forced to do piping work normally preformed by the UA, the Plumbers and Steamfitters. This example is just the tip of the iceberg, as dry-wallers and other carpenter units are now being forced into lower scales and piecework. The much-preached "Safety" has become a joke, falling victim to business unionism and "competition". Mimicking Rat contractors will lead to more injuries and even job related deaths. But those are not concerns for handpicked staffers and hacks that never see a job, but enjoy generous salaries and benefits at the expense of the members under their rigid control.
Corruption, nepotism, and cronyism, are out of control in the Carpenters union. Indictments of Carpenter leaders are surfacing at an alarming rate. Out of Work lists have become a joke for rank and file members. Allowing contractors to recall certain members often circumvents out of work lists, when actually, it is mostly cronyism at work and the contractor doesn't care as long as he has a body. Sweetheart deals allowing contractors to bring their own employees and circumvent local hiring halls are commonplace. Real representation is nothing more than a myth as more and more contracts allow contractors to fire "at will", with no recourse for rank and file members. In many cases, the Steward position has become a reward system for members who protect the BAs and contractors; Stewards who are the first man on the job and the last to leave, guaranteeing employment to those who cow tow to the BA who hand picks them. Most damaging, is the lack of democracy in the UBC, where Business Agents are appointed and members have no right to vote on contracts or elect who represents them. Can it get any worse for UBC members? Absolutely, and it will when the UBC disaffiliates!
Insiders say the rift between the UBC and the AFL-CIO centers around organizing, or the lack of it. That is doubtful considering that current "organizing" in the UBC consists of bringing in employees from non-union contractors and dividing up scarce work amongst more members. Without signing up contractors, many leave to find work. Others say McCarron is miffed about not getting Georgine's former position as head of the Building Trades Council, a powerful position in the national AFL-CIO. The CDUI lays claim to the theory that so-called "restructuring" under McCarron is about gaining absolute control and operating the Carpenter's as a business, a theory that seems real enough under the current dictatorship.
The CDUI theory embodies the questionable relationship between Perini Construction, Tutor- Saliba Co and McCarron, who has a seat on the board of Perini, which cost a Carpenter pension fund 22 million when Perini stock took a nose dive last year. The CDUI claims McCarron receives a healthy chunk of change as a board member, some say as much as 55,000 a year. If the UBC does become a "wall to wall" business that works beyond craft lines, disaffiliation is a must. For UBC members, certain disaster as they mimic non-union contractors and become the latest to adopt the "labor ready" approach. It is currently being made clear to apprentices in the UBC what their obligation is to employers, how they must compete, but no focus is placed on union solidarity and it is common for all UBC members to be sent across picket lines. Withdrawal from the AFL-CIO carries another startling drawback for UBC members: members will have no recourse to challenge the UBC dictatorship; we will become the rats we say we despise.
Date: 10 Jan 2001
From the October/November 2000 issue of UDR Reformers jolt Carpenters convention
By Mike Orrfelt, HardHat Construction magazine
An international union convention, much like a Democratic or Republican party convention, is a grand show, meant to demonstrate power and unity rather than conduct business or make important decisions. The 38th General Convention of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, held in Chicago fourth week in August, would have been a textbook example, if not for those annoying reformers who upset the even tenor of its customary ways.
Actual working carpenters were vastly outnumbered by paid union staffers,who may have comprised as much as 85 percent of the nearly 2000 delegates attending. The canned presentations, scripted cheering and strict adherence to the top leadership's program illustrated the discredited one-party system that International Unions so closely resemble. A casual observer could easily have concluded that no more important business was conducted than the ritual trading of union lapel pins, always a popular element of Carpenters Union conventions. That conclusion would be wrong. There were two noteworthy aspects to this particular convention.
First, despite overwhelming pressure, a courageous group of rank-and-file members spoke up for those who were not present. While Carpenters General President Doug McCarron told the convention ". . . the union is a tool that helps them [the members] get what they deserve'not give them all they want," a group of 40 of those members demonstrated outside. They protested McCarron's restructuring, which has removed the rights of members to elect local officials and ratify contracts, as well as consolidated power in large
Regional Councils far removed from local unions. Their rallying slogan, "One member, one vote" reminds carpenters and other union members that only a democratic union truly belongs to its members.
