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deunionizing apartment building construction in New York City

Currently, New York City is experiencing a residential construction building boom.

All over Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, new low rise apartment houses are going up - in some areas, it's not at all unusual to see two or even three twelve story buildings going up on the same block!

What is remarkable - and very sad - is the fact that every single one of these low rise apartment houses is being built non union.

And these aren't just any scab contractors.

These companies typically pay sweatshop wages - their skilled carpenters and masons get $ 7/hr and their unskilled laborers and helpers recieve $ 4/hr.

Yes, reader, you read correctly - that is not a misprint!

I said FOUR DOLLARS AN HOUR!

For a 10 hour straight time day, and a 6 day workweek, with no overtime paid.

Of course, such illegally low wages (a full $ 3.25/hr below minimum) are paid in a less than legal manner; off the books, in cash, with no taxes, unemployment insurance, social security, workers comp or disability withheld.

Virtually all of the workers in this sector are minority - some are American Blacks or Puerto Ricans, others are immigrants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Cuba, El Salvador, India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, Barbados, Senegal, Haiti, Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, China, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Hong Kong or the Republic of Georgia.

It wasn't always like that in the residential sector here.

Well into the 1970's, almost all apartment buildings in the city were built union.

Even as late as the 1990's, there were still many lowrise buildings that were constructed with union labor.

Today, that's not the case.

Not only has this led to the pauperization of New York City's construction workforce, it's also accelerated the already rapid decay of the New York construction unions.

And this isn't only a decay in terms of size - although the building trades have shrunk from the 1968 high of 250,000 members (or virtually 100% of the New York building trades workforce) to barely 100,000 today (barely 50% of the trades - and most of that 50% are chronically underemployed since they only do 30% of the construction work in the city these days).

Deunionization has also shrunk the trades as a whole - in 1968, the industry had over 250,000 workers - today, barely 200,000 men and women work in the construction industry in NYC.

The trades have decayed economically - construction work was once a career that guaranteed automatic middle income status.

Today only around 120,000 tradespeople, barely 60% of the industry, even get basic workplace benefits like social security and workers compensation - the remainder are paid in cash, off the books.

They can't collect unemployment when they get laid off, they won't get a social security check when they get too old to work and if they get hurt they will not get a dime (if they are lucky, their boss will give them cab fare to get to the hospital!)

This 20% shrinkage of the construction workforce has happened while the city as a whole has gotten bigger - there were 7 million New Yorkers in 1968 and there are 8 million people living here now.

As the wages of the non union sector have decayed, the unions have given up wages, benefits and working conditions that were won generations ago, to keep up with the race to the bottom.

Like the 7 hour day - the New York building trades won that in June 1936 and now it's rapidly being abandoned.

In some agreements, (specifically, the deal the NYC Building Trades signed with the NYC School Construction Authority) the unions actually allow a 10 hour straight time day (something the unions haven't tolerated here since we won the 8 hour day on May 1, 1886!)

The New York District Council of Carpenters has led the way in the race to restore 19th century wages and working conditions in the 21st century New York construction industry.

For instance, a two tier wage scale was imposed on the handfull of union carpenters still working in residential construction - their pay was cut from $ 41.23 an hour to $ 28.00 an hour, with benefit fund contributions slashed from $ 32.47 an hour to $ 20 an hour (with contributions to the Carpenters Annuity Fund - the District Council's 401k-like supplemental pension - reduced from $ 5.40 an hour to ZERO DOLLARS AND ZERO CENTS an hour!)

Also, all union carpenters - commercial and residential - have seen major health insurance benefit cuts. Copayments have gone through the roof (from $ 10 to $ 25 for doctor visits, from zero to $ 50 for emergency room visits and from zero to $ 20 per prescriptions), the number of in network provider visits have been sharply cut, often by as much as two thirds, and out of network provider visits have been either deeply slashed or totally abolished.

These deep cuts to wages and benefits are supposed to help reunionize residential construction - in reality, they merely help accelerate the deunionization of the industry, and the reduction of the standard of living of all carpenters.

Since carpenters are the largest trade, making up 20% of the total construction workforce, and are at the center of the construction process (especially in residential work) the fall of the carpenters will drag down all of the other trades.

How did this happen to what were once the strongest local construction unions on the face of the earth?

And what can New York construction workers - union and non union - do about it?

Let's take a look.

First, we've got to take a look back, to see how we got here.

Construction workers in New York City were among the first in the world to unionize - the earliest carpenters unions here date back to the 1790's and the present District Council of Carpenters has continuously existed, in one form or another, since 1872.

Incidentally, despite the myth that the Carpenters Union tries to spread these days that "residential has always been non union" the first carpenters unions represented "house carpenters" - that is, workers who framed single family houses.

Those unions were far different from modern day construction unions.

They were typically led by committees of workers who combined full time work in the trade with part time labor activism - unlike today's unions, which are run by full time Business Agents and officers, who often earn far more than the tradespeople in the field do.

These "tramping committees" (so called because they walked from jobsite to jobsite organizing workers) were often quite radical - most of the worker-activists had far left political beliefs - usually utopian socialist, communist or anarchist - a far cry from the Republicans and conservative Democrats who run today's building trades unions.

And, unlike today's unions, who almost always put the needs of the contractors ahead of the interests of the majority of tradespeople, these union leaders envisioned a time when there would be no bosses - what they called a "cooperative commonwealth", a society where productive industry was run by the workers instead of businesspeople.

These unions were very militant on the jobsites too...

Typically, they organized non union jobs through a tactic known as a "trade movement" - they would lead workers marches around the city from scab jobsite to scab jobsite, often accompanied by a brass band.

Those parades would stop at each scab job, go onto the site and force the non union workers to either join the movement or at the very least take their tools and go home.

Once organized, they used unilaterally imposed Bylaws and Working Rules on the contractors to regulate wages, hours and working conditions - and they would strike any job that did not follow union rules.

Unfortunately, that militancy didn't last.

Contractors, real estate developers and the government ferociously repressed these unions - and much of the union's very limited financial resources were tied up with economically supporting union leaders who had been fired and blacklisted and who could no longer get contractors to hire them (in that pre-welfare and unemployment insurance era, blacklisted union militants had no other way of paying their bills than direct financial support from the union).

This led to the development of full time union officials - originally called "walking delegates" they are the direct ancestors of today's Business Agents.

Although the rise of full time union officials who were paid by workers union dues protected the leadership of the unions from direct retaliation from the bosses, it also pushed the unions sharply to the right.

The walking delegates had a stake in preserving the union's finances (since that's what paid their salaries) so their natural orientation was towards maintaining labor peace with the contractors - no matter what the bosses were doing to the workers on the jobs.

This desire for labor peace at any price also pulled the unions away from fighting for the interests of the casually employed tradespeople, who were hired at the begining of the season and laid off in late fall, (and who were most likely to have conflicts with the contractors) and oriented the unions towards the workers who had the most friendly relationship with the bosses - the foremen and other full time employees who worked for the contractors year round (in the field from early spring to late fall, and in the shop through the winter, when the casual workers were laid off).

There were still radical elements of the union leadership who were oriented towards fighting the contractors and defending the interests of the casually employed workers.

But they were rapidly being driven out of the unions by the more conservative company man and contractor oriented forces.

In the New York District Council of Carpenters, matters came to a head on May Day 1916. The union called a citywide strike, and the workers quickly won their demands.

The contractors, very upset by this turn of events, reached out to the NYDCofC's parent union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America.

The general president of the UBCJA, William "Big Bill" Hutcheson (a man who very much believed in labor peace at any price), came in, illegally ousted the leadership of the NYDCofC and replaced them with a Canadian immigrant drug store clerk with ties to Irish immigrant organized crime groups, one Robert Brindell.

Brindell had begun his career as a labor racketeer by helping marine construction contractors rid themselves of Ironworkers local 177 (the militant dockbuilders union) and replacing it with his pro contractor Dockbuilders Union, which quickly affiliated with the NYDCofC as local 1456 (a local that still exists to this day).

Brindell and his gangster associates reorganized the District Council, forced all the carpenters to join and gave up all of the victories won in the May Day strike.

He also took away New York carpenters rights to vote for District Council officers and on their right to ratify union contracts.

New York carpenters didn't get back the right to vote for District Council officers until 1995 - and we never regained the right to vote for contracts, even down to this day.

Brindell took the union leadership's alliance with the contractors and the company men to a new level, by openly brining in organized crime elements.

The larger and more influential contractors would use Brindell's mob ties to their advantage.

By the early 20th century, New York's construction industry was filled with many many many contractors (both native born and immigrant) and fierce dog eat dog competition drove contractor prices (and construction worker wages) to rock bottom levels.

This was great for the real estate developers and the banks - and it really sucked for the contractors, especially the more successful ones who didn't want their businesses ruined by price cutting.

Some of these contractors figured out that it was in their interest to put a break on cutthroat competition, keep construction prices high and drive their more marginal competitors out of the business.

The most practical way to achieve those goals was to have some kind of cartel, that would regulate which bosses got to bid on what jobs and for what price.

Of course, that cartel would have to have the power to punish bosses who didn't go along with the program.

Brindell was perfectly positioned to help the contractors cartelize residential construction.

He controlled the Carpenters Union, so he could call strikes at companies who didn't go along with the cartel - as well as preventing labor disputes with companies that were under his protection.

Brindell also had ties with the corrupt leaders of Teamsters locals 282, 522 and 1205 (the lumber delivery wagon driver unions), as well as the owners of the lumber yards, so he could cut off building material deliveries to contractors who tried to compete with the companies he was protecting.

Brindell and his associates divided up the construction projects in New York, decided which contractors would bid on which jobs and predetermined the price they would charge the clients. And if anybody tried to underbid the preselected companies, they would get hit by a Carpenters strike and would be unable to get Teamsters to deliver material to their jobsites.

Brindell's cartel only lasted for 3 years. The bankers and developers could no longer profitably pay monopoly prices, thanks to the post World War I recession, so they leaned on the government to arrest Brindell and break up his racket.

Brindell got locked up in 1921 - and made history as the first person in America to go to jail for racketeering (which wasn't even a crime at the time - the prosecutors had to stretch the conspiracy laws to put him behind bars - the state legislature caught up with them in 1930 when they amended the State Penal Law to make racketeering a crime).

But Brindell's racket continued without him. The Irish gangsters who had helped him run the construction rackets took them over in his's absence, and the cartel continued.

Within a decade, the Irish gangsters were displaced by Jewish racketeers, and by the 1940's those gangsters had been elbowed out of the picture by a far better organized and more sophisticated Sicilian immigrant criminal organization called "cosa nostra".

That's Italian for "this thing of ours" and they are more commonly known as "the mafia".

By the 1960's the cosa nostra's five New York based "families" (Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, Bonanno and Lucchese) along with New Jersey's De Cavalcante family, ran the construction industry in New York.

They had a committee, called "the commission", chaired by the underboss of the Genovese family, which ajudicated any disputes between the families over their protection rackets (which expanded far beyond construction - they also included air freight, sea freight, trucking, garment manufacturing, trade show services, produce, garbage hauling, commercial moving, fresh fish, cigarettes ect).

In all those industries the pattern was the same - the dominant companies in those businesses would pay "tribute" (protection money) to a particular gangster or mafia family.

In return for the tribute, cosa nostra would have the unions keep their competitors out of that business (either through strikes or by having union members violently attack the other company's business).

The gangsters would also help the dominant companies engage in price fixing, to make sure that everybody that was in the cartel made a healthy profit.

The gangsters also used their control over the unions to keep workers from resisting labor abuses committed by the companies that were under mob protection.

Nowhere in New York City in this era was this market control more extensive than in construction, and within construction nowhere was the cartelization more total than in the carpentry business - particularly in hirise concrete construction and interior drywall partition work, where the Genovese crime family decided which contractors would bid on which jobs, and how much they would charge the clients..

The Genovese family dominated the "concrete club" which ran the hirise concrete industry. They decided in advance which contractors would do the concrete work on every job in the city worth more than $ 2 million dollars.

If the job was worth more than $ 15 million, only one contractor was allowed to win the bid to do the work - S & A Concrete, which just happened to be owned by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, the Genovese family's underboss and head of the Commission.

A contractor who was foolish enough to try and underbid a company in the "club" would find themselves having labor problems with the Concrete Laborers Union (which was controlled by the Colombo family) or Teamsters local 282 (which was dominated by associates of the Gambino family) or the District Council of Carpenters (which was under the flag of the Genoveses).

The Genoveses also controlled drywall work, through "the wheel", which was run by drywall contractor and Genovese family captain Vincent DiNapoli. The wheel operated under the cover of DiNapoli's Metropolitan New York Drywall Association, which was nominally a legit employers association that bargained with the Carpenters, Lathers and Drywall Tapers unions on behalf of the drywall contractors

DiNapoli's wheel had a rotation system, where every drywall contractor under mob protection would take turns getting major jobs. When a company's turn came up, all the other contractors would put in higher bids, so that company would win the job. Each one of those companies would get a turn to be the low bidder (with the "low bids" set high enough so the winning contractor would make a very healthy profit, of course).

Contractors who tried to go around the wheel would find they suddenly had serious problems with the Genovese family-dominated Carpenters Union. Those problems would be particularly severe if a drywall contractor was foolish enough to use non union labor - they'd get a visit from a union controlled "wrecking crew" (a bunch of union carpenters who would invade and wreck a scab jobsite) ...or their jobsite might suffer a mysterious middle of the night bombing or arson.

