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Entries in In the News (23)


The Carpenters Union Lottery Offers a Shot at the Middle Class

At the corner of Houston and Hudson, six blocks from the Soho bakery where ladies in expensive sandals queued up before the crack of dawnall summer to taste the Cronut, a different kind of line was forming. At first it was just a couple of burly men planted in lawn chairs outside the New York City District Council of Carpenters. A week later more than 1,000 others—security guards, welders, construction workers, and baby-faced kids fresh out of high school—had pitched tents and unfurled sleeping bags next to them. A passerby surveyed the crowd and guessed it was some sort of mixed martial arts ticket giveaway.

It wasn't.

Welcome to post-recession New York, where a middle-class job is a lottery prize and folks will camp out on the street just for a chance to play.

The carpenters union apprenticeship lottery only comes around once every few years. Anyone can submit his or her name. You just have to show up, fill out a card, and drop it in a box.

For this year's mid-August call, 750 cards are available. Who gets picked depends on employer demand. There's no telling how many jobs there will be, or when they will open up. But those who are selected will have a shot at one of the last-of-their-kind jobs that virtually guarantee a place in the middle class.

Five years ago, Jason Geronimo didn't have to wait in line. He just walked in and dropped off his card. "I happened to get lucky, I guess. About six to eight months later, I got a letter in the mail saying, you know, come to orientation."

At the time Geronimo was living with his mother in New Jersey, making $15 an hour installing drywall. Last week he was on his new job at Madison Square Garden, where he earns $48 an hour. He just bought a three-bedroom house closer to the city, where he hopes to start a family with his new wife.

He isn't swilling Champagne or gorging on Cronuts—he just has a normal job that pays him enough to provide. "It is a hard life. You're here early, sometimes you've gotta stay late, sometimes you gotta do some really labor-intensive things," Geronimo says. But "show up every day, and show them that you care, and they keep you on. You make enough to have a good life, you know?"

The folks in line outside the carpenters union came for the same thing: a life like his.

Donovan Cole works construction. He and his cousin Wendell Ortiz slept on the street for three nights to enter their names.

If Cole's card is pulled—and it can take years, if it gets pulled at all—he gets to fill out an application, take drug and math tests, and sit for an interview. If he can jump through those hoops, he will get to enroll in the four-year apprentice program. On the other end awaits a job as a union carpenter, where his wages and benefits could exceed $200,000 a year.

With such high stakes, one might think that spending a few days in line would start to feel like competing in the Hunger Games. Cole says it was the opposite. The guys in front of him held his place when he left to shower. And when his partner, Brianne, brought food, they all shared. They bonded, not over anything profound, "just the fact that it's so hard to get a job."

Cole has a job, but a union job—with security, benefits, a pension, and better pay—would be different. It's an increasingly rare commodity these days.

Nationwide, union membership dropped to the lowest rate in a century this year: 11.3 percent, a figure not seen since 1916. The numbers are more encouraging in New York, which, at 23 percent, boasts the highest membership rate in the nation.

"The decline of unions since the 1950s tracks almost exactly with the decline of the American middle class," says Robert Reich, secretary of labor under President Clinton and now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches a class on income inequality.

Those in line seemed to know that, which is why some slept on the street for a week to get a lottery card. They took turns watching over each other's stuff while some played football in the street and others went to Chelsea Piers for the free kayaking. They read newspapers and slept with the hoods of their sweatshirts pulled over their eyes.

"I couldn't sleep," Marquisse Valentine says. "Motorcycles would ride by real loud. Garbage trucks were picking up trash."

The 20-year-old moved to the Bronx from Connecticut about six months ago. His brother is still living back home, and the drive into the city took him so long that he ended up about 300 people behind Valentine and his uncle in line. They didn't even try to sneak him in.

"It would have caused a domino effect [of ill will]," Valentine explains. "For you to just come and skip—it's disrespectful."

Not everyone saw it the same way. Late Sunday night some "riffraff" tried to cut the line,James Day says. A few tough guys set them straight. Day is already a union member; he was camping out to keep his 19-year-old son company.

By the time the sun came up on Monday, more than 1,600 people were waiting.

