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Organizer or Fraud –

Before we get into Labor Rising’s Part 3 discussion about the trades’ multi-decade losing streak & how to change it, I will respond to the numerous requests I’ve received through the years to provide some accounts of my direct organizing experiences and campaigns – some good campaigns and some not so good.

Here is a link to my bio for your consideration:!AmKOi71GyLcgvUChl5ympdbuD_GU?e=EM6rLZ  For me, it began in 1993. We elected a new BM in ‘93 and early on in his administration he reported to the membership that Local 1 had a significant non-union issue in both the city and outlying areas of our jurisdiction. After just a few months, he asked me to take on a position as the first organizer in many decades for Ironworkers Local 1, Chicago.

IW Local 1 BM arranged for me to train with Brent Emons, BM of IW Local 8, for three weeks. We drove throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as he introduced me to his field organizers and campaign after campaign that they were involved in at the time, acquainting me with both rural and urban types of campaigns and why each was chosen. I was overwhelmed, but Brother Brent was always available to mentor me – only condition being was that I had to keep advancing my skills.

My next stop was training with Electricians District 6 organizers for one week. Imagine, one IW with 26 electricians – they tried to kick my ass, but it wasn’t happening 😊. This was a no-nonsense training focused on how to build your market and win, well prior to the “let’s get along” Value on Display BS marketing and branding programs now common place in all trades. I also trained with PW, KH, JS and several others as the years went by. In addition, I attended the Labor College which, admittedly by that time, was a let down because the real life, hands-on learning with my fellow tradesmen was heads and tails more advanced than what the Labor College provided.

So, picking some favorites and losers is not that easy, but here goes.

A Good Campaign (actually a Win-Win) –

One of our (Local 1 IW) best was the 1995 campaign with Chem Central, located on 73rd & Harlem, Bridgeview, IL. Chem Central was building a 400,000 sq. ft. metal building, and metal buildings were a disaster for the IW’s. A huge percentage of all metal buildings were non-union everywhere, including Chicago. Brent Emons had the only strategy for winning campaigns with metal buildings, and he allowed me to use it. Also, we had a few wild cards to think through with Chem Central. One major wild card was that the Teamsters delivered the chemicals: 112 drivers 24/7 at this location.

I met with the Teamster Tanker BA, Steve M. We both wanted to talk through what would happen if IW 1 picketed the site. The Teamsters at that time were in a pitched battle with employers in the chemical industry and Chem Central was at the top of the list for upcoming negotiations. The Teamsters felt that they did not have the leverage for a successful contract. The IW’s and other trades were, for all intents and purposes, locked out of the gated industrial areas throughout Chicago and hundreds of thousands of hours of total work!

We knew that if IW 1 picketed, it would become a 2-gate job. The BM of IW 1 and the President of Teamsters Joint Council 25 made a handshake agreement that as long as the IW’s maintained a picket at the site, the teamsters would honor it. IW 1 knew that we had to taint the gate – and we did around noon. Pickets went up on the site on Wednesday – everyone but the metal building erector left the job and the teamsters quit delivering the chemicals to clients.

The next day the gate was rehabilitated and Local 1’s pickets were supposed to come down. By this time, 4 shifts of teamsters had stayed out; no chemicals were being delivered. IW Local 1 DID NOT take our pickets down. This resulted in a ULP, which then went to a cease and desist and then to an injunction. We purposely planned the action to begin on a Wednesday knowing that it would TYPICALLY take 3 days +/- for an injunction. This type of “order” does not recognize a weekend. However, the weekend typically breaks the flow, which could extend the timetable.

Even on the weekend when the non-union workers left the job, we kept our pickets up, citing the fact that all their tools and equipment stayed on the job.

By this time Chem Central had lost 15 shifts going into Monday morning and multi-millions of dollars of deliveries. Before the picket started, IW 1 knew all of the clients in the delivery routes from working with the Teamsters. Supplies were running low at Chem Central’s clients’ places of business, as most were just-in-time deliveries. So, those clients were reminded that they perhaps needed to contact other chemical companies to arrange obtaining the chemicals they needed!

