James Conigliaro Sr., general vice president of the International Association of Machinists’ Eastern Territory has been a member of the union since 1977. The son of a union member, he grew up in Brooklyn and joined Local 447 when he was a maintenance mechanic for United Parcel Service.He rose quickly, from shop steward to organizer to business agent, and then became assistant directing business representative of IAM District 15, which represents workers in automotive, trucking, and other industries in the New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Boston areas. He was elected District 15’s directing business representative in 2003. In 2015, he joined the IAM Executive Council as general vice president, working with the general secretary-treasurer to administer the union’s finances. He also is a vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO.
Conigliaro played a key role in organizing the 1996 “America Needs a Raise” rally on Wall Street and getting New York City’s living-wage law enacted in 2012. But as employers increasingly defined their workers—from limousine drivers to doctors—as “independent contractors,” classifying them as self-employed businesspeople to avoid paying minimum wage or overtime and to make them ineligible for standard union representation, he and other Machinists realized unions had to find a way to organize those workers.
In 1997, District 15 won a landmark National Labor Relations Board ruling allowing them to organize the supposedly “independent” black-cab drivers. Within a few years, several thousand drivers had joined, and the union had won contracts with health benefits from the “bases,” the companies that dispatch black cabs—although to do that, it had prove at each company that the drivers were employees and not independent contractors.
Conigliaro’s son, Jim Conigliaro, Jr., has continued his work in that field, as founder of the Independent Drivers Guild, a “works council” for drivers at Uber and other ride-hail services.