Labor's merger pains - Page 3

How a small SF union lost its independence -- and can't get it back
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Corns told us he finally called a local locksmith late Tuesday morning, March 11, so that members could be dispatched to jobs the following day.

HOW BIG IS TOO BIG?

For Corns, the failed merger with Local 270 is a personal as well as a professional tragedy: he was instrumental in helping 36 join with 270 after Lujan's election as the bigger local's business manager. Now he feels responsible for jeopardizing the organization he's worked for since he was a teenager.

"I've been in the union for 35 years," Corns said, his voice choking up. "This is so heartbreaking to me."

Beyond the problems with one controversial business manager, Corns says the story is about the larger problem: increasingly top-down union management. In late February, he told us, 70 members of Local 36 voted unanimously to secede from 270 and become an autonomous chapter again. A representative from LIUNA was present at the vote and confirmed their version of the events for us. Despite the members' calls for autonomy, officials in LIUNA's International office in Washington, DC refused to go along; instead, on March 13, union brass granted their secession from Local 270 but immediately forced 36 into another merger — this time with a chapter based in Oakland, Local 166.

As a result of the two mergers, Corns says, the assets of Local 36 have been swallowed up by the larger chapters. He produced old bank account statements for us that showed well more than $100,000 in Local 36's coffers before the organization joined with 270. Now, he says, he doesn't know where that money is. Laborer's International spokesperson Jacob Hay told us that the parent union is undertaking a "reconciliation process" to determine how much of Local 36's money should go to Oakland and how much should stay in San Jose. Despite the apparent desire for independence among 36's members, Hay argued that the union is making the right decision by forcing them into another merger.

"We think that it is in the best interests of smaller locals like [36] to join with larger, more powerful locals," he said. "You have more collective bargaining power with larger numbers [of members] ... the goal here is to get all the hod carriers in the Bay Area into one local."

Will Davis and other Local 36 members do not share Hay's bigger-is-better enthusiasm. "We've never gotten a good reason why we can't just have the local back," Davis said. "We've never done anything wrong. We've never been under investigation. Why are we being punished for something we didn't do?"

Editor's Note: In the paper edition of this article, the Guardian misidentified two dates. Lujan announced his retirement in 2007, and the atmosphere of dissension began to affect the hiring hall in Daly City early in 2008.

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