"In years past, everyone basically got a slot in the lottery that was in line," says Kwame Patterson, spokesman for the New York City District Council of Carpenters. "In fact, we had guys that would come in maybe two hours, three hours, four hours after the line was depleted, and they'd still get a slot.

"This year we ran out of slots in two hours," Patterson continues. "We had to inform everyone that was still standing in line after we ran out that we may do this again in 2015, but we're out. We don't have any more slots to provide."

Fewer than half of those who waited got a card. Even the ones who did will go back to the jobs they have (or back to the hunt for one) while they wait to hear from the union. They won't hold their breath. "We just recently called somebody who was on the 2009 list," Patterson says.

Outside the union hall, working men say gruff goodbyes and exchange phone numbers to keep in touch. Valentine sits on a loading dock across the street with his uncle, waiting for his brother to reach the front of the line. Asked if he'd be jealous if his brother got the call and he did not, Valentine shakes his head.

"I'd be happy for him," he says. "Can't be mad. This could really change someone's life."


Dozens Seek Jobs in Columbia Expansion

September 11, 2013
By Steven Wishnia

The line of job-seekers outside. PHOTOS: NEAL TEPEL

Wearing jeans and work boots, one man in a gray shirt and tie, one woman in a lime-green Local 374 T-shirt, dozens of construction workers lined up outside an auditorium at Columbia University on the morning of Sept. 10, ready to apply for jobs building the university's new Manhattanville campus in West Harlem.

"I've been unemployed for 18 months," said Millie Soltero, 53, a member of Local 1974 of the Drywall Tapers and Pointers of Greater New York who was one of the first on line. She joined the union in 1980 and is now the oldest woman in the local.

The fair was open to members of the building-trades unions. Because of the project's community benefits agreement, members who live in the 15 zip codes of Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx get priority for jobs on it, said Carlyle Paul, a council representative for the New York City District Council of Carpenters. Once inside, they could apply directly for jobs with the three main contractors and more than 25 subcontractors.

John R. Jongebloed, left, and Carlyle Paul of the District Council of Carpenters.

"They really do hire the people who come down," said John R. Jongebloed, membership advancement coordinator for the District Council of Carpenters. Some, he added, "could be hired on the spot."

The university has begun demolishing old buildings on the 17-acre site, between Broadway and 12th Avenue and West 125th and West 133st streets, and started the foundation of a new science center. It plans to add an arts center, a new home for the Columbia Business School, an academic conference center, and housing for graduate students and faculty.

The expansion encountered significant opposition in the neighborhood, as it forced several businesses to close, and 

A woman at the Nontraditional Employment for Women table, with Jessica Suarez of NEW.

residents feared it would drive up rents and displace more than 5,000 people. The community-benefits agreement
was part of the deal that won it approval from the city.

Jongebloed praised Columbia for following the agreement. "They're looking to put our members to work, and really looking to put minorities and women and local residents to work," he said.

Also at the event were pre-apprenticeship programs like BuildingWorks and NEW, Nontraditional Employment for Women. BuildingWorks, working with the Carpenters' Labor Technical College, provides safety and other training. It recommends graduates to the building-trades unions, and if they're accepted, they bypass the lottery used to set places on the waiting list for apprenticeship programs. Most go into the carpenters and electricians, said program coordinator Christopher Howell. NEW is a free six-week training program attended by 400 to 500 women a year, said tradeswoman readiness manager Denise Doyle.

"Women are the minority and we need work," said Lucille Reid, a 46-year-old carpenter next to Soltero at the front of the line. "We don't get it like the men. The union needs to address that." A member of Local 157 who lives
in the neighborhood, she's been out of work for two years.

"I hope I get the job," said Soltero.


NYC Carpenters Endorse Christine Quinn for Mayor


Union of Skilled Carpenters, Dockbuilders, Cabinet Makers, Industrial Workers and More Calls Quinn “A Proven Progressive Leader With A Record of Actually Delivering for Working New Yorkers”

(August 30, 2013) – Today, the 25,000 member New York City District Council of Carpenters endorsed Christine Quinn to be the next Mayor of New York City. In endorsing Quinn, the union pointed out that she is the only progressive in the race who actually delivered for working men and women in New York. The announcement was made on the steps of City Hall where Quinn was joined by New York City District Council of Carpenters Executive Secretary-Treasurer Pro-Tem Steve McInnis.

