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April 10, 2011

From "Solidarity for Sale": how the mob infiltrates construction unions

Atlantic Yards Report

The late Robert Fitch's 2006 book, Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise, came from a union supporter, not a critic, so it's full of disappointment and tough love.

He wrote:

Corruption, properly understood as the private use of public office, has been built into the labor movement from its very inception. When union corruption appears in the press, it's usually because of illegal acts: the outright pilfering of union assets or collusion with the boss, selling the members' jobs or giving away their benefits. But a lot of corruption is legal — hiring your relatives, taking excessive salaries, hiring hall favoritism.

Here's a review.

The mob and construction unions

Last October, at the Municipal Art Society Summit for NYC, analyst Julia Vitullo-Martin said, gingerly, "Historically, the mob has been a problem in construction industry."

Now there are hints that leaders in the Carpenters Union, some of them public supporters of Atlantic Yards, have knowledge of mafia ties--at least as suggested by their reported unwillingness to sign a document disavowing such knowledge.

Fitch explained how the system worked:

Most notoriously, the "Theme for The Godfather" regularly serves as background music whenever six-figure construction jobs are in play in New York City. It's hard to avoid the strong arm of the wiseguys when there's so much money to be made from the huge spread between the union rate and the market rate. The contractors can hire non-union labor for as little as $10 an hour with no benefits. Then they charge the owner, the developer, or the government the union rate. The difference will be pocketed by the contractor, minus the cost of bribes to union officials to look the other way. Mob guys--if they're not the contractors themselves--will wind up with at least a couple of points. It's the fee they charge for protection--a vital commodity in the construction field. The more the spread between wages, the more union members getting the premium wages need protection against those seeking their jobs and the more officials who are betraying their members will need protection against those who covet their territories.

He added:

The system turns into a protection racket almost from the beginning. it's always in the interest of the contractor to find a union leader who is most willing to let him cut the corners from the contract. In exchange for concessions, the contractor rewards the union leader with discretionary jobs for his members. The union leader is allowed to choose who works and who sits on a bench in the hiring hall waiting to be called. Soon the union leader has gathered around himself a retinue of clients that further protects him from the broader membership.

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Posted by steve at April 10, 2011 12:53 AM