We also knew that some of the penalties for our actions, or rather inactions for basically ignoring the injunction, would be fines. But back then, IW Local 1 was pretty much broke with very little in the general fund and the International was less than effective. So, fines would have a minimal impact as “you can’t get blood out of a turnip.” The R&F held the picket & the teamsters stayed out. Our BM struck a deal to take down our illegal pickets once our contractor had the work at that and three other sites. Also drop all legal actions taken. The Teamsters went back to work and had solid success with negotiations there and with other chemical companies they drove for.

Subsequently, IW Local 1 also had an understanding with JC 25 Teamsters Local 786 Concrete Drivers. They would honor IW pickets going forward. We wove that into the metal building strategy from Brother Brent and went from 2 local metal building contractors to 11 in three years at full CBA rates, 8 of which had been non-union contractors. However, Meco & Atlantic from out of state never erected again in Chicago even though they were signed.

And by the way, according to the LM, IW Local 1’s general fund went from basically broke in ‘93 to having $18 million in 2008 when that BM left; another $2 million more in the organizing fund; and a working assessment down to 2½% for a 2,000-member local. The union also paid the entire memberships dues for a couple of years.

We always went after the wallet of those that hired the non-union sub, as it’s almost always a waste of time going after the sub. I would tell you that it is easier to do it today; however, the Internationals DO NOT want you/us anywhere near the alliances they are part of.

Lesson learned: Do the research and work necessary to have a solid handle on the environment you are working to organize and use every available advantage, including building alliances with other union organizations to buttress leverage. The thumbnail version of this strategy: We organized – We imposed a CBA on contractors – We did not and do not ask! We win contractors with pressure.

A quick but effective win inside the house –

One of the first huge data centers in Chicagoland was being built along Rt. 294 – all union. Sounds good. But the electrical sub-station turned out to be an out-of-town electrical contractor with an out-of-town agreement building a good-sized sub-station. The BM of 134 was not a happy camper. By the time the sub-station was being built there were lots of electricians on the job. And to boot, the IW BA in the area was getting heat about the rebar; which means I was getting heat, too. Electricians 134 & IW 1 have a great relation; however, the out-of-town electricians were doing the rods on the sub-station. Fitz, BM of 134, called me on the side and asked what if anything we could do. Understand that I was in District 6 training years ago and had been training organizers from the electricians for years long before Labor Rising evolved. I respectfully told Fitz and my BA not to talk to anyone, including the members on the job. Two days later my research indicated that NO ONE had claimed the work with statements to the CM like “this is our work” from either the electricians or IW’s. So, IW Local 1 put up an Area Standards Picket at 5 am, shutting down the entire job – approximately 450 union workers – and IW 1 picketers documented everything. The agents from both unions instructed the electricians and IW’s NOT to say anything to anyone, suspecting the CM may want to set us up for changes and/or a lawsuit. No more issues with the out-of-town contractor after the picket! The CM tried in vain to sue us – no dice.

Not a good campaign –

The precast FABRICATORS put the IW’s and brickies in a bind. Our two unions had a living and working agreement that set out the terms for precast in our jurisdiction. Trip ups – brickies. Structural – IW’s. Architectural – composite. The fabricators decided that it should all be done with the BAC. Several large structural precast erectors, doing approximately 500,000 hours of work on the IW side, would be at a huge competitive disadvantage if the fabricators would deal with erectors exclusively signed with the BAC. And out of thin air, a few erectors signed with only the BAC, with more on the way appeared.

Perhaps the fabricators calculated the IW’s would just collapse or talk ourselves out of existence. Understandably, my BM was not thrilled. He asked what could be done if the existing agreements continued to be ignored, and I told him we could organize those companies under the IW’s as long as the R&F brickies wanted to vote that way. They did almost unanimously at three erectors. We lost a close election with one; however, the erector chose to stay in compliance with the agreement. So, it was a push. Organizers could now turn their attention to those erectors newly signed by the BAC doing structural precast. We had many tactics available and ultimately saw most of those exclusively signed by the BAC leave the market and/or go out of business. The IW’s never went after the trip ups – even though those members made strong requests to be given a vote and organized.

NOTE: The only “silver lining” to the IW/Brickies’ unfortunate chapter in both of our histories is that we used similar tactics joyfully against the Carpenters. The BAC is a solid union – the Carpenters senior leaders absolutely NOT!