The wheel and the club worked out very well for connected contractors - they had a stable and profitable business, and had no fear of competitors or labor disputes. It wasn't so great for the clients - since prices stayed up, thanks to the anti competitive actions of the wiseguys. And it also locked out smaller contractors trying to break into doing major jobs.

For a time, it kinda worked out for the unions too... but in the end, the mobsters would turn on the workers, in an attempt to protect their rackets. But even at the height of the club and the wheel, the unions were at best junior partners in the racket - and the workers of connected companies had no hope of assistance from their unions if their boss abused them (since mobbed up contractors had virtually total immunity from labor disputes - no matter how badly they treated their workers).

The early 1970's were the peak of the power of the club and the wheel - and that decade also marked the beginning of the end.

There was a building boom in progress - the City of New York went several billion dollars in debt to finance the construction of luxury apartment buildings. The city actually turned a whole island (Welfare Island, the home of the city's TB hospital and several other municipal facilities) over to the developers, who renamed it Roosevelt Island and built a mini city of luxury hirise buildings on the site (all with public funds).

With all that money floating around the real estate industry, there was plenty of cash for the wiseguys - besides their customary tribute, some families began demanding that contractors put gangsters on the payroll as no show, no work ghost employees (so they would be able to show the IRS - and their parole officers - a legitimate source for their income).

On one publicly financed job - the construction of the World Trade Center - drywall contractor P & M Sobara was expected to place over 200 no show gangsters on their payroll. And they cheerfully did so - it was a big and profitable job, that they wouldn't have gotten without the assistance of the Genovese family, so it was only fair to share the wealth (and, after all, they would pass along the cost to the owners - in that case, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)!

But, around this time, the goose began to stop laying the golden eggs.

The problem began when landlords began literally burning the city down. Since the city was practically giving money away to developers who were building luxury housing, a lot of landlords rushed to get on the gravy train - even if it meant evicting their present tenants. Liberal Republican Mayor John Lindsay made matters worse when, in 1971, he introduced a bill that repealed the Rent Control Law, which had kept a cap on rents since 1948.

The way the new Rent Stabilization Law was written, pre 1971 tenants still had low Rent Control rents - and they would keep those rents unless they moved out of their apartments. Post 1971 tenants would have much higher Rent Stabilization rents - and a new City commission, the Rent Guidelines Board, would be willing to review requests for rent increases from the landlords every two years (from that day to this, every time the landlords asked the landlord-dominated RGB for a rent increase, they got it).

So, landlords rushed to drive out their pre 1971 tenants.

In some communities, in particular areas of Lower Manhattan that were largely White and were close to Midtown and the Financial District, working class tenants were forced to leave their homes through landlord neglect (firing supers, refusing to give heat and hot water ect) and through outright terrorism (thugs breaking into apartments and robbing and beating tenants ect). Once they were driven out, the apartment houses were either renovated into high rent apartments or torn down and replaced by hirise luxury apartment buildings.

In areas of Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn and Southeastern Queens that were either too heavily Black and Latino to attract wealthy White tenants and/or were too far from Midtown and the Financial District for easy commuting, the landlords simply struck a match... they hired "torches" (professional arsonists) to burn down their buildings for the insurance. If those units couldn't be turned into luxury housing, it was more profitable for them to be destroyed.

Between 1972 and 1976, vast areas of Harlem, the Lower East Side, the South Bronx, Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvessant, East New York, Brownsville, South Jamaica and Far Rockaway were put to the torch.

Mysteriously, despite the deaths of dozens of firemen and several hundred tenants, the injury of several thousand and over one hundred thousand people being driven from their homes, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance fraud, nobody ever went to jail for this (other than a few low level torches).

The newspapers invented a racist slander about "crazy Puerto Ricans burning down their own houses" to cover up the landlord terrorism and that was that.

There was another problem besides the human tragedy - the City was going broke subsidizing the landlords. The luxury developers had been given loans on amazingly easy terms - long term and low interest. But, the City had borrowed the money to make those loans short term, at high interest.

Obviously, that couldn't last - and it didn't.

In June 1975, the loans came due, the City didn't have the money to pay (since the landlords loan repayments wouldn't be due for several more years) and the City of New York basically went bankrupt.

The bankers who held the City's debt made damned sure they would get their money - they appointed a committee, called the Municipal Assistance Corporation, headed by Lazard Freres' chief Felix Rohatyn, who's function was to force the City to repay them.

And MAC set about agressively collecting the debts.

Rohatyn had the city lay off over 50,000 workers, shut down Fire Department units (including the "Red Caps" - the elite squad of fire marshals investigating the arson epidemic), tear down subway lines, cut pay for teachers and sanitation workers, close down schools and public hospitals, shut down restrooms in city parks and playgrounds, abandon public works construction jobs, and force every city worker to work for two weeks without pay (with the wages to be used as an unpaid no interest "loan" to be repaid when that worker retired, quit, got fired, died or got laid off) - all to make sure the bankers got their money.

There was suprisingly little resistance to this from the city's powerful municipal unions - backroom deals were cut with the leaders of the biggest municipal workers unions - AFSCME District Council 37, Teamsters local 237 and Transport Workers Union local 100 - who's members were on the recieving end of the harshest cuts.

Those labor leaders worked very hard to keep their members from fighting back on the job.

AFSCME DC 37 chieftan Victor Gotbaum, a former CIA asset and self proclaimed "close personal freind" of Rohatyn and Citibank boss Walter Wriston, actually had his union use it's pension fund to subsidize the city - and he had monthly secret meetings with Rohatyn and Wriston to help them deal with breaking working class resistance to the massive cutbacks.

As for the other city workers, after a brief flurry of strikes and jobsite resistance, the chiefs of the United Federation of Teachers, Uniformed Firefighters Association, Patrolmens Benevolent Association and Uniformed Sanitationmens Association local 831 of the Teamsters were persuaded to make their members accept similar, but slightly less severe, layoffs and service cutbacks.

In about two years, the City paid off the bankers, but Rohatyn and his Municipal Assistance Corporation stuck around to make sure that the city paid off it's creditors in a timely fashion - and spent as few tax dollars as possible on public services.

This created something of a problem for conservative Democratic Mayor Ed Koch when he took office in 1978.

He had been elected to restore order to a city in chaos - not only did the city have a bankrupt government and large areas burnt to the ground, but there was a massive crime wave too, thanks to a flood of cheap heroin and 330,000 jobless factory workers (10% of the city's labor force) who had been rendered unemployed when their bosses moved the plants out of town.

The 50,000 city worker layoffs and all the service cutbacks only added to the misery in the city's working class neighborhoods (with the Black and Latino communties getting far far far more than their fair share of the suffering).

One of Koch's most urgent tasks was rebuilding the vast urban wastelands created by the orgy of landlord arson.

And he had to rebuild those neighborhoods as cheaply as possible, because Koch still had to answer to MAC (and the bankers MAC represented had first dibs on all of the city's tax revenue).

The newly created NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development was given the task of rebuilding the city on the cheap.

They came up with a very simple idea of how to do that - they decided to use workers who were paid less than union scale to rebuild those burnt out apartment buildings.

That violated the Federal, City and State Davis Bacon Laws, which required that prevailing wages be paid on all municipal construction jobs, but the clever folks at HPD came up with an ingenious idea.

The City itself wouldn't rebuild the tenements, instead they would hand over the funds for the renovation work to Community Based Organizations who would do the work for the city.

The CBO's were Democratic Party-patronage financed anti poverty agencies. They had been set up after the riots in the ghettoes during the 1960's, to carry out a simple task - prevent future ghetto rebellions by using public funds to hand out public service jobs and social services to a portion of the inner city population.

The idea was to prevent poor Blacks and Latinos from fighting collectively for social change by having them compete with each other for individual assistance from the CBO's.

Even though almost all their funding came from the taxpayer, these CBO's were private corporations - and they were under no legal requirement to use union labor, or to pay non union workers prevailing wages, on construction projects that they ran.

Now, you would think that the construction unions would be up in arms at this scheme, and would fight it tooth and nail.

That didn't happen.

The reason was simple.

The biggest unions - Carpenters, Building Laborers and Concrete Laborers - were so weakened by decades of organized crime infiltration that they were totally incapable of waging the kind of struggle that needed to be carried out.

Those unions, in particular the Carpenters, had some capacity to send wrecking crews or firebombers to scab jobs in Lower Manhattan (in particular scab jobs which were being built by non mob connected contractors) but they would not realistically be able to do that to inner city jobsites.

That was because of "the Coalitions".

About a decade earlier, a group of Black maoist construction workers had organized "Harlem Fightback" an organization that led protests to demand the integration of the construction trades.

Fightback's protests really struck a chord in the Black and Latino communities - who had tired of seeling all White crews on jobsites in the ghettoes.

In particular, they galvanized Black and Latino construction workers, who were locked out of most of the unions, no matter how skilled they were.

After the Plumbers Union led a strike in 1968 to oppose the City of New York's limited tokenistic construction trades integration plan, minority construction worker protests really took off - some led by Fightback, others led by other organizations led by people who had split off from Fightback.

These groups (eventually there would be over 60 of these organizations - some all Black, some all Latino, some mixed Black and Latino and one that was all Chinese) came to be collectively known as the Coalition.

The Coalition regularly sent school busses loaded with jobless minority construction workers roaming around the inner city, and occasionally making forays onto jobsites in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan as well, raiding segregated jobsites and forcing the contractors to integrate.

Since the Carpenters and Laborers had the least restrictive rules on letting new members join (basically, if you could get a boss to hire you in that trade, you could join the union that day) and they were the only construction unions with any minority members (the Carpenters even had an all Black local - local 1788 in Harlem), those trades bore the brunt of coalition activism, and had to take in the most Black and Latin members.

Also, by the late 1970's, many of the Coalitions had decayed far from their 1960's radical roots.

Many of their "site coordinators" (the Coalitions version of Business Agents) had become conservative and pro contractor - due to their need for stable relationships with the contractors to guarantee a steady supply of jobs for coalition members and a steady source of coalition funds. (Basically, the same thing that happend to the unions back in the early 20th century)

Site coordinators were paid by the contractors, rather than the coalitions - they got labor foreman's wages from the GC on every site they covered - so if a Coalition supplied labor to contractors on 10 jobsites, that Coalition's site coordinator got paid ten seperate weekly paychecks.

Many of the Coalitions also began supplying guards to jobsites where their members worked - to keep out the other Coalitions.

Therefore it would be impossible for the Carpenters (the main union that used violent resistance against scab contractors) to use their wrecking crews on all minority scab jobs in the ghettoes - since they'd have to fight off the coalitions and they might not come out on the winning side of those fights.

Also many Black and Latino union carpenters would be reluctant to attack the coalitions - since many of then wouldn't even be in the union if it wasn't for the coalition and many of them were still active coalition members too.

Not only would the unions have had to take on the Coalitions, they would also have to fight cosa nostra, which was trying to accomidate itself to HPD by paying substandard wages on jobsites in the inner city.

Vincent DiNapoli himself led the way - one of his drywall companies, the appropriately named Inner City Drywall, began employing what came to be known as "lumpers" on their jobsites in the ghettoes. Lumpers were carpenters who were in the union, but they didn't get paid union scale. They were illegally paid off the books - ususally in the form of a lump sum for how many boards they were supposed to put up, rather than by the hour. No taxes were withheld and no union benefit fund contributions were made from the payments made to the lumpers.

One Carpenters Union Business Agent tried to fight against DiNapoli and Inner City Drywall, William Nordstrom of local 488 in the Eastern Bronx.

Bad idea.

Person or persons unknown shot and killed Nordstrom in his front yard.

He wasn't the first Carpenters BA to be killed by the wiseguys that decade - two years earlier, local 385's Daniel Evangelista was assassinated at his desk in the union hall because he'd opposed the Genovese family's candidate for District Council President, Theodore "Teddy" Maritas.

The Evangelista and Nordstrom assassinations were a sign of weakness on the part of the wiseguys - they were losing control of the drywall industry, and had to resort to violence to stay in power.

Despite DiNapoli's efforts, openly scab contractors could and did underbid nominally union contractors, who still had higher labor costs no matter how many lumpers they used.

DiNapoli tried to bring the union scale down, by negotiating a "renovation" agreement - covering both the HPD jobs and the abandoned city public works projects that were now being restarted by the Koch administration.

The Carpenters Union agreed.

Drywall Tapers local 1974 did not.

The tapers were a much smaller craft - the people who follow behind the carpenters on drywall jobs, covering over the screwholes in the sheetrock and the joints between the boards with paper tape and a plaster-type substance called joint compound.

Tapers local 1974 was affiliated to Painters District Council # 9 (which, unlike the Genovese dominated Carpenters, was under the protection of a different cosa nostra family, the Luccheses).

The drywall tapers actually called a strike against the Metropolitan New York Drywall Association to protest the pay and benefit cuts.

DiNapoli responded by setting up a company union.

He directed Genovese family member Louis Moscatiello, Sr (an insurance agent and member of the Democratic Party's Bronx County Committee) to get a charter from the Plasterers Union for a rival Drywall Tapers union.

The Plasterers agreed, and they set up Drywall Plasterers local 530, to be run by Moscatiello - who had never worked one day in his entire life as a drywall taper.

Moscatiello's tapers union supplied Metropolitan New York Drywall Association contractors with tapers to use as scabs to break the legitimate tapers union strike.

After the strike ended, DiNapoli signed a sweetheart contract with Moscatiello, with all of the givebacks he wanted - lower pay, no union benefits, an all company man workforce with no mandatory hiring from the union out of work list and the use of stilts (a dangerous work practice outlawed by the legitimate tapers union, who's members had to be supplied with stepladders, bakers and/or scaffolds for high work).

