by Gregory A. Butler
United Brotherhood of Carpenters General President Douglass J. McCarron likes to present himself as a reformer. Doug wants us to think of him as the man who is going to bring the UBC into the 21st century, to realign the union for the realities of the modern construction industry. However, the truth is a little different.
DOUG THE ORGANIZER:McCarron claims that he wants to organize the non union carpenter, to make the UBC "represent every carpenter". This is a really wonderful idea, especially since only 300,000 of America's 2 million carpenters carries a union card. I'm sure no union carpenter would dissagree with signing those brothers and sisters up, and bringing their work under UBC control, but does Doug live up to his hype?
The fact is, McCarron's organizing record has been anemic at best. There have been a number of campaigns that have been much ballyhooed in the pages of "The Carpenter": trade show shop carpenters in Las Vegas; residential framers in Boise, Idaho and Tallahasse, Florida; cabinetmakers in Los Angeles; furniture workers in San Diego; scaffold carpenters with Colgate and Northridge in New York City (who's bosses were union contractors until just 5 years ago) ect... But, the only organizing drive that delivered more results than hot air was the residential sheetrockers in Los Angeles in 1992.
However, these carpenters had organized themselves independently of the UBC in the late 80's, and had carried out 2 previous strikes on their own. These carpenters called a third strike, in 1992, and fought very militantly, even shutting down Los Angeles' main freeway, I 5, and during one picketline mini riot, actually rescuing 3 strikers who had been arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department.
In a few months, they shut down every major residential tract development in Los Angles, Ventura, San Bernadino, Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties, including the vast "inland empire" developments in northern Los Angeles county. Since this strike was begining to look like a winner, suddenly Doug became interested in letting them in the union.
Even when they were allowed in the UBC, their contract pays these Mexican-American brothers a piece rate (.25 cents a square foot) instead of an hourly rate. This happens to be illegal under the UBC constitution, since the UBC was originally organized in 1881 to FIGHT AGAINST piecework. So, McCarron got the last UBC convention to rewrite the constitution, legalizing piecework rates.
Also, McCarrons boys edged out the Mexican sheetrock foremen who had led the strike. Ironically, most of these guys were former UBC members before the union abandoned the residential carpenter. The UBC also stabbed the San Diego carpenters in the back, by cutting a deal with the drywall contractors association that left them out of the union, and McCarron's crew also signed up the tapers, who's work is in the Painters jurisdiction.
So the shut out strike leaders went to the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades, who chartered a new San Diego sheetrockers local for them. So, the San Diego sheetrockers and tapers ended up in the IBPAT, and the sheetrockers and tapers in the rest of southern California ended up in the UBC. Hardly a ringing sucess.
In New York, McCarrons organizers have been attempting to set up multiple scales, to attract the rat contractors. With the scaffold contractors, Rockledge and Colgate, who used to be union until former District Council Presdent Fred Devine gave them a contract that exempted them from 50/50 hiring from the hall, enableing them to go 100% non union, McCarron's organizers are rewarding them for going scab.
McCarrons organizers will not only keep the Fred Devine hiring hall exemption, but will allow them to pay their carpenters 70% of Local 1536 timbermen scale, which itself is $5/hr lower than the carpenter scale that the scaffold outfits used to pay. This "1536 B division" scale would also apply to outfits that stayed in the union, like UBS and Regional. Of course, Mike Mazucca, Regional's owner and a Genovese family capo, has long run a double breasted shop, paying his carpenters $15/hr while nominally being union.
McCarron's minions are also pushing the idea of giving the renovation contractors in Harlem, the south Bronx, central Brooklyn and south Queens a 70% scale. Of course already union GCs and drywall outfits would get the same deal, so a lot of new construction jobs would magically become "renovation". That actually happened in the '70's, when then District Council President Teddy Maritas cut a similar deal.
Also, thers a racial angle, since most of the non union renovation carpenters are American Black, Carribbean Black, Indian, Pakistani or Chinese. So, they'd get a "seperate but equal" minority pay scale, which would increase these workers already high suspicion of the union.
In the new Suburban New York Regional Council, McCarrons minions have even allowed newly organized contractors to be openly double breasted, with half union, half non union crews. The union carpenters get 70% of union scale, and the non union mechanics get whatever the boss feels like paying. Local 7 calls it "market retention".
DOUG THE REFORMER: When McCarron took the New York District Council into trusteeship, he said he came here to clean up corruption. Now, as all New York carpenters know, ousted District Council President Fredrick W. Devine was a dirty, crooked Genovese family associate who even ran a non union furniture installation company and is now a convicted felon. But how clean are Doug's hands?
Doug attacked Fred, rightly, for loading the DC payroll with relatives. But when Doug became General President in 1996, he got his brother Michael to replace him as Southern California/Southern Nevada Regional Council President.
Also, the New York trusteeship has decided to switch the District Council Welfare Fund from self administration to a claims processor. The contractor? A company called Zenith, which is a subsidiary of Union Labor Life Insurance Co. (ULLICO). Doug just happens to be a ULLICO board member. Since ULLICO has, in the past, overcharged the welfare fund, and has currently overcharged other District Councils, it's hard to see a good reason for swithcing to it's subsidiary.
