Jan. 11, 2000


By Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter

The interior demolition workers are some of the hardest working people in the construction industry. They are also some of the most abused and underpaid. When Local 79, NY Building Laborers, launched an organizing drive among them, in 1996, it was supposed to bring an end to this injustice. What happened was a little different. Here's the story.

The demolition industry in New York is divided into two sectors, structural demolition, or "housewrecking", which until recently had it's own local, Laborer's Housewrekcers local 95, now a part of 79, and interior demolition, which was and is a part of the mason tenders locals, which were merged into one local in 1996.

The interior demolition workers prepare buildings for renovation by dismantleing the interior work, tearing out walls, ceilings, soffits, floor coverings, fixtures, furniture ect, so the space can be changed. Because the buildings are usually occupied, they mostly work at night. These brothers and sisters work very hard, and their job is very dangerous. They are also largely immigrants, mostly from Mexico, Ecuador and Poland, but there are also Irish, Italian and West Indian immigrants, and White, Black and Puerto Rican Americans in the buisness.

They were also for many years stepchildren of the Laborers union, forgotton and taken advantage of. Some demo work was union, but most interior demo was rat, and even the "union" work was totally wide open. It also didn't help that, despite the fact that interior demolition workers work mainly at night, the Mason Tenders District Council had no BAs on night duty.

That started to change in 1996, when Laborers Local 79 started to organize among demolition workers.

79 launched a very aggressive recruitment drive, not only among the demolition workers, but among non union building laborers and Laborers Asbestos and Lead Abatement Local 78 also lauched a major organizing drive in their jurisdiction at the same time.

And they actually signed up a lot of members, in the demo worker's case, 79 signed up most of the contractors. The problem was, they made a concessionary deal to get these workers in the union, a "temporary" wage giveback that may now become permanent.

Previously, laborers in interior demolition got the same scale that other building laborers got, currently $25.55. Under the agreement 79 signed with the Interior Demolition Contractors Association, the workforce was divided into two catagories of demo workers : A men and B men.

The B men were laborers with less than 3,000 hours in the UNION demolition buisness [of course, it didn't matter how many hours you had worked in NON UNION demo]. A men were laborers with more than 3,000 hours in union demo.

A man scale is $25.05, sligtly below regular building laborer rate. B man scale is only $14.75. And, to make that worse, there is no cap on B man employment, in fact, a contractor only has to have 2 A men, the foreman and the shop steward. The rest of the crew can be all B men.

The justification for this reduced rate was "with a lower rate, we can go ahead and capture the majority of the demolition industry". A questionable argument, especially considering the can of worms that 79 opened when they signed that contract. 79's officers also claimed that the reduced rate was only "temporary", and the demo workers would get elevated to building laborer rate in 1999, but that didn't happen.

Naturally, the contractors tried to use as many B men as possible. In some cases, A men were asked to work as B men, or they wouldn't get the job at all. The hall even dispached A men as B men to jobs.

Also, some contractors in the Associated Brickmason Contractors tried to pay some of their laborers B man demolition pay, in situations where mason tenders were demolishing brick walls to be replaced by new brick.

79 did put a stop to that abuse, but there were still problems in the interior demo industry.

First of all, the demolition agreement had a very weak hiring hall system. As is customary in most Laborers agreements [and similar to many carpenter agreements] the foreman is sent to a job by the employer, and the shop steward is from the hall. But, in most other agreements, half the crew have to come from the hall. Not so in the IDCA agreement.

After the company man foreman , and the local man steward, who both have to be A men, the NEXT 6 LABORERS ON THE SITE ARE COMPANY MEN, and they can ALL BE B MEN. Then the hall gets to send ONE LABORER, who also can be a B man. Then the employer gets 2 MORE COMPANY MEN, who can all be B men. After the 9th company man, then the job has to be 50/50, half company men, half local men from the hall. And all of those laborers can be B men.

So, except for the foreman and the steward, they can have a crew who are all $14.75/hr B men. This makes it very hard for an A demolition worker to get a job, unless he/she agrees to be paid the B rate. And, as the companies get to refer 9 of the first 11 laborers on a demolition job, it is especially hard for an A man who is a local man to get a job, it's even hard for B men who work out of the hall to get a job.

And, there are some demo contractors who send out non union men to a job, and, instead of getting them in the union after the legally required 7 days, just take them off the site before 7 days, and send them to another site for 6 days.

Also, although building laborers and mason tenders are allowed to go out of the hall as demolition workers, rarely are demo workers sent out on building laborer or mason tender jobs.

This is despite the fact that building laborer work, which basically involves, among other things, sweeping up after the other trades, protecting installed material from getting damaged and removing the many containers of garbage that accumulate daily on a site, is easier , less dangerous, higher paying and has more opportunities for OT than demo work.

The mason tender work, setting up scaffolds, bricks and mortar for bricklayers, and cleaning up after the brickies, is also a hard job, but it, like building laborer work, is also higher paying than the demo work.

It is unfair that the demo workers don't get these opportunities.

Also, the demo industry has the most grivances filed with the local, but 79 only has 4 BAs to cover the night shift, when most demo work is done. This is an improvement over the 12 New York locals of the Mason Tenders DC that local 79 replaced, who had ZERO night shift BAs. But, the BAs are reportedly slow to come to a jobsite to help a steward resolve a problem, sometimes they don't show at all.

Even if they come, there have been complaints that the stewards don't get backed up by the local and the BAs the way that building and mason tender stewards do during the daytime.

Another problem is that, unlike other laborers, who are supposed to be paid in full when they get laid off ["lay off is pay off"], demolition contractors have the option of sending a laborer's last check by mail. This has led to problems of contractors paying laborers late, and guys and gals having to chase down their money, which they shouldn't have to do.

And that two tier, $14 "temporary" rate, that was supposedly for "organizing purposes" and was supposed to end this summer?

Well, in the current IDCA and independent demolition agreements, which expire in June 2002, the B men got a raise, not to building laborer scale, but to the current $14.75 an hour. During the life of the agreement, they will not recieve pay parity with other laborers. So much for the "temporary" agreement!

The demo workers have made the first step, getting unionized, but they have a long road ahead of them.

Thats it for now.

Be union, work safe.

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