A ‘deathblow’ or a market saver? Carpenters’ union inks new contentious contract

The contract set new wages for interior construction work
By Kathryn Brenzel | July 11, 2019 11:30AM

(Credit: iStock and Google Maps)

(Credit: iStock and Google Maps)

In its latest bid to compete with the rising tide of nonunion workers, New York City’s carpenters’ union on Wednesday approved a controversial deal with interior construction contractors.

The delegates of the New York City District Council of Carpenters voted unanimously in favor of a collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Wall-Ceiling & Carpentry Industries, a trade organization that represents interior contractors. The five-year contract sets new wage rates and worker ratios for commercial, residential and hotel work in the city.

One of the most contentious aspects of the contract is the creation of a new category of journeyperson (a skilled worker who has completed a union apprenticeship program). To be a “certified journeyperson,” a carpenter must log 10,000 hours of interior work, though those who become a journeyperson before December 31, 2018, will automatically be considered “certified,” according to the contract. Certified journeypersons are higher paid than their non-certified counterparts, with the difference in hourly wages ranging from $11.31 to $12.09, while benefits differ between $7.06 and $22.03 (depending on the location and type of work), according to the contract.

Union members held a rally outside the District Council on Wednesday ahead of the vote. Levi Messinetti, president of Local 157, likened the deal to one made by the high-rise concrete union, Local 212, (which is also overseen by the District Council). Four years ago, the Local created “provisional journeypersons,” who were paid less than full-fledged journeypersons. Like in the Wall & Ceiling contract, the new positions were aimed at cutting costs by creating a workforce with more varied skill levels and wage rates. Under the new contract, at least 30 percent of a crew must be made up of apprentices and no more than 40 percent can consist of certified journeypersons.

“I’ve never seen an [interior work] contract like this,” Messinetti said. “Anytime you introduce a B-rate worker, it’s a death blow.”

The proposed agreement indicates that the contract is part of an effort to “combat the effects of nonunion construction in interior carpentry, and in an effort to recover this market for the benefit of union labor represented by the District Council.” The carpenters and other unions have worked with developers and contractors to find middle ground in light of nonunion construction’s growth in the city. One of the most public examples of this was when the carpenters cut a deal with Related Companies at Hudson Yards.

”The terms of the contract will ensure the Council’s signatory contractors remain competitive in a rapidly evolving market and more of our members are going to work,” Joseph Geiger, executive secretary treasurer of District Council, said in a statement. “Leadership at the District Council is committed to making the tough decisions that prepares the union and our signatory contractors for the future.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the length of the contract. It’s a five-year deal.