NEW YORK, NY – Cement and Concrete Workers District Council 16 numbers anywhere between 2,200 and 2,600 members. Joe Scopo is head organizer. The union has faced many challenges over the last few years as part of the #TakeItback campaign, calling out irresponsible New York City developers, confronting unscrupulous contractors and challenging the ever-present “race to the bottom.”
LaborPress recently caught up with Scopo to talk about the business of organizing in the face of these ongoing threats.
LP: What are some of the victories that your union has had regarding organizing?
JS: We have stripped a lot of workers in key positions from non-union companies. Riggers, foremen, [and others]. Stripping workers that will hurt a company is essential. Signed non-union companies cost companies money. By putting up [inflatable] rats and documenting everything they do with pictures and worker engagement, [it’s all] part of getting money back for the workers who were robbed.
LP: What are some of the challenges?
JS: Our biggest challenge comes from greedy developers who no longer care about the quality of work or safety. In most cases, we finish jobs safer in one-fifth the time. Greedy developers are bidding on jobs much lower because they pay workers so low — very close to minimum wage with no medical or pensions.
LP: How did the Laborers become involved with the #TakeItBack campaign?
JS: After #CountMeIn ended, I was asked to continue a movement by the top people from CMI who are so dedicated to labor movements. They wanted to see a movement continue. We were lucky so many great organizers from many unions jumped in to fight for the cause. Our great [business managers] in labor have our back.
LP: How has organizing immigrants and undocumented workers figured into your organizing? What have the results been?
JS: Most people we strip [from non-union shops] are immigrants. We have contacts with immigrant leaders that help us because they want a better life for their friends. The whole point of #TakeItBack is to empower non-union workers to know their self-worth and rise up against the greed that is killing them. We want them all to walk off [the job]. We will find spots for them, but we need the help of New York to enforce the laws non-union developers break. There’s so many of them.
LP: What are the most egregious examples of exploitation that you have seen, and have you been able to successfully organize in those conditions?
JS: No harnesses is really bad — a worker should be secure near ledges and high places. Workers working during the pandemic without medical and many workers only missing one day with Covid. No proper equipment. Concrete burns if you aren’t covered. The main thing I see that is the worst, is sending workers to work on high rise constructions without training. It’s the biggest exploitation there is.
LP: What is your organizing strategy, who do you focus on, and what is your thinking behind successful organizing?
JS: We want to be everywhere the greed is to make it hard for them to operate while abiding by the law. We don’t threaten or harass, but we do our job as hardcore as you can. Our strategy is this: Meet some workers and find out why they want to leave. It [often] leads you down a disgusting path of exploitation. Some don’t even know what is happening to them. We treat the workers that we strip well, and they always want to bring their friends in. We use that information they give us — the rest is for me to know and you to find out — LOL. We want to cost [non-union shops] money. We want to exploit them — like we say, exploit the exploiters because that’s what they are. Their whole bidding process is lower because of exploitation. We are fighting for the rank & file with every breath we have because without them there is no organizing department. We will all gladly put our work boots back on if the [City of New York] became all union as it should be. We deserve the work. We do it right — and the economy takes a boost when union does the job