“There are a lot of folks in this race who talk about being progressive, but there is only one in the race who has actually delivered progressive results for working New Yorkers,” said McInnis. “Chris embodies everything we look for in a progressive leader –she doesn’t talk about being a progressive, she delivers like a progressive. Whether it was her leadership in ensuring large scale rezonings resulted in prevailing wage jobs or her plan to build 40,000 more middle income housing units, we know Chris is the best choice to move our city forward in the right direction.”

In receiving the union’s endorsement, Quinn stated “I’m honored to have the support of these hardworking members of the District Council of Carpenters. These are the men and women who literally build our homes and keep our ships afloat and they are what makes New York the great city that it is. They recognize that while some people talk out of both sides of their mouth about being progressive, there is one candidate in this race who has actually delivered progressive results that working men and women of this city.”

The Union is comprised of eight local chapters, including Staten Island Chapter Local 20; Queens Carpenters Local 45; Floorcoverers Local 2287; Brooklyn Chapter 926; Timbermen, Carpenters, Hod Hoist Carpenters, Core Drillers Dockbuilders, Pier Carpenters, Shorers, House Movers, Pile Drivers, Divers, Tenders and Foundation and Marine Constructors Greater New York area Local 1556; Manhattan Local 157; Cabinetmakers and Industrial Workers Local 2790; and Millwrights Local 740. Today’s endorsement complements a long list of union support Quinn has received in her campaign for mayor, including the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, AFL-CIO (HTC), SEIU 32 BJ, RWDSU, UFCW Local 1500, UAW Region 9, Teamster JC 16, Sanitation Workers Union Local 831. This announcement also comes after Quinn has received support from dozens of local elected officials, local and national organizations and the New York Times, Daily News and New York Post.


U.S. workers have endured "a decade of flat wages," study says

(CBS News) NEW YORK - There are new signs of recovery in the housing market, and the signs say "sold."

American realtors reported Wednesday that sales of used homes shot up 6.5 percent last month. In fact, homes have been selling this summer at the fastest pace in six years.

What is not recovering in this economy is wages.

Job-seekers line up for a carpenter apprenticeship in New York in a "CBS Evening News" segment broadcast Aug. 21, 2013. /CBS

More than 1,500 people stood in line at the carpenters union in New York City just for a chance to land an apprenticeship. Some of the applicants were in line a week for jobs that start at $45 an hour.

James, a job-seeker, describes the importance of a carpenter apprenticeship in New York. / CBS

"You're not going to be a doctor or a scientist; you can't beat this blue-collar job," said one job-seeker named James. "You know, this is a great job, and that's why there's lots and lots of people here because, you know, they just don't hand out jobs like this every day."

A majority of U.S. workers have experienced a decade of flat wages, according to new research by the left-leaningEconomic Policy Institute.

It found the median weekly wage last year was $768. That's the same as 12 years earlier when adjusted for inflation. Over that same period, wages fell for 70 percent of workers.

Economists place much of the blame on a labor market that hasn't recovered from the Great Recession.

Craig Carr talks about a carpenter job he got in 2007. / CBS

"I've had friends that went to four years of college, did four years of college, and graduated and waited years to even get a job," Craig Carr said.

He considers himself lucky. He waited on that carpenter line for three days back in 2007, before the recession hit. He's now earning $48 an hour.

"You're not living like a millionaire, but you're not looking to scrap ends to make ends meet," Carr said.

College graduates earn about $400 more per week than high-school graduates, but, according to that study, that number is shrinking too.


Hundreds Wait Days for Union Jobs in NYC

Hundreds of New Yorkers lined up in lower Manhattan, simply for a chance to apply for jobs with Carpenters Local Union 157. Some have been waiting for days, armed with folding chairs, pillows, blankets and coolers.(Aug. 19)


NYC Carpenters Union Handing Out Hundreds Of Applications To Job Hopefuls

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The wait is over for hundreds of carpenters who have been camped out for days in hopes of scoring a coveted apprenticeship with New York City’s carpenters union.

Monday morning, the District Council of Carpenters Union began handing out 750 applications. With that comes the chance for union card and the promise of better benefits and a heftier paycheck.

Nicholas Foreman was the first person in line.

“The pot of gold at the end of that rainbow is getting that interview,” he said.

