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Old 04-29-2010, 06:57 PM   #1
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Default Carpenters vs Electricians in St. Louis

I can't believe I am posting this but I probably will have no comment

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An old-fashioned labor dispute splits two St. Louis trade unions
A quiet, long-simmering feud between two prominent St. Louis labor organizations erupted openly this month in a torrent of insinuations, veiled threats and acts of vandalism.

Tension between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1 and the Carpenters' District Council of St. Louis is so intense that the two unions have been summoned to a meeting to air and perhaps resolve their differences.

The meeting, jointly called by the general president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and his counterpart in the Washington headquarters of the IBEW, will be May 3 at a hotel near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

A resolution can't come quickly enough for Duke Northcutt, one of 200 contractors affiliated with Associated Electrical Contractors Local 57, the start-up chartered 18 months ago by the carpenters union to provide area construction clients with an alternative to the 4,000-member Local 1, the nation's first and oldest IBEW bargaining unit.

A longtime employee of Reinhold Electric, Northcutt arrived at work on April 7 and discovered the numbers "57" spray-painted, with a slash through the numerals, on the white facade of the electric parts distributorship Reinhold operates on Lemay Ferry Road in Affton.

St. Louis County police later noticed vandals had also tossed rocks through the $20,000 sign that Reinhold erected outside the business two months ago.

A county police spokesman said the department was actively investigating two acts of vandalism against Local 57 contractors.

"We don't want to see it get worse," said Northcutt, careful to avoid naming the person or persons he believes were responsible. "If they (commit) acts like this, we feel that it might lead to other actions."

The IBEW unit president, Stephen Schoemehl, refused to be drawn into the fray.

"At this point I'm not going to answer allegation for allegation," said Schoemehl, declining to comment further except to express disappointment at the public airing of the disagreement before the May 3 meeting.
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A series of profanity-laden e-mails Schoemehl and his brother Tim wrote to carpenters union president Terry Nelson, however, makes it clear that Local 1 questions the legitimacy of the Associated Electrical Contractors.

In one of the messages obtained by the Post-Dispatch, Stephen Schoemehl on April 16 called Nelson a "twisted, anti-labor, egotistical little (expletive deleted)" and warned that "the walls are closing in little man — good stuff coming your way."

Nelson said he did not respond.

If the meeting next month settles the differences separating the labor organizations, it will bring an end to more than three years of acrimony. Nelson traces the problems to carpenters who balked at work rules they claim were imposed by Local 1 during the construction of the Lumière Place casino in downtown St. Louis.

The issue at the casino, Nelson and others say, focused on whether union electrical contractors were the only workers qualified to plug cords from electric window blinds into wall sockets.

"They (Local 1) always claim it's (their) work because it has an electrical connection," said Mark Deuster, owner of Deuster Electric in Oakville.

Deuster is one of 12 electrical contractors employing AEC workers. His business was damaged last summer by vandals who sprayed orange and black paint on the interior and exterior of a company truck.

Like the damage at Reinhold Electric, the perpetrators in the August incident left a painted "57" — with the slash — as a calling card.

In a third incident, AEC-affiliated contractor, Gerhard Glassl, the president of Crown Electrical Contracting in St. Louis, reported damage to his business on the same night vandals struck at Reinhold Electric, April 7.

Photos taken at the scene show the slashed "57" painted on two of Glassl's trucks. A brick shattered the rear window of one of the vehicles.

Vehicles sporting a circular sticker with a slashed "57" can be found in the south St. Louis lot adjacent to Local 1 headquarters.

Nelson says the incidents point to a larger, more troubling outcome.

"It's an example of why developers from outside fly over St. Louis," he said. "Because unions like the IBEW say, 'It's our way or the highway.'"

Some say the debate — spawned by arcane rules delineating responsibility at Lumière and other construction sites — really exposes the long-standing personal animosity between Schoemehl and Nelson.

"Those two need to calm down," said Jim LaMantia, the executive director of PRIDE of St. Louis, an organization that has worked behind the scenes to promote labor harmony among the region's construction trade unions since 1972.

LaMantia spent the better part of a year mediating the arguments separating Schoemehl and Nelson. In January, LaMantia said, the two sides reached an agreement. "I have a signed document," LaMantia proclaimed. Now, he acknowledged, it's null and void.

Shortly after the document was signed, Nelson and the carpenters abruptly ended their association with PRIDE.

"(Nelson) walked away from the table and he hasn't come back," LaMantia said.

Nelson said the carpenters withdrew from PRIDE because "we didn't have any voice over there."

The rest of PRIDE membership, he pointed out, is associated with the St. Louis Building and Construction Trade Council, a group the carpenters broke with seven years ago.

Nor is there a relationship between the 18,000 members of the Carpenters' District and the St. Louis Labor Council. The Labor Council is affiliated with the AFL-CIO; the local district's parent organization, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, split with the AFL-CIO in 2001.

