Rogue union locals do little to sustain cast-in-place practice

Quality control in a plant environment and absence of weather-induced pour delays lead advantages that precast concrete interests cite when comparing their methods to cast-in-place alternatives. A few United Brotherhood of Carpenters locals, embittered by failure to organize concrete subcontractor crews, might codify another advantage in precasters’ pitch: Lower probability of general contractor or project owner harassment.

Recent National Labor Relations Board decisions or opinions demonstrate how Carpenters seeking concrete work play to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) margins when competing with merit shop peers. An NLRB administrative law judge found that representatives of Carpenters Local 2012 in Seaford, Del., did not violate the NLRA while interrogating a nonunion concrete contractor’s Hispanic employees.

A complaint the NLRB General Counsel filed earlier this year stemmed from the June 2010 incident at the (unsecured) Presbyterian Inspired Living expansion site in Rydal, Pa.: Sporting uniform-white hard hats and business casual outfits, Local 2012 members targeted rebar installers of Malvern, Pa., subcontractor Forcine Concrete & Construction Co.; a Spanish-speaking Carpenter questioned workers as a colleague gathered video footage.

A DVD of the interrogations—portions of which were used in a four-minute “Presby Inspired Living” YouTube posting— “establishes that questioning was done in a very intimidating manner,” Judge Arthur Amchan writes. “I find the union representatives restrained and coerced Forcine’s employees when they interrogated them about their immigration status and other matters. A more difficult question is whether the Union restrained and coerced these employees in the exercise of their [NLRA] rights … Although the Union’s conduct may violate trespassing and other laws, I conclude it does not violate the Act.”

His complaint dismissal is subject to NLRB Member review and Forcine Concrete motions. As any action proceeds in the case—where the project owner is a religious organization aiming to expand care for centenarians and Alzheimer’s patients—the NLRB has reached a settlement with another Carpenters local surrounding actions against a nonunion concrete contractor performing work for a Jewish temple and nursery school.

The settlement orders Local 803 in Orange, Calif., to cease and desist coercive activities aimed at IMAC Construction, a Corona, Calif., concrete contractor with whom it has a labor dispute, plus general contractor Bernard’s Brothers Inc. and customer Temple Judea. Settlement-cited activities range from Local 803 members impeding contractors’ access to a Tarzana, Calif., site to threatening a Temple Judea supervisor if the organization did not resolve Local 803’s dispute with IMAC.

The settlement also involved the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, Los Angeles. One of its anchor locals prevailed last September in a contentious NLRB opinion on the use of negative signage, or “bannering,” as a tactic against neutral parties in a construction project. The Board determined that members of Carpenters Local 1506 acted within the NLRA while displaying a “SHAME ON THUNDERBIRD MEDICAL CENTER” banner; it referenced the owner of a Tucson, Ariz., area project for whom a nonunion Phoenix contractor, Hardrock Concrete Placement, was working.

In an age of fast-moving information and long memories, Carpenters officials concerned about concrete opportunities should consider what percentage of the cast-in-place structures and slabs members deliver are feasible candidates for precast alternatives; and, how technology, general contractor and owner preferences drive changes in construction design and delivery. Then, they might tally the number of parking garages and other elevated-slab structures Carpenters log versus their Laborers and Operating Engineers peers—who are ever poised for their next precast erection work assignment.