by Tom CroftonThe UBC is preparing to face the New World Order on its own. As reported in August, the delegates to the convention approved, over the nays of a few kindred souls, the amendment to the constitution allowing the General President to withdraw from the AFL-CIO as he pleases.
Information from some inside the McCarron administration suggests that that action will take place in March, 2001. The motives for this action are not totally clear. Some have suggested that our leader wanted to be top dog in the larger body, and is taking his ball and bat home after not being picked. Some believe that the poor relations many of our Councils have with other trades are being translated to the International arena. Others believe that the personal history of our leader in the Western USA, where work rules are less stringent, and carpenters supply their own power tools or work at piecework rates, is being applied on the larger scale. Whatever the mix of reasons, the outcome is restructuring for the powerful, at the expense of the members. Our collective body has its origins in the struggle for the rights and needs of the working people. Our leaders are interested in their own visions of enhancing power and privilege. Most members probably don't identify with the AFL-CIO, and might not care if we are a part of it. Let's look at the potential outcome of this move.
Agreements with other trades, through councils of the AFL-CIO, divide the work on construction site between the trades. The history of unionism in the construction industry came from the craft guilds. Each craft was responsible for training and developing the work force in its agreed on area. Attempts to join these crafts into industry wide groups failed to reach a level that created one large union. Debate continues to this day on the benefits of each structure. Individual crafts can control their numbers, and sometimes this has been done in a discriminatory way. Some crafts have had a history of raiding other unions' work, the been done in a discriminatory manner. Some craft unions have had a history of robbing other unions work, the carpenters being one singled out as one of the worst at this practice. The many duplications of bureaucracy required to staff the unions in the construction industry clearly cost the members a large chunk of change. Smaller specialty unions often wait for the larger ones to settle new contract rates, and then add on a dime or quarter, to further the disparity between us. Are we best served by this system?
The industrial unions have their drawbacks also. Attempts to bring everyone into one structure could lead to the lowest pay rate applied to all. There would might be cases of increased efficiency , where one specialty worker, who otherwise would need to wait until his part of a project was ready, would be replaced by another, who formerly did the preparation only. Problems with corruption might be more widespread, for example, a pension fund scandal in one region might turn into a national one. An immediate shift to a different system would certainly bring dislocations. The worst version, would be one where the main proponents of the change came from a less than honorable background, and forced the issue through power politics and subterfuge. Enter the McCarron Team.
Our leaders have started this process out of personal willingness to look past the needs and interest of the members whom they are duty bound to protect. The leaders are willing to play "Chicky Run" with the rest of the industry that builds 20% of the nation's projects, while competing as equals with the non union contractors that build the remaining 80%. Competing as equals means lowering our wages and crossing trade boundaries to provide one stop shopping for builders. While a case can be made for developing this ability over time, in conjunction with the other trades, a unilateral endeavor of this type will cement the notion that the carpenters are the scab trade extraordinaire, and will touch off a trades war where no one can win, except the non union competition. The worst nightmare imaginable for those interested in rebuilding unionism in general in this nation is happening right now behind closed doors. Its ugly face will appear shortly, for the general public to see. A majority of the public will be glad. Unionism has given itself a bad name in the latter half of this century. Even though the unions set the benchmark wage that others hover near; and even though the unions are responsible for developing workmen's compensation, creating the 40 hour week , supporting safety on the job, and providing retirement for its members that non union workers can not even dream of, they have given themselves more than one black eye. The retreat from the notion of union democracy and solidarity that formed the movement, towards a corrupt bureaucracy that isolates itself from the realities of the daily workplace in favor of a career of wheeling and dealing, and expense account mealing, is transparent to the citizens of this society.
The distinction between corporate culture and union administrative culture has been removed. The leaders of our organization have as much interest in our members as do the owners of the companies we work for; what can we do for them, and what have we done for them lately? In that respect, the honesty of the McCarron move is refreshing. No more pretending to be working for us.
Those of us who desire a rebirth of collective ideals, and value the power of an enlightened and educated membership, see another path worth taking. We can rebuild alliances with other trades. We can mend fences to approach contract time together. We can organize collectively to bring in the contractors most threatening our market. We can develop a common vision of what we want our society to be, and we can operate on all levels required to bring reality, in line, over time, with our visions. Some day, we might decide that a large industiral union would be best for us. We could build in the classifacations and training requirements to insure that work was done properly by skilled individuals. We could include extra pay for extra training, or any other modifications that reflected the needs and desires of the members. We could transform society to reflect the needs and desires of the majority of the population, the working people.
The US Constitution has, at its core, the Bill of Rights. Central to this document is the statement that man has the fundamental right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Far from window dressing, this core value is needed now more than ever. We are a nation of plenty, and yet most of us work paycheck to paycheck. We send our children to daycare so that we can have two incomes for our families, and we still are broke. We have seen a progression of advances in lifestyle reversed, the dream of a shorter work week has been replaced by more overtime. The increases in our wages have not kept up with the costs of living (385% vs 550%, since 1970). We are experiencing the manipulation of the market in farm goods and energy that benefits only the commodity traders and big business ( 70 lbs of oats is worth $2, a 15 oz box of Cheerios costs $3.50) ( Natural gas prices are at an all time high when many oil fields flare off unwanted gas around the clock).The time is ripe for an awakening of the working people to the need for acting together. We need to find ways to act as individuals, that compliment each other in the design of a world worth living in, and worth working for. We do, collectively build this world. We need to find ways to steer the design in a direction that furthers the interest of the larger group. Actions by our selfserving union officials are moving in the opposite direction.
