[gangbox] SHEETROCK SCREWJOB
SHEETROCK SCREWJOB...gangster unionism and the scabification of the drywall industry in NYC
SHEETROCK SCREWJOB...gangster unionism and the scabification of the
drywall industry in NYC
By Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter
On Tuesday, April 20, 2004, a swarm of FBI and IRS agents swooped down
on 22 individuals who were, allegedly, associated with both Drywall
Tapers and Plasterers local 530 of the Operative Plasterers and Cement
Masons International Association and the Genovese Crime Family of <
Cosa Nostra >.
Chief among the arrestees is one Louis Moscatiello, Sr...who is both
the founder of local 530 and, according to the allegations of the US
Attorney's office of the Southern District of New York, a captain of a
crew of the Genovese family.
Allegedly, Louis and his alleged co-conspirators set up a system where
allegedly mob-connected contractors were able to do what union
construction workers call "paying cash"
That is, they payed their workers a below union-scale wage in cash off
the books, and evaded payments to the union benefit funds.
The paying of substandard cash wages, and no benefits, enabled these
companies to underbid contractors who actually paid union scale.
These alleged cash jobs covered all 4 of the major union construction
market segments in New York City..Davis Bacon prevailing wage
construction for the New York State School Construction Authority and
other public agencies, interior renovation of commercial buildings,
interior construction of high end retail stores..and, especially,
interior construction of luxury hirise apartment houses.
The dirty jobs allegedly included the expansion of Kings County
Hospital, the renovation of a Lord and Taylor department store in Long
Island, the construction of luxury apartment buildings at 124 Hudson
St, 410 E 61st St, 252 West 95th St, 400 East 66th St and 12th Av and
West 42nd St in Manhattan, the interior renovation of the Chambers
Hotel at 13 West 56th St and the construction of PS 54 and PS 83 in the
Lead defendant Louis Moscatiello organized local 530 back in 1978...
The local represents drywall tapers..the men and women who cover the
seams and screwholes in sheetrock with joint compound and paper drywall
tape, and sand and skimcoat the surface of the sheetrock so it's ready
The tapers follow behind the carpenters who frame out the walls and
ceilings and hang the sheetrock.
Together, tapers and carpenters do the bulk of interior construction
work....they work as a team to put up the partitions and drop ceilings
that form the interiors of this city's offices, hotels, stores and
That critical role in interior construction has led many contractors to
reduce the wages and benefits of unionized carpenters and tapers to the
bare minimum...in many cases, benefits are not paid at all to these
workers, and pay is far below union scale.
Many of these "union" contractors who pay scab wages allegedly are tied
with the Mafia...and, they use their mob ties to keep the unions from
interfering with their profiteering...and, to make sure that the unions
make their non racketeer-tied competitors actually pay union scale and
The corrupt firms who evade union scale and benefits are thus able to
make lower bids on jobs, and they are able to get more work than their
competitors who actually have union pay and conditions on their jobs.
And these labor cost savings are NOT chump change...on paper, union
drywall tapers make $ 31.66/hr in wages and $ 16.06/hr in benefits, for
a total hourly package of $ 47.72/hr.
Union carpenters make even more. They nominally recieve $ 38.78/hr in
wages and $ 26.31/hr in benefits, for a total hourly package of $
But, on the cash jobs....nobody gets more than $ 35/hr in pay..with
most getting as little as $ 25 an hour, and, in some extreme cases,
cash workers getting as little as $ 8/hr.
And that's assuming they get paid by the hour...many of these cash jobs
are piecework jobs, with carpenters getting as little as $ 8 a board or
$ 350 for a completed apartment.
Needless to say, on the cash jobs, nobody gets a dime in benefits.....
Muscatiello's tapers union, Local 530, competed with the legitimate
drywall tapers union, Drywall Tapers and Pointers local 1974 of the
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades...
Louis's union is a somewhat lower cost union, compared to the tapers
local of the painters...Painters Union tapers get $ 33.82.hr in pay,
and $ 15.42/hr in benefits, for a total package of $ 49.04/hr, as
compared to local 530's $ 47.72/hr total package.
But, more importantly than the slightly lower wages and benefits, 530
had weaker safety rules.
Specifically, 530 tapers are allowed to work on stilts.
1974 tapers work off of scaffolds and stepladders...which means that
they have to move the scaffold or the ladder as they work, while the
530 guys and gals can move around on the stilts.
But, the stilts are mad dangerous...it's really easy to fall down and
break a leg, or fall off of a ledge, while up on stilts..which is why
the Painters Union forbids it's members to work on them....
To top that off, 530 also had an (alleged) willingness to let certain
allegedly "connected" contractors evade union pay scales and benefit
Because of those advantages for the contractors, the reputedly
gangster-ruled Plasterers local 530 actually suceeded in pushing the
legitimate drywall tapers union, Painters local 1974, almost completely
out of the industry.
The folks from the US Department of Justice refer to Plasterers local
530 as a "puppet union" controlled by the Genovese Crime Family...and,
as we'll see, the feds might just be right about that....
Certainly, it would be fair to call Plasterers local 530 a company
union that is strictly in the pockets of the drywall and taping
contractors and their trade associations, the Metropolitan Drywall
Association and the Association of Wall, Ceiling and Carpentry
Industries of Greater New York.
And, it would also be fair to say that local 530 has undermined
legitimate unionism in the drywall taping industry..and has helped to
weaken conditions for all drywall workers...including the largest trade
in the drywall industry, the carpenters.
Almost incidentally to the union's other (alleged) labor abuses,
Plasterers local 530 also praticed a form of institutionalized racism
that might almost be described as latter-day Jim Crow unionism...
The tapers trade in this city is largely Latino...
The bulk of the city's union tapers are Mexican or Ecuadorian
immigrants, and there are also lots of Dominican and Puerto Rican
workers in the trade as well.
The industry also has a large contingent of Black American, West Indian
and African workers as well.
There are very very few White tapers here....
The great bulk of White folks in the drywall taping business are on the
management end... that is, they're taper foremen or taping
Unfotunately, the officers of Plasterers local 530 do not at all
reflect the racial composition of the trade.
