James W. Cahill, president of New York State's Building & Construction Trades Council, has pleaded guilty to bribery charges that he accepted more than $140,000 from open shop contractors in exchange for helping them win contracts, federal prosecutors announced.

Cahill was charged two years ago—along with 10 officials of plumbers’ and pipefitters' union Local 638 and Local 200 in New York City and Long Island—with soliciting bribes between 2018 and 2020 that were also made in exchange for helping nonunion firms avoid employing building trades workers. 

A former business agent of Local 638, Cahill introduced the unnamed nonunion contractors to many of the other defendants. He advised one contractor that it could "reap the benefits of being associated with the unions without actually signing union agreements or employing union workers," said prosecutors. 

Some payments were cash that was handed over in restaurant bathrooms, prosecutors claimed. In exchange for the cash and other things of value, the union officials agreed to help the nonunion contractors employ union workers at lower rates or represent to developers that open shop craft workers were in fact union members.

"The defendants exploited their union positions and hard-working union members to feed their own greed," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement. "They accepted bribes to corruptly favor non-union employers and influence the construction trade in New York."

Some bribes were paid via unreimbursed loans, free meals and drinks, improvements to personal property and supply of home appliances, prosecutors alleged. Numerous bribes ranged from $1,500 to $3,000.

According to information released by the union in 2017, Cahill was instrumental in labor agreements that guaranteed major New York projects would be performed by union employers. He had worked closely with former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pledged that all public works built with state funds would go to union employers.

Since Cahill's indictment, the trades council executive board voted to replace him, reported The Real Deal. Gary LaBarbera, who was leader of the building trades council in New York City, stepped into the role of state council president.