On the third day of the convention, the dissident union members nominated candidates opposed to the McCarron Team. They made short speeches reminding delegates of their duty to protect union members' rights, made the case fora democratic union, and declared their readiness to act as watchdogs over the many large benefit funds that have been an occasional source of scandal in the union.
The next day, the dissidents got a surprising 9 to 14 per cent of the secret ballot vote for the union's top leadership jobs. Many delegates, wearing McCarron Team lapel pins, privately told the opposition candidates that they were the class of the convention, a desperately-needed voice of honesty.
The second significant aspect of the convention has implications far outside the union itself. McCarron signaled to his that the union is threatening to withdraw from the AFL-CIO, the federation that keeps peace between its affiliates, preventing them from waging war among themselves for members and jurisdiction, both of central concern to building trades unions.
McCarron told the assembled delegates, "I am telling you now: We are looking at how the AFL-CIO and the Building Trades Department spends our money' more than $4 million a year at the national level. And if they don't use it as well as we can, they will not use it at all. No member of this Brotherhood is going to see the money they work for, sweat for, risk their lives for, used to pay a Washington bureaucrat's salary."
Coupled with the complete absence of the Carpenters Union at the last AFL-CIO convention, this statement appears to send a clear signal the Carpenters are prepared to go it alone. The other unions in the Building Trades Department must be asking themselves if, without the AFL's restraint, the Carpenters are getting ready to come after their members and their craft jurisdictions. Carpenters President McCarron has fired the first shot in what may turn out to be a war among construction unions.
Carpenters' Union Quits AFL-CIO -- The War Has Begun By JoAnn Wypijewski
There have been audacious moments in the bureaucratic history of American organized labor, moments when, despite the power-seeking, membership-squeezing impulses of autocratic leaders, some matter of true principle was at issue. Doug McCarron's recent decision to pull the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners out of the AFL-CIO is not one of them.
This is the first time a union president has broken with the labor federation since 1968, when Walter Reuther took the United Auto Workers out over the AFL's support for the Vietnam War. Reuther was a despot, an accomodationist to racists in the industry and his own union, and an enforcer for the liberal establishment against radical challenges, but opposing the war was not simply a rhetorical feint.
McCarron has arrayed himself in the vestments of reform, writing to AFL president John Sweeney on March 29 that he was sick of watching labor's numbers decline, sick of wasting dues money on a growing Washington bureaucracy, with no change in site. On its own there is some justice to the argument, but as Mike Orfelt, editor of the battling pro-democracy building trades newsletter Hard Hat, put it, with McCarron "you have to measure a thimble-full of justice against an ocean of crime."
McCarron's pr machine has so successfully promoted him as a reformer that even in left labor circles it's common to hear people talk of the Carpenters' organizing dynamism; at the other end, Business Week says McCarron has "a lot of credibility on the subject of reform". But though the Carpenters' stable of organizers numbers 600 - many of them staff who simply got a name change - membership is barely keeping pace with attrition. In 1968 the union had about 800,000 members; last year it had 323,929 according to the constituency it posted with the AFL, though McCarron boasts 500,000, and that's the number the newspapers print. But, as always, the rhetoric of "Organize or Die" (McCarron's battle cry) and even the numbers are secondary to the fundamental question, Organize for what?
"War" is the short answer to that question, and "war" is more than a rumor flying through the building trades these days. At the crudest, most self-interested level the only reason any union belongs to the AFL-CIO is to buy a form of anti-raiding insurance: the federation mediates disputes between unions over jurisdiction, a regulatory system meant to keep unions from stealing the work and the members of other unions. McCarron doesn't use words like "stealing" and "war"; instead, he talks about building a "wall-to-wall union", applying an industrial organizing model to construction. But McCarron's particular spin on it is best revealed by a speech he gave in Hawai'i to the National Erectors Association, five days before he wrote his high-minded letter to Sweeney.
