By Gregory A. Butler, local
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
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
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
Thats it for now.
Be union, work safe.