Even though most of the men and women carrying the taping knives and
hawks on the jobs are Latin or Black, most of local 530's officers are
Actually, racially speaking, 530's leadership looks a hell of a lot
more like the management end of the taping business than it does the
Now, to be fair we can't personally blame Moscatiello for all of these
myriad labor abuses.
Louis had a lot of help in the demanding task of selling out the city's
1,000 union drywall tapers, and helping to undermine the interests of
NYC's 22,000 union carpenters....
And that assistance began very close to home...starting with his own
family (his family by blood, not the other "family" that he was,
allegedly, affiliated with..the Genoveses).
Among his co-defendants in this case is his son and namesake, Louis
Unlike his union official dad, Moscatiello the younger is a signatory
contractor..he owns Improved Drywall, a local 530-represented drywall
If the FBI can be believed, Louis Moscatiello Jr is a very adept
guy...he actually sits on both side of the bargaining table, as both a
contractor..and, allegedly, the power behind the throne in Plasterers
Allegedly, after Louis Sr was banned from being a union official (he
was convicted in 1991, and served 6 years in a New York State
correctional facility, for bribing a Business Agent of the now defunct
Upper East Side Carpenters local 135), Louis Jr acted as his dad's
personal "representative" in the political life of local 530...despite
the fact that he was management, rather than a rank and file
taper...and despite the fact that, by law, Louis the elder was banned
from union activity due to his racketeering conviction.
Besides Louis' son, there were other drywall contractors involved with
this alleged racketeering conspiracy as well.....
Among the co defendants are the owners of union drywall contractors
Luna Carpentry, Sunrise Systems, W & J Industries, Basic Drywall, OKay
Drywall, Verdico Industries, Elite Interiors, J & El Associates, Cadet
Taping, Pride Taping, Wal-Tone, A & L Construction, I.G.I Finishing and
F & M Taping and scab drywall outfits Centre Interior, M N Industries,
Roman Industries, Basic Associates, Luna Limited and Hudson Associates.
You may notice that some of the names of the union outfits and the scab
companies are pretty damned similar (For example; Luna Carpentry and
Luna Limited; Basic Drywall and Basic Associates).
That's not an accident...these were "double breasted"
firms...contractors that are half union and half scab...with a hell of
a lot of overlap between the union jobs and the scab jobs..
In a very real way, these contractors aren't really "union" at
all...since a lot of their union book-carrying carpenters and tapers
actually worked for scab wages and no benefits even on supposedly
And, while contractor Moscatiello Jr was joined among the ranks of the
alleged co-conspirators by several other bosses, his union official dad
also wasn't the only labor official to get caught up in this case.
Among the 22 defendants are the president of local 530, one Carmine
Mingoia, and 3 representatives of the main union in the drywall
industry, the New York District Council of Carpenters [NYDCofC]; Paul
Ghirarduzzi, the carpenter shop steward at the Kings County Hospital
expansion job, Carmine Sedita, a former Carpenters Union local officer
and NYDCofC Welfare Fund investigator Robert Alvarez.
Now, it would be nice to say that the local 530 labor abuses are some
kind of isolated incident...but that would be a damned lie.
On Tuesday, April 27, just a week after the federal agents were putting
the silver bracelets on Louis and his buddies, two leaders of the main
union in the drywall industry, the New York District Council of
Carpenters, were convicted of bribery charges in the New York County
NYDCofC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mike Forde and Westside
Carpenters local 608 Business Agent Martin Deveraux were convicted of
taking a $ 10,000 bribe from drywall contractor Sean Richard.
Forde and Deveraux remain free on bail (and are still holding their
union offices) until their sentencing on June 30..
That $ 10,000 bribe was paid so S & S Construction, the company that
Richard and his wife Sara Riggi owned, could use 27 non union
carpenters to do the drywall work for cash on the Park Central Hotel
renovation job back in 1998.
The father of Sara Riggi just happens to be one John Riggi, the
incarcerated boss of New Jersey's De Cavalcante crime family (the
wiseguys that were the model for HBO's hit TV series, "The Sopranos").
Reportedly, Deveraux referred to S & S Construction as "a gangster
type" company...and, apparently, he was absolutely right about that...
Forde and Deveraux were indicted by the New York County District
Attorney back in August 2000, along with 36 other folks...
Among their co-defendants was the reputed head of the Luchese crime
family, one Steven "Stevie Wonder" Crea.
35 of those co defendants (including alleged mob boss "Stevie Wonder"
Crea) subsequently copped a plea...and the 36 guy got killed....only
Mike and Martin decided to take their chances with the jury.
Perhaps they should have taken a deal instead....
And, the NYDCofC isn't the only union that's being investigated by the
government either...Concrete Laborers local 20, Building Laborers local
79 and New York Bricklayers local 1 were also involved in the case that
led to Forde and Deveraux's conviction.
And, in the last few years, there've also been investigations of
Elevator Constructors local 1, Operating Engineers local 14, Roofers
local 8-8A..and, of course, Plasterers local 530.
Building Laborers local 79, and it's parent body, the Mason Tenders
District Council of NYC and Long Island, were involved in several
investigations besides the case that Forde and Deveraux were in, and,
consequently, the local and it's DC were completely reorganized by the
As I mentioned above, a bunch of the contractors who profited from the
Moscatiello crew's alleged conspiracies by (allegedly) paying cash to
their carpenters and tapers are now facing their day in court.
They include union drywall contractors Luna Carpentry, Sunrise
Systems, W & J Industries, Basic Drywall, OKay Drywall, Verdico
Industries and Elite Interiors;
And scab drywall contractors Centre Interior, Luna Limited (non union
alter ego of Luna Carpentry), M.N. Industries, Roman Industries, Basic
Associates (non union sister firm of Basic Drywall) and Hudson
And union taping contractors Improved Drywall, J & El Associates, Cadet
Taping, Pride Taping, Wal-tone, A & L Construction, I.G.I. Finishing
and F & M Taping.
But, sad as it is to say, these firms are, reportedly, not the ony
dirty drywall industry contractors in this town.
