Inside the AFL-CIO
2001Carpenters Set to Quit AFL-CIO;
Sweeney Orders Sharp Response
By Harry Kelber
Reacting to the impending disaffiliation of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners from the AFL-CIO, President John Sweeney has ordered all state federations and central labor councils to expel Carpenters' delegates the moment the exodus becomes final, as required by the federation constitution. The ouster order also includes the Building and Construction Trades Dept., where the carpenters are one of 15 crafts. In his March 2 memorandum to officers of state and local bodies, Sweeney said that he and Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka met last month with Doug McCarron, general president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, in an unsuccessful effort to dissuade him from departing "the House of Labor."
The Carpenters, one of the oldest unions dating back to the founding of the American Federation of Labor, have a membership of close to 400,000. The union owes about $4 million in back per capita payments to the federation. While Sweeney did not mention the nature of McCarron's complaints, it is well known that McCarron is dissatisfied with the organizing progress of both the AFL-CIO and the Building and Construction Trades Dept. However, the real reason for the Carpenters' imminent departure lies elsewhere. McCarron, 46, a former drywall carpenter from Los Angeles, who was recently elected to his second five-year term, is determined to transform the carpenters union into a "wall-to-wall" organization, through which contractors could be assured of lining up the services of ironworkers, bricklayers, laborers, plumbers and other trades for a complete construction job. He has won over a number of contractors who see "wall-to-wall" as a more efficient and less costly way of doing business.
McCarron hopes to attract tens of thousands of non-union workers in all crafts who are willing to work at below the union scale and with fewer benefits. If McCarron goes ahead with his plans, it will amount to a declaration of jurisdictional war with the other crafts, with predictable turmoil for the construction industry. Some rank-and-file carpenters are dismayed at the McCarron move, but they have little power to change his course. In his first term, McCarron instituted mandatory by-laws for regional councils which virtually stripped local unions of their power. Kenneth Little, chairman of the Carpenters for a Democratic Union, said: "McCarron is turning our union into a corporate business and is trying to make its members into a 'Labor Ready' organization for the job market. McCarron wants us to steal the work of the other trades." Little ran for president on a rank-and-file ticket against McCarron last year and received 10% of the vote.
Mike Orrfelt, editor of "Hard Hat," a construction workers' publication, said: "I think this will lead to a war in the building trades. And I certainly hope that it doesn't make construction job sites even more dangerous places to work. I also hope the contractors won't try to drag down wages." McCarron did not return several telephone calls requesting a response. "Inside the AFL-CIO," a new weekly column by The Labor Educator, will be published every Tuesday until the AFL-CIO convention in November.
The "LaborTalk" column will continue to appear every Monday.
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