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Carpenters union attacks wage fraud

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Articles - September 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

By Ben Jacklet


Juan Sanchez of the carpenters union leads a demonstration at a Lake Oswego building project. The union is taking an aggressive position against underground labor in the construction industry.
// Photo by Anthony Pidgeon

Juan Sanchez is dressed for work in jeans, hard hat, reflective vest and steel-toed boots. But he won’t be hanging any drywall today or pounding any nails. Instead he will be driving from one construction job site to the next throughout the Portland area, looking for cheaters.

Sanchez, a 33-year-old representative of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, grew up in Acambaro, Mexico. He arrived in Portland 10 years ago with a green card but no English; he couldn’t even order food at a restaurant. He worked a variety of informal, cash-only construction jobs: up at 5:30 a.m. and home by 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, paid in cash under the table. The workers were mostly Latinos like him; the bosses tended to be white. The money seemed good until he tried to live on it, and he didn’t like not having benefits or rights.

Sanchez joined a union apprenticeship program in 2005, when construction was booming in Portland, and graduated in 2007. Now he spends his workdays attacking the same underground economy that he worked in when he first came to Oregon. “For me, it’s personal,” he says as he programs job site addresses into his GPS unit. “I mean, I’m lucky. I make pretty good wages. I have medical, dental for me and my family, vacation and pension. But what about my kids? Will they have this later? I have to fight to preserve what we’ve gained. Every working person deserves a little bit of the profit.”

The problem is, there isn’t as much profit to go around in the construction industry as there used to be. Activity is picking up slightly but jobs are still relatively few, earnings are down and competition is fierce. The number of union carpenters in the Northwest has dropped from about 25,000 to below 20,000. Concurrently, the Latino presence in the trades has grown dramatically, nationally and in Oregon; a 2008 Pew Hispanic Center study found that Hispanic workers fill two of every three new jobs in the U.S. construction industry. Many of those jobs have moved underground as the federal government has shifted from workplace immigration raids to strict audits of employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers.




0 #1 ReallyDonny1020 2011-09-06 13:11:18
No doubt that some of the work that the Carpenters perform is of value but it needs to be pointed out that:
the carpenters not only shut down one Local in Portland but all Locals throughout Oregon, Washington, Montana, etc.. There was a claim of finical mismanagement with our Portland Local but these charges were never substantiated and were simply an excuse to throw Pete Savage out of office. If those charges were true why did the Carpenters fail to turn the information over to the Department of Labor as required by law?

As for paying workers in cash, if one looks at the PNWRCC's LM2 reports you will not find one of people hired to protest listed as required by law. These employees of the Regional Council are required under the Landgrum Griffen Act to be report, the only way around that is to pay them in cash.

Over the past five years the Regional Council has been the only labor group cited by the Department of Labor for failing to pay their employees minimum wage and overtime. The Regional Council also settled out of court with Hoffman Construction for unlawful coercion and intimidation. The Carpenters also settled out of court with another Northwest developer in Tacoma Washington for more than $10 million for illegal intimidation and coercion. This is money that came directly out of the members pockets to pay for the mistakes of hired staff such as Tweedy,Little, Prindle, and Matta.

The Regional Council routinely cuts sweetheart deals behind the backs of the membership with employers allowing employers to circumvent the standard area agreement. The majority of these workers are Latino and looked on as second class members in the Regional Council.

Most recently the Carpenters, and their partners the Operators, developed a scheme in conjunction with high profile employers to break the Longshore Union's strike in Longview Washington. The Carpenters and Operators are planing to use this favor to Kewit/General to out maneuver and minimize the Cement Finisher and the Laborer in next years negotiations with the AGC. The Carpenters master plan is eliminate all other groups leaving the Carpenter as the exclusive organization in the construction field.

The members no longer have a say, we no longer have the right to vote on Business Representatives and when we turned down our contract, Doug Tweedy and John Little were at this meeting, we were told that our vote didn't mean anything and that "leadership" would be telling us what's best from now on.

So this is the real story, you won't get the truth from the staff because truth is no longer in their vocabulary.
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0 #2 Give us a break UBC HYPOCRITSfreddie 2011-09-07 08:58:37
Most of us in the carpenters union are not working and you mention in this article about your passion.Where is your passion for the membership? Why do you guys give deals different to our agreement to other cheater employers that hurt our signatory companies? Why have you abandoned your employers and your membership? We are tired of guys like Sanchez acting like he actually cares when all he cares about is taking orders and keeping his job. We are tired of guys like Matta saying he is passionate about cheaters and crooks when off the record he would cut a deal with them in a heartbeat. We are tired and our numbers are growing. Even though our union, which really isn't a union anymore, has taken the democracy away from us we have options. The option many of us have been talking about is the option that our brother's and sister's in New York and Jersey have done, start are own carpenters union. We are not proud union carpenters anymore and we are ashamed of our leadership. This article makes us sick.
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Short Nailer
0 #3 Carpenter Union a jokeShort Nailer 2011-09-07 10:06:29
Interesting comments above. The Carpenters union will gladly hold out their hand for my union dues and they have no work, dont promote themselves and are just "pre-vail" [blocked]es. Always want a prevail job..... pathetic.

Dont forget Eric Franklin.... clueless in Seattle. The article is typical "media" BS just look behind the scenes and connect the dots. They should interview carpenters who aren't suck-asses !!!
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Squished Like A Pancake
0 #4 Wage and Hour SteamrollerSquished Like A Pancake 2011-09-19 13:45:12
Not pertaining to the union or prevailing wage, there appears to be a lack of supervision into the investigative practices of the W&H Division. In my opinion, employers are guilty until proven innocent. If it is a small business, especially in these troubled times, most likely cannot afford to hire an attorney to prove the company is innocent. As a state agency, the bureau employees are public servants. Yeah, right. Again, in my opinion, W&H employees are on a money-hungry power trip and are rude, ruthless, and out of control. One, and only one, person employed there was civil and actually listened. This person told me, in regard to the investigations unit authority to issue a formal complaint, "(they) are supposed to have investigated the claim first." , There is more, MUCH more. Once again,it is my opinion th system has run-amok.
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