Far from it.....according to other criminal investigations, postings on
rank and file carpenters internet bulletin board Carpenter's Jaw'in and
anonymous GANGBOX sources, this pattern of cash activity is all too
common among unionized drywall contractors...in particular, among those
drywall firms that specialize in constructing apartment buildings..
Besides the companies in this current case, the other drywall and
celings contractors that are alleged to pay cash are; On Par
Contracting, R & J Construction, Frank's Home Improvement, S & S
Construction, S & F Carpentry, Eurotech, Target Construction, DANCO,
Crown Partition, Arrowstar, New York City Accoustical, Chelsea
Interiors, Prince Carpentry, Ace Drywall, Universal Drywall, Manhattan
Interior Group and Turbo Interiors.
The alleged labor abuses take a variety of forms....
For instance, On Par Contracting reportedly pays it's company man
carpenters (most of whom are recent immigrants from Ireland) full union
scale and stamps for the 8 hour straight time day, but allegedly pays a
lower cash rate and no benefits for the OT.
R & J Construction, the city's leading Black-owned contractor, has a
heavily African American and West Indian immigrant carpenter
Many of these workers are former prisoners or jobless young men hired
off the mean strets of Southeast Queens. These guys probably wouldn't
have an opportunity to be union carpenters exept for R & J... The
company reportedly takes full and brutal advantage of that
Reportedly, R & J imposes a harsh production quota on it's carpenters
of 100 boards a day
That's a blatant violation of the union contract, which strictly
prohibits any production quotas.. and it's also the worst production
quota in the city...most other companies would be happy with 70 boards
It's also the reason that some New York carpenters call the company
"Run and Jump"..
They are also alleged to have unpaid 4 hour "tryouts" for carpenters
who are trying to get a job with the company.. in other words, if you
don't get the job...you don't get paid for the hours you worked during
the so called "tryout"...
Reportedly, R & J also has "enforcers" who keep an eye on their
carpenter foremen...those who don't push the carpenters hard enough are
R & J and Frank's Home Improvement are also, allegedly, double
breasted...besides their union commercial jobs downtown, they also
allegedly supply union carpenters to scab contractors doing non union
construction on luxury apartment buildings in Harlem.
Supposedly, they send their company men who they lay off from union
jobs to these scab jobs...but pay them as little as $ 8/hr, or a piece
rate of $ 350 per apartment..and, of course, no benefits..
There are a variety of different ways the cash system is allegedly
praticed. Some companies pay cash wages of anywhere from $ 35/hr to as
little as $ 8/hr.... Others pay piecerates that vary from $ 8 per board
to $ 350 per apartment...and there are different variations on the cash
theme... Some carpenters get cash for all the hours worked, some get
cash for 2 days work,and union scale and benefits for 3 days, while
some get union scale for the regular work day, and cash for the OT.
As we've seen above, while some cash jobs were in the office renovation
sector, and many involved the Davis Bacon work for the City of New
York, the bulk of the dirty jobs were in new construction of luxury
And the drywall contractors aren't the only outfits that, allegedly,
pay cash to their workers. There also have been allegations that a
number of hirise concrete contractors also allegedly pay cash to some
of their carpenters, concrete laborers and cement masons on hirise
luxury apartment house jobs, reportedly including; Rivara, Peter
Scalamandre & Sons, Inc, North Side, Inc [formerly North Berry, Inc],
LaQuilla Pinnacle, Marmer Brothers, Atlas and Manhattan Concrete. Also,
reportedly, scaffolding contractor Regional Scaffolding & Hoisting
allegedly paid cash to it's carpenters, laborers and teamsters as well.
This has been a pattern in the luxury residential hirise for the last
35 years..going back to the days when companies like Inner City Drywall
and P & M Sorbara allegedly began the scam of paying cash to union
carpenters on residential construction jobs (folks called it "lumping"
back in those days)....
Lumping opened the door to developers using openly non union companies
to build their apartment houses.
We now have a situation where almost all residential new construction
and renovation in Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island
is non union..
Almost all residential renovation work on the Upper East Side, Upper
West Side, Chelsea, the Village, the Financial District and Chinatown
is done by scabs too..
There are even scab contractors building hotels for Hampton Inn in the
heart of Midtown Manhattan...and building luxury hirise buildings for
the YMCA in Downtown Brooklyn.
Concrete contractor IBK the outfit doing the formwork on the Hampton
Inn and YMCA jobs, actually has what amounts to a company
union...."local 98" of the so called "National Organization of
Industrial Trade Unions"...a Brooklyn-based "labor organization" with a
$ 10/hr union contract, no shop steward system, no work rules, and a
benefit package that costs the miserably underpaid workers (most of
whom are recent immigrants from Russia, the Ukraine or the Republic of
Georgia) $ 50 bucks a week....
This is because the last islands of "union" housing construction jobs,
new construction of luxury hirises and hotels, are under de-facto non
union conditions...and are really scab jobs in all but name.
Developers have come to expect scab wages and no benefits on housing
jobs in New York City..and, as we've seen above, union or non union,
contractors will deliver those benefitless scab wages...
This pratice has even bled into the market segment that is the core of
union construction here in NYC..the interior renovation of office
The drywall contractors reportedly aren't the worst offenders here..
Instead, the dirtiest companies in the office interiors game are,
allegedly, the office furniture contractors.
The furniture outfits, allegedly, are the ones most likely to pay cash
to their carpenters and/or to use non union workers on these jobs,
including, allegedly; G & M Installers, Trinity Carpentry & Systems
Installation, T.O.P.S., CMI, J.A.D., J & E Enterprises, Al-Lee
Installations, Arrow Discount Office Furniture D/B/A E G Sales, L & D
Installers, DFB Sales and Vintage Corporate Services.
These companies allegedly follow a similar model of paying cash to
their company man carpenters, as well as to the teamsters that deliver
their furniture. Commonly, workers will get paid union scale and
benefits for the regular 7 or 8 hour workday, and will work OT for
cash...or, they'll get union scale and benefits on big jobs where there
is a Carpenters Union shop steward, but will get cash on the small 1 or
2 person service calls or night jobs that never get reported to the
union..or, they might get union scale and benefits for 3 days of the
week, and work the rest of the week for cash.