Foreman has been camping on the sidewalk since last Monday through rainy days and chilly nights with no bed, no shower and no electricity.

“A lot of people are going to come for it because this is a very good job,” he said.

The union holds this application process once every two years. Of the applications that will be given out, 500 will be for carpenters. The remaining 250 will be for dock builders and floor installers.

Those who get jobs will earn $20 an hour to start with the possibility of earning as much as $99 an hour down the line.

But the competition is fierce. The line stretched two full city blocks with the hundreds hoping for their chance at a break.

Margaret Power works at the top of One World Trade Center.

“My son is waiting to get in,” she told WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman early Monday morning. “He’ll be a fourth-generation carpenter.”

“The things that they have coming up in the next few, a lot of money to be made,” one man told Silverman.

Hopeful carpenters camp out for apprentice program, August 19, 2013. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Hopeful carpenters camp out for apprentice program, August 19, 2013. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Bodhi O’Neil from Copaigue.

But getting in the door doesn’t guarantee a job. It only guarantees a spot in the lottery. Union officials said they pull names of individuals from a locked lottery box as the industry needs more apprentices.

“We run a state approved lottery and all of these individuals will put their names in a locked box with their names and addresses. As the industry needs more apprentices we pull from that box in a lottery it’s a blind pull,” NYC District Council of Carpenters Director Elly Spicer told CBS 2′s Kathryn Brown.

Those who have been waiting for days say it’s a chance worth taking.

“I’ve never slept on the streets of New York City, I thought it was beneath me. Well, irony is that I’m willing to do it just for the opportunity of possibly getting a job that can change my life,” Bernard James told Silverman. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Union leaders said they typically pull names from the locked lottery box once every two months.


Would-Be Workers Set For Days Camping Out For Carpenters’ Training Program

Job seekers camp out for a training program at the Carpenters’ Union. (Credit: Jim Smith/WCBS 880)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Hopeful prospective workers camped out Saturday in an attempt to gain a spot in the Carpenters’ Union training program.

As WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported, the would-be workers camped outside the union headquarters at 395 Hudson St. in the West Village in tents, sleeping bags or just on cardboard. Up and down the line, the hunger for work was visible in their eyes.

He continued, “If you’re not out here and you’re not willing to go through this, I don’t think you deserve the job basically — you know what I mean?”

The prospective workers will wait in line until 9 a.m. Monday to get one of just 750 applications, and hope they win a coveted spot in the training program.

“It’s a lottery so you know, just say a prayer and hope for the best,” Billy said.

Many said just the chance for a good-paying union job with benefits was worth the wait.


Union Carpenters Strike Over Wage Freeze Demands


The New York City District Council of Carpenters entered its third day of a strike on July 3 after negotiations broke down with the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association of Greater New York (MWA). The association is seeking an across-the-board wage freeze and a second-tier employee system with lower wages and benefits, "while locking members into a 10-year agreement," the council says.

"Nobody wants a strike, especially during the celebration of our country's independence, but if we concede any further it would be detrimental to all our members and their families," Stephen McInnis, the council's executive secretary treasurer, said in a July 1 statement.

Some 350 members of the union are on strike. Members covered by the MWA contract earn an average of about $31 per hour with benefits, the council says. It adds that it has established a strike fund and an assistance hotline to help those on strike.

At press time, the council did not respond to calls for further comment, and attempts to reach MWA were unsuccessful.


NYC carpenters’ strike leaves nonunion workers stuck without health insurance

The District Council of Carpenters terminated health coverage for 120 secretaries, draftsmen and other nonunion workers Monday — the day it declared a strike against the woodworking companies that employ them. That’s left 12 companies that comprise the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association scrambling to find private coverage.


THURSDAY, JULY 4, 2013, 6:21 PM


Stephen McInnis


Stephen McInni is president of the District Council of Carpenters, which went on strike Monday and canceled health insurance for some 120 nonunion workers.

The NYC  District Council of Carpenters’ strike against woodworking companies has turned into a real pounding for nonunion staff members who’ve lost their health insurance.

The New York union terminated health coverage for about 120 secretaries, draftsmen, administrative assistants and other nonunion workers on Monday — the day it declared a strike against the woodworking companies that employ them.

