UBC Boss Threatens to Walkout of AFL-CIO

Douglas J. McCarron, general president of the United Bhd. of Carpenters, said his union may choose to end its affiliation with the AFL-CIO, asserting that its contributions to the federation are doing little more than paying the salaries of Washington bureaucrats. The statement came during UBC’s convention in Chicago, where McCarron Aug. 24 won a second five-year term.

In his opening remarks Aug. 21, McCarron expressed disappointment with the Sweeney-Trumka AFL-CIO’s organizing and spending strategies. At a time when the UBC is restructuring and looking for new ways to organize workers, McCarron accused the federation of boosting spending on failed organizing strategies.

“Other unions — the AFL-CIO the worst offender — have made commitments to organizing, but without reviewing their operations,” McCarron said. “And all they have done is spent more and raised our per-capita tax to pay for it. I am telling you now, we are looking at how the AFL-CIO and the Building and Construction Trades Department spends our money — more than $4 million a year at the national level — and if they don’t use it as well as we can, they will not use it at all.”

He added, “No member of this brotherhood is going to see the money they work for, sweat for, risk their lives for, used to pay a Washington bureaucrat’s salary.”

Convention delegates overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment that opens the door for disaffiliation with the AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labor Congress. Section 58 of the UBC’s constitution obligates locals to affiliate with their appropriate regional and state federations of labor. But in a major departure from previous language, the section was amended to suggest such local affiliations are only appropriate “if the international body is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labor Congress.”

Terry Nelson, secretary of the UBC’s constitutional committee, justified the move: “We must give [McCarron] the tools to negotiate solutions that are in the best interest of the brotherhood.”

Douglas Buckler, a convention delegate from Local 1102 in Detroit, added that now McCarron has “the power to play hard ball for us” and the move says to the Sweeney-Trumka AFL-CIO, “don’t screw with this brotherhood.”

Mike Orrfelt, a San Francisco carpenter and editor of the reformer Hard Hat Magazine, said McCarron might be using disaffiliation as a strategy for building membership from trades other than carpentry and developing “wall-to-wall” agreements with building contractors. While such a strategy might bring more money into the union’s coffers, Orrfelt said it would likely generate turf wars with other construction unions. “It’s the difference between a philosophy of organizing the unorganized or declaring war against the building trades for jurisdiction,” Orrfelt commented.

Similarly, Michael Monroe, president of the Int’l Union of Painters & Allied Trades, accused  UBC of such predatory raiding aimed at his union at the AFL-CIO’s Building & Construction Trades Dep’t’s convention in July.

Separately, the UBC delegates voted down a pro-democracy proposal that would, among other things, permit the direct election of officers by union members. Currently all top UBC bosses are elected by delegates to the convention. In the election, the “McCarron Team” beat an opposition slate connected to “Carpenters for a Democratic Union.” McCarron beat  Ken Little, recording secretary of Local 1144 in Seattle, 1,649 to 170. [BNA 8/25/00]