- Terelle Jerricks
The storied local’s dissolution was as shocking as it was quick in coming
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
On Aug. 13, members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local #2375, known by most in the Los Angeles Harbor as the Piledrivers Union, were shocked to learn that Local #2375 was dissolved and assigned to a new chartered local without even having a say in the matter.
Effective Aug. 14, Local 2375 and 14 other locals in the Southwest Council were replaced with seven new locals. All “affiliate local union” were restructured into zip-code districts. Local #2375 was ‘signed over’ in compliance with the Regional Council Plan on Aug. 11 at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ San Diego Delegates meeting.
The letter posted at the Wilmington business office stated that the Wilmington business office will be combined with Carpenters Local #630 to become Local #562 in Long Beach and members will be reassigned to others new local union districts by zip-code. No explanation was given, other than “This is the Plan.”
A sign on the back fence summed up the general feeling of how this decision came about and delivered:
“We own you, you pay us money so you can work, you have no say in the future of how this organization works, you work for us!
To most in the Local, this wasn’t a restructuring. This was a ‘rude takeover.’”
Outgoing president of Local 2375 Thomas Ledesma expressed with regret with the way the restructuring went down on an Aug. 13 Facebook posting.
“[I] went by the hall this morning at 6 am. It’s already going down. As the outgoing President I feel very responsible. I wish I had more answers.”
Past Local #2375 president, Bill Myers, was one of those shocked by the move, though not entirely surprised. He said he warned of something like this happening in the past and it now came to fruition.
Myers noted that the change has made the geographical area broader but didn’t broaden the scope of the work.
“If you take away the autonomy of the local union and its all under the regional council all the local workers are employees of the regional council,” Meyers explained.
A map released by the regional council seems to confirm Meyers observation, but a letter attached to the map written by the Carpenter’s Union executive secretary-treasurer noted that the broadened jurisdictional map doesn’t affect wages or benefits.
Myers said he struggled to get into the local’s building to retrieve private property that was on loan to the local, including photographs taken by famed labor photographer, Slobodan Dimitrov, and tools his father used during his day as an active member of the local.
This action by the Regional Council of Carpenters closes the doors on 114-year history of Bridge, Dock and Wharf Builders and Pile Drivers as a specialty local union membership.
Local #2375 was originally organized in 1904 in San Pedro and was instrumental in the construction of offshore marine facilities, inland water projects and roadway inter-structure.
The move is part of a general restructuring of United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ Western District and a continuation of the anti-democratic measures pushed by the national leaders on down.
The Carpenters, like most other craft unions coming out of the American Federation of Labor, use to be a union that allowed its locals substantial autonomy in bargaining and representing their members. That began to change in 1988, when the United Brotherhood of Carpenters International began consolidating locals into a district council system.
Since the International Convention of 2000, a system of regional councils has been implemented, further reducing the number of districts and high ranking board members from 13 down to 10.
The change was intended to address the regionalization of the contracting industry. The days in which contractors involved in the construction trades worked locally had given way to working further afield.
While non-union contractors were free to move their crews from one job to the next, union contractors could not move their workers beyond the borders of the district’s jurisdictional boundaries without replacing their crews with new carpenters from the jurisdictional district outside the contractor’s home council.
This situation made union crews less competitive than the non-union crews. The 50-percent rule was adopted to remedy the situation. The 50-percent rule allow union contractors to use crews with one local Carpenter for each company-chosen Carpenter on jobs outside their region.
The consolidation greatly expanded the boundaries of a regional council’s jurisdiction and left the consolidated areas with a larger council better able to compete with the growing non-union segment of specialized contractors.
Because of the pervasive protectionism practiced by the locals, free movement of workers within a council was only possible after this authority was taken from the locals and given to the councils in the 1991 United Brotherhood of Carpenters Convention.
However, under this new system, working Carpenters slowly lost the right to vote for their local’s business agents and organizers, thus consolidating all power with the regional council’s officers at the expense of the locals. The rank-and-file members do get to vote on the delegates to the intermediary regional councils.