Although, so far, no hard evidence of illegality has surfaced, there is certainly grounds for suspicion of improper conduct. But Doug has an even bigger conflict of interest. He is on the board of directors of Perini, on of this countries leading heavy construction contractors, and a major carpenter employer. Although this is not illegal, it is surely morally questionable. How can you be a union leader and an employer at the same time? You can't serve two masters.
DOUG THE RESTRUCTURER: McCarron says that we have to change the structure of the union to make it in the 21st century. So, Doug has made some major changes in the UBC. Are they changes for the better, or for the worse?
Doug has merged District Councils, which usually covered a metropolitan area or a state, into Regional Councils, which usually cover several states. Doug claims that this is in keeping with the "regional scope" of today's contractors.
In these Regional Councils, Doug has also eliminated the 50/50 rule, which required contractors to hire half their labor force from the local who's territory the job is in. Now, all they have to do is hire a shop steward from the Regional Council,, and they only have to hire other carpenters from the hall if they feel like it. Doug says this makes the union more "efficient" and "user friendly" for the employers.
But what the real reason for this manouver? Well, in the Regional Councils, you will find low paying rural and suburban locals in the same council with high paying urban locals. And, since contractors can now take their company men across local lines without hiring anybody from the bench, there is a very strong incentive for the companies to hire carpenters from low paying areas and bring them into areas with a higher scale.
We New Yorkers might get to see this first hand if Doug's trustee, Roger Newman, gets to merge the New York District Council with the newly merged Suburban New York Regional Council, which already has just one local, Local 7, for all of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties.
But,Doug might say, wouldn't the shop stewards and the company men themselves complain about getting lower rural scales in urban areas. Well, if the only way to get a job is to cosy up to a company or be a Regional Council steward, it would be crazy to rock the boat by complaining. So, carpenters would just have to make whatever side deal they could.
But there's just one more question about this Regional Council buisness. If Doug REALLY wanted to organize all those 1.7 million non union carpenters, wouldn't we need MORE locals and District Councils, not less?
DOUG LOOKS AT THE FUTURE: If you look carefully at the pages of "The Carpenter", you can kind of get a glimpse of McCarron's view of the future of our trade and our union. It's a vision you might find disturbing.
Lately, Doug has gotten really cosy with the Associated General Contractors (AGC) a heavy construction contractors trade association that includes both union and rat outfits (not a big surprise there, since, as a board member of AGC affiliated Perini, he is a contractor himself). But Doug seems really concerned about the fact that the rat companies have problems finding skilled labor, particularly skilled foremen.
The problem is that the non union outfits do not have an apprenticeship program. The UBC, of course, has one. And no one can run a job quite like an apprentice trained carpenter. So, basically, it seems Doug wants to cut a deal with the rat contractors. They'll get to train their foremen at UBC Joint Apprenticeship Committee schools, probably for a fee, and the UBC presumably won't organize their workers.
Doug has even gone so far as to enter into serious talks about training programs for non union foremen with the rabidly anti union Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a rat (or "merit shop", as they prefer to be called) contractors association, and the Buisness Roundtable, a group of major Wall Street corporations and banks who use construction services and want minimum wage level labor costs in the building trades. A pilot program was set up in 1997 in the Central Indiana Regional Council, training ABC foremen.
This is the logical conclusion of the focus that Doug and his minions have been trying to put on the apprenticeship program for the last several years.
The McCarranized apprenticeship program will not focus on training apprentices in the core carpentry skills that most of us spend our workdays doing, like hanging rock, setting concrete forms, putting up ceiling grid and hanging panels. Instead, it will be oriented on specialty work and supervision.
Apprentices will be trained in installing custom kitchen counter tops, specialized door and hardware installation, trade show carpentry, and scaffold erecting supervision. In Doug's brave new world of union carpentry, we will be outside the mainstream of our trade, doing specialized work the non union mechanics can't do, or in little unionized reservations like the convention centers or we'll actually be SUPERVISING the non union workers, while they install scaffolding.
For a lot of union carpenters, the McCarronized JAC's of the future will be the first step in a career as a NON UNION foreman, or the start or a marginal part time work life in a few small minor backwaters of our trade, actually makeing less than the non union people (because they work the whole season, and we get a day here, a week there).
THAT'S DOUG'S STRATEGY, WHAT'S OURS?: The fact is, we are a minority of the trade today. Even in a heavily unionized city like New York, there are 40,000 people in our trade, and only 15,000 in the union.
We need to unite with these brothers and sisters to survive. Doug claims that's what he wants also, but, as we've seen, that's not the case. We as tradesmen and tradeswomen aren't going to get ahead by makeing deals with the ABC or the AGC or the Buisness Roundtable or any other bosses group, accepting wage cuts for union members and continued low pay and no benifits for the non union.
Doug, and union leaders like him, have the philosophy that they are in a buisness. Their product is the selling of labor as cheaply as possible, and the maintenance of "labor peace" once those workers are on the job. People like McCarron do not have our interests at heart, and in fact, they think that our problems with our employers are inconveniences to their primary purpose.
We, as carpenters, both union and non union, have to build a new type of unionism. Our goal, a better life and a higher standard of living for EVERY carpenter, White, Black, Latino or Asian, man or woman. We should not be on the same side with ANY contractor, rat or union. And, we won't have much use for leaders like Doug.