Thursday, August 4, 2011

While One Labor Dispute Cools, Another Heats Up

Just as the walkout by concrete workers at construction sites around the city ends, members of the carpenters union vote unanimously to strike if an agreement on a new contract isn't reached by August 15th.

Concrete workers, who walked off their jobs at the World Trade Center and other sites Monday, agreed to return to work Thursday and extended their deadline for a new deal to August 16, labor and industry sources said. If no deal is reached by then, the workers could strike again.

Meanwhile, delegates of the second largest construction union in the city, the 25,000-member District Council of Carpenters, voted unanimously Wednesday night to authorize their union to strike if agreement on a new contract isn't reached by the deadline. The carpenters' deal expired June 30th.

Negotiations for the carpenters are being led by Frank Spencer, who was appointed in 2009 by the general president of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America to oversee the local union after several of its officials were indicted for bribery. He's negotiating new deals with a half dozen contractor associations, including the Cement League and the General Contractors Association of New York. Current rules forbid the 25,000 members of the carpenters union from ratifying their own deals.

Rank-and-file members of the union said the main sticking point in negotiations has been contractors' attempt to abolish the union's hiring hall system. Currently, half of the carpenters hired for a job have to come from the union's out-of-work list. Contractors want to do away with the system so that they can hire any union member they want, union members said.

Workers say getting rid of the union list would lead to contractors making under-the-table deals with carpenters to skirt union salary and benefit requirements.

Industry officials had not expected talks with the carpenters to be controversial. Then again, they hadn't expected trouble from the concrete workers either. In the run-up to the June 30 expiration of about two dozen construction contracts, the primary concern had been the operating engineers, who control the cranes that are a vital for building. But more than a month after the deadline, the operating engineers have a new deal while concrete workers have staged a three-day strike and the carpenters are now preparing for a walkout of their own.