Association for Union Democracy

NYC Carpenters In Bylaws Fiasco

This summer, AUD was approached by rank-and-file from the NYC District Council of Carpenters (NYCDCC), a district that includes eight locals, and which is under Court supervision pursuant to a 1994 Consent Decree. The carpenters asked AUD for a review of the union’s top officers’ proposed changes to the District Council bylaws. The carpenters believe that the amendments were arrived at through a process that violated the existing bylaw amendment process. They also don’t agree with many of the proposals. AUD conducted its review and agreed with many of their concerns. Therefore, AUD sent a letter, dated August 16th, to the Hon. Victor Marrero, the Judge who presides over the Consent Decree.

AUD’s letter raised concerns with the process and substance of the amendments. AUD argued that the process of drafting the proposed amendments blatantly ignored the amendment process specified in the bylaws. The Executive Secretary Treasurer (EST) of the NYCDCC apparently created a “bylaws working group” under his authority, made up of the Council’s Vice President and his top employees and assistants. Though the process began in 2015, the locals’ rank-and-file first saw the proposed amendments in July 2017, in a massive 152-page document. “This process simply is not in accordance with the spirit, or the letter, of the current bylaws, which demand that amendments must come from at least three of the locals. The bylaws require that the locals initiate amendments precisely to prevent the leadership from ambushing the rank-and-file,” AUD argued.

AUD based its critique of the substance of the proposals on the work of the NYS Organized Crime Task Force:

Our concerns are raised because some of the proposals move the NYCDCC away from the concept of union democracy as a bulwark against corruption, a concept embodied in the Consent Decree. A democratic union is a necessary condition and potentially the most effective tool available for achieving the goal of eliminating racketeering and corruption in the labor movement. This was quite evident to the members of the New York State Organized Crime ask Force (OCTF)… It wrote in its 1990 Final Report: “The third and most promising strategy is to nurture, encourage and support union democracy. In essence, labor racketeering involves the exploitation of rank-and-file workers for the benefit of corrupt union officials and employers.… As far back as the 1940s, the American Civil Liberties Union and other reformist groups argued that unions which respect their members’ rights, which have fair and competitive elections, and which make the leadership accountable to the rank-and-file, will be resistant to racketeer domination. Indeed, Congress adopted this strategy for attacking labor racketeering when it passed the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959…. The power wielded by construction union officials makes it very difficult for honest workers to assert their economic interests and regain control of their unions. Government policy must therefore give highest priority to assisting honest workers in obtaining their rights and wresting control of their unions from racketeers.” (New York State Organized Crime Task Force, Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry: Final Report to Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, New York: New York University Press, 1990 pp. 177-78.)….

AUD’s letter points out that the proposed amendments would enhance the power of the EST and his Executive Committee at the expense of the locals. There were proposals to do away with EST term limits, to increase the terms of the top officers from three to four years, to allow the Council’s Executive Committee the power to bypass the locals and propose bylaw amendments directly to the Delegate Body (under the current setup, proposals must come from at least 3 of the 8 locals and then go to the Delegate Body for approval); and to eliminate the 50% cap on the number of elected delegates that may at the same time be paid employees of the District Council. (The Delegate Body is the representative body for the locals, made up of 100 delegates from the eight locals. It will consider these amendments and approve them or reject them.) Many of the delegates are also employees of the District Council, at most 50% of them. The bylaws proposal would remove that cap: allowing in theory ALL delegates to be employees of the District Council (ultimately employees of the EST). This is hardly conducive to their acting as checks on that very EST on behalf of the locals and the rank and file. (Imagine if members of Congress were allowed to be employees of the White House.)

AUD’s letter concluded “These bylaws proposals, taken together, put excessive power in the hands of the top officials at the expense of membership rights. This is, in our opinion, is a violation of the spirit of the Consent Decree.”

Over 200 carpenters endorsed the AUD letter.

On September 11, Patrick Nee, a carpenter and a local delegate to the Council, by letter asked the Court “to bar this unlawful attempt by the EST [Executive Secretary Treasurer] to amend the Bylaws of the District Council.” Nee’s letter critiqued the bylaws process from the point of view of a member carpenter.

The two letters prompted Judge Marrero to order the Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) overseeing the Consent Decree, and the appointed Independent Monitor (IM), each of whom had already “pre-approved” the bylaw amendments, to respond to the AUD and Nee letters, by September 19, which they did. The AUSA argued that AUD had no standing in the matter, not being a party to the Consent Decree, and that the government had not participated in the process and could not comment it. He suggested that the Judge could ask the union to explain its process. The AUSA had no comment on the substance of the proposals; they were “matters for the union to determine.”

The IM argued that the process did follow the bylaws amendment process, because the proposals were eventually sent to the locals for approval.

The Judge issued his decision on September 29, finding that the process did pass muster because the language in Section 35 of the bylaws implies a process undertaken beforehand: “However, the Court finds that Section 35 suggests that some process is necessary prior to the submission of proposed changes to the local unions or to the delegate body for approval.” The Judge denied Nee’s request to bar the EST actions, and, as AUD had no standing to intervene, not being a party to the Consent Decree, declined to directly address the AUD letter in his remarks. However, the AUD letter clearly prompted the Court to review the matter and has raised questions for many of the carpenters.

The opposition carpenters, finding no relief from the Court, did not give up. But they were unable to convince enough members of the Council’s Delegate Body, which met October 10 and approved the changes. AUD’s letter and related dcouments are available on the AUD website.

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”AUD LetterreNYCDCC Bylaws Aug162017″]

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”Court Order re NYCDCC bylaws 9-29-17″]

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