Monitor Slams NY Union: Carpenters Hammered, Again

Tom Robbins reports that a decade after pledging to rid itself of pervasive corruption benefiting dishonest contractors and officials while disenfranchising members, a court-appointed investigator has found that corruption and contract violations still plague the N.Y. Dist. Council of Carpenters.  “It is my view that there are still substantial — both in number and significance — collective-bargaining-agreement violations on carpenter jobs throughout the District Council’s jurisdiction,” wrote Walter Mack, a former federal prosecutor.  The wrongdoing is facilitated “through intimidation by contractors and union members more loyal to the contractor than to the union.”


The reports were unsealed last week by Judge Charles Haight Jr. (S.D. NY, Ford), who has overseen a consent decree that the union entered into in 1994.  The findings are only the union’s latest setback. In April, its top official, Michael Forde, was convicted of taking a bribe in exchange for looking the other way on a major renovation project in a midtown hotel.  Forde has remained in office awaiting sentencing while he appeals his conviction.


One of the reports focuses on a member who allegedly won appointments as the shop steward on the city’s biggest construction projects by falsely claiming to have completed a 40-hour safety course, and in one instance, forging a letter from a contractor.  The member, John Corrigan, served as the union’s steward at the huge AOL Time Warner project in Columbus Circle, as well as on the new 7 World Trade Center now rising in Lower Manhattan.  Such appointments entitle the member to huge overtime pay, regardless of the number of hours actually worked.


The reports also assert that one of the union’s chief reforms has gone seriously awry: the system under which contractors are allowed to choose 50 percent of their workforce, while the union dispatches the rest from a list of out-of-work members. According to Mack, contractors have manipulated the system by placing their own workers on the list of unemployed carpenters and then requesting them by name from the union.  The frequent result, the reports state, is that more than 90 percent of workers on a project are so-called “company” workers, while others languish on the list for months without being called.


At the same time, an anti-corruption committee established by the union in response to court prompting has become “overwhelmed” by the volume of complaints generated by members, according to the reports.  In a statement, a union spokesperson said Forde had initiated “the most sweeping anti-corruption program in the country.” As part of that effort, the union is currently investigating “certain stewards and their alleged manipulation of the list.” [Village Voice, 8/17/04]