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When Regional Council Director John Casey signed a cut-rate, contractor-friendly contract in the midst of the strongest boom in 30 years, the justification was the need for the union to "regain market share".

Until the late 1970s, the building trades controlled about 80% of construction in the US. When the non-union construction started to increase, the unionized contractors went to the building trades leaders and told them that they had to help them compete with the non-union. Our own leaders simply accepted this idea and repeated it to the membership. At first,, many members accepted this idea also.

This meant that we, the union carpenters, had to compete with the non-union carpenters for who had to work cheapest. The entire purpose of having a union is to eliminate exactly that sort of competition.

Holding Back Our Wages

It was only after a few years of give back conditions and wages while the non-union sector continued to grow that this became clear. And why shouldn’t it grow; after all, the non-union usually pegs its wages at a percentage of union scale; if we take a cut, they take one. Then we have to take another one, leading to a never-ending downwards spiral.

Going along with this was the union leadership cutting the contractors all kinds of concessions to keep them happy. Did they violate the hiring hall? No problem; we’ll let them hire who they want. Did they fail to pay fringes on time? No problem, we’ll let them pay when they get good and ready. (And if they fall far enough behind, we’ll even allow them to only pay a part of what they owe and forgive the rest!) This was our leaders" approach, and members are sick and tired of it. Every time they complained, they were told in one way or another that nothing could be done, so they got sick of going to union meetings.

As members got more and more discouraged, they increasingly lost confidence in the union and the contractors knew this. The contractors got bolder and bolder, and the nonunion spread even wider.

The new slogan of "market share" is nothing but a replay of this idea of helping the unionized contractors compete.. The way we are supposed to regain market share is to hold down our wages and conditions.

"Valley Storm" and Work (Profit) Preservation

The whole approach totally undermines any serious organizing effort. How is the union to overcome the vicious repression and resistance of the contractors, especially in the Valley area? The only way they can do this is with the enthusiasm and power of an organized and active rank and file. But while the leadership talks about membership involvement, Volunteer Organizing Committees, etc. in practice they discourage membership participation through forcing rotten contracts down our throats.

So what do they do instead? They base their efforts on an appeal to the contractors to sign a union contract because it’s in their (the contractors’) own best interests not because their workers will go on strike and be backed up by the union carpenters, but because they can get a plentiful supply of not-too-costly labor through the Union. In the booming remodel industry in San Francisco, they are offering the contractors a special contract for 80% of journeyman scale. Plant, Dome, Mayta & Jensen and other contractors who do this same work are also eligible for this contract. The only reason they don’t go for it is that they know they couldn’t get carpenters to work for them at that rate at present. But in the next recession, they will be beating down the doors to get that contract.

A Strong Union

The Union should fight for the best contract with the best wages and conditions possible. The leadership should organize regular general membership meetings to explain why we need and deserve an immediate $5.00 per hour raise, coffee breaks, full return of the black Friday’s, job protection, a stronger hiring hall, etc. They should also explain that to win and keep these things, we must see to it that all carpenters get them - in other words, organize the unorganized. The struggle for a good contract with good wages and benefits should be directly linked to the need to organize.

They tell us the opposite: to take cuts now in order to help regain "market share" so as to unionize the industry. Nothing could be better calculated to making the idea of organizing unpopular among the members, to discourage the members and weaken the union.

The Working Carpenters for a Stronger Union is dedicated to turning around the United Brotherhood of Carpenters into a strong and active force.