One anonymous furniture carpenter described this system to this writer
as "the Bulgarian conversion"
Basically, you accept substandard pay in return for steady work..and
the alternative is sitting home for months waiting for the union to
send you to a job....
And, do I even need to mention, the scabification of interior
construction had an especially hard impact on minority tradespeople?
The tapers, who have suffered the most at the hands of these dirty
contractors, are disproportionately Latino...and most of the
non-Hispanic tapers are Black...
As for carpenters, most Black American and West Indian carpenters work
in sheetrock or concrete, the two divisions of our trade where cash
activity is most concentrated...and, as I pointed out above, one of the
companies that, allegedly, is one of the worst outfits in the city is a
Black owned company, R & J Construction, with a heavily Black company
man carpenter workforce.
Latino carpenters are in the same boat as their Black brothers and
sisters...disproportionately concentrated in concrete and sheetrock,
the branches of carpentry where, allegedly, cash work is most common.
And, many White sheetrockers happen to be immigrants...in particular,
some of the alleged cash companies appear to have gone out of their way
to, allegedly, prey on Irish immigrant carpenters (On Par, Target,
Of course, cash work hasn't been purely racial among
carpenters....furniture installation carpenters, who've allegedly been
hard hit by cash work, are predominantly American-born Whites..
But, the other predomantly White areas of the carpentry trade, like
woodwork, carpetlaying and hollow metal storefront work tend to have
very little if any alleged cash activity.
But, the carpenters who sit home waiting for a job because contractors
request company men off the list ahead of them (and, allegedly, some of
those company men return the favor by "making deals" that often involve
working for cash) also tend to be disproportionately Black or Latino.
And, a lot of those Black and Latin carpenters who are sitting home
waiting for a job...end up having to go out and take a scab job just to
keep the bills paid....
Remember, a hell of a lot of the 20,000 or so non union carpenters in
this town at one time or another were union..and a lot of them are
actually still union members, even while they work scab...
As we've seen, the unions have, basically, stood by and let this
catastrophe happen to our industry with almost no resistance.
Worse than that, if the FBI, the New York State Organized Crime Control
Commission and the New York County DA can be believed, some union
officials have, allegedly, actively participated in, and even
personally profited from, this economic warfare against union
Now, in their defense, some union officials may have been faced with a
"silver or lead" type situation...that is, take a bribe or take a
bullet...but, still...the fact is, there has been almost no organized
effort by the unions to resist the wholesale scabification of the
unionized drywall construction sector.
There has been no effort by the drywall industry unions (the NYDCofC,
Plasterers local 530, Painters local 1974 and Lathers local 46 of the
Ironworkers) to mobilize the membership against these scabby "union"
There has been no picketing, no walkouts and no strikes against these
dirty double breasted companies..
The few legal sanctions that have been sought by union lawyers against
these firms most likely only happened because of heavy pressure on the
unions from federal, state and local law enforcement.
Of course, considering the fact that the founder of one of the main
drywall unions, Plasterers local 530, is our friend Louis Moscatiello,
Sr...and the fact that Plasterers local 530 basically functions as a
company union for the drywall contractors....the inaction by the
leaders of that union really isn't that surprising...
Pathetic and disgusting....but not surprising...
However, what can the folks who run the largest drywall industry union,
the 22,000 member New York District Council of Carpenters, say?
And what about the folks who run the other two unions in the sheetrock
Where was Drywall Tapers and Pointers local 1974 of the Painters
Union...(the REAL tapers union that local 530 was created to undermine
And where was Lathers local 46 of the Ironworkers...(the union that
represents the folks who put up the black iron and pencil rod that hold
up the drywall ceilings)???
In fact, union rules, in particular some of the clauses in the
NYDCofC's agreements with the Bulding Contractors Association, the
Cement League, the Metropolitan Drywall Association and the Association
of Wall, Ceiling and Carpentry Industries of Greater New York have
actually helped spread the cash system.
Specifically, I'm talking about something called the request system.
Technically, on every job, the contractor is permitted to select
his/her foreman, and a maximum of 50% of the crew. The boss can hire
whoever he/she wants for those jobs, as long as they are union
carpenters, or agree to join the union in 7 days.
These carpenters are commonly known as "company men"...
The shop steward and a minimum of 50% of the crew are supposed to be
hired from the union's out of work list....with the carpenters who's
names are on top of the list getting dispatched to the job, as long as
they are qualified to do that particular type of carpentry.
These carpenters are usually called "local men".
This job referral system is commonly known here as "the 50/50 system"
But, contractors who are affiliated to trade associations, like BCA,
the Cement League, MDA and Wall, Ceiling, are permitted to "request"
specific carpenters from the out of work list to be dispatched to the
job as if they were "local men" even though in fact they are really
These requested carpenters can be dispatched ahead of everybody else on
For instance, if there are 6,000 carpenters on the list, like there
were last winter, a company guy who is # 6,000 on the list, and who
just signed the list that day, can be dispatched ahead of a carpenter
who's at the top of the list who's been waiting 6 months for a job...
This means that, on many jobs, the entire crew, except for the shop
steward, are actually company men... even the ones who are supposed to
be from off the out of work list.
Which means that there is a huge advantage to being a company man...if
you depend on the list for a job, you can literally wait 3 or 4 months
to get work... Now, once you get a job, after 10 days of work, you go
to the bottom of the list. So, if the job only lasts 3 or 4 weeks...you
go back to the bottom, and have to sit home for another 3 or 4 months
to get another job...
Meanwhile, company men go from job to job to job, and many company guys
work every single day (this writer has even had the nauseating
experience of hearing company men who work every day actually bitching
about not getting OT or Saturday work...at a time when literally
thousands of their brother and sisters carpenters are sitting home
But, steady work often comes at a price....guys sometimes have to "make
a deal" to become company men, and they have to keep making deals to
keep that company man spot. Those deals often involve working for cash
for at least some of the hours they get...or, in some sad cases, for
most or all of the hours they get....
The alternative is to sit home waiting for the phone to ring...or, to
go out and take a scab job...
