On May 20 at both Pac Bell Park and the SFO, there were picket lines of members of the carpenter's union blocking entrance to the construction sites. And there were union members crossing those picket lines. Also, I was among those crossing that line at the future Giants stadium. I would like to explain the situation as best I can, and the choices that I have made from the information I have learned.
On May 19th, that Wednesday, I found fliers on the ground on the way from the Muni to my jobsite, Pac Bell Park. It was a list of demands from the carpenters in regard to their new labor contract. For some reason or another, I skimmed and then ignored these, which now seems kind of silly. Usually I like to see what people have to say, whether I agree or not. I had no inkling of how serious this was.
Currently I'm employed by a miscellaneous outfit C.E. Toland that is installing the stairs and railing throughout the structure. I'm working on the ramp on the southwest end of the building erecting a whole hell of a lot of handrail. (If you have any problems with this handrail when the park opens, I would like to officially blame my foreman Ray or Eddy, my sometimes partner & favorite punk (I have to get that in before he turns out) or the precast guys who've been recklessly shoving around my poor rail or the guy who set the embeds, since I would never do shoddy work (big wink).) Since it is a large jobsite and no one has time to casually stroll up and along the gentle ramp way, I'm not running into a lot of guys from the other trades, except the ones maniacally driving the forklifts to other floors. The first I hear of anything is from the Ironworkers 377 business agent Randy Oyler who has called a meeting of the job's ironworker stewards. There are three other ironworking companies at the job--the structural steel guys, the rod busters, and the precast erectors. Randy informed us of a protest that was scheduled for the next day by a bunch of renegade carpenters. A picket unsanctioned by the union--a wildcat action. The management put out a little snotty flier reminding their workers and contractors that their jobs were in jeopardy if they were to honor this strike. The ironworkers would probably not be in such immediate danger of unemployment. Randy told us nonetheless that we would work.
Usually pickets are reserved for situations in which management has been unfair, in which the agreed and legal benefits, wages, or safety conditions have not been met or if a non-union subcontractor has been hired to work on the job. The local is contacted and provides legal and physical back up to its members, if the situation is not able to be resolved.
Sometimes due to the situation, legally, the union cannot tell its members it can picket or it would be held liable for this action. In this case, the representatives will tell the members what the situation is and give the official line, that the union cannot support the picket. Occasionally, the members will feel strongly enough about the issue to take individual action and making up their own minds take a "sick-out."
In this case, we were given a direct order to work.
The situation at the ball park and the airport is this: A project labor agreement. In the negotiations for these projects, labor and management sat down to discuss the terms of conditions. Part of the agreement was that management would guarantee that all the workers on the jobsite would be union. Labor's concession would be that there would be no pickets, or stoppages of work. Any breakage of this contract would result in the direct liability of the local unions, which may result in a lawsuit that could break a small local and cripple a larger one.
Also the various trade unions were in talks with the city of San Francisco. Hopefully the result would be that all city jobs would be created with union labor. And that would mean that the organizations would have to honor a project labor agreement. But if the airport and ball park jobs are stopped, even with a project labor agreement, how can management trust the contracts of the future?
The local's carpenters are picketing, not because these particular jobs are in conflict, but because of internal problems within the union. From what I've heard, the carpenter's union has recently negotiated a labor contract for the next three years. From the district standpoint, a majority of about 73% of members agreed to this contract. From a bay area standpoint, this contract does not cover the standard of living necessary. Some other problems with the contract include the problem with the seating of the delegates of the pile drivers (a subsidiary union of the carpenters). Also the representation of northern locals which have been merged into a larger local, and their elected delegates replaced by appointments. Another is the make up day, in which, if a day of work is lost due to weather conditions or a job site problem, the workers would voluntarily make up that day for straight-time on a weekend day (and overtime day).
Still, in discussion with other people, many of these problems were already inherent, such as the make up day. And that the pile drivers have their own separate negotiation anyhow. And as far as the wages are concerned, they did slightly better than the Ironworkers did on their last contract, so I can't feel too badly for them about that. Truth be told, I'm not sure what are the exact facts of the matter, not being a carpenter or knowing the history or documentation of this event. I've just got to take care of my own union.
Back to the story that I'm certain of: I talked with the other guys in my company. Although I'm new at the stewarding thing, the foremen on the job decided to defer to my decision on the matter. What made most sense to me was to go to work. The carpenters were airing their own dirty laundry. They were targeting my jobsite because of the high media profile, and the publicity involved. Unfortunately by also picketing the two large jobs with labor agreements, they were doing the other unions on the job a disservice by presenting the field workers with the dilemma of crossing a picket line. My feeling was to support the labor agreement and my own union.
Thursday wasn't so bad. By the time I got there, the side gate was clear. My co-worker Alys had no idea that there even was a picket. Most of the structural ironworkers refused to cross the line. The company SME eventually decided that it was too windy to hang iron after all. Many of the precast guys left. But a lot of carpenters were working. The pile drivers were all working. A small crowd stood in front of the doughnut shop across the street to wait to see what would happen. All day long there was honking in support of the people at the gate on the corner of King and 3rd street. About break time, the rod busters started picking up as if to leave. They were talked into staying--after all, they had already crossed the picket. It would mean more if they were to see what happened the next day, and make their decision then. Rumors of vague and not so vague threats from carpenters filtered in from the picket line to those still working. Management locked the gates into the job, so that those who had left could not come back in. Sheet metal workers left. The electricians left. Pipe fitters as well. All fuel to the carpenters fire. They promised to come back the next day with even more picketers.
I was even more nervous about Friday. There was a large and vocal crowd in front of both entrances. I bought doughnuts for my crew as encouragement. I also passed out results of the arbitration between the unions and management. The project labor agreement held. But there was a reminder of the liability of the unions involved if this picket were to continue. Actually I got harassed more by ironworkers that by other trades for handing these things out. Where were the guys from the office to pass these things out? I got the responsibility of passing these out because they knew I was a steward on the job, and that the BAs would all be busy at the hall and the airport and in meetings at the 6:30 work start time. But they wanted their members to have current information of what they were up to.
Several members of my crew hung gathered at the corner. We crossed the picket line together. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, as far as the picketers being obnoxious and potential spittin' action. But it still didn't quite feel right to be crossing that line.
More workers were on the job this day. Everyone was acting a little edgy. I think that I drank too much coffee that morning. I had a headache and my stomach hurt. (whine whine whine--all day long. Just ask Ray). I made sure my crew ate lots of doughnuts. Lo-cost prozac.
Overall it was good to hear the people honking in support of the picket line, and that they were supporting labor. Of course, it felt weird to know that I was working, and sure that I was in the right.
On the way home, the carpenters marched down King street. A carpenter still on the job mocked the parade, watching from the third floor, he rubbed his fingers together--he was on the job making money, while they were not. I wanted to punch him for his stupidity.
We're not sure what will happen on Monday, but I'll be there.