"You need the freedom to assign the work based on what makes sense", he told the construction bosses, "what makes all of us competitive on the job. If there's a dispute, let the owner settle it. It's his money and his job. Surely, we've learned that much.... While industry was demanding more for its construction dollar, our answer was to shut down your job while we argued over whether an iron worker or a millwright did your rigging. We not only refused to help solve the problem, but we refused to admit there was a problem."
"We're serious about reorganizing the industry," concluded the great union reformer, "We're serious about customer service."
McCarron's is the language of the temp agency, and dissident carpenters say that's exactly the wall-to-wall model he will emulate. Workers, already no more than dues units in the Carpenters, will simply be a guaranteed labor supply, at a price competitive not with the other construction unions but with the temps of huge worker mills like Labor Ready. You want a sweeper, you want a hod carrier, a plumber, a frame setter, a finisher; the Carpenters will supply them all, at bargain wages.
McCarron will have to do better than the temp agencies, but in a hundred ways over his five-year reign he's signaled that he's striving not for the loyalty and affection of workers, which would drive wages up, but for the loyalty and affection of the contractors, which can only have the opposite affect. Already in the Bay Area the Carpenters have underpriced the Laborers Union for low-wage work, creating a category called "scrapper" at $6 an hour. It has introduced piecework into its contracts, something usually associated with sweatshops and strawberry fields. At present, union carpenters make from $14 to $34 an hour, but McCarron sees the future in signing up legions of nonunion workers who will toil below scale, for fewer benefits.
As Ken Little, chairman of Carpenters for a Democratic Union (CDU), who challenged McCarron for the presidency last year, says, "McCarron is turning our union into a corporate business and trying to make its members into a Labor Ready organization for the job market." Orfelt fears that construction sites, already dirty, dangerous places to work, will only become worse, as unions fight over who gets the work, who gets the paycheck. In other words, Organize and Die.
It's telling that McCarron gave his "customer service" speech to the Erectors Association, whose main line of work would normally be the province of the Iron Workers Union, the guys who put up the steel skeletons of large buildings. The Carpenters have set up a vast training facility in Las Vegas, and if its anything like the regional training centers it will be equipped to instruct neophytes in a full range of construction skills. (Astoundingly, some of the subcontractors on the $22 million International Training Center were non-union.) In the union's school in central Illinois the millwright shop has plumbing equipment scattered throughout.
When a carpenter taking a tour of the place made a comment to the effect, "What's all this plumbing shit doing here?" the program coordinator quickly whisked the group away. David Johnson, who relayed that story from Champaign on a CDU listserve, also reported that a big concrete contractor, River City Construction, "one of the worst companies in the area to work for, has terminated its contract with the Iron Workers in Champaign and Springfield, weeks before their contracts were up for negotiation. The Iron Workers Business Agent in our city has said that the company intends to do this in other cities. In the words of the Iron Worker B.A, 'The war has begun!'"
These are not buoyant times for the AFL-CIO. It put more time and money than ever into electing Al Gore, and while union turnout was immense, about one-third of union voters went with Bush. Down went ergonomic standards. Down went the Democrats on tax cuts and so probably soon on Medicare. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Democratic legislature voted to put a "right to work" statute to a referendum, "paycheck protection" schemes continue to be hatched, and the details of campaign finance reform could mean the end of union coordination in local political races all over the country.
Worst of all, down have tumbled union membership numbers, as 160,000 manufacturing workers lost their jobs in 2000 and new organizing fell flat. Only 9 percent of private sector workers are unionized now, from 9.4 percent in 1999. Government jobs are the only growth area for unions, which made it especially pathetic to watch union people pull out all the stops while Gore boasted that he'd personally overseen the slashing of 377,000 jobs as part of his Reinventing Government project.
Sweeney and his team tried moral suasion to get recalcitrant unions to organize, and sunk many millions of dollars into industry-wide drives: the strawberry campaign, the New Orleans tourist industry campaign, the Seattle SUN campaign, the Las Vegas Building Trades Organizing Project. All of them top-down affairs, all of them dead or in disarray for a variety of reasons, not least, in the case of BTOP, the failure of McCarron's Carpenters and the other construction unions to work together. The AFL tried cajoling its central labor councils and state federations to mobilize, organize. Who talks now of Union Cities? McCarron blasted the AFL for inflating its staff, but it's no secret that probably the biggest expansion, in the field mobilization department, was undertaken to try to get around do-nothing local and state bodies, a great many of which are controlled by the building trades.