In other words, the system enables contractors to make carpenters beg
for a job, at any price...and also lets the bosses starve out those
carpenters who refuse to work for cash....and actually forces some
carpenters to go out and scab...
I've written about this whole pathetic story at length on GANGBOX
before, at :
So...that's the problem...
What's the solution?
Of course, as I pointed out above, prosecutors and law enforcement
agents of the federal, state and city governments are busy trying to
"clean out" the unions....
Many construction workers in this town have long held out hope that the
goverment will save us from the wiseguys....
However, the government has it's own agenda for it's anti Mafia
campaign in the building trades unions.... and it's not a
pro-construction worker agenda...
The New York State Organized Crime Task Force spelled out this point
quite clearly in a report they wrote 14 years ago; "Corruption and
Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry", by Ronald
Goldstock, Martin Marcus, Thomas D. Thatcher II and James B. Jacobs
(New York, NYU Press, 1990).
The State Task Force report envisioned a brave new world of
construction where there were no union hiring halls, no work rules,
lower wages, and a construction workforce that were totally loyal to
the boss, rather than to a union. The feds and the city (and the
bankers they take their orders from) have a similar vision of what they
want our industry to be like
Attacking the gangsters who dominate the unions is merely a means to
achieving that goal.
Also, the gangsters extract a quite costly "mob tax" of payoffs and
kickbacks from employers and/or developers who desire to have
substandard wages and working conditions on their jobs ...and they make
sure that those contractors who DON'T pay the so called "mob tax" are
compelled to live up to the full wages and working conditions spelled
out in the union contracts.
Although some contractors pass on the labor cost savings to the
developers in the form of lower bids, there have also been many
instances where contractors colluded with < cosa nostra > to rig bids,
and artificially inflate the price of the jobs, thus enabling them to
charge union scale prices while actually paing scab wages to their
What happend was, folks like Donald Trump, Larry Silverstein and Bruce
Ratner (and Citicorp, JP Morgan Chase, Fleet Northstar and the other
financial corporations who actually bankroll those dudes) simply got
sick and tired of paying the ultimate costs of the mob payoffs..and
frequently not even getting to benefit economically from the
Bottom line, the big boys thought that these small time gangsters and
contractors were ripping them off..
And, when rich people get robbed (or even THINK they're getting
robbed)....then ya know that somebody has got to go to jail....
Beyond that, the financial titans of the construction industry would
like to see a general reduction of wages and benefits, and weakening of
union work rules, in our industry...and they want the law enforcement
community to enforce that.
This isn't just a theory...this is exactly what happened when the US
Department of Justice drove < cosa nostra > out of NYC's second
largest construction union...the 10,000 member Mason Tenders District
Council of Greater New York and Long Island, and it's largest
affiliate, Building Laborers local 79.
The feds totally reorganized that union....and largely de mafiaized
I've written about that before on GANGBOX, at:
What was the end result of the government takeover for the mason
tenders, building laborers and demolition workers the union represents?
Well...in the old days, some mobbed contractors (in particular,
demolition outfits and bricklaying companies) would pay substandard
wages and no benefits...but most of the signatory contractors actually
paid union scale and benefits.
And, they did have a very racially biased job referral system (Irish
immigrants and American born Whites..and a handfull of Italian
Americans, American Blacks and Puerto Ricans, got the OT rich and
relatively light building laborer jobs, which often last for months and
even years...while most Italian Americans, American Blacks, West
Indians, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans got to do bricklayer and
plasterer tender work...which has less OT, and where the jobs don't
last as long..and Mexicans, Ecuadorians and Polish immigrants got
confined to demolition work....the dirtiest and most dangerous job,
where there is the least amount of OT and the jobs end very quickly).
But now, they have a system where contractors can LEGALLY pay
substandard wages to a large proportion of the workforce...through a
bogus "apprenticeship" system that pays lower wages to laborers who
joined the union recently..and through lower "B Man" pay scales for
demolition and asbestos workers.. Some union laborers make as little as
$ 10.23/hr under this system.
As for job referral....the racial patterns of employment remain the
same..and, contractors who are members of employers associations get to
request the bulk of their workers. On a typical job, 11 out of the
first 13 workers can be company men...with only 2 hired from the list.
This has led to a system where some laborers make $ 125,000 a
year...while at any given time 25% of the membership (that's 2,000 +
men and women) sit home jobless.
And the racial breakdown of the work is still the same....with the most
desirable and highest paying jobs being largely held by US born White
males...with Blacks and US citizen Latinos on the next rung down, and
with Eastern European and Latino immigrant workers on the bottom rung.
And, it almost goes without saying, typically, most of those 2,000
brothers and sisters sitting home jobless are Black or Latino.
In other words...the government driving out the mob didn't make things
better for union laborers...hell, in some ways, things actually got
worse...from out of the frying pan of gangster unionism into the fire
of government domination..
That might be what the carpenters and tapers of the drywall industry
have to look forward to if the government moves in and takes over our
So, despite the hopes that so many of us have that the feds will come
and save us...unfortunately, that's not going to happen...
Instead, we're going to have to save ourselves....
The $ 64,000 question is...how the hell are we going to do that?
Well, it would be necessary for the men and women from all of the
trades in this city's "union" drywall construction industry
(carpenters, lathers, and tapers from both 530 and 1974) to rise up
against the cash contractors...and force them to live up to the
collective bargaining agreements that they are signatory to.
This would probably involve some kind of industrywide strike or
walkout...and also could, and should, be used as an opportunity to
organize the carpenters, lathers and tapers who work for the openly non
union and double breasted drywall contractors.
Also, this would be a good time to settle accounts with the other
groups of cash contractors out there...the hirise concrete outfits and
the furniture installation contractors.
Of course, taking on the concrete outfits would involve the cooperation
of the other concrete trades, (concrete laborers, lathers, cement
masons, operating engineers and local 282 concrete teamsters)
Carpenters could go it alone against the cash furniture installation
companies..but the task would be alot easier if we had the help of the
local 814 teamsters who deliver the furniture to the office buildings)
Now, this may sound farfetched to today's union tradespeople....after
all, the New York District Council of Carpenters hasn't called a
citywide strike SINCE 1915!