Tapers local 1974 still represented tapers employed by companies in the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries, but, since DiNapoli's association ran most of the major drywall jobs in the city at the time (thanks to his control over the wheel), the legitimate tapers union was locked out of most of those jobs.

Sweetheart contract or not, the HPD and it's CBO frontmen still prefered to use scab contractors since their labor costs were still lower.

Also, DiNapoli and the Genoveses had another problem. Commercial real estate developers - and the bankers who paid for their projects - could no longer profitably afford to absorb the costs of cosa nostra tribute and ghost employees.

The end of the city's massive giveaway to the developers had put a halt to the luxury apartment house building boom and the opening of the World Trade Center (and the 15 million square feet of vacant office space it dropped into an already glutted real estate market) had brought commercial development to a halt.

It didn't help matters that the country as a whole had plunged into the deepest recession in 30 years - a recession that would turn out to be the begining of a permanent economic crisis for American capitalism.

Those factors combined to make it impossible for the owners and the bankers to continue tolerating the price fixing of cosa nostra and the contractors.

The financiers leaned on the government to break the cartels, and the feds launched an investigation called LILREX (that's short for Long Island Labor Racketeering and EXtortion - they called it that because the probe was originally launched by Long Island-based FBI agents).

The LILREX investigators soon discovered the extent of the drywall protection racket run by the Genovese family, DiNapoli and the Metropolitan New York Drywall Association - and the role that the New York District Council of Carpenters played in that racket.

This led to an indictment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970. As would come to be customary in these RICO indictments, the main focus was on the union, rather than on the contractors who were the main beneficiaries of the conspiracy.

DiNapoli was a defendant in the case, along with the Genovese family-installed Carpenters District Council President, Teddy Maritas.

The defendant's attorneys were able to force a retrial in that case - and, the day before the second trial began, Teddy Maritas (who may have been suspected of planning to cop a plea and become a witness for the feds) was lured to a meeting under the Throgs Neck Bridge ...and was never seen again. The feds would later find his shoe and his wallet under the bridge, but they never found anything else, and he was presumed to have been murdered.

Maritas disappearance didn't help DiNapoli or the Genoveses - they lost the second court case and the wheel was smashed.

The Metropolitan New York Drywall Association no longer regulated who got to bid on what jobs.

They weren't even the main sheetrock trade association anymore - they were eclipsed in that arena by the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries.

The Genoveses still ran Drywall Plasterers local 530 but that was about it.

Cosa nostra control of the concrete industry was under attack too - the Genovese-controlled hirise concrete club hadn't yet been directly targeted, but the Gambino family rackets in the readi mix concerete trucking business were, with the indictment of Gambino-installed Teamsters Construction Drivers local 282 chief John Cody.

The District Council of Carpenters was in a shambles too.

After the Maritas assassination, the NYC Carpenters parent union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, stepped in and appointed a trusteeship to reorganize the council.

Thanks to the rapid deunionization of residential construction in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, the NY District Council of Carpenters had shrunk, from 40,000 members to barely 25,000 (and many of them were lumpers who carried union cards but worked off the books for cash).

The sharpest decay had been in the locals in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, largely residential areas where the union's membership mostly worked building apartment houses and schools.

School construction was still union - but the only apartment buildings that were being put up with union labor were luxury hirises, almost all of which were in Manhattan south of 96th St.

Many locals in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Upper Manhattan had to be disbanded, since they no longer had enough members to be viable.

Their remains were combined into 5 locals - two in Brooklyn, two in Queens (one of which absorbed the remains of the union in the South Shore of Nassau County, Long Island) and one that covered Upper Manhattan, the Bronx and the city's municipal penal colony on Rikers Island.

Even then, so much of the local construction sector in those boroughs was non union that a high proportion of the membership of those locals actually worked in Lower Manhattan - either on luxury hirises on the Upper East Side or Upper West Side, or on commercial jobs in Midtown and the Financial District.

Many of the members of the new Harlem/Bronx local, local union # 17, worked at the rapidly expanding city jail complex on Rikers (which, thanks to the crime wave, was being rapidly expanded from housing 4,000 men to having enough cells for 21,000 men, women and children and a dock for HMS Bibby Venture, a prison ship purchased from the British Royal Navy).

Across the East River in the South Bronx, there was a lot of work too - the rebuilding of the borough had finally begun.

But almost all of that work was being built by HPD's scab contractors - so there was no work for union carpenters there (except for the many who had no choice but to accept scab pay and no benefits).

The Staten Island local had seen an even more extreme collapse - almost none of the work out there was being done union.

Local 20 only survived due to it's geographic isolation - it was too far from any of the other locals for it to be merged with them - and most of the membership (along with a big chunk of local 17's carpenters) ended up working on the trade shows at the New York Coliseum.

The fall of cosa nostra in interior partition work had made it possible for companies that had previously been locked out of the business to move in. These contractors had to legitimately underbid their competitors to get the work (since there was no longer any organized cartel keeping prices up and organizing the bids so nobody pushed the prices down too low).

Once they won the jobs through "lowballing" (putting in bids far lower than their competitors - often too low to profitably complete the job) he only way for these companies to make a profit was to get it out of the hides of their workers.

This is the time when production quotas begin reappearing (over a century after they had been outlawed by the District Council of Carpenters back in 1872) - first it was 40 boards a day, then 50, then 60...

This was only a taste of the labor abuses to come.

The union made no effort to fight against these violations - if a carpenter got laid off because the foreman thought he/she was "too slow" the union invariably agreed with the contractor that the carpenter was "a fuckup" and merely sent another guy to replace that worker.

As the Carpenters Union allowed the restoration of sweatshop labor practices on the jobsites to go unresisted, cosa nostra's power in construction continued to crumble.

The contractors who had been under the protection of the wiseguys hated the end of the cartels - but their competitors were grateful for the opportunity to break into the business.

As for the clients, and the bankers who financed their projects, they were overjoyed at the end of what they called the "mob tax" in drywall - and they were looking forward to the government going even further.

The real estate interests were on the cusp of another building boom - both in luxury apartment buildings (this time, constructed without city subsidies) and in commercial construction (with many buildings built on speculation, without any tenants lined up)

This would be one of the biggest building booms in New York City history, and the developers and the bankers wanted to maximize their profits (and minimize those of the contractors). They'd already won a major victory in the drywall business - they wanted to have the government extend and consolidate that victory for them.

And the financiers got their wish.

The two prosecutors representing Manhattan - District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and the very ambitious US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani - continued their offensive against cosa nostra's contractor cartels.

With the success of the attacks on the drywall wheel, the focus shifted to concrete.

The Colombo family-installed chief of the Concrete Laborers District Council, Ralph Scopo, got indicted - and just 4 years later, the head of the club, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno and his company S & A Concrete were charged with racketeering.

The Salerno indictment was unique in that usually only union officials get arrested for labor racketeering - the bosses who benefit the most usually go scot free.

But Fat Tony was different.

He was the head of the Commission that regulated all of the price fixing cartels run by cosa nostra in New York City.

Fat Tony was also the underboss of the Genovese crime family (at the time, FBI agents erroneously believed that Salerno was the head of the Genovese family - the family's actual boss, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, had been successfully feigning mental illness for many years).

Worse yet, Salerno also overcharged the State of New York about $ 25 million dollars on the concrete work for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (he charged the state $ 40 million for a $ 15 million dollar job - and he delivered that job 4 years late)

Scopo was ousted from his union, and Salerno ended up going to prison for the rest of his life.

S & A stayed in business - but with a name change and without Salerno as it's owner.

The feds also struck a blow at what was left of the Genovese family drywall rackets, by jailing Drywall Plasters local 530 chief Louis Moscatiello, Sr. When Moscatiello went away, he put a puppet president in charge of the contractor-dominated union, and having his son, taping contractor Louis Moscatiello, Jr, as the actual boss of the union.

Moscatiello's incarceration happend around the same time the building boom of the 1980's came to an end. Cosa nostra's power in the industry had largely been broken - there would be remnants of mafia control in the construction industry, but the once invincible empire was shattered.

The unions were in pretty bad shape too.

Despite the building boom of the 80's the unions (in particular the Carpenters) had not regained their strength. The New York District Council of Carpenters had shrunk to less than 20,000 members (about half what they'd been 20 years before).

The trades as a whole were a lot weaker too - in a city where the construction industry had been almost 100% union for decades, there was now a vast army of non union workers, and over a third of the work in the city was done by scab contractors.

The unions had no clue as to how to stop this.

The leaders of the trades had toyed with mass action - they had succeeded in getting 20,000 workers to a rally at the Brooklyn Bridge in the dead of winter in January 1990 (to a rally that didn't take on the scab issue head on, but instead called for a federally funded municipal construction program), but they shied away from following through on that mass action - let alone taking on the non union contractors head on.

This timidity on the part of the union leaders was possibly because they feared mobilizing the mass of local men into activity within the unions.

The union leaders likely had an even deeper fear of unleashing a massive strike wave among the mass of non union tradespeople.

This fear would have been especially intense regarding the growing Black and Latino workforce, many of whom had long experience with mass struggles in the Coalitions -it's doubtful the union leaders would welcome any kind of struggle that would involve bringing those militant workers into the unions.

Many of the BAs were preoccupied with a far more personal problem - their years of cosa nostra ties were making many building trades union officers exchange their suits and ties for Department of Corrections jumpsuits!

Even those who didn't get locked up often faced ouster from office - like the Lucchese dominated officers of Painters District Council # 9.

They were ousted when their parent union placed the council into trusteeship, in the wake of the indictment of Lucchese underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso (who also faced charges for his control over Ironworkers local 580 and his leadership of a price fixing cartel in the replacement window installation industry).

With their freedom (and the perks of union office) at stake, stopping the deunionization of the industry was a very low priority for the BAs.

The recession of the early 1990's continued to chip away at the unions - not only did members experience long periods of joblessness, but the segment of the construction market under union control continued to shrink.

And the federal prosecutors continued their onslaught. The leaders of the Carpenters Union, still reeling from the breaking of the drywall wheel and the concrete club, now had to worry about an attack on the non construction side of the union, the trade show industry.

The feds were investigating the Genovese family's control over the decorating contractors who set up and took down trade shows at the state owned but contractor operated Jacob K. Javits Convention Center - and the Carpenters Union was a major target of that probe.

This was due to the obvious influence the Genovese family had on selecting carpenter shop stewards at the convention center.

Of the two general stewards, one, Anthony Fiorino, was a professional handball player, the other, Leonard Simon, was a cab driver - neither steward was a carpenter, but both allegedly had ties to the Genovese family (Fiorino's alleged ties were the closest - his brother-in-law, Liborio "Barney" Bellomo, was a Genovese family captain).

Many of the "company men" (workers who had steady jobs with the contractors) at the Javits also allegedly had ties to the Genovese family as well.

The Javits Center case gave the feds an excuse to open another front against the Carpenters - they filed a civil RICO suit, seeking government control over the New York District Council of Carpenters.

The feds did the same thing to the Mason Tenders District Council, the Laborers Union district council that represented building laborers in the city. They went after the Building Laborers on pension fraud charges (specifically, gangsters allegedly getting Laborers Union pension coverage despite the fact that they were not laborers).

The Building Laborers also had become the target of another law enforcement probe - the effort by the City of New York and the feds to break the waste hauling cartel jointly run by the Genovese, Gambino and Lucchese families.

Back in 1956, Mayor Robert Wagner had ordered the Department of Sanitation to privatize the collection of garbage from commercial businesses.

Facing cutthroat competition over this great windfall, the four trade associations which represented the 300 construction waste hauling companies (and which had long been controlled by the wiseguys) organized a cartel.

Under their system, every company had routes assigned to it, and no company was allowed to take another company's routes unless the wiseguys gave them permission and they compensated the company who owned that route.

Comapnies that cheated and tried to steal business from other firms (and upstarts who tried to break into the business) found themselves targeted by the two unions that represented waste hauling workers - Teamsters local 813, the drivers union, and the Mason Tenders District Coucil, which represented the waste handlers in the transfer stations who unloaded the garbage trucks.

By the 1990's, in most of America, commercial waste had been monopolized by three big companies, BFI, Waste Management and USA Waste Haulers. They charged low prices for their biggest clients, high prices for the small business owners - and they relentlessly drove small waste haulers who tried to compete with them out of business.

Cosa nostra was the only thing that kept them out of New York City. The commercial landlords wanted the big boys to come into town - so they could get discounts on their waste hauling needs - and they wanted the feds, and New York City's new "law and order" liberal Republican mayor, former prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani, to open the way for those companies to come in, by breaking the mob cartel.

The feds and Giuliani set out to do just that.

Their method would be to break the mob control over both Teamsters local 813 and the three Mason Tenders locals in the waste hauling industry.

This brought the Building Laborers union into the federal crosshairs, and that's why the feds filed their civil RICO suit. The details of the charges were different, but the objective was the same as in the Carpenters - the feds wanted to take over the union.

Unfortunately, a lot of carpenters and laborers, seeing that their unions were in decay and, correctly, blaming the gangsters and the gangster dominated union leaders for the collapse of union standards, had illusions that the feds were going after the bosses of the unions because they wanted to help the workers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The feds aim was simple.

They knew that, by the early 1990's, the carpenters and laborers unions were letting cosa nostra connected contractors violate collective bargaining agreements pretty much at will. Not only were union work rules going out the window, but in many cases mobbed up contractors were allowed to pay less than union scale and evade paying union benefit fund contributions for their workers.