That’s left the 12 cabinet- and furniture-making companies that comprise the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association scrambling to find private coverage.

For almost 10 years the union has enabled us buy health care coverage for our private employees that is similar to what the carpenters get,” said Anthony Rizzo, co-owner of the family-run Rimmi Woodcraft Corporation and president of MWA.


They surprised us with a letter two days before the strike. I’ve had to rush to find a way to cover my workers. It costs more, but I can’t leave them without.”

Rizzo is challenging the union’s action in court — including its position that none of the 120 workers are eligible for COBRA benefits under the union’s terminated deal. COBRA is a federal program that extends health insurance for temporarily jobless workers.

We feel it’s illegal for the union to deny COBRA. We will challenge it but it takes time. I have an employee in the hospital who was denied coverage and that can’t happen,” Rizzo said.

They’re also challenging the legality of the union’s strike, he said, and will be in federal court Monday looking for an injunction.


District Council of Carpenters represents the 350 woodworkers and wood installers in Local 2790 who walked off the job Monday in protest over stalled contract negotiations.

The MWA wants to cap benefit contributions at 40 hours a week so it would no longer have to make pension, vacation and health care contributions on overtime pay.

It’s a deal that Stephen McInnis, president of the District Council of Carpenters, says he “has to refuse.”

But Rizzo, who said there used to be about 70 woodmaking companies in the region — now down to about 12 — said the union’s demands were driving employers into bankruptcy.

We’re not asking for lower wages, just to lower some of the benefits. It’s not even a major concession,” Rizzo said.

Read more:


Neither side budging in carpenters' strike


Hundreds of union carpenters went on strike this week over a contract dispute that jeopardizes a number of ongoing projects in the city.

Updated: July 3, 2013 2:17 p.m.

Hundreds of union carpenters went on strike this week over a contract dispute in a move that threatens a number of ongoing projects in the city.

The strike comes after over a year of contentious contract negotiations between the New York City District Council of Carpenters and the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association of Greater New York, an association of contractors. The carpenters' contract expired June 30, and they have balked at the association's request for a 10-year deal with lower benefits and a wage freeze on the cabinetmakers and wood installers, 350 of whom stopped working Monday to protest.

Stephen McInnis, president of the District Council of Carpenters, has said the union would agree to a 10-year contract with wage negotiations possible, but won't compromise on benefits.

"We feel we've made a number of concessions throughout these negotiations, and we just can't concede any more," said Kwame Patterson, a spokesperson for the carpenters. "There's no more to give."

The contractors, however, believe the district council prematurely halted discussion. "They called a strike immediately when the contract expired," said Catherine Condon, an advocate for their association. "We were in negotiations and they just took a hard line."

Ms. Condon said settling on a contract is crucial to the survival of the unionized woodworking industry in New York, and blamed the industry's loss of market share on union workers doing jobs for nonunion contractors. "One of the reasons for the [industry's] decline is that union installers have been installing work in Manhattan that is made by nonunion shops," she said. "We are constantly competing with nonunion workers so at the moment we're just trying to get a contract that will make for fair competition in New York."

A consultant to developers in the city said as nonunion contractors have taken on more complicated jobs in the last several years, the carpenters have become increasingly desperate for work, causing some to resort to nonunion gigs, thereby accelerating the trend.

"The union guys have been unable to hold out. They’ve had to put bread on the table, and they’re taking more and more nonunion jobs," said the consultant, who requested anonymity to protect relationships in the industry. "The nonunion labor pool is starting to be very competitive in terms of skills with the union workforce because in many respects, it’s one and the same. It overlaps tremendously now."

Ms. Condon urged the district council to resume contract negotiations and end the strike. "Let the men go back to work," she said. "Let them get paid."

But Mr. Patterson said the strike is necessary despite the financial toll it takes on the workers. "This really hurts [the carpenters'] pockets, but this is the only recourse we have at this point," he said. "We're standing by the phones waiting for [an acceptable contract], but that hasn't come in yet."

For now, both sides are hopeful that the strike will end soon, but neither appears willing to make the next concession. The union said many large construction projects around the city could be halted by the strike, including 4 World Trade Center, General Motors' building on Fifth Avenue and the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.

"The carpenters walking off can easily shut down an entire contract, because they have so much responsibility, especially with interior work," the consultant said.