But, that's how our trade was originally unionized back in the 19th
century (back when our union was run by socialists, communists and
anarchists, and was a whole hell of a lot more militant than it is
And, as recently as 1991, Mexican residential drywall carpenters
organized a citywide strike out in Southern California, which
sucessfully reunionized most of the industry out there... Those workers
shut the business down tight as a drum...and kept it shut down for over
Now, let's be clear...those carpenters had to play hardball with the
scabs... The most common way they shut down jobs was to have a whole
covoy of guys drive up to a jobsite in their pickups (with their
shotguns in the vehicle's shotgun racks, of course). They would then
proceed to chase the scabs off the sites...
Of course, the cops came in to defend the contractors and their
This didn't scare off these brave Mexican immigrant carpenters...
Instead of backing down, they stepped up, and went toe to toe with the
police, county sheriffs, highway patrol officers and immigration agents
who came out to defend the scabs...risking life, freedom and possible
deportation in the process
Most of the time, the cops had to run away from the scene in defeat....
Unfortunately, after they kicked the asses of the scabs and the cops,
won the strike on the jobsites, and brought the contractors and
developers to their knees, these brothers and sisters got stabbed in
the back at the bargaining table by one Douglass J. "Cash"
McCarron..then president of the now defunct Los Angeles District
Council of Carpenters and now general president of the United
Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
And, "Cash" McCarron made damned sure that the leaders of the striking
Mexican carpenters were denied any kind of leadership role in the
unions..and instead imposed his White sellout cronies to rule over
these new members...
But, despite that defeat, the struggle that those Mexican carpenters
carried out in Southern California back in '91 gives us an idea of what
it would take for us to straighten out the cash drywall contractors,
and to force the non union and double breasted contractors to sign up
to the unions...and actually live up the the agreements.
Their experience also gives us an idea of what kind of forces that we'd
be up against if we tried to carry out that kind of fight in the
drywall industry here in New York City....
Of course, we'd have to take on the drywall subcontractors, the GC's
and the developers..
And, many of the company men and the foremen would side with the
company, and fight the workers who were trying to stand up and make the
industry a decent place to work in...
And, the companines would no doubt unleash armed security guards, not
to mention < cosa nostra > against us...
And, the contractors, and the developers they work for, and mortgage
bankers that finance their jobs, would certainly call in the government
to defend their scabs... So, we'd have the notoriously violent and
abusive NYPD attacking us, and they'd probably call in backup from the
FBI, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and, depending
how widespread the strike became, the New York State Police and
possibly even the New York State National Guard...
Also, the California strikers had the advantage of a monoethnic
workforce...all of the carpenters were Latino, almost all of them were
Mexican..and almost all of them came from the same part of Mexico.
We would NOT have that advantage...
Far from it...this strike would involve African American, West Indian,
Puerto Rican, Dominican, Irish immigrant and White American carpenters,
as well as Mexican, Ecuadorian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, African
American, West Indian and African tapers...not to mention White
American, African American, West Indian and Puerto Rican lathers....
And, if the strike spread to the concrete industry, it would involve
carpenters, lathers, cement masons and concrete laborers from African
American, West Indian, Puerto Rican, Italian immigrant and White
American backgrounds, as well as predominantly White American operating
engineers and teamsters...
And, if the strike spread further to the furniture installation
industry, it would include a predominantly White American carpenter
workforce (with small numbers of African Americans, Latinos and White
immigrants from Europe)..and an ethnicly diverse teamster mover
workforce composed of White Americans, African Americans and Latinos
As for the non union side...the workforce is overwhelmingly composed of
immigrants from Mexico, Ecuador, the West Indies, Poland and Ireland,
along with a substantial number of American Blacks.
The contractors would almost certainly try and use race and ethnicity
to divide us...in particular, contractors who's company men come from
the same ethnic background they do would try and get us to turn on each
other for racial reasons....
And, if that wasn't enough, we would surely get nothing but hostility
from the corporate media, especially the print media...due in large
part to the fact that the newspapers are heavily financially dependent
on real estate ads, and therefore tend to look at construction labor
issues through the eyes of the developers....
If that wasn't enough to go up against...such a strike would probably
be opposed by the leadership of the unions..and, even if they were
forced to lead it, they'd probably try and sabotage it from within...
And I'm not just saying that because some of our union officers are
openly tied with < cosa nostra > and others have long turned a blind
eye to organized crime infiltration of our industry.
Even the non corrupt union officials would be unlikely to lead such a
militant citywide strike...unless they faced unbearable pollitical
pressure from the members...
Even if forced to lead it, like "Cash" McCarron was forced to support
the California drywall strike after the workers carried it out on their
own...they will likely try to sign as weak a contract with the
employers as they can get away with..even if it was possible to hold
out for more....
In a multicraft strike, the leaders of the unions that tend to have
better conditions, like the lathers, or the operating engineers, or the
teamsters, or the cement masons, would be likely to make a deal with
the contractors, even if it meant abandoning their support for the
trades with weaker conditions, like the carpenters, laborers and
Why do I say that?
Simple....because our unions are governed by a philosophy called
That is, the idea that workers and bosses have a common interest..and
the union leaders main job is to build a "partnership" between labor
This is the ideology that dominates our unions...
Think about it, how often have you heard our signatory contractors,
even the ones who are really abusive, violate the agreements all the
time, and pay cash, referred to as "our good union contractors", who
we're supposed to help to "compete with the non union"?
How often have you heard the leadership spend more time worrying about
the profits of the developers, the GCs and the subcontractors than they
do worrying about the vital needs of the men and women on the jobsites?
Even when attempts are made to organize the scab contractors...isn't it
interesting how often the unions will go out of their way to try and
propose special deals to newly organized firms...deals that would mean
lower wages and inferior conditions for the men and women on the
Now, of course, there have been companies that have been signed up,
here and there, but, they're islands of union conditions in a sea of
Here's an even better example....
There's been a boom in residential construction in this town over the
last few years..and almost all of it was done by scabs...or by "union"
tradespeople working under scab conditions....