This not only gave these contractors an unfair competitive advantage over other, non mob connected, firms, it also cheated the bankers and the developers. The financiers were paying union scale prices, but the wiseguy contractors were paying scab wages - and pocketing the difference.

The financiers wanted to make the unions reduce their pay and benefits for all of their contractors. With the pay and benefit cuts legal and open, the developers and bankers could make their contractors charge them less, so they could enjoy the extra profits from reduced construction worker wages.

That's why the feds came after the carpenters and laborers unions - instead of secret pay cuts for some contractors, they wanted open pay cuts for all of the contractors.

The feds goal was to install leaders in those unions who would go along with the goals of the owners and the mortgage bankers.

The union leaders, anxious to defend their perks, quite naturally tried to accomodate themselves to the feds.

The Laborers International Union of North America (who's international leaders - many of whom allegedly had ties to Rhode Island's Patriarca crime family - were facing another federal effort to take over the union nationally) stepped in and put the Mason Tenders District Council under trusteeship.

The international Laborers Union helped the feds hand pick a leadership that would be amenable to the demands of the developers and the bankers.

This actually wasn't that hard - the company men in the Laborers Union (the core of privilged workers who were the social base of the political machine that ran the union) were mainly employed by General Contractors.

GC's manage construction sites on behalf of the owners and developers.

Unlike other contractors, who are always in conflict with the owners because they want to maximize the prices they charge and the owners want to minimize how much they will be paid, the GC's are on the same side of the table as the developers.

They also have a stake in reducing how much the subcontractors will charge, and maximizing the share of the profits that go to the developers and the bankers.

The company men, quite naturally, tended to have the same world outlook as the GCs (since their priviliged position in the industry and their high incomes were directly tied to their connections to the general contractors) and like the GC's they supported the goals of the developers.

This made it easy to find company men who would support the goals of the developers, and who the FBI could trust to carry out those goals once they were installed in office.

But before they installed new officers, the trustees and the FBI also reorganized the Building Laborers union, by disbanding most of the local unions.

All of the building laborer, bricklayer tender, plasterer tender and demolition worker locals in New York City were merged into one big citywide local, Building Laborers local 79.

And all three waste handler locals were merged into a big citywide local, Waste Handlers local 108.

The hazardous material and asbestos laborers got their own local, local 78.

The FBI and the trusteeship hand-picked new leaders for these locals.

In local 79, most of the new officers were company man building laborers with ties to the old regime, but without significant organized crime ties. Very few of them had ever worked in demolition or bricklayer tending, despite the fact that a majority of local 79 laborers worked in those crafts and almost none of them were Black or Latino, despite the fact that minorities were a majority of the local's membership.

In locals 78 and 108, which were overwhelmingly minority - just about the only White people in local 78's jurisdiction were Polish or Croatian immigrants and almost all of the local 108 waste handlers were Mexican, Guatemalan or Ecuadorian.

So, local 78 had to have a mostly Latino leadership, balanced off with some Eastern European immigrants.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the asbestos removal craft has a higher proportion of women workers than any other construction trade, local 78 didn't have any female officers or BAs.

Local 108 ended up with a White president, a building laborer, but they balanced that off with Business Agent Vicente "Panama" Alba, a Puerto Rican man who had never actually worked as a waste handler (or a building laborer, for that matter) but who had been in the 1960's Latino radical group the Young Lords Party. Alba's role was to give a radical flavor to the government takeover of the union - and to create the impression that the union was actually willing to fight for immigrant workers rights.

The FBI-installed leadership had to present themselves as a militant alternative to the old Genovese, Gambino and Lucchese-dominated regime, otherwise they would not be able to impose the pay cuts and benefit reductions the clients demanded.

So, the Mason Tenders DC set up an elaborate organizing program - many organizers were hired, almost all of them had worked as laborers, many of them were Latino (with a few Polish and Croatian immigrants in the mix as well) and they even hired a Latina woman organizer.

This is the union that introduced the large inflatable rat to labor demonstrations in New York City. They had very loud boisterous picketlines, with whistles and Army marching cadence-style picket line chants.

These militant appearing rallies were radical-looking window dressing for the wheeling and dealing that went on with the contractors behind closed doors.

The Mason Tenders organizing department did succeed in organizing most of the non union asbestos abatement and demolition contractors.

But there was a catch.

The 2,800 newly unionized asbestos handlers got a lower pay scale and an inferior benefit package than other laborers. Also, the contractors only had to hire a limited proportion of their workers from the union's out of work list.

That's very important in construction - construction workers do not have steady jobs, so it's important for them to have a way of getting work from the union when they get laid off. If they have to rely on getting work from the contractors, there is a tendency for workers to make deals - most commonly involving them agreeing to work off the books for less than union scale and no benefits - to get a job.

This is especially true if the workers are undocumented immigrants (which most asbestos handlers are).

So, that loophole allowing mostly company man crews pretty much guaranteed that the asbestos abatement contractors would actually be paying much of their workforce even less than the already low union pay and benefits scale.

Also, the union took over the asbestos contractors training, licensing and medical monitoring function - which not only saved the abatement contractors a whole lot of money, it also relieved them of the legal liability of knowingly hiring undocumented workers.

The demolition contractors got a similar deal from local 79. They could use mostly company men, and they could pay most of their workers less than full union scale. The only laborers who had to get full union scale were the company foreman and the union shop steward - everbody else could be a "B Man" getting paid as little as $ 10/hr.

Also, since the demolition contractors could use almost all company man crews in many cases, they were able to force B Men to work for even less than union scale in return for a steady job.

The non union residential contractors were offered a similar deal, but they didn't go for it - after all, they paid their laborers less than minimum wage, and there was no way local 79 could match that!!!

In local 108's case, the big three had displaced a large portion of their membership, since over 200 of the 300 private waste haulers had either gone out of business, been driven out of waste hauling by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs and the FBI or had sharply reduced their operations due to the loss of routes to BFI, Waste Management and USA Waste Services.

Over a third of the trade, around 1,000 workers, had lost their jobs.

Since the same amount of garbage that had once been processed by 3,000 workers was now being handled by 2,000, the waste transfer stations became deathtraps.

Serious accidents became commonplace, with severe injuries a regular occurance and even a few on the job deaths.

Despite the carnage in the transfer stations, local 108 did absolutely nothing to protect their members lives and limbs.

Local 108 did launch some demonstrations on behalf of BFI, Waste Management and USA Waste, when the NYC Department of Sanitation tried to deprivatize part of it's recycling program, and end the huge public subsidies to the big three.

Local 108 and Teamsters local 813 also ended pattern bargaining. Where there had once been industrywide contracts with the 4 associations that represented all 300 of the city's private carting companies, now there were seperate union contracts at each of the big three and at all of the 100 remaining independent carters.

This was the model for other construction union trusteeships - a militant-sounding union leadership who could impose deep wage and benefit concessions on the workers in the name of "organizing".

The next target was the Carpenters Union - where the trusteeship would not be as successful.

The District Council of Carpenters had been agressively maneuvering to avoid a federal takeover.

They had signed a Consent Decree with the Department of Justice, ending the civil RICO case.

The Consent Decree made a number of changes to the union, including reorganizing the hiring hall system (supposedly to make it more fair for the local men but actually to make it easier for contractors to use more company men on their jobs) and restoring free elections for District Council officers, a right union carpenters had lost in 1916.

The Carpenters elections were scheduled for July 1995. There was a small reform slate, Carpenters for a Stronger Union, that would have been willing to go along with the feds plan to take over the union - but they were unlikely to win.

The two main factions - one led by Fred Devine, the head of Dockbuilders local 1456 and the incumbent DC president and the other led by Pat Harvey, chief of Westside Carpenters local 608 - had essentially the same program: collaboration with the contractors.

They also both had the same social base, the "company men" - that narrow priviliged minority of union carpenters who had steady jobs.

Those company men had close ties with the contractors, in many cases they were related to the bosses by blood or marriage, or at the very least they came from the same neighborhood or had the same ethnic background.

These company men were loyal to the needs of the contractors - and they would oppose anything that would hurt the contractors - like, for instance, the ending of the secret, cosa nostra-brokered deals that the larger, more well connected contractors had with the union, enabling them to get away with contract violations and making the union protect these firms from other, smaller, upstart companies that might want to underbid them for work.

Since both the incumbent Fred Devine administration and challenger Pat Harvey from local 608, as well as the leaders of all 15 other locals, had their social base in this priviliged layer of company man carpenters, they would also not undermine the deals the union had with the cosa nostra-connected contractors.

In fact, the District Council would do it's best to reinforce and shore up those deals, since the whole system of cartels that had protected these contractors for decades was in a state of collapse and had already been partially destroyed by the feds!

So neither Devine nor Harvey would do anything to help the feds in their fight against contractor price fixing.

Carpenters for a Stronger Union would - but they were not going to win.

CSU's social base was among local men - the underpriviliged majority of union carpenters who were sporadically employed and had far lower incomes than their company man brothers and sisters.

The problem was, local men, while having full voting rights in the union, were largely excluded from active participation in the political life of the union (other than as blind uncritical supporters of the officers and BAs who ran their locals).

Local men were dependent on the union for their jobs - and could easily be blacklisted if they expressed any opposition to the union machine. The company man dominated union machines had long made this very clear - and were quick to retaliate against any local man who spoke up against them.

80 years of this kind of economic terror had scared local men into silence.

Also, many local men had a fatalistic attitude about the union - it had been dominated by company men and the wiseguys for as long as anybody could remember, and it always would be that way.

Carpenters who thought like that, quite understandibly, tended to be passive about union politics - due in part to their fear of sticking their necks out, and in part to a raw cynicism that no matter what they did, nothing would change, so why bother?

Other local men, who also felt the system was unchangable, were oriented towards currying favor with the union leadership - in hopes that they might be able to get steady work as shop stewards.

Many of the stewards, of course, were among the few local men who had incomes and employment stability comparable to company men - and, alone among union carpenters they could not get fired at will by the contractors (the boss had better have a reason to let a shoppie go - and he'd better clear it with the union before giving that carpenter his two checks).

Some of these local men also thought that that a good relationship with the BA's might lead to a company man spot somewhere (a very rational belief, since many BA's were ex foremen or supers - and they still had ties with the contractors they'd run jobs for).

Those local men would tend to be very involved with union elections - as supporters of the union machine. Those are the folks who would go around putting up campaign posters on jobsites, handing out campaign literature at union meetings and leafleting and handing out campaign buttons and stickers at the elections (hoping their loyalty would be economically rewarded).

Another, much smaller, segment of local men did think that changes could be made in the union, and did feel the union didn't always have to be dominated by the contractors and the wiseguys.

This handfull of dissident local men were the social base of CSU.

Unfortunately, many of these union dissident local men shared CSU's deadly and dangerous illusions that government intervention would be the only way to make the union more responsive to the needs of the local men.

Those illusions were fueled by the governments takevoers of the Teamsters and Laborers unions - and by the fact that government intervention in the unions was presented as the only road to freeing unions from gangster domination by almost all of the major union reform groups, like Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Labor Notes magazine, the Association for Union Democracy...and, of course by the reform caucus in the NYDCofC - Carpenters for a Stronger Union.

Unfortunately, this tended to promote another kind of local man passivity - the attitude that, since the only way the union will be cleaned up is by the feds, workers should just passively wait for the US Attorney, the New York County DA and the courts to come in and "clean up the union".

In short, the great bulk of politically active union carpenters were either company men (who could afford to express a free opinion about union internal affairs since, unlike most construction workers, they had a steady job) or local men who aspired to be company men or to get regular work as shop stewards (and who would uncritically support the incumbent union leadership to further those ambitions).

They made up around one fifth of the NYDCofC's membership, but they dominated the union's internal political life, and they were the social base of the leadership.

The remaining four fifths of the union, the local men, were largely politically inert, and has almost no influence on the District Council as an institution.

Needless to say, due to the social and economic ties the company men had with the contractors - and the roots the union leadership had among those company men, it was impossible for the District Council to go against the interests of the contractors (as they would be expected to do by the feds if a Mason Tenders style reform regime was to come to power in the District Council).

The feds would find that out the hard way in the subsequent decade.

Meanwhile, as the Carpenters had their first free election in 79 years, their trade became more and more openly non union.

One of the biggest scaffold contractors in the city, Colgate, ripped up it's contract with the Carpenters, Laborers and Teamsters unions, and went openly non union. It also began replacing it's formerly unionized carpenters, laborers and truck drivers with Mexican immigrant carpenters, who'd never been in the union (and who would have to do scaffold laborer and truck driver work, as well as scaffold building and dismantling).

Rockledge scaffold quickly followed Colgate's lead. Many non union firms that had never been in the scaffold business before poured into the industry, with the union's once total control over the market now broken.

Regional scaffolding stayed union...kindasorta.

They cut their carpenters pay, and stopped paying into the union benefit and pension funds - instead, their company men got "profit sharing" payments instead.

Incredibly, Regional's owner Mike Mazzucca was actually an employer trustee of the very funds he was cheating!!!

Even more incredibly the union did nothing to punish Regional!!!

This was the begining of a trend by union contractors to pay their company men less than union wages and no benefits in return for steady employment. Often, these wages were paid off the books (a practice soon dubbed "working for cash") The way these cash company men looked on it, it was a good deal - they got a steady job, they didn't have to pay taxes, and they could use their wife's health insurance to cover themselves and their kids. It beat sitting in the union hall waiting for a job!!!

