UPDATE ON LOCAL UNION #79, LABORERS, NEW YORK
by Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter
I recently had the opportunity to talk to a member of local union #79, building laborers. This local has a reputation, in the media at least, of being a "millitant, organizing local" and has become sort of a "poster boy" local in the Laborers International Union of North America [LIUNA], a role model of what laborers locals are supposed to be. But is the hype justified?
Well, local 79's organizing program has faltered a bit. It was at it's peak about 3 years ago, after over a dozen New York building laborers locals in the Mason Tenders District Council merged into the present local 79. They, and Asbestos and Lead Abatement local 78 signed up thousands of laborers.
Also, local 79 laborers were at the heart of the June 30, 1998 "40,000 man march" to the jobsite of Roy Kay at West 54th street and 9th avenue, the largest city job in recent memory to go non union.
But then, 79s organizing program kind of fizzled out.
At the present time, 79 only has 3 organizers for all of New York City, and they are recent hires.
And, their hiring suspiciously coincides with the local 79 election campaign, and the administration of Buisness Manager Joe Speizale is feeling major heat from the slate headed by rank and file building laborer Pete Di Nuzzo.
Also, 79s stragegy of signing up many laborers without signing up their contractors may backfire in the long run. Now, when things are very busy, they can keep their 8,000 active members working. But, when the next downturn comes, this will most likely be impossible. The current union contractors will not have enough work to keep all those new brother and sisters working.
Plus, some of the deals 79 made to organize new employers have caused more problems than they solved.
For example, the agreement with the Demolition Association.
Previously, demolition laborers earned the same scale as other building laborers. No more. Under the new agreement "A men" get $25 an hour, close to but below regular labor scale, and "B men" get $14.75 an hour.
And, as the agreement says only the foreman and the shop steward must be A men, naturally the jobs are full of demolition laborers getting B man scale. And, the stewards, although still picked by the hall, must have 6 months with the company.
The whole hiring schedule for demolition goes against the whole idea of 50/50 job referral. The foreman is company, the steward is local (but with 6 months or more with that company), the next 6 laborers are from the company, the 9 laborer is from the hall, the next 3 are company, the 13th is from the hall, etc... in short,we can really say that there is no hiring hall system, in any meaningful sence of the word, for demolition laborers in New York.
Also, a number of demolition outfits have taken advantage of the NLRB rule that a non union worker can be on a union site for 7 days without joining, by rotating the unrepresented laborers around from site to site, but never more than a week in one place.
And this deterioration has seeped into other laborer agreements.
Recently, 79 negotiated a new agreement with CAGNY, one of the GC employers associations here. The old CAGNY agreement had the foreman as company, the steward local, and the next 6 company and then 50 50. This kind of agreement really limits job opportunities for laborers who work out of the hall, but 79s BA's didn't even THINK to ask if it could be taken out.
But the Speizale administration has other problems. They came in to office under the glow of a racketeering investigation, and have gotten a lot of good press as the good guys.
But Speizale and his supposedly squeaky clean team came out of the old local 104, and have ties to the dirty Pagano administration.
Plus, 79 is part of it's own scandal, the Omni hotel situation.
79, together with carpenters local 608 and the bricklayers DC, got raided by the DA and the NYPD a couple of months ago. It seems that S & S, a mobbed up New Jersey contractor, had largely non union crews working on a "union" site, the Omni on Central Park South, with the knowlege, and presumable consent, of officials of the three unions.
But, oddly, the DA seems to have done no further investigations of 79s administration.
This is very disheartening to some 79 laborers, who had held out hope that the government was going to clean out the local on their behalf. They have had to learn the hard way that the government is interested in investigating and prosecuting labor racketeers to the extent that their crimes cost billionaire developers and landlords money.
If it's just working men and women getting shafted, it is, at best, a low priority to the government.
They are learning that the only way we are going to get our unions to represent us, and not just make things easier for the contractors and enrich the BAs, is through direct action from the sites, from the grass roots, not by the false hope that the corporate controled government will help us.
79 is also starting a jurisdictional conflict with the carpenters DC over protection. With all the non union laborer work out there, this really doesn't make any sense. And, the jurisdiction is clear here.
Laborers have protection of finished work; floors, woodwork, furniture, panels etc on interior work, carpenters have exterior protection; sidewalk bridges, planking floor openings, handrails on decks and stairs, safety nets, toeboards, etc on concrete and steel deck jobs that havn't been closed in yet.
And, the Cement and Concrete District Council locals of LIUNA, 20, 18A, 6A and highway construction 731 have a better claim to this work than 79, in my opinion.
But the main thing is we do not need a war between the two biggest trades on this. It only helps the GCs, who want to use laborers for this work because they make less than carpenters.
But, LIUNA has plenty of problems outside of 79. Their General President, Arthur Coia, is this close to being ousted, and, if a Republican wins the White House in November 2000, he will be in serious trouble. Already, the LIUNA southern regional VP, Peter Fosco, who, like Coia comes from a family with an unsavory rep, has lost his job and been kicked out of the union for life.
Also, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the over a million construction laborers in America are non union, LIUNA has made some questionable organizing decisions.
Most of LIUNA's organizing resources outside New York are focused on industries that have little or nothing to do with laborers or construction, such as nursing homes, chicken processing plants, and the employees of the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Now all these industries have perfectly good unions to organize them, such as the SEIU, AFSCME or UFCW. And, organizing everything under the sun takes resources away from construction organizing. But, it is expensive and time consuming to organize in the trades, and Coia wants quick, cheap organizing, to get as many dues payers as fast as possible.
Plus, LIUNA's other big construction organizing initiative, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, involves raiding already organized residential carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters and bringing them into laborers locals, at lower pay, of course.
Because, if the contractors have to deal with a union, they want the lowest paying union they can get.
So, there are serious problems in local 79, and LIUNA as a whole. And, only the men and women on the sites with the shovels and brooms can solve them.
I worked on the same site as 79 Buisness Manager Joe Speizale once, it was a Lehr Construction job, a bank, in 94. He was only a shop steward then, and he was still working a broom. If things don't change, he could be sweeping again.
Thats it for now.
Be union, work safe.