The unions are fully aware of that fact, and have even attempted to
lobby the politicians about it...but, have they made a serious effort
to launch a campaign of mass protests against these scab developments,
or even to launch a serious media campaign to expose these scab
By contrast, when developers have desired to use public funds to build
massive, incredibly expensive, community disrupting and gentryfying
superdevelopments (like for instance the new Jets Stadium on the
Westside of Manhattan, the Nets Stadium development in Downtown
Brooklyn and the various Olympic development projects scattered across
the city)...the building trades unions trip all over themselves to
support these campaigns...spending tens of thousands of dollars and
sending hundreds of volunteers to lobby for these
developments....irregardless of how they affect the working class of
NYC as a whole...
That's not an accident, brothers and sisters...that's business unionism
in action...and that's why I fear that any attempt by construction
workers to fight the scab contractors would be at high risk of being
disrupted by our own union leadership...
And that's not because the unions are run by bad people...
It's due to the various forms of business unionism that have dominated
our unions for so many years..
For most of the last century, our unions have been governed by a form
of business unionism that I call "Gangster Unionism"... That is,
certain organized crime connected contractors were allowed to have
substandard wages, benefits and conditions, in return for payoffs,
while their competitors who were not corrupt were forced to pay full
union scale and benefits and enforce union conditions on their jobs...
This, of course, has led to a situation where many of the dominant
contractors in our industry are basically double breasted shops, with
non union conditions prevailing on many of their jobs, even the ones
that are supposedly "union"....and this has also led to much of our
industry in this town being openly scab.
The payoffs associated with gangster unionism has also led to a
government crackdown....and the internal decay that gangster unionism
has caused in our unions has also led to a need for internal reforms in
our unions... This has led to a new type of business unionism begining
to dominate our unions...I like to call it "Corporate Unionism"...
That is, the unions openly and legally reduce union pay and benefits to
benefit ALL contractors...not just secretly letting the mobbed up
companies pay cash.
The massive givebacks that Building Laborers local 79 and the Mason
Tenders District Council have given to the GC's and the subcontractors
in the masonry, demolition, asbestos abatement and lead abatement
industries are a perfect example of this....
As the feds and the state continue cleaning the mob out of the other
unions, we can expect more of those kind of sellout deals...where
EVERYBODY gets their pay and benefits cut, not just the folks who find
themselves working for mobbed up contractors...
Either way, the construction worker on the ground gets screwed...
So what's the alternative??
Us organizing, leading and coordinating a strike on our own, and
leaders elected from the ranks of the workers negotiating with the
contractors...and then enforcing that agreement on the unions.
Well it isn't....
Besides the example of the Southern California carpenters, there was a
strike that was organized and led by moving men right here in New York
less than 2 years ago.
Back in June 2002, the commercial movers in Van Drivers, Packers &
Furniture Handlers, Warehousemen and Appliance Home Delivery, Local
814, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, found themselves faced
with a really bad, giveback-filled contract.
Worse yet, thanks to a technicality of their union rules, only 500 of
the local's 1,000 members were allowed to vote on the agreement.
Despite the best efforts of the local union's president, one Pete
Furtado to ram the agreement through, the workers voted down the
agreement. Then Furtado, an ex-policeman who never actually worked as a
moving man, tried to make them vote again on the same pact that they
But, instead of voting for the agreement, they voted to strike...
Furtado had made no preparations to strike, of course, since he planned
to get the workers to agree to the proposed contract.
Fortunately, the union's dissident caucus, 814 Teamsters for a Strong
Contract, a group closely associated with national Teamsters dissident
caucus Teamsters for a Democratic Union, was able to organize and lead
And the movers, once they were freed from the obstruction of their
union's pro moving company leadership, did a hell of a job of striking.
They used their cell phones to coordinate the picketlines....a tactic
which made a lot of sense, since, during normal times, the moving
companies typically dispatch the movers around the city by calling them
on their cells and telling them what job to go to.
The union dissidents dispatched the striking teamsters around the same
way...and, with astonishing speed, shut down several major moving jobs
around the city, including the Museum of Modern Art, 345 Hudson Street,
875 3rd Av, the Daily News Building, 1166 6th Av, the Arthur Andersen
Building at 1345 Broadway, 4 New York Plaza, the Bank of New York at
101 Barclay St and the JPMorgan Chase Building at 55 Water St.
In some cases, upwards of 100 strikers showed up at the jobsites...an
astonishing figure, since the local only has 1,000 members in the
Also, they were able to get union carpenters and Service Employees
International Union local 32bj building maintenance workers to respect
their picketlines as well.
This led to the companies agreeing to settle within less than 36
The only thing that messed things up was the fact that Furtado, rather
than the leaders of the strike, negotiated the agreement with the
Which meant that they got a sellout agreement...or, as one mover told
this writer at the time, "We crippled the city - and they still have
concessions. We got stabbed in the back".
The strike did defeat a proposed substandard wage scale for newly hired
movers, and "list men" (full time employees of the moving companies)
got their pay increased to $ 20.93/hr, with a $ 1/hr premium for the
driver of the moving van.
But, the 300 "casuals", recently hired part time movers, are still
stuck making $ 12/hr, got a 3 year wage freeze, and have to work 800
hours, instead of only 520, before they get to be "list men".
Also, list men and casuals alike are now subject to random drug testing
and background checks, where before the employer could only do that
when they were originally hired. And, the movers no longer have the
right to have a shop steward or BA come in with them when they file a
greivance against the employer, instead they have to go face the boss
The point is, these workers were able to lead, and win, a strike, on
their own, despite their official union leaders...and were only
defeated when the union leaders stepped in and took control over the
This tells us that carpenters, tapers and lathers in the drywall
industry could do the same thing..as could carpenters, concrete
laborers, cement masons, lathers, operating engineers and teamsters in
the concrete industry and, of course, carpenters and teamsters in the
furniture installatoin industry (of course, those local 814 teamsters
already have the experience of leading just such a strike....)
We could even go further, and use this strike to organize the non union
side of those industries...since, of course, a lot of drywall
contractors are in fact double breasted and are their own "non union
And, we could go further still..and actually negotiate our own
agreements with the employers, rather than letting the union leaders
negotiate them for us....