This trend of working for cash spread like wildfire in the office furniture installation sector - where contractors came on the site at the end of the job, or into occupied office buildings where there were no other contractors. This meant that their might not be any carpenter shop stewards on site, so the union didn't even know a lot of these jobs were happening. Also, furniture installation jobs are very quick - so by the time the union found out, they'd be gone.

But nowhere would cash become more common than in that dwindling corner of residential construction that was still union - the luxury hirise sector.

Hirise concrete contractors, who built the shells of the buildings, began making deals with their company man carpenters and laborers - work for cash and you'll be on the job from foundation hole to topping off, demand union scale and you'll get cut on the second floor and they'll get another guy who'll take the deal.

Drywall contractors, who framed out and rocked up the interiors, made similar deals with their carpenters and tapers - work for cash and you'll work steady. With the tapers, even the guys who got paid union scale on the books didn't get benefits, since the Genovese-dominated Drywall Plasterers local 530 didn't have a benefit fund!

The developers had a problem with this setup.

One, not all of the contractors did this - some still paid union scale and benefits, since on paper these carpenters got the same pay and benefits as commercial construction workers.

Two, the ones that did pay cash usualy had arraingments with cosa nostra that allowed them to do that.

Some of those contractors passed on their labor cost savings to the owners in the form of lower bids - but others didn't.

They charged the same prices as if they were paying union scale, and pocketed the difference. They also tended to pass along the cost of the "tribute" (protection money) they paid to whatever mob family they were under the protection of (by this time, the Gambinos, Colombos and even New Jersey's De Cavalcante family had begun poaching on the Genovese's traditional turf in the concrete and drywall businesses).

And that just wouldn't do...

The developers (and the bankers who financed their projects) had become accustomed to the state of affairs in the non union segment of residential construction - where all the labor cost savings were passed along to the owners in the form of lower prices.

Naturally, they wanted to bring this to the last remaining pockets of union construction in the residential sector - luxury hirises. They wanted to have ALL of their contractors openly and legally paying lower wages and benefits, and to have those savings passed on to them - and the government was ready, willing and able to assist them in doing just that.

The leadership of the District Council of Carpenters, while more than willing to make economic concessions at the expense of their members (like eliminating doubletime for weekday and Saturday OT and replacing it with time and a half), were very reluctant to attack the cash activities of connected contractors.

The District Council also had other problems.

New York State's newly elected Governor, George Pataki, was under pressure from the major corporations who had shows at the Javits Center to drive out the Genovese family. Freeman Decorating Company, the general contractor that ran many of the biggest shows, had joined in with it's clients in demanding the breaking of cosa nostra power at the convention center. Along with driving out the wiseguys, FDC and it's clients also wanted the governor to impose deep wage and work rule concessions on the unions at the Javits.

And Pataki was more than willing to comply.

Pataki reached out to the New York media, and they launched a fierce publicity campaign against the Carpenters, and the two other major unions at the Javits Center, Teamsters local 807 and Expos local 829 of the Stagehands Union.

Not only were the Carpenters, Teamsters and Expos attacked for the Genovese family ties of some of their company man members who worked at the Javits, and the thefts that some of those connected company men had committed while they worked at the center, the unions were also attaked for supposedly "excessive" union wages, benefits and work rules at the Javits.

One newspaper even claimed, ridiculously, that union rules required 9 men be used to drive a forklift at the Javits Center! Despite the obvious absurdity of that claim (after all, forklifts only have 1 drivers seat!) it was repeated as gospel truth in every media outlet in the city!

FBI-installed Teamster General President Ron Carey joined in the attacks, by ousting Genovese family associate and convicted murderer Robert Rabbit, Sr and his son Michael from their leadership posts in Teamsters local 807, and making a televised pledge - live from in front of the Javits Center - to unconditionally support Pataki's attacks on the Javits Center unions.

The District Council of Carpenters responded by setting up a training program for trade show carpenters, including a rather insulting "comportment" class that assumed that all carpenters were loud, foul mouthed, sexist pigs who didn't know how to act around white collar professional women.

That didn't placate Pataki or the decorating contractors or the exhibitors in the least.

The same weekend that the District Council of Carpenters held it's first free elections in 79 years (balloting Devine won handily, with Harvey coming in second and the CSU slate coming in a far distant third - and 80% of New York carpenters not bothering to vote for any of them!) the state launched it's attack.

A force of 200 state troopers raided the Javits Center, with 9mm pistols drawn and attack dogs straining at their leashes.

The state troopers ousted the previous workforce at gunpoint, banned 260 carpenters, teamsters and expos from ever setting foot in the Javits Center for the rest of their lives, drove the Expos union completely out of the house and ripped up the contracts with the Carpenters and Teamsters.

This was followed up with an open labor call, where any worker in the city would be allowed to apply for non union carpenter and teamster jobs at the Javits Center.

Expos local 829 picketed that open labor call - the NYDCofC and Teamsters local 807 told their members to cross that picketline to apply for those non union jobs.

That was only the first government attack on the Carpenters.

Meanwhile, the carpentry trade became more and more non union, and the NYDCofC continued to decline and lose membership.

Devine had given woodwork contractors the right to install non union made material on union jobs (and ordered union carpenters to install this scab material, in violation of a 120 year old union rule that union carpenters are not supposed to install scab-made woodwork).

This concession devastated the unions cabinet shop membership.

Due to layoffs in the union cabinet shops, and the closing of several large union shops (including Schultz Industries, the biggest union cabinet shop in Manhattan and the largest factory in Harlem, with over 400 workers) two of the three cabinetmaker locals had to merge. Locals 1146 and 2155 were disbanded, and the few members who still had jobs joined the newly chartered local 1994.

In outside construction, and particularly in office furniture installation, hirise concrete and residential drywall, the cash epidemic was spreading. The "request system" that had been created by the Consent Decree that ended the civil RICO case against the union. Basically, it allowed contractors to evade the union's 50/50 rule that required half the crew on any jobsite be local men.

Under the request system, contractors could select which local men would be sent to the job by the union. The contractors could pick any local man that had worked for them in the last 6 months. The only local man who could not be requested was the shop steward. This enabled contractors to have all company man crews.

Since contractors now had the right to have all company man crews, it became harder for local men to get jobs. And it created a strong incentive for local men to become company men at any price - even if it meant making less than union scale.

In theory, the union was supposed to check to make sure that all carpenters were getting their full pay and benefits.

In practice only some contractors got their payrolls checked - the ones that did not have ties with cosa nostra.

Companies that did have mob ties were allowed to pay cash to company men.

In residential construction, this soon became a way of life, with most of the major union contractors in the hirise concrete and drywall sectors paying cash to at least some of their company men.

This went part of the way to meet the demands of the developers and the government, but it didn't go far enough.

Fred Devine had to go.

So, in July 1996, while Devine was at a junket at a resort in upstate New York, a force of private detectives raided the NYDCofC headquarters. They were sent by the parent union of the NYDCofC, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and they were there to impose a trusteeship on the union.

Devine would soon have other problems besides unemployment. Within the year, he would be indicted for embezzlement - because both of his mistresses were on the union payroll - and he'd end up doing 3 years in a New York State correctional facility.

While Devine was trading in silk suits and mansions for green jumpsuits and 10' by 4' prison cells, New York union carpenters found an already decaying situation being made even worse by the international trusteeship.

In particular, things got a lot worse really really really fast for those dwindling number of union carpenters who still worked in residential construction.

Since the union's membership had shrunk again - now it was down to 17,000 members - the trusteeship engaged in another round of disbanding locals.

Devine's deal with the woodworking contractors that let them install scab cabinets had decimated the ranks of the cabinetmakers, so the last two cabinetmaker locals, 246 and 1994, were disbanded and their members, along with local 2710's Javits Center drapery workers and venetian blind installers, were placed into the newly organized local 2090.

The rise of cash in residential construction furthered the deunionization of that sector - so a number of predominantly residential locals folded. Harlem/Bronx local 17 was absorbed by Westside local 608, Upper East Side local 135 was absorbed by Eastside local 257 (which was rechristened local 157), Northern Queens local 531 and South Queens/South Shore Nassau County local 348 became local 45 and North Brooklyn local 302 and South Brooklyn local 296 became local 926.

All of the new locals lost the right to dispatch workers to jobs (that was the District Council's job now) and their members lost the right to vote for Business Agents (they would be appointed by the Executive Secretary Treasurer of the DC).

The trusteeship also expanded the right of contractors to use all company man crews. Before, a contractor couldn't request a worker off the list unless they could prove that that carpenter had worked for them at least once in the last 6 months. Now they could request anybody.

Also, local men lost the right to turn down jobs. Now, once they called you, you had to take the job or you'd go to the bottom of the list (even if taking the job would put you over the 11 day limit - after 11 days worked, you'd automatically go to the bottom of the list anyway).

These new restrictions on local men, and the contractor's expanded discresion over who they would hire from the union, contributed to an environment were many felt that the only way to keep working was to make a deal with a contractor- even if that meant working for cash.

Of course, the NYDCofC was still under intense pressure from the government to crack down on the contractors who used their mob ties to illegally pay substandard wages while still billing the clients as if they were paying union scale.

To that end, the trusteeship transformed the Labor Management Fund, a largely dormant entity, into a police agency, with a staff of trained investigators with the authority to investigate cash contractors.

This was parallel to the special investigator that the courts had long had investigating the union full time.

The trusteeship also set up an Organizing Department, modeled on the Mason Tenders DC's (complete with the inflatable rats and catchy picketline chants).

The organizers they hired were all carpenters, and they were all assigned particular neighborhoods to focus on.

The organizers, who were extremely dedicated and hard working guys (and I do mean "guys" literally - unlike the laborers, the carpenters would not hire women organizers), built up networks of contacts among the non union carpenters in their areas.

The networks of non union carpenters built by the organizers could have been used to organize a citywide strike of residential carpenters.

But that would involve mobilizing several thousand workers - most of them Black or Latino and many of them immigrants - and leading them into a large scale strike. Such a strike, to have any hope of success, would have to be very militant and agressive - they'd have to stand up to the scab contractors, the developers, the bankers, organized crime, the police and the city, state and federal governments.

Besides launching a war against the powers that be, a strike on that scale would have certainly created hundreds of new leaders from among the ranks of the strikers.

And those militants would have certainly demanded their rightful place in the union leadership.

Worse yet, if such a strike successful, it would have flooded over 20,000 carpenters into the union - doubling the union's size - and almost all of these new members would have been Black, Latino or White immigrants.

Unlike the local men already in the union, who had been bowed down by generations of cosa nostra and union leadership intimidation, these workers, emboldened by their strike victory, would demand that their voices be heard and their interests be fought for by the union.

And that just would not do.

It would enrage the contractors, upset the feds, the city and the state and pose a mortal threat to banker and developer profits.

So, instead of launching a successful, and potentially dangerous, mass struggle, the NYDCofC organizing department set about mobilizing an expensive, time consuming and ineffective one-contractor-at-a-time NLRB-style organizing campaign.

The initial targets were scaffolding contractors Rockledge and Colgate, who had only recently deunionized.

They were offered a deal - if they came back to the union, they would be allowed to pay their carpenters less than union scale. Their carpenters would not be allowed to join the regular building trades carpenter locals that had previously represented scaffold carpenters - instead, they would be consigned to Timbermens local 1536, an excavation carpenters local with a much lower pay scale.

The new scaffold carpenters division of local 1536 (called "local 1536B") would have a 30% lower pay scale than the rest of the timbermens local - they'd only get $ 17/hr.

Rockledge and Colgate turned the District Council down flat.

They were very happy with the low wages and no benefits setup that they had imposed on their non union Mexican immigrant carpenters - the last thing they wanted was to bring back the union.

They also had their competitors to worry about.

The deunionization of residential construction had brought a flood of scab contractors into the scaffolding business - in particular, in the brickpointing sector.

Brickpointing contractors did maintenance work on exterior brick walls in existing buildings - a huge market in New York, a city filled with brick veneer apartment buildings who's exterior walls need constant waterproofing and repair to deal with the wet climate here.

A City of New York ordinance, Local Law 11, also requires that every building with load bearing brick walls get brickpointing done every 5 years - which generates even more work for the brickpointing contractors.

Almost all of the brickpointing contractors were very low paying scab outfits - and they and their scaffolding contractors paid rock bottom wages to their scaffold carpenters.

Many of those scab scaffolding outfits had broken into providing protective "sidewalk bridge" exterior scaffolds for jobs run by the NYC Housing Authority, the NYC School Construction Authority and the Dormitory Authority, State of New York.

All of NYCHA's jobs in the projects were non union - using the extremely low paying contractors who also worked on HPD jobs. SCA and DASNY's jobs were mostly union, but they also had many scab contractors on their jobs as well (and a lot of the 'union' companies had a tendency to pay cash on their SCA and DASNY jobs).

So Rockledge and Colgate decided to stay scab.

The main effect of this "organizing drive" was to drive down wages and benefits for those scaffold carpenters who were still in the union (and, in effect, to legalize the substandard wages paid by the cash contractors).

Undaunted by this failure, the Carpenters organizing department focused it's efforts on HPD's luxury housing renovation jobs in Harlem.

HPD was close to finishing Mayor Koch's old goal of rebuilding the inner cities - and, despite the fact that these buildings were supposed to be low income housing, the developers the agency was using planned to make these apartment houses into luxury coops, selling for $ 450,000 an apartment or more.

Despite the high pricetags on these homes, the wages were very low - subminimum in many cases, and off the books in almost all.

The District Council offered a similar deal to the one they had made the scaffold contractors (and almost the same deal that the Mason Tenders DC's organizers had made a couple of years before) a pay scale that was 30% less than union scale.

