- United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
United States& Canada
Change to Win Coalition, CLC
members= 520,000 (2006)
full_name= The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
Douglas J. McCarron, president
website= [http://www.carpenters.org www.carpenters.org]
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America is one of the largest building trades union in the
United States. One of the unions that formed the American Federation of Laborin 1886, it left the AFL-CIOin 2001.
The union was created in 1881 by a convention of carpenters' unions led by
Peter J. McGuire, who served as the General Secretary of the new union for its first twenty years and its only paid officer for much of its first decade. The Brotherhood was only one of several carpenters' unions at the time: the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, a British union, not only had a number of locals in the United States, but had formally affiliated with the AFL as well, while the United Order of American Carpenters, the Knights of Laborand local organizations of German and Irish carpenters defended their own claims to represent the carpenters in their areas. The Brotherhood slowly absorbed or eliminated these rivals, adding the word "United" to its name as a condition to its merger with the United Order.
While Peter J. McGuire was a socialist, the union itself was non-political, refusing to endorse any political party or philosophy. It was not, on the other hand, apolitical: it supported legislation establishing the eight hour day.
The union also struck to obtain the eight hour day, calling a strike of its affiliates for
May 1, 1886. The strike itself was ineffective and provoked a repressive response, particularly in Chicago, where police shot and killed two strikers two days later, leading to the Haymarket Riotthe following day.
Even so, the strike gave the Brotherhood added visibility that led to increased membership. The union struck again in 1890, with similarly uneven results, but now facing the stiffened resistance of newly formed employers associations.
The Brotherhood admitted both black and white carpenters on an equal footing when it was first formed; one of the union's vice-presidents in its early years was L.E. Rames, an African-American carpenter from
Charleston, South Carolina. In the South, however, the union often isolated black carpenters in segregated locals as a concession to the opposition of white carpenters and contractors. Local unions also often excluded black workers on a de facto basis. The union formally dissolved its segregated locals in 1963.
The union also faced fierce pressures from outside to exclude black carpenters: in 1919 supervisors from the Great Southern Lumber Company, the mayor of
Bogalusa, Louisiana, and local businessmen affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, attacked and killed four union organizers who had attempted to organize black and white lumber mill workers. None of the attackers were convicted of any crimes.
Expansion and conflict
McGuire was forced out of office in 1901 by Frank Duffy and others after a scandal concerning his inability to account for all of the funds received by the union. Many rank and file members of the time suspected that McGuire was framed by elements within the growing bureaucracy of the Carpenters' Union, with whom McGuire had fought several political battles over their attempts to gain more power over rank and file/local union control.
McGuire's successors took a more aggressive stance toward other unions whose members were performing work that the Carpenters union either considered its own members' right to perform or saw as a threat to their craft traditions. The union waged jurisdictional strikes to claim work that other unions, such as the Machinists, Sheet Metal Workers and Electrical Workers claimed as theirs. The Carpenters used its size to win many of these disputes. After the death of president
James Kirbyin 1915, it frequently disaffiliated from the AFL's Building Trades Department to protest those decisions it lost.
In the decade that followed, the union fought off employers' efforts to impose the
open shop, which would have made it very difficult for the union to maintain the standards and membership it had won. While the open shop drive may have stalled the Carpenters' growth during the decade, it did not cause the severe membership losses and wage cuts that other unions suffered.
In some areas, the union not only prospered, but elected its own leaders to public office. The head of the most powerful Carpenters local in
San Franciscoand the head of the San Francisco Building Trades Council, P.H. McCarthywas elected mayor of San Francisco in 1909, while unionists riding the wave of populist enthusiasm won office in many other communities. The union won wage and union protections similar to the Davis-Bacon Actduring World War I.
The Carpenters fought these same open shop battles a second time, after the end of World War I, when employers tried to impose their "American Plan" in the centers of union strength, such as San Francisco and
Chicago. While the employers were successful in some areas, the Carpenters came out of the 1920s with improved wages and relatively slight losses in membership.
