A former labor organizer with the New York City District Council of Carpenters claims he was fired as payback for identifying safety issues at a construction site run by the brother of the union’s then-president.
Michael Donnelly filed a lawsuit against the district council, former President Steve McInnis, his brother Charles McInnis and James Kennelly over his termination from the district council on May 9, 2017. Donnelly — who was tasked with visiting construction sites to promote the use of union labor and identify safety hazards — said in the suit that Steve McInnis instructed him to stay away from job sites controlled by certain developers and contractors with whom the then-president had a relationship.
On April 27, 2017, Donnelly visited several residential and commercial projects in the Rockaways, including 176-180 Beach 127th Street, according to the lawsuit. That site was controlled by Charles McInnis and Kennelly through their companies, Kennelly Development Double Rock Development, Belle Harbor 127 and I’ll Go Inc.
Kennelly and Donnelly spoke at the site, during which time Kennelly blamed union carpenters for “dropping a crane” during a former job and “putting him out of business,” according to the complaint. In 2008, a crane collapsed and killed seven people at a development site his company owned at 303 East 51st Street. Donnelly responded that carpenters don’t control cranes, and Kennelly instructed him to leave his job site, the lawsuit states.
Based on what he saw at the site, Donnelly reported various safety violations to the city Department of Buildings, the complaint states. He found that the project’s second floor terrace had no railing, and the exterior stairs from the first to the third floor had no hand rails, according to the lawsuit.
As a result of Donnelly’s visit — and a subsequent inspection by the DOB — the developers were issued $30,000 in penalties, according to the lawsuit. DOB records indicate the violation related to a lack of railings has been resolved but makes no mention of the $30,000 figure.
Two weeks after the violations were issued, on May 9, Donnelly was summoned to a meeting with Steve McInnis, where he was fired, according to the complaint. Donnelly alleges that he wasn’t given a reason for his termination. The District Council’s Director of Operations Matthew Walker only offered the explanation: the “District Council lost faith in you,” according to the complaint.
When Donnelly responded that he felt he was being fired for identifying issues at a construction site run by the president’s brother, McInnis allegedly screamed at him: “You’re fired for being insubordinate.”
Donnelly was denied a meeting with the District Council’s Executive-Secretary Treasurer Joseph Geiger to discuss his firing, according to the lawsuit.
Steve and Charles McInnis and Kennelly didn’t return calls and emails seeking comment. In a statement, Matt Walker, the director of operations for the District Council, said, “This is an example of a frivolous lawsuit that is being used by a disgruntled former employee as a mechanism to gain media attention.”
Shortly after Donnelly’s termination in 2017, The Real Deal reported that several union members felt he had let go out of retaliation. At the time, Donnelly hadn’t filed any actions against the union.
Steve McInnis resigned from the District Council last year amid unspecified allegations of misconduct. In a letter to a federal judge in June, Donnelly and another union member, Peter Corrigan, claimed that McInnis was fired over allegations that he sexually harassed a female employee and accused the District Council’s leadership of keeping the allegations secret for several months. Donnelly’s new lawsuit briefly mentions the sexual harassment allegations in a footnote.
Donnelly claims that as a result of his firing, he’s “emotionally distressed, physically distraught and sustained shock to his nervous system.”
The District Council has been under the supervision of an independent monitor since 1994, following federal corruption and extortion cases. Court documents indicate that the current monitor’s term ends March 31, 2019, at which time it’s expected that all of the monitor’s investigative work will be transferred to the District Council’s Office of the Inspector General.