The contractors said no.

Because even $ 17/hr was still a full $ 10 an hour more than what they were currently paying. And even a reduced benefit scale was far higher than no benefits at all. And they'd have to pay their workers on the books - including withholding taxes, workers comp, social security and disability - which would drive their labor costs even further through the roof.

Needless to say, these contractors rejected the District Council out of hand.

The only response the Carpenters Union could come up with was picketing - and not the kind of violent wrecking crew-style of picketing favored by the previous leadership but very mild, police-approved picketing, with the inflatable rat and a couple of guys with picket signs.

There was a brief glimpse of another way of fighting the non union onslaught in June 1998. The NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority had begun using a non union mechanical contractor for many of it's jobs - a New Jersey-based firm called Roy Kay.

Roy Kay had expanded into the general contracting business, and was running a number of jobs for several public entities in NYC - the largest of which was the new Subway Command Center that the MTA was building on 10th Av and W 54th St.

On June 30, the NYC Building & Construction Trades Council, under pressure from the Mason Tenders and the Carpenters, called an all trades rally in front of MTA headquarters at E 47th St and Madison Av, about a mile from the Subway Command Center jobsite.

After about an hour of listening to boring speeches from union officals and contractors (yes, at New York construction union rallies, it's very common to see bosses speaking from labor's platform) a group of plumbers led a breakaway from the main rally.

Soon, all 40,000 union construction workers at the rally followed the plumbers (and the union officials ran behind them to catch up).

The workers succeeded in shutting down traffic in about 4 square miles of Midtown Manhattan - from 40th St to 56th St, from Madison Avenue to 10th Avenue.

This march would ultimately come to be known among unionized New York City tradespeople as "the 40,000 man march".

The NYPD were utterly unprepared for this kind of militancy, so it took a while for them to respond (for about 2 hours, the small detail of about 200 cops and an equal number of unarmed traffic agents just stared in awe at the crowd and stood aside as workers surged through the barricades).

In the end, the NYPD rallied several dozen mounted officers and about 200 police academy cadets, and stopped the workers from invading the Subway Command Center jobsite by spraying them with mace.

42 workers were arrested - 38 of them were injured by the cops when they got busted.

39 of the cops got hurt too (mostly cadets who accidentally sprayed themselves with mace while attacking the workers) and a steamfitter punched a police horse in the face - to stop it from trampling another steamfitter who'd been beaten to the ground by the police.

This show of force by union construction workers scared the living daylights out of the union officials.

They were terrified of this awesome public display of the power that their members had, and the fact that the workers had gotten to see and feel their tremendous social weight.

So, that night, on New York's all news cable channel New York 1, the NYC Building & Construction Trades Council made a televised apology for the 40,000 man march to the contractors, real estate developers and above all to the NYPD and Mayor Giuliani.

The union chiefs further promised to never again let a labor rally get "out of hand" like that (and, as of this writing in May 2007, the building trades union leaders have kept their promise to the bosses and the government)

Roy Kay signed union contracts with all of the trades within 6 months of the rally.

But, with the momentum set off by the rally, the sense of power it had instilled in the workers and the tremendous sympathy the rally had gained for construction workers among the rest of New York's working class, so much more could have been done.

But that would have been very dangerous for the union leaders.

Pulling tens of thousands of local men into union activism would have threatened the company man based regimes within the unions - and the relationships, understandings and special deals those regimes had with the contractors.

At this point, many of those deals involved the open toleration of substandard wages, benefits and working conditions on many union jobsites.

This was especially true in the one little island of residential construction that had stayed union - new construction of luxury hirise apartment houses in Manhattan below 96th St. In particular, drywall contractors and hirise concrete outfits were the dirtiest.

This decay had also spread into hotel construction and renovation work as well.

The violations were also becoming common in the sector that had become the heart of union construction in the Greater New York area - commerical construction. This was particularly the case with the furniture installation companies and the venetian blind contractors, among whom paying cash was becoming more and more common.

There was another, deeper, more structural problem here. The commercial sector, the market segment where the majority of union tradespeople worked, was in a long term decline.

Computerization, outsourcing and corporate mergers had reduced the number of office workers in New York's financial and corporate sectors - and less office workers = less office space.

Also, New York's second largest central business district, the Financial District, was in the midst of a rapid decline. Corporations were abandoning that area - and the office towers they left behind were being renovated into apartment buildings.

In many cases, these renovation jobs were being done non union - and the "union" jobs were less and less likely to actually pay union scale and benefits.

Beyond that, the Carpenters Union was under tremendous pressure from the bankers, the developers and the government to crack down on contractors who paid cash.

This was NOT do to any concern for construction workers welfare on the part of the bosses and the feds. This was because, as I explained above, the financiers and their government wanted all their contractors to have openly and legally reduced wages, instead of just some cosa nostra connected contractors having secretly and illegally low wages.

This would enable the cost savings from lower construction worker wages to be passed directly on to the financial interests.

The District Council was very unwilling to help the developers and the bankers carry this out, since it would be disloyal to the cosa nostra connected contractors.

To force the District Council of Carpenters to act, the New York County DA had the DC's principal officer, Mike Forde, and local 608 BA Martin Deaveraux, arrested along with a number of officials of the Concrete Laborers and the Bricklayers, as well as several leading figures in the DeCavalcante, Genovese and Gambino crime families

In Forde and Devearaux's case, they had allegedly taken a $ 10,000 bribe from the son in law and daughter of the head of the DeCavalcante crime family.

Sean Richard and Sara Riggi's drywall company, S & S Construction, was doing part of the drywall work at the Park Central Hotel, and they had 22 non union carpenters on a supposedly union jobsite, working side by side with union carpenters.

When they got caught by the union, they tried to bribe their way out of it - by taking Mike Forde to a nearby Hooters and giving him $ 10,000 in cash in an envelope (or so Sean would later claim after he left his wife - and the world of organized crime - and became a government witness).

The intent of this prosecution was to once and for all stop the union from defending the connected contractors and to force the union to let all of the contractors reduce the pay and benefits of their carpenters, so the savings could be passed along to the financiers, rather than being pocketed by the contractors.

The court-appointed "special master" who supervised NYDCofC internal affairs for the government, Walter Mack, also began probing several cases where the District Council had allowed companies with Gambino family connections to pay cash.

Many carpenters, disgusted by the decay in the union, supported both the Forde arrest and Mack's probes - because they had illusions that the government was taking these actions to help union carpenters.

As I pointed out above, they couldn't have been more wrong!

The government's goal was the same as it had been when they first put the union under court supervision - to stop the NYDCofC from letting some contractors illegally pay substandard wages (and bill the clients as if they were paying union scale) and to force the union to let all contractors openly and legally pay substandard wages, so the real estate developers and the GC's could force them to charge lower prices (and pass the labor cost savings away from the contractors and upwards towards the financiers).

Meanwhile, the union decay continued - the commercial sector was still shrinking, and openly non union companies were begining to move in on the fringes of that market segment - and many union outfits, particularly companies in the furniture and venetian blind businesses, were union in name only.

The request system made this possible.

Since companies could use all company man crews (except for the shop steward, who had to be hired from the union), and since a carpenter could spend months on the list before he/she got a job, there was a lot of pressure to do whatever you had to do to become a company man, even if it meant working for cash.

The DC only made things worse when they gave the contractors the unrestricted right to fire shop stewards at will, merely by faxing a letter to the union saying that the shoppie was "incompetent". Now even the stewards had no protection - and there was a lot of pressure on shoppies to go along with the cash, or they might get fired.

As union conditions decayed in commercial construction, the government was begining to increase it's use of scab contractors on Davis Bacon jobs too.

The School Construction Authority began having scab contractors working side by side with union outfits, and nearly all of the sidewalk shed protective scaffolds they had put up around schools under renovation were being built by scab contractors.

The NYCHA went SCA one better - they completely stopped using union contractors on renovation jobs in the projects. And the Dormitory Authority, State of New York began intensifying the deunionization of their college campus and hospital jobs as well.

In residential, the dryrot was even worse. The union had lost control of almost all new construction of single family houses.

That was unfortunate, because, out in Staten Island, there was a building boom.

All over the island, hundreds of single family, two family, three family and four family houses were going up. A couple of thousand carpenters were employed on these jobs, almost all of them non union Mexican immigrants.

The decay in the apartment house renovation segment accelerated. Even some union contractors got in on the act, setting up "double breasted" (part union, part scab) operations - running union jobs in Manhattan below 96th St, and scab jobs in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Worse yet, some of these companies all but openly shifted union carpenters between union jobs and scab jobs (a blatant violation of their union agreements).

And the developers began even more widespread use of scab contractors on all of their jobs - not just the HPD subsidized ones.

This was especially true in Harlem, where a massive wave of gentrification was going on. Dozens of luxury apartment buildings were being built - some HPD-financed renovations, others privately funded new construction and some HPD subsidized new construction as well.

All of these buildings were being constructed by low wage non union labor, with 19th century wages and working conditions - $ 7/hr for skilled labor, $ 4/hr (plus a sandwich) for the laborers and helpers, a 10 hour straight time work day, a 6 day workweek, no benefits, all wages paid in cash off the books - and if a worker got hurt, the foreman would put him in a livery cab (so there'd be no FDNY record of an ambulance run to that jobsite) and once the worker got to Harlem Hospital he would be on his own!

If the worker filed a claim with the Workers Compensation Board, the contractor would deny that the person had ever worked for them - and, technically, this was true, since most of these contractors, on paper, had no employees other than their job supers and the bookeepers in the office.

All of the men and women on the jobsites were ghosts - paid in cash off the books, with no written record of their employment.

Naturally, these workers wanted to be unionized.

This was especially true of the many who were former union carpenters who had to leave the union because they could no longer get union work - and the folks who were still in the union, but had to do something to pay the bills while waiting 6 months for a job.

The Carpenters organizing department's response was one contractor at a time NLRB elections.

This pretty much guaranteed failure - not because these carpenters wern't willing to vote for the union (they were - overwhelmingly) but due to the fact that most of the contractors in that sector had multiple alter-ego D/B/A companies (one company in the husband's name, one in the wife's name, one jointly owned by both of them ect)

It was easy to shift work away from the firm that got unionized and towards the company that was still scab.

Or, if that didn't work, they could go union in name only, and pretend to pay union scale, while secretly paying scab wages (just like the already unionized contractors were doing!)

In any case, despite widespread pro union sentiment, the Carpenters Union was unable to stop the deunionization of the trade and the industry.

Then 9/11 happened.

That day, a few carpenters (along with workers from other trades) ran towards the site - and 19 of them died there. And the rest of the carpenters in Manhattan below 96th St ran home (along with the rest of the 2 million workers in Manhattan).

Every job in Manhattan below 96th St, union and scab alike, was shut down for 4 days, until the unions put out appeals to their members to go back to work.

Even then some jobs that were very far downtown, close to Ground Zero, didn't start up for another couple of weeks, as the NYPD gradually reduced the boundaries of the Security Zone they had erected in Lower Manhattan the day of the terrorist attacks.

And some jobs never reopened - permanently canceled, thanks to the attacks.

The construction industry here did recover almost completely within about 6 months of the attacks - and the decay of the union sector continued.

Besides house building and tenement renovation (which the union had lost in the 1980's) now there were hirise luxury apartment houses being built scab.

And not just in Harlem anymore - when the Downtown Brooklyn real estate market began to take off, developers openly used scab contractors to do all the interior renovation of the former office buildings that were being transformed into luxury apartment buildings.

The same thing was happening in Lower Manhattan - even on Wall Street, (an area that had long been a union stronghold), where a developer was using scab outfits to renovate the old J P Morgan building.

Not far away, in So Ho (within walking distance of the NYDCofC's Hudson St
headquarters) scab contractors were doing new construction of luxury hirises - somtimes right across the street from union jobs.

Of course, some of those "union" jobs downtown were actually cash jobs... but, then again, that's how this whole process of union decay began in the first place!

The decay even spread to the largest union job in the entire country - AoL Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle.

The core work on the mixed use twin towered complex was done union, as was the office, shopping mall, hotel and jazz theater portions of the building.

But the tenant work on the palatial luxury residential apartments on the upper floors was done almost entirely by low paying scab contractors.

The owner of the building, real estate developer Stephen Ross, used union labor to build his offices on the lower floors of the North Tower - and non union workers to build his platial 4 story high penthouse on the top of the building!

Ironically enough, the union and non union workers actually shared the same loading dock (although they had two different employee enterances - union on W 60th St, scab on W 58th St) and it was not at all unusual to see union and non union tradespeople unloading delivery trucks side by side on that dock.

The building trades did call a one day work stoppage against Ross' use of scab labor in his apartment - but even then, the electricians, tapers and operating engineers scabbed on that strike, as did the UNITE HERE local 6 hotel workers, SEIU local 32bj janitors and Stagehands local 1 members permanently employed in the complex.

Ross agreed to use 2 union contractors to finish his apartment (along with the scab outfits already there) and the rest of the tenant work in the luxury apartments stayed 100% non union!

Developers even began to use scab outfits to put up buildings in Midtown - (where all hirise construction had been union for close to 100 years).

When the Hampton Inn hotel chain decided to build 6 new discount hotels in Lower Manhattan and Midtown, they used all scab contractors on their jobs.

The building trades (and in particular, the organizing departments of the Mason Tenders and the Carpenters) did have a rally against that.

But the Hampton Inn rally was far tamer and more tightly controlled than the Roy Kay rally in 1998.

