Speech to local unions
Background: I’ve been a member of local 257 and 157 for over 28 years. I’m an Honorable discharged veteran of the United States Army at the rank E-5. I have an Associate in Arts Degree from Mt San Antonio College and a Bachelor of Science Degree with major in Finance from California Polytechnic University, Pomona. I also had a NASD series 6 securities license as well as an insurance license. I have been a certified Shop Steward since the program started in the late 1990’s. I have worked as a foreman and worked out of the hall. I’ve worked for companies for 2 and 3 years and 2 and 3 days. I’ve been an out spoken union man my entire career. I am presently the Treasurer of local 157 and was recently elected to the District Council delegate body.
Full Mobility: We cannot allow the contractors to have full mobility and here is why; The OWL will not move at all, except for the dispatching of shop stewards. Our older brothers and sisters will not be able to get work and our 3rd and 4th year apprentices will find themselves in the same circumstance as our older members. Full mobility will create the conditions for corruption like we have never seen before. Companies will ask foreman and other company men to find workers for them, instead of going to the list. Calls to companies from unemployed carpenters will be ignored.
Contractors only want us during our most productive years; older workers don’t fit that profile. They are also more prone to injury and the contractors know it. Our older workers will only be hired when contractors find themselves in a jamb. Most of us know our 3rd and 4th year apprentices find it hard to get work now. We have become a one man trade and most of these apprentices do not yet have the skills to work alone. Knowing our members have nowhere to turn for work, some unscrupulous contractors will pressure them to work for cash and forgo benefit payments. Council representatives will be pressured by supers to get them good guys and members will pressure council representatives for work, creating an atmosphere ripe for payoffs and OWL violations. We may even see a new Christmas club established. For you younger workers it was rumored that certain guys would cash their vacation checks at Christmas time and handed them over to their favorite BA for keeping them working steady during the year, in other words a payoff.
The OWL: We need to scrap the whole system we now have and start over. We can start with Job skill verification. This can be done by checking the work history of our members and ensure that it is compatible with the job skills they have listed. We also need to categorize these skills properly, there are times the council does not have a clue of how work needs to be categorized and they group skills improperly. This can cause confusion and may result in members being sent to jobs they are not qualified to do. I just recently had a brother sent to a job, I was the steward on, to fill a ceiling position. He had the 1,000 hour certification for drywall and ceilings, only he didn’t do ceilings. He told me this had happened several times and he spoke with the people at the OWL about it on several occasions. They still have not done a thing to correct it. Fortunately I do ceilings and he was able to work with the sheet rockers. This is just one example of the many that occur. We also need to inform our members of the additional skills contractors are looking for when they request workers for certain skills; such as High rise concrete. Many contractors also ask that they have a 32 hr scaffold and rigging certification. Our members need to know these things. We also need a modified shape hall where BA’s can check that our members have the proper tools and knowledge to do the job. We need BA’s that have years of experience working with those same tools, not just a bunch of council workers buddies or people with a year or two as journeyman. A properly functioning OWL can and will work. This will keep contractors satisfied with the people they get and the list will move faster for the members that work from it. We may even be able to show cause to get our 50/50 referral rule enforced.
PLA’S: PLA’s may be a necessary evil but we don’t need to take pay cuts. The supervision at the DC has systematically given our members pay cuts regardless of the ability of the client or developer to pay. This policy must stop immediately. Other trades are not taking pay cuts but are agreeing to work 40 hr weeks, early or late start times or other work rule changes. Many of our members are getting only enough in their vacation pay to cover their assessments. Many of them have annuity loans and are depending on their vacation checks to pay those loans. This policy of striping the vacation contribution has to stop.
Market Recovery: I don’t think giving back to contractors is ever a good idea. Giving contractors back 20% on hospitality and residential work will only lead to a 20% pay cut for all the work we do. This is nothing more than a back door pay cut. The demand for hotel rooms, Residential apartments and condominiums in NYC is on the rise. Vacancy rates in Manhattan for residential apartments are at their lowest level since they have been keeping records. It would be foolish to lock us into a pay cuts now. If this is to compete with the non-union sector the question is, is 20% enough? I think not. We make well over 20% more than the non-union carpenters with our benefits. What will prevent the non-union contractors from cutting their carpenters pay by 20%. This is a losing proposition for our hard working union carpenters and puts us on a slippery slope to a bad situation.
Political Action and Organizing: These are undoubtedly the most poorly functioning departments along with the OWL at the District Council. These departments need to be combined into one unit and work together to create more union work and union contractors. We need to go after this work the minute the permits are pulled or before if possible. We need to be at community board meetings that approve these buildings. We also need to put the pressure on our city council reps, congressional reps and state senators and demand all jobs that are funded with any taxpayer funds pay prevailing wage and benefits. Contractors are more likely to use union labor when they have to pay the same rate. We need to stress the quality and training of our work force and the flexibility we can offer for manpower needs. Where else can you get 20 or 30 highly trained skilled tradesman with a phone call? One man does not make a political action department and two guys standing outside of a job 4 stories out of the ground will not make a difference. I’ve been through Doug McCarron’s 3 day organizing program twice and guess what? It’s not working here in NYC and not working anywhere else in the country because if it were, he wouldn’t be asking us to take a 20% cut in our wages. We need to work with the organizing departments of other trades and share information that may help to turn these jobs. We also need to pressure the organizations financing these projects. We need to find out if these financiers handle any union funds and use that as leverage for them to persuade the developers to use union carpenters. We need to address the undocumented worker issue and how it affects our wages and the non-union contractors. These contractors need to abide by the law and we need those laws to be enforced. Let’s face it these undocumented workers are putting downward pressure on our wages.
Appointments: All appointments during our supervision by UBC need to be reevaluated. That means from top to bottom. There have been many questionable appointments and many good candidates passed up, some for political reasons.
I thank you brothers and sisters for your time and if you have any questions I will do my best to answer them for you.
Fraternally yours, Greg Kelty