Douglas J. McCarron, seeking his third term as carpenters union president, hailed the unions withdrawal from the AFL-CIO nearly five years ago as a trailblazing action that was good for members.
In his opening day speech Aug. 22 at the carpenters 39th general convention in Las Vegas, McCarron told approximately 2,000 delegates that the AFL-CIO "chose to spend our money on...consultants in [Washington] D.C. and not on the carpenters in the workplace."
He noted that six other unions also recognized the need for change in the labor federation, a nod to the unions that in June formed the Change to Win Coalition. Three of those unions, representing teamsters, service employees and food and commercial workers, disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO in July (ENR 8/1 p. 12).
But McCarrons departure from the federation and in turn the Building and Construction Trades Dept., along with his leadership style, also has generated opposition from some rank-and-file members. An opposition slate challenging his reelection garnered some support but was not expected to unseat McCarron at the Aug. 25 election.
Presidential challenger Tom Lewandowski, a member and past officer of Local 792 in Rockford, Ill., charges that McCarron has taken members rights away. "For anyone to make those types of decisions, they should have input from the membership," he argues.
Ken Little, a member of Local 144 in Seattle and a challenger for general secretary-treasurer, says he fears the disaffiliation could create "open warfare" on jobsites. Little also criticized McCarrons philosophy that a union be run like a corporation. Little challenged McCarron for the top post in 2000.
Showing signs that his business savvy has paid off, McCarron reported that the union collects $18 million in annual rent at the 10-story, 750,000-sq-ft office building it opened in 2001 on a prime piece of Washington, D.C., real estate. Carpenters also have saved roughly $16 million in AFL-CIO dues since the withdrawal.