The Building Trades Council, Laborers Union and Carpenters Union worked closely with the NYPD to make sure that the rally was carefully cordoned off from the scab job, and the crowd itself was carefully divided up into sections.

The Laborers Union organizers actually acted as auxiliaries to the police, making sure workers were obdient to the police and all of the workers stayed inside of the NYPD protest pens (and some of the Laborer organizers were actually more agressive and in-your-face with their fellow union workers than the cops were!)

Also, the rally was held in the afternoon - after work - so no jobs were stopped and production wasn't disrupted on the scab jobsite.

These rallies were a far cry from the 40,000 man march - and were far less effective.

Meanwhile, the government's drive to break the unions away from their ties to contractors that illegally paid substandard wages continued.

This time, the target was Drywall Tapers and Plasterers local 530, the Gambino family controlled tapers company union - which for years had allowed connected contractors to violate it's union contract - which was an extremely weak agreement. to begin with

Local 530's founder, Gambino family captain and convicted labor racketeer Louis Moscatiello Sr and his son, taping contractor (and de-facto boss of local 530) Louis Jr, were arrested along with several other drywall and taping contractors and union officials (including 3 low level staffers in the District Council of Carpenters Welfare Fund).

Basically, they'd let connected contractors illegally and secretly pay substandard wages - while telling the owners and GC's that they were actually paying union scale.

The feds also had Walter Mack continue his probe of the District Council of Carpenters' role in letting contractors pay cash.

Needless to say, there was a mountain of evidence to prove that the NYDCofC had indeed let that happen. This included testimony from union carpenters who called Mack's 800 number anti corruption hotline.

Mack's investigation was parallel to the continued New York County DA's office efforts to convict Forde and Devearaux of taking a payoff to let a De Cavalcante family-connected contractor pay cash.

The District Council was able to beat both of those cases, due to legal technicalities.

A juror at Forde and Devearaux' trial had made racist anti-Irish remarks in the jury room (Forde is Irish-American, Deveraux is an immigrant from Ireland) so the guilty verdict was tossed out.

And the NYDCofC's lawyers had successfully filed a motion to take Mack off the District Council's payroll and to replace him with the security contractor that supplies the guards at the District Council headquarters building. That company, of course, would not agressively probe the council's ties to mobbed up contractors that paid cash.

Although the investigations seemed to be at a dead end, the goverment had achieved it's objectives. The NYDCofC was a far weaker union than it had been 20 years before and it would end up openly and legally reducing the pay scale for all contractors who employed carpenters in residential construction.

This effectively ended 89 years of District Council collusion with gangster affiliated contractors to allow them to violate union standards for commercial gain (and to not have to pass on those labor cost savings to the GC's and the owners).

Meanwhile, the feds had forced the Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons Union to disband local 530. The Painters Union's Tapers local 1974 had hoped to take back the work they'd lost to local 530 back in 1978, but the Carpenters chartered their own low wage tapers union, Tapers local 52, to take local 530's place.

But, unlike local 530, which offered grossly substandard wages and working conditions only to the connected contractors, local 52 would allow all of it's contractors, mob tied or not, to get the same low wages and substandard benefits.

This was only one of the District Council's giveback deals.

The DC had actually given up the 7 hour day on School Construction Authority jobs - for the first time since 1886, union contractors on SCA jobs can now have a 10 hour straight time day.

The District Council of Carpenters was applying the same sellout philosophy to residential carpenters as well.

The NYDCofC had launched a small local pilot program in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where the conntractors who were renovating housing for a local anti poverty agency could now pay 30% lower wages to journeylevel carpenters and have 1 apprentice for every 1 journeyman, rather than the customary 1 apprentice to every 6 journeymen.

The District Council also made a deal with Artimus Construction, a scab GC that builds luxury housing in Harlem.

Artimus was allowed to run double breasted (part union/part scab) jobs.

They used union outfits to do their concrete work (mainly because there are very few scab crane rental contractors in the Tri State Area so it's easier for them to use union outfits for that kind of work).

And they turned around and used scab contractors to do the drywall work on the interior phase of the job.

These experiments were expanded to the whole residential sector in July 2006.

In the July 1, 2006-June 30, 2011 agreements, a substandard residential pay and benefit scale was set.

Union carpenters on newly organized residential jobs would now get only $ 28/hr in wages, instead of the $ 41.23/hr that other union carpenters recieved.

They also got an $ 18.25/hr benefit package, as opposed to the $ 32.47/hr in benefits that their brothers and sisters on other jobs get.

Among other givebacks, carpenters on these jobs won't get a penny deposited into their annuity (a 401k-like supplimental pension, that can also be borrowed from to cover other major expenses, and can be used as a financial lifeline for carpenters at risk of eviction).

The owners and GC's on these jobs would also be allowed to use scab contractors side by side with union.

Carpenters who are currently in the union have the option of refusing to work on these jobs - but newly organized carpenters do NOT.

Carpenters who came into the union on these jobs would have this substandard pay and benefit scale imposed on them for their first 10,000 hours on union jobs (for most local man carpenters, it takes about 10 years to rack up that many hours).

The District Council calls this the "Market Recovery Initiative".

Basically, the "Market Recovery Initiative" gives developers, bankers, GC's and the government what they've always wanted - legally low wages for all carpenters on residential jobs, so the labor cost savings can be passed up from the contractors to the financiers.

That was the whole point of the government intervention.

Finally, after many years of effort by the feds, it succeded, at least partially.

Union contractors on jobs that were already union do not get to benefit from these givebacks - yet... only newly unionized scab jobs benefit from this giveback.

The Carpenters wern't the only construction union in surrender mode.

All of the building trades signed off on the School Construction Authority 10 hour sellout deal.

Significantly, only Electricians local 3 put it up to a vote - and the electricians rejected the agreement... (no doubt the other trades would have voted it down too if they had been given a choice!)

So their union forced them to vote again, and local 3's leaders got the sellout deal rammed through the second time!

The waste hauling unions joined in the surrenderfest too.

In December 2005, Waste Management tried to impose grossly unacceptable contract terms on Teamsters local 813.

Local 813's FBI-installed "reform" leaders refused to call a strike, despite the fact that their contract was expired.

Their pathetic excuse for having their members working without a contract?

The fact that Transport Workers Union local 100 had called a strike at MTA New York City Transit, the city's subway and bus oparating authority!!!

34,000 transit workers had walked off the job, and, in a city where most folks don't own cars and many don't even know how to drive, that meant that 4 million folks couldn't get to work and the city was basically paralyzed.

The FBI-installed officers of Teamsters local 813 said they didn't want to "disrupt the city any further" - so they kept their drivers on the job!! The FBI-installed officers of Laborers local 108 also kept their waste handlers at work too!!!

The transit strike only lasted 3 days - but locals 813 and 108 kept their members on the job for the next FOUR MONTHS without a contract (even though that meant that Waste Management was able to unilaterally impose benefit cutbacks on the drivers!)

When local 813's "reform" officers finally called a strike, 4 months late, they and local 108 made sure it was limited to Waste Management and did not include BFI, USA Waste Hauling or any of the 100 other waste hauling firms in the city!

The government instaleld officers of local 813 also prevented the union's roving pickets from stopping Waste Management's scabs from picking up trash, or from challenging the security goons guarding the scabs!

Also, the international leadership of the Teamsters didn't lift a finger to help the local 813 teamsters at Waste Management in New York - even though almost all of Waste Management's drivers across the country are teamsters, and something as simple as a national strike would have forced Waste Management to settle!

After 100 days, local 813 ordered it's members to surrender, and settled the strike - on Waste Management's terms.

Meanwhile, all of the Teamster locals affiliated with the construction industry have adopted the shameful practice of crossing building trades picket lines!!

This includes private sanitation local 813 as well as the building materials hauling locals - 282, 522 and 1205, commercial movers local 814, the three New York area freight locals - 560, 707 and 807, UPS local 804 and air freight forwarding locals 295 and 858.

It is very common these days to see teamster-driven trucks making deliveries or garbage pickups behind union picketlines at scab jobs.

It's also becoming not at all unusual to see non union garbage trucks picking up waste from union jobsites too.

There was a time when local 282's "teamster foremen" (teamster shop stewards on construction sites who's whole job was to stop scab trucks from coming on union jobs) would not have tolerated that.

But, the FBI-installed leaders of local 282 had allowed the contractors to dismantle the teamster foremen system - today, most union jobsites don't even have a teamster foreman, and even on the sites that do, they aren't allowed to stop scab trucks from making deliveries or doing garbage pickups.

Teamster local 814 even allows it's $ 10/hr movers to be used by union furniture contactors to do the work of $ 41/hr carpenters!

The 100 year tradition of union teamsters refusing to scab on the building trades has been broken - with locals like 282, 807 and 813 that are controlled by FBI-installed "reformers" being among the worst offenders!

And, if that wasn't bad enough, now another construction union is in the hot seat - and it just happens to be the strongest union left in the trades, Electricians local 3.

We can thank Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D - Flushing) for that!

He was the Business Manager of Electricians local 3's J Division, which represents the electricians at the 4 companies that install and service all of the NYC DoT's street lights.

Assemblyman McLaughlin was also the head of the NYC Central Labor Council.

McLaughlin also, allegedly, took massive bribes from those 4 streetlight contractors - cash money, no show jobs for the married assemblyman's 3 girlfriends, the use of electrician foremen as personal servants at his home, Mercedes Benzes for his son, his wife and one of his three mistresses ect.

The allegedly kleptocratic McLaughlin also, allegedly, shook down electricians who stole "mongo" (scrap metal) from jobsites, and allegedly embezzled money from the union, his own campaign fund and even the Electricians little league team to finance his multimillionare lifestyle.

In return for the graft, the streetlight contractors got to keep their monopoly on DoT street electrical work, and got to pay substandard wages and benefits to streetlight electricians. They even got to run openly non union jobs on the new streets in the new residential developments in Staten Island.

Apparently, the contractors got tired of paying the bribes - so now McLaughlin is under indictment, and yet another construction union faces the very real possibility of takeover by the feds.

The result of years of goverment attack and union retreat has been tragic.

Scab jobs dot the city - with substandard pay (in many cases subminimum) and horrendous safety conditions.

Building collapses are common these days and scaffold failures are even more frequent - during the construction season, it's common to have two construction accidents a week now.

Many of these accidents lead to construction workers getting killed or suffering career ending injuries.

And wages are sharply down - as I mentioned at the top of this article, it's common to see skilled workers getting paid $ 7/hr and laborers and helpers $ 4/hr, off the books with no taxes withheld.

New York State's new governor, centimillionare real estate developer Eliot Spitzer, has launched a crack down on the workers compensation evasion (due to the increased insurance premium costs it imposes on bosses who do pay) but the low wages are not going to be challenged by this supposedly "pro labor" Democratic governor.

And, a big part of Spitzer's "workers compensation reform" revolves around cutting long term benefits for partially disabled workers - folks who are too hurt to do their old job, but are still able to perform lower paying light duty jobs.

Almost all of these workers are ex-construction workers - and now they will have their benefits totally cut off after 525 weeks on workers comp.

Pathetically, the New York State AFL-CIO actually helped draft this workers comp cutback plan - and applauded it as a 'great victory' for New York workers!

Meanwhile, the Carpenters and the Laborers still have their picketlines - but they are less and less effective, and whole areas of the city have been deunionized.

This wholesale collapse of construction worker living standards has happened at a time when housing costs in New York City are at an all time high. Landlords and real estate developers are charging top dollar for sweatshop labor-built apartments.

Something needs to be done about this!

New York construction workers - the most skilled construction workers on the face of the earth - need and deserve a high standard of living.

At the very least, we need to have a safe workplace - nobody should die or end up in a wheelchair for life just to waterproof a wall or dig a trench!

And, the people who are the end users of these apartment buildings - New York City's tenants (and, in this city of renters that makes up 80% of the population) need and deserve high quality low rent apartments!

Sadly, it's clear that the leadership of the construction unions are unwilling and/or unable to do anything to fight for the city's construction workers, let alone to wage a broader fight for the housing needs of the working class as a whole!

And this applies both to the old-school cosa nostra-tied union officials and the "reform" labor leaders installed by the FBI.

Contrary to what many construction workers think the feds did NOT come into our unions to "clean them up" - they came in to destroy the unions from within (after 80 years of gangster rule had crippled them from within).

The results of over a decade of government intervention are clear - this city's building trades unions are weaker now than any time since the 1880's!!!!

So, what can workers do about this?

First and foremost, residential construction workers urgently need to be unionized!

It is appaling and unconscionable that building trades professionals in one of the wealthiest cities in the world get poverty level wages - and it's downright uncivilized that laborers and helpers are paid less than the minimum wage!

Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that the present union leaders are not going to make a serious effort to fight deunionization, so non union construction workers have no choice but to wage this struggle on their own.

This would be as difficult as it sounds.

Any serious organizing effort in residential construction would have to involve areawide strikes covering all contractors working in that market segment in that neighborhood.

One contractor at a time organizing campaigns would surely fail - contractors would not be able to survive economically if they had to give their workers a massive raise while their competitors did not, so they would shift the work to non union d/b/a's, or agree on paper to pay union scale while still paying scab wages.

The only way to avoid this would be to make all the contractors go union at the same time.

These workers would have to face may obstacles in achieving that goal

First and foremost they would almost certainly face armed attack from the bosses, many of whom have organized crime ties (some with cosa nostra, others with inner city drug gangs or the Russian Mafiya) and some of whom are themselves criminals.

The contractors and the developers would also almost certainly use security guards to augment the thugs - and many of the minority contractors would probably also use the remnants of the minority coalitions against the workers as well.