Our local, with myself at the top of that list, really wanted to take on the fabricators because they were responsible for the trades fighting. All the big fabricators were located outside of our jurisdiction. We didn’t care, we attacked anyway. Big problem was that if we won an election for the workers, our fab/shop Local 473 was not up to the task of representing these workers – approximately 900 of them at 4 separate fab plants. The former BM, Brother U Sr. & Brother C. of Local 473, were real organizers; those after them, however, were talking heads who knew what wine to have with dinner and not much more.

On top of that, having talked with the Hispanic leaders who understood the hiring at those facilities, it was clear that they would not endorse a no-holds-barred organizing drive. HOWEVER! They did tell me they would instruct the workers to sign lots of cards so I could file an election petition. I just would not win it. The result would be that the IW’s would put some pressure on the fabricators while Local 1 was organizing the structural erectors effectively opening up a new front that the fabricators had to deal with. Also, the workers would secure some additional wages and benefits!

Then I let my emotions take over. I planned on finding a boss or two and convince them to be tough on the workers, even threatening them in plain view of others, ramping up the threats to justify a Gissel Order at the NLRB based on a toxic atmosphere in order to circumvent an election altogether. I assumed (which puts me at fault) that those Hispanic leaders would allow that sort of “theater”. I was dead wrong. It was the first and only time I let the situation get the better of me because of my own emotions and ego!

Lesson learned: Put your ego and emotions aside. And know that losing a campaign can help in winning down the road “if” you effectively learn from it. Making organizing overly personal generally leads to failure and excuses.

When I returned from training under both Brent and District 6, we immediately went to work on building a research ability to proceed any campaign.

Local 1 also instituted C.O.M.E.T., a 5-hour version of the class and, as Brent taught me, to immediately put our volunteer field organizers to work. They were all trained in labor law and dealing with law enforcement. We typically had 10 to 25 in the field daily. We paid those field organizers a stipend of $50 and then $70 a day. The Fin/Sec wrote $5,000 to $10,000 checks per week. The expenditure was well worth it, as that is how our local went from broke to $18 million in the kitty!

Local 1 volunteer organizers were anchored by the retirees and they where formidable on the job and during campaigns.

Our local took back metal buildings, small steel and fabrication, small rebar and overhead cranes. We also crushed those working on the condo residential markets.

Our biggest wins were signing scores of GC’s. IW 1 had approximately 70 total GC’s signed. No small feat. We had 6 GC’s who self-performed. However, non-union and even non-signatory GC’s thought they would wear us out with jurisdictional & non-union BS hiring sub after sub. We didn’t take the bait. We had several tactics for getting the GC’s in our crosshairs and sign them. Liquidated damages were one of our best friends!  We had little problem with the CM, developer and even the end-users after that campaign, which took a few years.

We used our target fund 4 times – that’s it. We never liked using our own money to subsidize a job.

Seldom did we use a lawyer and go to the Labor Board. If we lost, we reloaded and learned from it.

Our organizers attended several Union Avoidance seminars and learned a lot about management’s lawyers and tactics.

We used Salts, but Peppers were our go to play for intel. And we attacked hiring fairly well – both covert and overt. Peppers had a high threshold to meet in order to gain entry to our union. When they did, members did not give them grief because they EARNED that right. Stripping & recruiting nowadays is mostly bush-league stuff because most of those we train have never done EVEN an Exit Interview to gain solid inside info on the non/anti-union contractor. Sad.

We did marketing way back then, but always on a research-driven basics. We had legit marketing presence and I had to attend business style marketing classes – Carhartt meets suit & tie!

When I left as organizer, Ironworkers Local 1 had approximately 300 signed contractors including the GC’s. We gave a tad over 100 contractors their wish – to go out of business rather than sign with us!  

In closing, we at Labor Rising have always issued a challenge to Sean Mc and the IP’s. Put us anywhere and organizing will take root. Come on – call our bluff if you think that is what it is!

Next blog will discuss Part 3 of strategies and tactics for how the R & F can send strong notice to the trades senior leaders and management that the members can control the situation or chose to continue to whine and cry. Our choice.

“if you see a good fight – get in it”

Danny L Caliendo


Labor Rising


PS – hello to son Andy Local 134 Electrician – very proud & Oorah!

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