Later in the afternoon, Sanchez checks out a job site in Lake Oswego where his union has a dispute with the drywall subcontractor. His conversation in Spanish with the employees there is tense and terse.
“They are hard-core employees,” he says as he heads to the job site trailer. “They feel loyal because they are happy to have work.”
“See you on the picket line,” says the project manager with a grin.
Sanchez maintains an easy rapport with most of the people he speaks to, but not everyone is a fan of his union’s tactics. Months before Nagy pled guilty, demonstrators routinely gathered in front of the offices of Portland contractor S.D. Deacon to declare him guilty, with a huge poster showing Nagy’s mug shot. And these demonstrators were not necessarily union workers, since the carpenters union hires day laborers for political work, including homeless people who are not union members. That tactic does not sit well with some union members. One commenter at Oregon Business’ website, oregonbusiness.com, responded to a news story about the campaign by charging that the carpenters union had mob ties and “recently closed all Locals and tossed all delegates who were elected by the membership out of office and installed hand-picked yes men.”
Those charges are not as outlandish as they sound. The carpenters union does have documented historic connections to organized crime (in New York) and the Pacific Northwest Regional Council did recently replace local delegates in a major restructuring following charges of financial impropriety. The carpenters are not members of the national AFL-CIO union coalition or the local building trades council, and have quarreled with both groups over organizing tactics and strategy.
John Mohlis, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building & Construction Trades Council, says: “There is a bit of friction [between the carpenters union and others in the building trades], but we try our best to have a working relationship with them, because we’re signatory partners and our members work the same job sites as theirs do... It definitely complicates things.”
Jimmy Matta, the top official of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, based in Kent, Wash., offers no apologies about the aggressive tactics his union employs. “We are passionate about cheaters,” he says. “We are passionate about crooks.”
Matta led a hard-nosed campaign against underground construction labor in Seattle that pointed fingers at a development company owned by billionaire Paul Allen, among other targets. He says one goal of the recent restructuring is to replicate those tough tactics in Portland. “We built a strong track record in Washington, and we’re going to do the same thing here,” says Matta.
Sanchez echoes that sentiment as he returns to the Portland office at the end of another day of watchdogging job sites.
“Some people say we’re bullies,” says Sanchez. “They say we just want our way. But we are fighting for what is right. And we are not going to stop.”