Depression and change
The union lost more than half of its members in the first years of the
Great Depressionas construction dwindled to almost nothing. The Union at first opposed unemployment insurance, consistent with the conservative politics of the AFL and the deep-seated opposition of its President William Hutchesonto governmental intervention of any sort in labor and employment matters. The union eventually dropped its opposition to unemployment insurance by 1934.
The union also opposed
industrial unionism, claiming the right to represent any workers who might perform framing or other traditional carpenters' duties in industrial settings. While the union made concessions to those unions, such as the United Mine Workers of America, that had already established themselves as industrial unions, it opposed any support for organizing workers in mass production industries or permitting such organizations to affiliate with the AFL unless they first surrendered their skilled trade members.
This dispute came to a head at the AFL's convention in
Atlantic Cityin 1935, when Hutcheson interrupted a speech by a representative of the committee that was attempting to organize tire factory workers with a point of order. John L. Lewis, President of the Mine Workers, responded that Hutcheson's point of order was "small potatoes," to which Hutcheson replied "I was raised on small potatoes, that is why I am so small." Lewis left the podium and, after some more words, knocked Hutcheson down, then relit his cigar and returned to the rostrum. Lewis and a number of other unions left the AFL two years later to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
While the Carpenters disdained industrial unionism, they were willing to accept mass production workers into their own union, albeit as second-class members. The Carpenters had fought with the Wood Workers union chartered by the AFL for decades, claiming that any workers who planed wood products that were subsequently used in construction, such as doors, sashes, mouldings and the like, were performing carpenters' work and must be brought within its union. While the Carpenters had never made similar claims on work performed by sawmill workers, much less tried to organize them, the union successfully insisted that the AFL assign the newly created sawmill workers union to it in 1935. That forced marriage was not successful, as most of these workers soon bolted to form the
International Woodworkers of Americaand to join the CIO several years later.
Hutcheson ran the union without room for opposition to his administration; he revoked the charters of locals that opposed him or that he believed to be "communistic". He refused to permit the nomination of candidates to oppose him at the union's convention and named his own son, Maurice Hutcheson, First Vice-President in 1938. Maurice succeeded him on his retirement in 1952.
Hutcheson was a vocal opponent of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom he denounced as a "dictator" while campaigning for his opponent, Alf Landon, in 1936. Hutcheson's conservative politics and his conflict with the CIO may have played some part in the government's decision in 1940 to charge Hutcheson and other union leaders for criminal violations of the Sherman Actin 1940. The government claimed that the union's traditional methods of protecting its members' work — jurisdictional strikes, resistance to work-displacing technology, and featherbedding— were illegal restraints of trade. The United States Supreme Courtupheld the district court's dismissal of the indictment in the first prosecution brought by the government in United States v. Hutcheson, ussc|312|219|1941, ending any further prosecutions of the Carpenters.
The Carpenters found themselves in an unusual alliance with a coalition of other craft unions in
Hollywood, the Conference of Studio Unions, led by Herbert Sorrellof the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. After a long and drawn out strike caused by a divide and conquer strategy of the producers, CSU found itself forced out of Hollywood, leaving the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employeesas the primary representative of back lot crafts.
Challenge from non-union contractors
The Carpenters, like other building trades, had not faced serious employer opposition since the 1920s. This changed in the 1970s as the Business Roundtable, made up of the heads of General Motors,
General Electric, Exxon, U.S. Steel, DuPontand others, undertook a program to reduce building costs by replacing unionized with non-union contractors. The Roundtable also attempted to weaken the Davis-Bacon Act and other legislation that protected construction workers. The building trades, caught off guard and used to organizing from the top down, lost large amounts of work to non-union contractors in the decades that followed.
