In the months following the indictment of James Cahill, president of the state’s Building and Construction Trades Council, authorities accused the labor leader of having “extensive ties to members of organized crime.” The BCTC’s executive board also voted to replace him.
Since that unpublicized vote, Gary LaBarbera has served as head of the organization, which represents more than 200,000 unionized construction workers. He is also still president of the city’s chapter, a position he has held since 2009.
There was little public fanfare when LaBarbera took over for Cahill, who was among nine construction union officials indicted in October 2020 on charges of racketeering, bribery and fraud. In an interview Thursday, LaBarbera called the indictments “very disappointing.”
“I only know what is in the public domain, and I believe he is entitled to due process,” he said. “My focus now is advancing the interest of the hardworking men and women of the New York State Building Trades.”
The umbrella group was not named as a defendant in the indictment.
LaBarbera isn’t the first to hold both the city and state roles simultaneously. The late Peter Brannan did from 1957 to 1992, except for his two years as secretary of labor under the Nixon and Ford administrations. Edward Malloy held both jobs from 1992 to 2008 and remained the state chapter’s president for another four years.
This also isn’t the first time LaBarbera has taken the helm of a union organization in crisis. He was largely credited with helping to turn around the mob-infiltrated Teamsters Local 282 in the 1990s, first as a court-approved trustee and then as president. In 2007 he was elected president of City Central Labor Council after its head was indicted on racketeering charges.
As the head of the state organization, LaBarbera is taking a more active role in Albany. Over the past few months, he pushed for prevailing wage rules to apply to renewable energy projects of 5 megawatts or more, which was included in the state budget.
In 2019, LaBarbera’s city group and the Real Estate Board of New York agreed to work together on political and legislative initiatives where their interests aligned. This year, both groups advocated for an alternative compliance option for the city’s building emissions cap, but failed to get it into the state budget.
LaBarbera is now turning his efforts toward a bill that would make general contractors liable for outstanding wages or benefits owed to their subcontractors on a project. The bill, which was approved by the Assembly in January, would also allow the subcontractor to authorize any “person, organization or collective bargaining agent” to file a complaint on its behalf.
The measure faces opposition from nonunion groups. Brian Sampson, president of the New York chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, said lawsuits against construction employers should be left up to the Department of Labor, the state attorney general and local district attorneys.
“Leave it to the experts to represent the workers,” he said. “We don’t need third-party people stepping in the middle.”
If the bill passes the Senate, it has a good chance of being signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has long been an ally of construction unions. LaBarbera said the lines of communication with the governor’s office remained open during the budget process, despite scandals dogging the governor.
When asked about the allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Cuomo, LaBarbera called them serious and said the women making them “should be heard.” But he said, “The governor is entitled to due process.”