The AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh this month was the backdrop for the latest salvo between the federation’s Building and Construction Trades Dept. and its long-missing member, the carpenters’ union, over recruiting practices in a recession-impacted marketplace. The AFL-CIO on Sept. 16 passed a resolution urging the carpenters’ union to reaffiliate but also authorizing member unions to compete with it in organizing carpenters in certain markets.

Resolution 70, passed unanimously, urges the 500,000-member United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners to end its “go-it-alone policy” and realign with both the AFL-CIO and BCTD, which represents 13 construction craft unions. The carpenters left both in 2001 over differences in philosophy and leadershipand later joined the maverick Change-to-Win union movement. Published reports say the union recently left that group but carpenter officials do not confirm it.

The resolution, which combined versions proposed by the painters’ and sheet-metal workers’ unions, authorizes BCTD to form an “organizing committee” to recruit carpenters, with union presidents’ approval. Sources say the move is an effort to counteract what they say is aggressive carpenters’ union organizing of BCTD-union craft workers in recent years. “The atmosphere that led to passage of Resolution 70 was created through the direct result of ‘raiding’ practices embraced” by the carpenters’ union, says BCTD. “No man or organization is an island unto themselves,” it adds, referring to union President Doug McCarron. “It is a line in the sand,” says James Williams, painters’ union president.

James Williams
“A line in the sand.”

But in a statement, carpenter’s union President Douglas J. McCarron terms the resolution a “solution in search of a problem.” Adds Mark Furman, a carpenters’ union executive in Las Vegas, “The idea that they are going to charter carpenter locals does not make any sense, given the reality of what it takes to organize. It is going to require much more commitment and tenacity than [BCTD] has shown thus far.”

Vincent J. Giblin, president of the operating engineers’ union, which remains in the AFL-CIO but left BCTD in 2006, called the resolution “hypocritical, counterproductive and dangerous,” in a Sept. 21 letter to newly elected federation President Richard L. Trumka. The laborers’ union, which is part of BCTD but not in AFL-CIO, declined comment on the resolution and on the carpenters rejoining the federation.