So, besides the risk of firing and blacklisting that all non union workers trying to organize face, these tradespeople would also have to deal with being menaced by hoodlums in the service of their bosses.

And the workers would also face police repression as well.

These workers would be taking on the real estate industry and the Wall Street banks that finance these luxury housing developments.

Those are the dominant elements of the capitalist class in this town, and the city government serves their interests.

So, the financiers would make sure that all levels of law enforcement would be unleashed at the workers without mercy.

They'd have to deal with the very repressive NYPD, a department that even in normal times wages widespread police repression in the city's ghettoes, and also has a national reputation for ruthlessly supressing even the most peaceful of protests.

Since any successful strike against violent scab contractors would have to be far from peaceful (otherwise it would be drowned in workers blood), it's almost certain that the cops would intervene on the side of the scab contractors and their thugs, and join them in attacking the strikers.

If things got really hot, the NYPD would no doubt call on reinforcements from the New York State Police (who already have a history of unionbusting aimed at New York City construction workers - they were used against us at the Javits Center back in 1995) as well as the elements of the New York State Army National Guard not deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The strikers would also have to deal with the feds - the FBI (who, as I discussed above have deeply intervened in New York construction unions for the past 19 years) and the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Most of these workers are immigrants, and many of them are not here legally.

In normal times, this fact is ignored by local law enforcement, due to the crudely simple fact that much of the city's economy would screech to a halt without cheap undocumented immigrant labor.

But if those immigrants would rise up in revolt, then they'd suddenly remember the immigration status of those workers and would surely use it against them.

It almost goes without saying, there would also surely be an intense media campaign against a large scale construction workers strike.

In general, the corporate media are against workers struggles - both due to their roles as the propagandists of the capitalist class and the fact that media outlets are also employers with their own labor struggles.

In this case, however, the media - in particular newspapers - have very close ties to the developers, since real estate ads are a major source of their revenue.

These workers would probably see open racist hostility from conservative papers like the Post, Sun and Daily News. Worse yet, liberal papers like Newsday/AM New York, Metro New York, the New York Times and the Village Voice, and Latino papers like El Diario and Noticias del Mundo would feign sympathy for the strike while trying to sabotage it from within.

The broadcast media would probably be less openly pro landlord than their print counterparts, but from conservative Fox affiliates Fox5 and My9 to liberal outlets like New York 1 to the Latino stations Telemundo 41 and Univision 47, they would all be against the strike (either by showering it with open racist anti immigrant invective from the right or claiming sympathy for the workers but opposing their tactics from the left).

As for the radio, other than leftist WBAI-FM, there would be wall to wall hostility - and not just from talk radio, but even on the morning shows on the music stations.

During the December 2005 transit strike, those workers and their union faced similar corporate media hostility - down to and including anti immigrant racial slurs and open death threats against union leaders from radio DJ's (even on the African American FM music stations!)

And, if this wall of hostility wasn't enough, it's almost certain that the mainstream construction unions would be the harshest opponents of all!

They would surely oppose any kind of city wide construction workers strike - and some of the unions might even openly scab on it!

The reason for this betrayal would be simple - the construction union leaders want peace at any price with the contractors, and they would be ready, willing and able to sell out non union construction workers to achieve that peace.

As I've shown above, they've sold out their own members time and time again - so why would they be any more loyal to workers who don't even pay dues to them?

Some of the more organizing-oriented construction unions - specifically the Carpenters District Council and the Laborers Union - might try to destroy the strike from within by taking it over and selling the workers out at the bargaining table.

That's what the Los Angeles District Council of Carpeters did to a Mexican immigrant residential drywall carpenters strike in 1991 - the union captured the leadership of the strike and wrecked it.

Those carpenters had fought bravely for over 6 months (and I mean "fought" literally - they had to take shogtuns in hand to fight scabs, border partrol agents and highway patrol officers!)

But, after the Carpenters Union took over, and signed a racist sweetheart contract - all of the strikers were Mexicans but the agreement was negotiated behind closed doors by White bosses and White Carpenters Union officials with the Latino carpenter foremen who had actually led the strike completely left out of the talks.

Within 3 years, residential sheetrock was totally deunionized in California - and within 4 years, the Carpenters District Council president who sold out the strike, Douglas J. "Cash" McCarron, was General President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters - a post he holds to this very day!

Surely, the NYDCofC and Mason Tenders District Council leadership would try and to the same thing here if a residential construction workers strike broke out!

The Laborers Union would probably take the lead here - they have more Latino officers, some of whom have believable immigrants rights activist credentials, so they'd have an easier time capturing leadership of the strike and crushing it from within.

Other unions, like the Plumbers, Electricians or Operating Engineers, which have still somewhat managed to preserve the middle income status of a majority of their building trades membership, would probably respond to this strike by openly scabbing on it.

Remember, this betrayal would not happen because construction union leaders are bad people!

Far from it - many of them genuinely believe that they are looking out for the interests of construction workers.

The problem is, under capitalism, unions have to accomidate themselves to the system, which usually means that they can get a good deal for some of the workers (usually the most priviliged, well off and pro boss oriented layer of the workers), but those gains can only come at the expense of the rest of the workforce (usually the underpriviliged, poorer and less pro boss sections of the workforce).

And, since all of the different segments of bosses in construction - from the bankers who finance the jobs through the developers who own the buildings down through the general contractors that run the sites down to the subcontractors who actually put up the building at the bottom - have been in a deep and unresolvable crisis for the last 32 years, the unions are, at best, only able to provide a decent standard of living for a smaller and smaller segment of construction workers, and have had to preside over a crisis of downward mobility for the rest of the construction trades workforce.

There was a time when the unions were able to get a middle income status for almost all union construction workers (and an upper middle income income for the privilged few company men at the top).

Now, since the financiers and the contractors can no longer profitably afford to pay us at that income level, only a handfull of construction workers are at middle income, with many workers reduced to lower middle income status and a majority of construction workers actually living in raw hardcore poverty.

The unions do not have an answer for this - since any serious fight for a better life for non union workers would run head on into this harsh economic reality, and would pose a direct threat to real estate industry profitability if it succeded.

That's why even the "organizing unions" are unable to lead the type of struggle necessary to achieve the burning urgent needs of non union tradespeople.

And, if non union construction workers themselves were to carry out that kind of struggle, construction union leaders (even the most rhetorically pro organizing ones) would have no choice but to help the contractors defeat that struggle, to preserve the relationship the unions have with the dwindling number of contractors that still bother to use union labor.

This is a sad, ugly but very real situation that any serious struggle by non union construction workers would have to face, and would in fact be the most deadly threat to the success of any such worker upsurge.

Even sadder is the fact that the unions' pro contractor orientation is exactly what's gradually killing the unions from within, even in the commercial sector that is still majority union (at least for the moment).

So, in light of all of these odds stacked against the non union tradespeople, how would it actually be possible for them to actually win - and for union contruction workers to aid their struggle, while simultaneously fighting our own battle to restore our previous economic status?

Basically, the non union residential construction workers would have to organize themselves outside of the unions - they'd have to build new organizations from the ground up.

Just to be clear, these workers, to have any hope of success, would have to organize across racial and citizenship lines.

They could not follow the model of the Coalitions of the 1970's and 80's nor could they follow the methods of the immigrant Workers Centers.

While it's perfectly understandible why members of oppressed minority groups would feel the need to organize monoracially, this simply would not work here.

Although Mexican immigrants are rapidly becoming the largest single ethnic group on the non union side of the business, there are also many other nationalities in the industry.

Like the Ecuadorians, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and the other undocumented Latino immigrants, as well as the Dominicans, Cubans and other legal Latino immigrants - and the US citizen Puerto Ricans. (Latinos are heavily represented on the union side of the business too).

And the West Indians, Haitians, Senagalese and other Black immigrants - and the Black American workers (Black workers, like the legal Latino immigrants, also have a heavy presence on the union side of the industry).

And the White immigrants from Europe - both the immigrants from Western European countries like Ireland, Italy and Germany (most of whom are legal) as well as the folks from Eastern Europe - Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, Croatia, Albania, Georgia, Uzbekistan ect (many of whom are not).

Like the Blacks and the Latinos, European immigrants are also well represented on the union side too.

And the Asian immigrants - including both the Hong Kong Chinese, Taiwanese Guyanese Indians and Trinidadian Indians - most of whom are here legally - and the Fujian Chinese and Khalistani Sikhs - many of whom are undocumented.

And, of course, there are White American workers on the scab side of the business - not as many as on the union side (where White Americans still are the majority) but they do still have a major presence. And in the adjacent suburbs White Americans are even more heavily represented on the non union side of the business.

It would be vital for construction workers of all racial backgrounds to come together to wage this fight with any hope of success.

Now, this kind of multiethnic unity would be very hard to achieve in practice - mainly due to the widespread racism and anti immigrant bias among a large segment of the White American construction workforce - but without cross-racial unity, victory would be difficult if not impossible.

Also, it would be absolutely essential for the workers on the union side - White, Black and Latino, immigrant and American citizen alike - to come to the aid of our brothers and sisters on the scab side of the business.

This would be especially critical if the unions were to either scab on this strike - or if the unions were to take the strike over with the intent of subverting it from within.

Also, union workers have our own scores to settle - specifically all the nominally union contractors who pay cash or otherwise violate the agreements. Of course, a lot of the cash contractors on the union side are in the residential sector... shutting them down would only help the residential workers with their strike.

We would also have to reach beyond the ranks of the construction industry's workforce to seek allies in other sections of the working class too.

First and foremost, it would be essential to seek out support from the building service workers - the folks who maintain the buildings we build.

Those workers are heavily minority and immigrant - and they have their own beefs with the real estate developers.

A lot of supers and porters in residential buildings are non union - particularly in small apartment buildings in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs. This might be their chance to unionize themselves.

It would be even more important to win the support of the unionized building service workers (who are mainly in commercial buildings and luxury hirises in Manhattan, as well as in the NYC Housing Authority's public housing projects) since their unions would be particularly likely to try and sabotage this mass movement of non union construction workers.

This is especially true of the main building service workers union, SEIU local 32bj.

Over the last 20 years, the Service Employees International Union has transformed - from a gangster-dominated business union that had presided over the deunionization of commerical building service work to a corporate union that wants to "partner" with Corporate America in driving American workers living standards to rock bottom levels - starting with their own membership.

As I've pointed out above, SEIU local 32bj has actually had it's members work behind construction worker picketlines - and those were labor actions officially sanctioned by the building trades unions!!

They would almost certainly scab on any unofficial strikes ESPECIALLY those rooted in a workers mass movement.

Also, due to the SEIU leadership's ties with the Democratic Party and their's role in sabotaging the immigrants rights movment from within, the SEIU's bosses might just offer their sophisticated union busing services to their "strategic partners" the real estate developers.

The SEIU might just try and capture this mass movement of non union residential construction workers, channel it away from struggle and towards lobbying Democratic Party politicians.

This orientation away from workers actively struggling on the job (and using the great social power our class has - due to the fact that we produce all of the useful goods and services that make the economy function) and towards passively begging the powerful for charity would mark the death of this movement.

Also, the SEIU's leadership - in particular the chiefs of local 32bj - have been actively raiding the security guard unions, and marketing the SEIU as a low wage pro boss alternative to the legitimate unions in that industry.

One of the SEIU's big demands for security guards is making them more heavily armed and giving them closer ties to the police and Homeland Security.

Considering the reality that security guards would play a major role in attacking this construction strike wave - and, due to the immigration status of many tradespeople, so would DHS, it's clear which side of that dispute the SEIU bosses would be on.

SEIU MEMBERS, on the other hand, would surely be sympathetic to a mass strike movement by construction workers - as would non union janitors, and building service workers in Teamsters local 237 and Stationary Engineers local 94.

It would be vital to reach out to those workers (who have greivances of their own - both against the developers and their own union bosses) to stop SEIU treachery before it even starts.

Above all, it would be essential to enlist the support of the entire working class.

One way to achieve that goal would be to tap into the intense visceral hatred that most working class New Yorkers (and even large sections of NYC's middle class) have for landlords.

80% of New Yorkers are renters - and even many "homeowners" here "own" coops or condos inside of developer controlled apartment houses.

Ever since the real estate developers got the Rent Control Law repealed in 1971, New Yorkers have been plagued by predatory rent increases, gentrification and all of the other evils of landlordism.

Basically, construction workers and the city's working class as a whole have a common enemy - the developers!

In light of that fact - and the fact that a majority of non union construction workers here are renters too - it would be vital for construction workers to have a program of demands that address the urgent, burning unmet housing needs of the city's working class. In particular, New York City needs more low income public housing, restoration of rent control and a rent freeze.

Of course, we have to recognize that, if the contractors, GC's, developers and bankers - and the government that they control - were to meet the demands of the non union construction workers (let alone the broader housing demands of the working class as a whole) it would send them into a deep crisis, so they would move heaven and earth to resist these workers.

But we also have to see that, by challenging the bosses and by fighting for what our class needs, rather than whatever little scraps that the bosses can afford to pay, we wold be preparing ourselves and our class to fight for a society ruled by the workers who actually produce all of the necessities of life - rather than by parasitic investors who live off the wealth produced by others.

Of course, a struggle like that would be very difficult to even start - and even harder to actually win.

But, for construction workers, the alternative is clear - a continuing fall into poverty and deprivation - both for non union workers, and ultimately even for those of us on the union side. And that is just not acceptable.

- commentary by GREGORY A. BUTLER, local 608 carpenter
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
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"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"
originally published on May 11, 2007