The Carpenters were formerly, like most other craft unions coming out of the AFL, a union that allowed its Locals substantial autonomy in bargaining and representing their members. The Carpenter's International began to consolidate Locals into a District Council system in 1988 and since the International Convention of 2000, a system of "Regional Councils" has been implemented, further reducing the number of districts and high ranking Board members from 13 down to 10.While it may be debatable whether McCarron's vision is better or worse for the International Carpenters Union as a whole, they are one of only a very few International Unions in America whose membership has been maintained or grown while most other Unions have seen large declines in membership.
Consolidation of Locals was to address the regionalization of the contracting industry. The contractor who only worked within the local area was quickly becoming a thing of the past, while non-Union contractors were free to move their crews - experienced with the company’s methods of operation - from job to job, Union Contractors could not move their workers beyond the borders of the District's jurisdictional boundaries without replacing their crews with new carpenters from the jurisdictional district outside the Contractor's home Council. Union contractors rightfully claimed the situation was making them less competitive than the non-Union crews, and the 50% rule was adopted. Union contractors may now use crews with one local Carpenter for each Company Carpenter on jobs outside their Region. The consolidation greatly expanded the boundaries of a Regional Council’s jurisdiction and left the consolidated areas with a larger Council better able to compete with the growing non-Union segment of specialized contractors. Because of the pervasive protectionism practiced by the Locals, free movement of workers within a Council was only possible after this authority was taken from the Locals and given to the Councils in the 1991 UBC Convention.)Within this new system, working Carpenters slowly lost the right to vote for their Local's Business Agents and Organizers, thus consolidating all power into the Regional Council's officers and leaving Locals and rank and file members to vote on Delegate to the intermederary Regional Councils. As the union began reorganizing its system of District Councils to give more power to Regional Councils, it consolidated Locals into fewer Charters and deprived local members of the right to vote on contract ratification, giving into the hands of the Regional Council Delegates as the contracts also expanded covering greater areas than a single Local.A Federal Court of Appeals first questioned, then approved the
United States Department of Labor's failure to treat these Councils as "local unions" for purposes of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act's requirements governing local union elections, the Department has announced its intent to reconsider its existing regulations on this issue.
The Carpenters disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO in 2001, citing complaints about the National Federation's failure to follow up on its program to organize the unorganized. Other observers attributed the Carpenters' departure to its unhappiness with jurisdictional awards and other restrictions on its ability to raid the jurisdictions of other unions, as well as the AFL-CIO's uncritical and exclusive support of the Democratic Party.
Even after it left the federation, however, the Carpenters formed a temporary alliance, the
New Unity Partnershipin 2003 and the Change to Win Coalitionwith other unions — including SEIU, UNITE HERE, and the Laborers — to force the AFL-CIO to consider basic structural changes in order to facilitate organizing.
* [http://members.aol.com/bbaker4583/history.html Brief official history of the Carpenters Union]
* [http://www.washingtonhistory.org/wshs/research/finding_aids.htm] provides finding aid to article subject from the Special Collections, Washington State Historical Society (WSHS)
*Brooks, Thomas R. "Road to Dignity." New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981. ISBN 0689112149
*Erlich, Mark. "With Our Hands: The Story of Carpenters in Massachusetts." Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 1986. ISBN 0877224331
*Galenson, Walter. "The United Brotherhood of Carpenters: The First Hundred Years." Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. ISBN 0674921968
*Geoghegan, Thomas. "Which Side Are You On?" Rev. ed. New York: The New Press, 2004. ISBN 1565848861
*Johnson, Clyde. "Organize or Die: Smash Boss Unionism - Build Union Power." Self-published, 1970.
*Johnson, Clyde. "Millmen 550—A History of the Militant Years (1961–1966) of Local 550, United Brotherhood of Carpenters." Self-published, 1990.
*Kazin, Michael. "Barons of Labor: The San Francisco Building Trades and Union Power in the Progressive Era." Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1987. ISBN 025201345X
*Schneirov, Richard and Suhrbur, Thomas J. "Union Brotherhood, Union Town: The History of the Carpenters' Union of Chicago, 1863-1987." Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. ISBN 0809313529
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