Six years ago, when "organizing" became the official mantra of institutional labor, a few voices in the wilderness raised the question "For what?" Always the answer that came back was "Power". Ideally, rank-and-file power but, absent that, power in numbers would do. Union democracy was at best a secondary issue, derided by labor's intellectual light artillery as the preoccupation of a left fringe; certainly it was not something that the AFL or anyone in a position of union leadership could talk about. With McCarron's war cry, the soulless limits of such reform are terribly plain.
Here is a union boss whose own membership marched in protest against him at the Carpenter's national convention last summer. He and his dynastic predecessors have spent their careers strangling in its crib every internal organizing effort, every campaign that raised questions of who controlled funds, who controlled jobs, who controlled the union. "They're Carpenters," a union dissident said, "they eat their young."
Rank and file members had no say in the matter of their union's exit from the AFL and have almost no say in the way their union is run. They don't elect their top leaders; most of them don't even get to vote on their contracts. McCarron has stripped their locals of power, investing authority in regional councils whose leadership he manipulates into place. McCarron's best friends are developers and contractors. He sits on the board of Perini Construction.
Marty Conlisk, a militant electrician who works with Labor Beat video, attended the Carpenters convention last year and said, "I experienced a most fascist display of power. If they would have put searchlights around the perimeter, it could not have had such an intimidating effect. Absolutely frightening. If it wasn't for Ken Little and the other candidates speaking out for democracy, I would have gone out back and hung myself." Now he says his own local meetings, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are dominated by intramural discussion - who's trying to get whom. Welcome to the brave new world of reform.
August 3, 2000
Patrick Martin,Member of Parliament
(Winnipeg Centre) New Democratic Party
446 West Block House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Dear Brother Martin:
As a former Business Manager of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America Local 343 located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada you know first hand the struggles faced by trade unions.
As the current Labour and Training critic for the Federal New Democratic Party representing the riding of Winnipeg Centre you have spoken against government legislation and policies, existing or planned, that alter or negatively effect the clear identifiable platform espoused for many years by the labour movement.
It is our understanding that you remain a member of UBC Local 343 while carrying out your responsibilities on behalf of the NDP and that of representing your constituents in Winnipeg Centre. Certainly this is commendable and any of us in a similar situation would continue with our membership in our respective local union.
The NDP - New Democratic Party- has remained for the most part a friend to Labour. Historically it is the Canadian labour movement, at a National, Provincial and Local level that is responsible, to a very large degree, for its creation and continued existence.
This is not the result of happenstance but rather a carefully carved and crafted effort by those who remain committed and loyal to the working class. As your party's name states 'Democratic' and the application of democracy everywhere and at all times.
Although your current responsibilities with the NDP consume a large part of your time, you are aware of the current re-structuring initiative being carried out by the UBC&J International. You are aware of the opposition to those efforts by many Brothers and Sisters from our very close and dear neighbour to the South.
That in Canada, the British Columbia Provincial Council of Carpenters is on record as being in complete opposition to those International efforts is known to you. That in Ontario, the vast majority of UBC Locals do not support nor endorse the International's restructuring initiative - they are currently before the Ontario Labour Relations Board in solidarity against those International efforts - is also known to you.
The opposition to the UBC's efforts revolves around one key word "Democracy" or the lack thereof.
You have been invited and have accepted an invitation to address the Delegates to the upcoming UBC Convention in Chicago.
As your New Democratic Party advocates, we call on you Brother Martin, to bring forward to the convention the huge importance and role that democracy has played, and must continue to play in guiding us as a people and as proud members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
To advocate that all individuals, no matter the class, no matter the position they hold, have the right, through a democratic process, to vote.
Not to address this most important issue, may be perceived by some as indicative of your support or lack thereof regarding the current restructuring initiative and your party's position regarding 'Democracy'.
In the alternative, you may decide that the current climate within the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America is perhaps too controversial and re-examine the invitation.
Good Luck - Brother Martin.
Sean McKenny, Member UBC&J - Local 93 Ottawa, Canada
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