Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review officer slams Carpenters Union; AY cheerleaders from Brooklyn Local 926 cited for improper spending, obstructing investigation

A couple of Carpenters Union cheerleaders for the Atlantic Yards project have come into severe criticism and sanction for suspected and confirmed improprieties, according to a new report by a court-appointed monitor.

The Times on January 10 offered an overview, headlined Review of Carpenters’ Union Shows Corruption Persists:
More than a year after its parent union placed the New York City District Council of Carpenters under supervision because its leader was charged with racketeering, the council remains influenced by the mob and is still a source of cash and illicit benefits for a select few, according to a recent assessment.

The assessment, filed last month by a court-appointed review officer, shows some progress in cleaning up the district council and its constituent locals, and proposes a number of substantive reforms.

But it also presents a troubling picture of a deeply ingrained culture of corruption, and some aspects of the assessment raise questions about with the stewardship of the supervisor appointed by the parent union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
The First Interim Report of the Review Officer, Dennis M. Walsh, was filed in federal court in Manhattan, and posted (embedded below) by Local 157's John Musumeci, whose blog offers a forum for regular union members to learn what's going on and to push for reforms.

AY angle: Sal Zarzana

According to p. 15 of the report, Walsh writes:
Shortly after I was appointed, I received notice of over $30,000 of inappropriate expenditures made by Salvester Zarzana, the business manager of Local 926 [in Brooklyn]... The trustees in place ... during the time of such expenditures did not do their duty and in some cases, knew about the improper expenditures. All of these trustees will soon be held to account when time allows for charges to be prepared by my office...
That does not appear on the Local 926 web site, though a 6/9/10 letter from the Department of labor on the web sites describes how Zarzana (referred to as "Zarzano")made personal purchases on the union's credit card totaling $38,496.52 over three-and-a-half years, and that, while he either reimbursed Local 926 or paid the card company directly, such payments "were not always timely made."

The letter indicates that such loans violated the law, as did the failure of the Local to report indirect loans over $250 in a fiscal year.

Zarzana has testified at Atlantic Yards hearings and spoken at rallies. As I wrote 6/6/08, covering the "Brooklyn Day" rally, Zarzana (right) offered a familiar trope, accusing the opposition of not saving Brooklyn. “Where were you 40 years ago, when Downtown Brooklyn looked like a war zone?” he asked. “But we were here.”

(Photo by Adrian Kinloch)

Zarzana was the only speaker to target elected officials who are opponents or critics of the project. “There’s a bunch of politicians we need to straighten out, like [City Council Member] Tish James,” he said.

AY angle: John Holt

On page 265, Walsh indicates a possible a veto of the employment of Local 926's John Holt with the New York District Council of Carpenters.

On page 275, Walsh concludes in a 9/3/10 notice that Holt knowingly violated Job Referral Rules, obstructed an investigation, and gave false answers to an investigator. "Accordingly, the employment of John Holt as a business representative of the District Council is hereby vetoed," the document states.

Holt made several memorable statements at a 9/18/06 community forum on Atlantic Yards, including:
  • "We build it and we build it big"
  • "This is about the have and the have-nots."
  • "If you didn't play hot peas and butter, you not from Fort Greene, you just moved here"
Holt also set himself and his union mates as more ethical than AY opponents: "We don't have people coming in to clean our houses. And if they did, we won't be like you people and pay taxes on them. And we would give them a fair wage because that's what we believe in."

Organized crime

On page 32 of the report, Walsh suggests the District Council has some unsavory connections:
My office has deep historical knowledge and is developing current information about actual and attempted influence of organized crime over the affairs of the District Council and Funds. We have developed sufficient information to reasonably suspect that there are certain District Council employees who have been and are currently under the influence of La Cosa Nostra figures. There are also individuals involved in the governance of certain local unions who are under close scrutiny in this regard. this is a matter of grave import and remains under investigation.
Serving the rank and file

Despite the portrayal of self-serving and corrupt leaders, Walsh indicates respect for the rank and file. On page 37, he describes how union meetings are set up to deter participation and understanding:
The members of the union are intelligent, busy people. They are entitled to respect and all manner of information about the union...
I'd add that the rank and file can also be (willingly) led astray. Too many union construction workers acted like boors (and worse) outside and during various public hearings.

Cutting corners

Union projects are often more expensive, but non-union contractors often cut corners. So there's a legitimate argument for union construction. And while most small projects are non-union, it's politically very unlikely for large projects to be built non-union.

There are cautionary tales about both types of projects, and one about union workers appears in the book You Were Made for More: The Life You Have, the Life God Wants You to Have, by Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle on Fulton Street, housed in a former theater:
We were soon reminded that, this being New York City, the job would have to involve union contractors every step of the way. Electricians, for example, made $90 an hour. It was especially galling to walk through the job site and find some of them smoking pot during working hours. At one point we faced a demand to hire an additional worker who was, in our view, completely unneeded. But we had no options. The unions held the power to shut the entire project down at any time. They also darkly warned about mysterious "accidents" to the building that could happen in the middle of the night.
The book also offers the suggestion that the church property values will rise because of Atlantic Yards (maybe) and that the church saved big by moving into a theater, because they were spared having to build required parking--a dumb regulation in a city that relies on public transit.
RO First Interim Report 12.03.10

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