By Mary Campbell
The New York City District Council of Carpenters and Joiners of America (NYDCC) is a representative body comprised of nine individual Locals and over 20,000 union members. The District Council functions as the voice for thousands of New York City’s most dedicated and skilled Carpenters, Millwrights, Dockbuilders, Timbermen, Cabinetmakers, Floorcoverers and Industrial Workers. NYCDCC is a fully democratic body. Its leadership is elected by union members and only union members. Every Local is represented in every decision made at the District Council and has a voice in contract negotiations, policy decisions and the overall direction of the union. Above all else, the District Council is dedicated to guaranteeing that every worker in our represented trades has rights in the workplace, a fair wage, a healthy family and hope for the future. The construction industry is prone to exploitative and dangerous conditions in the workplace; our efforts are to eliminate those tendencies through strong advocacy and direct action.
Workers World Today spoke with Joseph A. Greiger, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer about the NYCDCC. Geiger is a first-generation carpenter in the union and has held the position of Executive Secretary-Treasurer since 2014 and is proud to represent over 20,000 members here in the New York City District Council of Carpenters.
Geiger stated, “We strive to help one another, all our brothers and sisters. That’s why it’s called a united brotherhood; and sisterhood as well. We also do a lot of outreach programs throughout the various communities here in New York City. We try to engage our membership in town hall meetings. We also give back to the community in many different ways. If they need something built, we help those in need to build something. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, we give to the less fortunate. We give out several hundred turkeys and we buy toys for a lot of the kids in need. That’s done in conjunction with organizations or local politicians who have various events throughout the seasons. Giving an example of giving back, Geiger shared, “Most recently, we had our apprentices build a farm stand out in Far Rockaway next to a nature complex. The people who live there grow produce. And they asked us if we can help and supply the materials as well as build a farm stand. So we built them a very nice farmstand. And it was a learning curve for our apprentices as well. They actually enjoyed getting out of the school to do hands-on work on the outside. And overall, it was very successful. The residents from the nature complex were very happy. And now they have a place … a covered farmstand, where they can actually go and sell their produce.
Geiger mentioned that NYCDCC is very strong on outreach and working tirelessly to help their membership. He explained that “We go out. We have town hall meetings. We try to help our membership. We have a way of contacting each and every member, depending on where they live, throughout the various communities. We try to help them as well, as they all come down to the council at different times for different needs. We have many different programs to help our membership. And it’s not only about helping our union brothers and sisters; it’s also about helping the nonunion workers out there, bringing their standards up. It’s great for our members. They make a good living. They get paid good benefits. They got good medical coverage. They have a great retirement. And we’d like to help those nonunion people as well. Of course, there are a lot of nonunion workers out there that are being taken advantage of from unscrupulous contractors and so forth and so on. So we like to lift them up. We try to bring them into the union to give them a better life, a better standard of living overall. Bottom-line, everybody would like to go home to their family and friends after a hard day’s work. And that’s not exactly happening on some of these nonunion jobs throughout the city. In particular, immigrants are being exploited and taken advantage of. So we’d like to educate everyone and train them as well, whether they’re union or nonunion, to go out and make sure that they are protected when they go out there.
Role of the Union and the Importance of Being Unionized
Speaking on the role that the District Council of Carpenters plays here in New York, Geiger proudly stated that “We’re probably the largest construction trade union with over 20,000 members; we are a diverse group of carpenters throughout the city and the five boroughs. Our role is to set a precedent in the construction industry and lead the way for the other trades as well.
He also stressed the importance of being a member of a union and the difference that it makes not only in the workers’ lives but that of their families as well. “We are here there to protect everybody, even the non-union workers. As far as them getting exploited, there’s a tremendous amount of people that get exploited each and every day on a lot of construction projects throughout New York City. They’re not getting paid the standard wages. They’re not getting health coverage. They have no retirement. They get injured. They just pretty much get pushed to the side. They have no medical coverage. And, they are looked down at; they are frowned upon. They are treated like a number, not a person. These are human beings trying to make a living to support their families as well. So to me, it’s a travesty when all of these people are being exploited and taken advantage of. So we try to raise them up and educate them about the union or just educate them about the wages they should be making standard wages. You know, somebody’s going there making $10 an hour compared to a union member who makes much more. You know, no health coverage, to me that’s a shame. And, when a lot of these developers and contractors go out and start renting these apartments or selling these condos or some of these lavish luxury places, they’re getting top dollar. They can, you know, contrary to what they may say, that they can’t afford to build with a union. That’s totally wrong. And some of these developers are actually getting government subsidies. Both you and I can’t afford some of these places and these developers are getting subsidized by the government under several different programs. And they’re using and exploiting a lot of the workers on these projects. I don’t think they should be given a 30-year tax break. We don’t get tax breaks, do we? It’s unfortunate. It’s all about greed and money and taking advantage of the working man and woman. So, we try to help those individuals.
Geiger also spoke about the union’s apprenticeship program. He explained, “We have an apprenticeship program; we recently handed out applications in July and persons started lining up a week or two prior to the applications being handed out. That’s such a coveted job that a lot of these young individuals, the men, and women throughout New York City want. There were thousands of people, we were only able to give out, I believe, 500 applications. Persons stand out there, whether it’s inclement weather, in the heat or the cold weather for a week, two weeks at a time, they pitch tents. They wind up around a whole city block. It extends on to another block. We have to get barricades and everything. They want to make a good living. They know what the carpenters’ union is about. They want to help their families. They want to be able to live a long life. So that’s one of the ways that they can come in through the application process. It’s usually posted on our website. We also have recruitment for some of our specialty locals. So, there’s different ways you can get in. We go out to local high schools, job fairs. We have people who attend those and explain our programs throughout New York City. So, there are different venues that we go to and make sure everybody’s well aware of how to become a carpenter.
Helping the Bahamas
NYCDCC is rebuilding homes and hearts with Heart 9/11, a disaster-relief organization that is now on-the-ground mobilizing the rebuilding and recovery efforts in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian ravaged the islands and left families homeless. Members of the Carpenters Union are rising to the needs of the hardest hit and lending their time and skills to rebuild homes that were destroyed and washed away by the catastrophic Category 5 hurricane in September. The union is actively recruiting NYCDCC members to volunteer throughout the month of October to improve safety and living conditions for Bahamian families and individuals impacted.
“Many of our members have family and friends affected by this tragic disaster and a big part of what we believe in is being there for every community. The carpenters I have the privilege to know, have a valuable skillset and are uniquely equipped to make an impact, especially for those in need in New York City and abroad,” said Geiger. “From rebuilding our communities at home after Hurricane Sandy to helping recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and now volunteering time and skills to rebuild communities in the Bahamas, our members always show up to lend a helping hand. Building is what we do best – we’re proud to use that strength to make positive impacts.”
Visit the NYCDCC website at www.nycdistrictcouncil.com
Workers’ World Today is a free publication that empowers all workers, regardless of social or political affiliations. Distributed throughout New York City, our paper has a mission to educate workers and provide them with relevant information pertinent to the workforce such as workers’ compensation, discrimination on the job, workers’ rights, and more.