September 12, 2011
By Marc Bussanich
The presidential election is more than a year away, but unions’ political action directors and committees keep very busy pursuing policies that ensure their members remain gainfully employed and are compensated fairly. Jack Kittle is the Political Director at IUPAT DC 9, the umbrella group for 16 different local chapters representing different tradesmen in a large geographic area, from Montauk to the Canadian border.
Kittle said the focus of DC 9’s political action is creating and sustaining work for the union’s approximately 10,000-strong membership. He explained that the union engages private industry and city officials in a number of areas that help bring about a viable economic outcome for the city, private developers and union members.
“Construction workers don’t have an office to go to everyday because the work can fluctuate widely when they’ve finished work on one building and there’s no forthcoming work because zoning and land use issues have to be settled before work on the next project begins.”
Kittle stressed that the union goes to great lengths to make productivity improvements and keep costs sustainable so that members are guaranteed steady work. For example, in previous projects that Kittle has negotiated with city and private developers, the union has adjusted work rules so that millions of unnecessary dollars can be conserved.
Before changes to the work rules, workers arriving at the job site by 8:00 am sometimes wouldn’t get to their work stations in a building’s upper floors until 9:00 am because the elevator used for transporting the workers couldn’t accompany more than a few at a time.
The work rule changes contributed to improved productivity as staggered schedules were adopted to allow different tradesman to start work 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 am. The union also showed its commitment to managing costs by agreeing to deploy more apprentices because if costs can be saved in one project, Kittle reasons, those savings can be used by contractors to pay workers on another project.
But before DC 9 union members go to work in the field, Kittle and DC 9 volunteers attend community board meetings where they explain to the board the benefits of union members working on construction sites. “Nobody likes to live near or next to a construction site because it’s loud and parking spots are scarce, so the community prefers short work durations. We inform the community boards that union labor can build and construct in a shorter period of time than non-union labor because members are better trained,” said Kittle.
Next, Kittle and company pay a visit to the Borough President where the project is slated and convey also the benefits of union versus non-union labor. Before an ounce of dirt is unearthed, Kittle and DC 9 members meet with city council members to hash out and negotiate any necessary changes to the project, such as eliminating several floors from the final design or incorporating a park. Kittle emphasized “we want to work with all interested parties to ensure that the building is built by union labor and any inconveniences to the community are minimized.”
Kittle noted that he is currently working with the city, the district manager of a Bronx community board and the developer, Gifford Miller, who is a former City Council Speaker, on a Bronx building project. Gifford and his partner want to build a 1,200-unit apartment building near the Sheridan Expressway. Early indications are Miller may not hire union labor to do the work. In that case, “We’ll take to the streets to oppose Miller,” said Kittle.