St. Louis is certainly no stranger to disputes over labor jurisdiction at construction sites.

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the area's ironworkers often clashed with members of the glaziers union over which organization bore responsibility for the installation of windows and other glass components.

The effort to resolve those type of conflicts amicably led to the formation of PRIDE.

Victor Devinatz, a professor at Illinois State University and an expert on labor practices and history, said the decline of organized labor membership over the past 20 years had contributed to a lessening of the tension that once dominated the movement.

Standoffs between union locals in the 21st century, Devinatz said, are unusual but not extinct.

It happens, he said, "when a union feels it's easier to increase membership by poaching from other organizations, rather than going to the trouble of trying to organize new members."

Devinatz said the antipathy between Locals 1 and 57 didn't fit that mold.

But the alleged backlash, namely the property destruction, harkens back to a time when the labor movement was dominated by pro- and anti-communist sympathizers.

LaMantia's roots in local labor go back 42 years. He refrained from elaborating on intense union conflicts of the past, fearing it would open old wounds.

The current imbroglio, he says, "is as bad as it's been in a long, long time."

The members of the Associated Electrical Contractors, the businesses that employ them and representatives of the carpenter's union insist Local 57 is not intent on busting up Local 1.

"(Local 57) was never anti-union," said Albert Bond, assistant executive and secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters Council. "But (Local 1) is not the only game in town anymore. Some people may not like that, but that's America."

Still, there are questions — alluded to in the Schoemehls' e-mail correspondence with Nelson — over the AEC's ability to compete on the same playing field with 119-year-old Local 1.

In a letter to the AEC dated April 6, the U.S. Labor Department wrote that Local 57 did not comply with federal standards guiding electrical apprenticeship programs. The department gave the local 60 days to initiate "corrective action" to rectify seven substandard practices ranging from improper supervision to the hourly wages paid the local's apprentices.

Nelson said the AEC informed the Labor Department last week that it had addressed the issues raised by the agency.

Dean Guido, the director of apprenticeship training, employer and labor services in the Labor Department's Chicago office, could not confirm that the AEC was now in compliance.

LaMantia doesn't question AEC's legitimacy — "they wouldn't have sat at our table if they weren't legitimate," he said — but he does venture that Schoemehl and Nelson chose a rather inopportune time to pick a fight.

Citing numbers provided by members, the executive director of PRIDE pegs the current unemployment rate among workers in the local construction trades at 35 percent to 40 percent.

LaMantia worries that the fallout from an old-fashioned labor skirmish might further dent the region's efforts to attract outside business interests.

"Anything that is negative like this can have an impact on development," he said.

Despite a near-total breakdown in communications with the leader of the carpenters union, LaMantia emphasizes that the door is still open for Nelson's return to the PRIDE table. Nelson, as of late last week, said he had no intention of reclaiming his seat.

LaMantia hopes the meeting at Lambert will change Nelson's mind.

Speaking from experience, LaMantia says the facilitators are facing some formidable obstacles come May 3.

"I've seen this kind of arguing before and, to put it politely, these sort of disagreements come and go," he said. "Will we get beyond this? Yes, we will. Do I know how we'll get beyond it? No, I don't."

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Old 04-29-2010, 07:01 PM   #2
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I'm shocked

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Old 04-29-2010, 07:17 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by wildleg View Post
I'm shocked
Yeah, that kind of stuff never happens.
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Old 04-29-2010, 07:26 PM   #4
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Sounds like "Real Houswives of St. Louis."
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Old 04-29-2010, 07:27 PM   #5
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Sounds just about right for St Louis.
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Old 04-29-2010, 07:42 PM   #6
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St Louis has a long history of organized crime...sounds about right, that an anti-union org would vandalize their own stuff to discredit labor...i'm not shocked.

I'm just sayin', lol...
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:06 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by millerdrr View Post
St Louis has a long history of organized crime...sounds about right, that an anti-union org would vandalize their own stuff to discredit labor...i'm not shocked.

I'm just sayin', lol...
How can a union be anti-union?

Just because they aren't the IBEW doesn't mean they aren't a union.

I know the IBEW never resorts to thuggish tactics and vandalism, but for some reason I find myself believing the story.

But that's probably because I am anti-union and love to see the IBEW get what it deserves, bad press.
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:14 PM   #8
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There is a ton of things worse than this that go down in St Louis that never makes it to the press. It's a trashy ghetto of a town, and that is the high points.
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:16 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by millerdrr View Post
St Louis has a long history of organized crime...sounds about right, that an anti-union org would vandalize their own stuff to discredit labor...i'm not shocked.

I'm just sayin', lol...
That was funny. That's a viewpoint that I never considered, and it seems probably, at least.
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Old 05-01-2010, 01:53 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by MDShunk View Post
That was funny. That's a viewpoint that I never considered, and it seems probably, at least.
Just trollin' a bit...

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