A venerable Brooklyn nonprofit is doing everything it can to stop its workers from unionizing–even enlisting the help of an old Teamster friend to malign the union.
Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp., the nation’s first community development corporation, recently lost a battle in its bitter three-month struggle to stay “union-free.” Its 50-odd janitors, porters, handymen and painters, who make roughly seven to ten dollars an hour, wanted higher wages and a functioning health insurance plan. Management said it couldn’t afford to pay them more. (See the March issue of City Limits magazine for more details on the campaign.)
On February 24, three-quarters of Restoration’s maintenance workers voted to join Teamster Local 966. But management refuses to recognize the election, and its lawyers are currently challenging the vote. Workers will have to wait until that fight is settled before the union can begin bargaining for their wage hikes.
The nonprofit used hard-line tactics to keep the union out. It hired a high-priced law firm famous for union-busting, and set up a compulsory staff meeting starring Bill Tate–past chairman of Restoration’s board, sometime Teamster and now senior advisor/community liaison at Restoration. According to workers at the meeting, Tate dredged up dirt on the Teamsters–specifically, from Local 966’s past, when it was a fiefdom of the corrupt McCarthy family. But, said workers, Tate failed to mention that the local was subsequently cleaned up by reformers from the Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
“It’s easy to know why Teamster Local 966 wants you,” said the turncoat Teamster to workers at the February 3 meeting. “They want your dues money!” Tate also neglected to mention his own ouster from the Teamsters. He resigned from Teamster Local 805 when Gerry Whelan, a rank-and-file reformer, defeated the Long Island local’s longtime boss.
Whelan saw Tate as part of 805’s corrupt old guard, and asked him to resign. “I knew he wasn’t doing the job properly,” said Whelan. But he was still shocked to see Tate on the management side.
“It’s an unbelievable situation,” said Whelan. “A guy is supposed to be working on behalf of the employees, and here he is working for the employers! He’s like a mercenary!”
“My reputation at 805 is beyond repute,” countered Tate. “When the new president came in, he wanted to put his people in.” Tate told City Limits he was “very proud of his 47 years in the labor movement.” But when he heard about the labor problems at Restoration, he said, he had to jump the fence to the management side.
“I got concerned because Restoration was my heart,” he said. “I came in on some very difficult times, and helped save it. So when I heard they were having a difficult time, I came to offer my help. Restoration really doesn’t need a union. That’s the way I feel.”