By Al Barbarino
The leader of a breakaway construction union said this week he wants to “set the record straight” before a group of dock builders vote on who they want to represent them.
Angelo R. Bisceglie, Jr., founding president of Amalgamated Carpenters and Joiners Union, slammed allegations by the New York City District Council of Carpenters that his union’s leadership is affiliated with the mob, calling claims that he has ties to the Genovese and Colombo crime families “ridiculous.”
He said Amalgamated was formed because the contractors who work on some of the city’s most high profile construction projects deserve representation that can win them “fair wages for a fair day’s work.”
“Give me a break,” Bisceglie told Real Estate Weekly in an exclusive interview. “Contrary to what the District Council is spinning out there, we are not a mobbed-up union at all. They have me labeled as this mob attorney, which is total crap, and I want to set the record straight.”
Bisceglie said the move to break away from the union followed the decision last summer by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters to merge the Dock Builders Local 1456 with the so-called Timbermen of Local 1536 to create a new local, 1556.
The merger came much to the chagrin of contractors who had relied on a high-skilled workforce at the Local 1456, Bisceglie said.
“They bastardized the group because they now have less competent people being referred out,” said Bisceglie. “You’re taking away the safety net of men who, over generations, worked together and honed their dock building skills to a point of being extremely productive, being safety conscious. A contractor could make money and the men could get paid fair wages for a fair day’s work.”
The 700 dock builders and members of the NYC District Council of Carpenters, who build and maintain city docks and also do underpinning, pile driving and foundation work on projects like the massive Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and the Hudson Yards development in Manhattan, will vote this week on whether or not to leave the District Council and join Amalgamated.
District Council leader Michael Bilello portrayed Amalgamated as a group trying to escape federal regulations put in place to purify the Council after years of corruption.
“These are people who were players in this organization who were removed or vetoed from their positions or resigned based on findings of corruption on their part,” said Bilello. “Corruption and the mob won’t be tolerated. You can’t just change your name and set up shop across the street and get out from the federal oversight.”
A federal review officer, Dennis M. Walsh, was installed by the courts in June 2010 to monitor the 25,000-member District Council after a racketeering scandal rocked the District Council in 2009, when several senior officials were arrested for breaking the terms of a 1994 consent decree against racketeering.
Bisceglie has represented former union members accused of wrongdoing, including Thomas J. Petrizzo — a pipe contractor who delivered the steel frames for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Battery Park City and later admitted extorting $1.3 million from a company that helped build a monorail at Newark International Airport.
While Biscgelie represented Petrizzo, he said it was decades ago – one job in a long career in the construction industry.
“I saved Petrizzo a couple million dollars through arbitration in federal court,” Bieseglie said. “That’s the extent of my representation of Tom Petrizzo.”
The Amalgamated leader also represented John Holt, an existing member of the District Council and the secretary and business manager at Amalgamated, who was removed from his post by Walsh for allegedly violating job referral rules. According to Bisceglie, the incident was an honest “mix-up.”
Another Amalgamated representative, dock builder Eric Gunderson, was arrested for attacking a retired police officer, according to the District Council. That was another mix up, according to Bisceglie. “Eric Gunderson is a clean cut young man, hard-working, dedicated, skilled dock builder who believes in the labor movement,” he shot back.
The Amalgamated leader also said the “forced resignation” of member John Harkin following a Walsh investigation into unauthorized expenditures of union funds was “total bull***.”
“John Harkin is a very knowledgeable dock builder,” he said. “He’s been around for a long time. He left because he was fed up with the crap that was going on at the District Council.”
Amalgamated, which formed an affiliation with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, has the support of 15 general presidents of the various AFL-CIO unions, Bisceglie said. He called the group a “democratic, grass roots movement,” created in response to a failing system at the District Council and made up of disenfranchised workers who are fed up with the “heavy-handedness” at the District Council and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters – the national carpenters union and governing body.
However, Walsh has already warned that if Amalgamated wins this week’s vote, he plans to obtain a federal court order saying that all former members of the District Council at Amalgamated would still be subject to the District’s consent decree.
“Anyone who was or is a member of the District Council who leaves is still subject to the federal court order against racketeering activity,” Walsh said. “In my view, this effort by Amalgamated is being spearheaded by people who simply don’t like being subject to my supervision.”
Beyond the reputations of those at Amalgamated’s helm, Bilello and Walsh maintain that the workers stand to lose their pensions, health and other benefits if they side with the opposing union. Any transfer of pension funds could take years, Walsh said.
But Bisceglie claimed the dock workers would actually enjoy higher quality health benefits under Amalgamated and their pension funds would be transferred.
“The dock builders will realize a substantial savings on their medical plan,” Bisceglie said. “They will not lose their pension; the assets and liabilities will follow the men if we are successful with the election. Once we have a modified trust set up, we will transfer the monies to the new union.”
The results of the vote are set to be announced Thursday.