Solidarity, Not Censure
By Sherie Winston
April 29, 1996
Jurisdictional battles are nothing new among members of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Dept. The issue heated up again recently, and the cause may be politics as much as actual differences over what workers each union should represent.
At a February meeting of the 15 BCTD presidents, bricklayers' union chief John T. Joyce proposed censuring the laborers' union "for its predatory objectives and behavior." Heated discussion ensued, according to various meeting participants, but the resolution was not put to a vote. Instead, union officials were asked to develop a solidarity pact and work out their individual differences.
The conflicts go beyond "the age-old problem of jurisdictional friction between crafts" and concern an "expansionist program," the proposed censure resolution stated.
The Laborer's "expansionist program" exceeds traditional organizing methods, the proposed resolution stated.
It alleged that the laborers' union methods included "bald cash and job offers to representatives of other unions to come over to the Laborers" and "negotiations by the Laborers to include the definition of others crafts into their own collective bargaining agreements."
Joyce claims the laborers' union has encroached on the territory of the plasterers' union. "We feel we're next in line," he adds.
When asked why the censure proposal was brought up now since jurisdictional problems have been around for a long time, Joyce responded that the laborers' union "has exhausted everyone's patience."
Jurisdictional disputes historically are "exacerbated by a declining union market share," says Jeff Grabelsky, director of the Construction Industry Program at Cornell University.
Union membership has been in decline for the past 25 years, but that trend should level off and reverse, he says.
According to Joyce, the laborers' union was given 30 days following the February meeting to try to resolve its problems with other unions or the matter would be returned to the BCTD.
The key is enforcement of the BCTD constitution, Joyce says. If the conflicts cannot be resolved, the future of the department must be questioned, he adds.
The bricklayers' union chief admits that his motives go beyond mere jurisdictional conflicts and cross into union politics. When BCTD President Robert A. Georgine ran for re-election last August, Joyce supported his candidacy. Laborers' union President Arthur Coia supported Georgine's opponent, painters' union President A.L. "Mike" Monroe.
Coia says he isn't crossing turf lines but that his union's training programs for new technologies could theoretically cross traditional jurisdictional boundaries. "Jurisdictional boundaries are changing," Coia asserts. "I'm trying to put people to work," he adds.
Despite his initial opposition to Georgine's re-election, Coia says he stands behind the BCTD chief: "I believe in promoting the concept of solidarity."