Book Review: Women in construction

by Alice Harney

Twenty years ago the U.S. Labor Department adopted regulations intended to increase the number of women working in construction. Susan Eisenberg's book We'll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working in Construction, reveals that not much has changed in the intervening years. Women are still grossly under-represented and still face discrimination on the job site.

Her book is not about statistics but real life experiences. She relates success stories of the "pioneering" women who stuck it out, completed apprenticeship programs, got long term jobs, and were finally integrated into their unions. And she tells of the "exceptional men" who supported them. But there were more horror stories where those in authority, resenting women who took "men's work," ignored government regulations. "On job sites...the foremen or general contractor (although they are always union members) and the steward representing the union set a tone and an example for the crew to follow and strongly affected a tradeswoman's sense of her welcome and safety."

Eisenberg reminds us of a topic that is not longer considered fashionable: women in construction.

AFGE official charges collusion

by Carl Biers

Activists from a number of federal sector unions report a similar, troubling scenario: union representatives--elected and appointed--avoid confronting management over contract violations; in exchange, management permits them unregulated and uncontested "official time." The system works well for both parties. Management gets labor peace and free reign over the workplace, cooperative union officials get paid by the government to do pretty much whatever they want, and good aggressive union representatives get a hard time. The victims, of course, are the workers whom the union is supposed to represent.
The problem, which exists in one form or another throughout the labor movement, is compounded in the federal sector where members are not required to join the union or pay dues. Few non-postal locals boast a membership above a third of those eligible. Occasionally, however, a reform-minded activist, or just a member in need of decent representation, runs up against this system.

Joe Palazzolo, a regional vice president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 236 of the
General Service Administration locals and president of Dallas-based Local 2488 charges that the Council 236 leadership and the AFGE national teamed up with management to remove him from office because he pursued disciplinary charges against suspect union officials and because he upset an "incestuous relationship" between the union and management.

Palazzolo was elected a regional vice president in March, 1997. During the campaign he had criticized the union’s failure to fight GSA outsourcing and privatization. A few months later, he and his reform slate were elected to run Local 2488.

The local changed course under Palazzolo. He doubled the number of grievances, filed unfair labor practices against the GSA for failure to bargain, and recruited new members. He brought internal charges against four former officers, accusing them of running businesses on official time, using union funds to pay for personal litigation, buying personal items—"anything from nylon hose, to groceries, to T-bone steaks"—with union funds, falsifying minutes to show approval of hundreds of dollars in "retirement gifts," and absconding with bank statements, minutes, grievance documents—even MOAs—when they left office.

According to Palazzolo, Harry Dawson, the former local president, ran a sand-blasting business and personal injury consulting service out of the union office in the federal building. The four were found guilty and expelled by a local trial board. (All but one of the expulsions were overturned by the national on procedural grounds. According to AFGE General Counsel Mark Roth, they will be reheard by an independent arbitrator who will also hear several charges against Palazzolo.) Palazzolo’s strong stand against corruption and his aggressive representation brought a 30 percent jump in membership.

It also brought retaliation from the national and council leadership, and management. Shortly after Palazzolo took office, a member challenged his bargaining unit status in a complaint to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (the equivalent of the NLRB for federal employees) claiming that his "management analyst" title made him a supervisor. At first, both management and the union upheld his eligibility and an FLRA investigation dismissed the complaint. A second challenge was also dismissed by the FLRA. However, a complaint to the Labor Department challenging Palazzolo’s election on the basis of his alleged supervisory status resulted in a ruling by the DOL that he was ineligible. The unusual DOL ruling appears to have been a violation of the agency’s own stated policy to "rule a candidate eligible as long as he is actively appealing his eligibility status."


Queens College launches

"New Labor Forum"

The "New Labor Forum," published by Queens College, is an ambitious effort to establish a serious publication where basic labor issues can be discussed freely by independent-minded professionals in the universities and unions. Its second issue, Spring ‘98, features an informative article by Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello on new, urgent problems faced by labor in the global economy.

Huge worldwide companies take advantage of free trade agreements, deregulation, and weak national governments. They move production to a "core/ring" where the labor force is temporary, low-paid, and denied fringe benefits. The mobility of capital enables them to shift investments from country to country, from product to product. Workers in the same industry, sometimes even in the same enterprise, find themselves in different unions. Labor is divided by country and by the very structure of modern capital which respects no national boundaries.

The authors underline the urgency of "restructuring the labor movement." Measured against the urgency of the problem, their own suggestions are modest indeed. But they have presented the need in stark form.


September 98