Those of us in the UBC who recognize the self destructive nature of our leadership need to step up now. We have a small window of opportunity to express our foreboding to the members of the other trades we work next to. We need to refuse to do the work of other trades in a way that tells our boses that we want to be productive, but we won't be parties to actions that ruin our relationships with our coworkers.News from Nevada
Very interesting meeting tonight at local 1977. The big news was two - fold. The Southern California - Nevada Regional Council no longer exists. It has been replaced by the Southwest Regional Council. Added to the mix was the State of Arizona & Central California.Maybe now the Californians will get a taste of what it's like to have hungry people flocking in to take work in their area. The other item was mentioned as an aside. It is if Sweeney doesn't change the AFL-CIO Constitution; Doug MacCarron will pull the Carpenters out. Doug is reportedly meeting with Sweeney prior to the end of the month. Mac is supposed to pull us out the first of March. The reason I was given is the same one trotted out at convention. Mac wants an accounting of how our per-capita is being spent. One of our B.A.s said. "We aren't any different than the Teamsters and they did okay without the AFL-CIO". I suppose we could ask Jimmy Hoffa (if they ever dig him up) or maybe the
Teamos gracing various Club Feds how they did. He also seemed to forget how much work the Teamos raided while they were out. Now that they're back in the AFL-CIO I'm sure they'll love the chance to start it again. Not to mention they'll have the whole-hearted cooperation of every other trade that ever wanted to raid carpenter work. It should be very interesting come contract time with the juristicional gloves off. Meanwhile I'm going to save my money and be very careful about who's working over my head.
At the last union meeting here, it was announced that the new $22 million dollar International Training Center was open and operating. The delegates were given a tour to show off what the International had accomplished. The exact purpose of this center is still a little vague. Reportedly it is so International can have a central location to train Apprenticeship teacher, trainers, delegates, officers, & staff. Today I was at the "toy store" (aka Home Depot) and ran into a brother who had worked on this center. He told me about the 1st class kitchen and (his words) hotel rooms inside. You see, once at the center, no one will be allowed to leave the premises until their training is complete. He said that two groups of organizors have already been through the course. What really torqued my friend off was that none of the fixtures, trim, or cabinets they installed had a union label. He said Duncan (the project manager) told him that the lowest bidder wasn't a union shop. When one of the sub-contractors was found to be nonunion; Duncan said that: The General Contractor was union but that we had no control over the sub-contractors. I was informed that not even the desks and fixtures in Mac & the G.E.B. offices showed a union label. Yes, the International big wigs have offices in the new training center. My friend went on to say that he and others were ready to walk, over the lack of labels and the rat sub. But were told that "There are guys all over the country who would jump at the chance to work on this project."
So much for "market share". Kind of puts the lie to everything we've been told, doesn't it? At the very least the International Training Center should be 100% union. I admit that the above information is 2nd hand. But slowly but surely the word is going to spread. I can hear the rats now. "Why should we use union men and materials when you don't?" The worst of it is; if MacCarron is wrong in what he is doing, we the members are the ones who are going to pay, and he'll say it's all our fault.
Local 1977Withdrawal Pains!
Carpenters plans to exit AFL-CIO spell disaster for membership!! Just when you think union leadership in this country couldn't get any dumber or more ineffective; enter International President, Doug "cash" McCarron and the General Executive Board of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC). It is expected in March of this year, the UBC will withdraw its founding membership with the AFL-CIO. In what appears to be a "McCarron Temper Tantrum" and a little old fashioned "Per Capita Blackmail", the McCarron dictatorship in the Carpenters Union may well risk the survivability of one of America's oldest trade unions, and as well, the futures of its more than three hundred thousand members. The stage was set for the "Grand Exodus" in less than democratic fashion, at the UBC convention in Chicago IL, late last summer. With no input from members, delegates to the convention, many paid pork-choppers on the UBC staff, gave approval to the General Executive Board [GEB] to withdraw. At the same time, UBC rank and file members squared off with the Chicago police who had been called to control members of CDUI, Carpenters for a Democratic Union International.
When actual working Carpenters were finally allowed as visitors to the convention, they were forbidden from taking any signs or literature to delegates opposing McCarron's dictatorship, and mysteriously, as they approached the visitors desk, it was torn down and moved a few feet away, taking hours in the process. Wardens, or Thugs, were assigned to stay close to invading members, challenging any attempts to distribute literature; clearly an intimidation tactic designed to keep the "one member one vote" agenda from voting delegates. Ironically, the post convention edition of "The Carpenter" magazine carried a statement from our UBC CEO, McCarron, stating how he wished every carpenter could have been there at the convention. I wish they could have too; they would have recognized the incestuous relationship the "Brotherhood" has become. 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.
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 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 nd 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.
WarZone Education Foundation Decatur IL
A Voice From Canada
The structure of any union is only relevant if it is democratic. A merger of some or all building trades would not be inherently good or bad. If a union is democratic and responsive to the membership it can be made to work. To believe the above you must of course believe that trades people are capable of making good decisions and don't need to be led by their nose rings.
In British Columbia we have "rat" wall to wall "unions" which are in direct competition with the Building Trades Unions. We fight them because they do not represent their members interests but instead seem to only worry about receiving dues and providing anti-worker employers with a legal facade. Fortunately for us our labour laws require a certain level of democracy and neither the "rats" nor MAC can supercede the laws of our province. It seems to me that carpenters in the States need to either get better labor laws passed that give workers guaranteed rights or turf out the people who seek to destroy what little democracy that was previously allowed in the UBCJ.
For me the sooner we leave the International behind and gain autonomy within a local democratic structure the better it will be. MAC has no legal authority in this province to speak on my behalf and I want to keep it that way. While there is no doubt that the membership occasionally elects BA's and other executive members who are incompetent and worse at least we can turf the bums out when that becomes apparent.
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