Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

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Carpenters’ union cuts ties with AFL-CIO over direction

SUN STAFF AND WIRE SERVICES

In Las Vegas The Carpenters union has emerged as a high-profile force in the labor movement and politics in fast-growing Las Vegas and Nevada, where construction continues to be a booming industry. Carpenters union members typically work on high-profile jobs like hotel-casinos, Southern Nevada Water Authority projects and the expansion of the LasVegas Convention Center.

The union has some 9,500 Nevada members, including 7,500 in Southern Nevada.

Nevada Carpenters' chief Marc Furman said the union's decision to leave the AFL-CIO should have little affect on day-to-day union operations in Nevada, because the Carpenters have a fairly independent union with its own pension fund for members and its own organizing, training and political operations. However, he said the Nevada Carpenters look forward to cooperating with the Nevada AFL-CIO on labor issues.

WASHINGTON -- The main national carpenters' union is breaking from its affiliation with the AFL-CIO over differences in the direction of the labor movement, the union's president said in a letter Thursday.

"The AFL-CIO continues to operate under the rules and procedures of an era that passed years ago, while the industries that employ our members change from day to day," said the letter from Douglas J. McCarron to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

A message left on McCarron's voice mail Thursday at the Washington headquarters of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America was not immediately returned. A communications employee said the union had no statement.

The carpenters' union had 323,929 members last year, according to the AFL-CIO, which is a voluntary federation of 65 unions. After the carpenters leave, it will have 13 million members.

The carpenters' union board voted unanimously to end the affiliation after meeting with Sweeney and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, the letter said. The union has reorganized in the last few years to shift resources to organizing and had hoped the AFL-CIO would make similar changes, McCarron's letter said.

"After five years I have seen nothing to indicate the AFL-CIO is seriously considering changes that would cure these problems, nor do I see any realistic chance that an investment of more time or resources by the UBC will alter those facts," the letter said.

Sweeney said in a statement that disaffiliation would be a loss for the carpenters' union and the labor movement.

"I believe that we have an important and mutually beneficial relationship, and that today's unions need to be unified to provide a strong voice for Carpenters members, other union members and all working families," he said.

Sweeney said he asked the union to reconsider its decision and has offered to continue meeting with its officials. BusinessWeek Online said the decision was made after the meeting March 27 in Las Vegas in which Sweeney and Trumka addressed the Carpenters' eight-member executive board.

BusinessWeek's online edition called the defection of the Carpenters "a sharp slap in the face" to Sweeney.

The last time this happened was in 1968, when the United Auto Workers left over the federation's support of the Vietnam War, BusinessWeek said.

McCarron has complained to Sweeney that the AFL-CIO is wasting Carpenters' dues money on a bureaucracy of hundreds of officials that the AFL-CIO has hired since Sweeney took over in late 1995.

AFL-CIO officials respond that McCarron's actions stem largely from his desire to poach on other building trade unions' turf, BusinessWeek said. They argue he regularly mounts organizing drives among non-carpenter construction workers and even offers electrician training to members.

The defection will cost the AFL-CIO $3 million a year in Carpenters' dues, which BusinessWeek call significant even though the AFL-CIO has a $100 million-plus budget.

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