Beyond that, we could even go further than that..and actually totally
transform our unions, in to the worker-controlled instruments of
struggle that they need to be, and reverse the advanced state of decay
that hobbles our unions today..
However, to do that, we need organization. The local 814 movers had
that, they had a caucus, 814 Teamsters for a Strong Contract, which was
tightly connected with the national dissident group in the Teamsters,
Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
We don't have that...the Carpenters Union has a very small national
dissident group, Carpenters for a Democratic Union International, which
is almost non-existant here in New York, and there are also some
dissidents active in the Laborers Union. Unfortunately there are no
national union dissident groups in the Plasterers and Cement Masons,
Painters, Ironworkers, or Operating Engineers unions.
Further, the Carpenters and Laborers dissident groups are mainly
focused on internal union politics and running for office, rather than
bread and butter economic issues...like, for instance, the
deunionization of the drywall industry, and how the contractors use the
job referral system to force workers to make deals and work for
substandard pay just to get a steady job.
Beyond that, we'd also need to have some ideas about what kind of
unions we want to see...
That's important, because Teamsters for a Democratic Union actually ran
the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for about 6 years. But,
since they were guided by the same business unionist ideology as the
folks they replaced, they didn't do anything to fundamentally change
the union as an institution, or make it more worker controlled, or make
the union actually struggle against the employers, rather than making
deals with them at the expense of the members.
Also, TDU's leaders, despite the fact that many of them are members of
a socialist group called Solidarity, didn't have a goal of challenging
the capitalistic system, or fighting to establish a worker-controlled
socialistic or communistic society. Since they didn't have that as a
goal or vision, they found themselves making the same kind of deals
with the bosses that mainstream union leaders do..and, in the end, they
ended up losing control of the union to folks who were conservatives
who were openly business unionists.
We don't have to make the same mistakes that the TDU made...
And, something called "Revolutionary Unionism" will help us avoid those
What's Revolutionary Unionism?
I've explained the ideology of revolutionary unionism on the GANGBOX
website before, at :
and on the GANGBOX listserv, at:
Basically, it's an ideology that recognises the fact that there is a
basic conflict between workers and bosses in our capitalistic society.
To put it simply, our labor makes the bosses rich...
When we work, we add hundreds of dollars per hour to the value of the
building..thousand of dollars, for those of us who install finished
millwork or architectural metal. But, most of the value we add goes
into the pockets of the subcontractors, GCs, real estate developers and
Even those of us who always work for full union scale and benefits see
less than $ 70 bucks per hour of that value we create...the rest goes
to the businesspeople. And, those of us who work for cash see even less
of the value we add to the buildings.
Of course, the contractors (and, unfortunately, a lot of union leaders)
don't want us to understand that..and they do a great job of
brainwashing us to think that we make too much money, and the poor
contractors are going broke...even though, in actual fact, WE'RE PAYING
THE BOSSES, BY ADDING SO MUCH VALUE TO THE BUILDING..AND THE MONEY WE
GET BACK IN OUR PAYCHECKS IS BUT A TINY FRACTION OF THE WEALTH WE
CREATE WITH OUR HANDS AND OUR TOOLS...
It's really sad that more of us don't realize that....
Revolutionary unionism recognizes these facts...and the reality that,
as long as we live under a capitalistic system, there will be a
conflict between bosses and workers. There can never be any kind of
"partnership" between labor and management...unions can either be
subordinate to the contractors, or they can help lead workers in a
struggle against the bosses..
Since it is so unnatural for a union to pratice "labor management
partnership", the only way that business unionist unions can
collaberate with the contractors is for the unions to be a
dictatorship, with all powerful officers and BAs dominating the unions.
By contrast, revolutionary unions would have to be extremely
democratic. One way this could be carried out would be by having the
union run by workers delegates.
Basically, the delegates would be elected to a single, 3 year, non re
electable term, and would be on paid release time from the job to
administer the unions. They'd be organized in a Council of Delegates
that would function kind of like a union legislature, that would
determine union policy, assist the work of the shop stewards in the
field, and oversee the work of the BA's, officers and organizers.
Elected delegates would oversee other important areas of union
work..above all, the job referral system.
The job referral system is very important...because employer control of
who gets to work and who doesn't is what enabled the contractors to set
up this cash system in the first place.
In place of the current "50/50" job referral system, where contractors
get to hand pick half the crew (and, under many NYDCofC agreements,
they actually get to request which members come from the union hiring
hall), I would propose a 90/10 job referral system.
That is, the contractor would pick a maximum of 10% of his/her
workforce, with the rest coming from the union hiring hall. Basically,
the boss would get to pick his/her general foremen, foremen, assistant
foremen and layout men, and the rest of the crew would come from the
Electricians local 3 and Ironworkers local 580 already have something
like that system here in New York, the Electricians have 90% of the
workers for each company coming from the Joint Board, and the
Ironworkers only let the boss pick the foreman and one company man on
the job..everybody else comes from the hall.
Elected union delegates would control the out of work list, which would
be run in a very public and transparent way, so everybody knows who got
to work where, so nobody could try and take advantage of the system.
Layoffs would be by seniority (rather than the current system, where
the bosses get to play favorites, and lay off folks they don't like and
keep their buddies and relatives on the job).
If a contractor wanted to fire a worker for cause, they'd have to have
a damned good reason, and they'd have to tell a union tribunal that
reason...and they wouldn't be able to fire that worker unless the union
agreed that they have cause to.
The Teamsters have that kind of system in their contract with UPS, they
call it "Innocent Until Proven Guilty"..
This kind of system would go a long way to enable workers to speak up
about and resist abuses on the job, without having to worry about
getting fired. Along with a greatly strengthened shop steward system,
this would go a long way to prevent the kind of abuses that have
plagued the drywall industry's workforce over the last few years.
But, as I pointed out above, we're going to have to struggle very hard
before we get anywhere near achieving these goals.
Until we get to a place where we can fight back, the race to the bottom
will continue in the drywall industry in New York City.
Thats it for now.
Be union, work safe.
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