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Moving Maven Moving In on Union Jurisdiction

August 3, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 814 members have been moving office equipment, pharmaceuticals and chemicals at Mount Sinai for the past 15 years. But now the hospital has awarded a general services contract to Moving Maven whose members are represented by the non-AFL-CIO affiliated United Service Workers Union Local 1212. Local 814 claims Local 1212 is a “company union” because it pays its members lower wages, while the hospital says it only hires unionized firms.

Local 814 points out that just because Local 1212 is a “union” it doesn’t mean its members receive wages and benefits as high as Local 814’s members do; it only means that the hospital can undermine the area standards while still posturing that “it only hires unionized firms.” 

Ian Michaels, a spokesman for Mount Sinai, wrote in a statement that, “This is a dispute between unions and not a dispute that is within the control or influence of Mount Sinai. The hospital only awards contracts to unionized firms. We take steps to ensure that the awarding of work is fair and within the requirements of the city, state and National Labor Relations Board.”

In an interview, Michaels said that the moving contract goes out to bid annually and repeated what was written in the statement, “We don’t take bids from non-union firms.” When asked what will the hospital pay members of Local 1212, “I don’t know what their salaries will be,” said Michaels.

Mount Sinai also wrote in the statement that Moving Maven’s workers are represented by “either Local 1212 of the USWU or Local 660 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades,” based in Buffalo!

Jack Kittle, political director for District Council 9 New York IUPAT, said the statement by Mount Sinai isn’t accurate.

“We do not represent any of Moving Maven’s workers. Local 660 has never heard of Moving Maven and wouldn’t be interested in doing the work that belongs to the IBT. We have nothing but respect for the Teamsters as our brothers and sisters in the labor movement. Even if the company offered us the work, we wouldn’t do it.”
On July 11, public relations firm Brooklyn Strategies, hired by Local 814, issued a press release quoting several city officials, including Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, saying they were upset by Mount Sinai reneging on a pledge to “drop a contract with controversial commercial moving company, Moving Maven.”

Mount Sinai is currently in talks to merge with Continuum Health Partners and labor leaders such as IBT Local 814’s President, Jason Ide, suspect that Mount Sinai is pursuing the Moving Maven contract because it wants to lower its costs to make itself more attractive to a potential partner.

Earlier in the year, the New York State Nurses Association won a new four-year contract from Mount Sinai. Also, the hospital is currently in talks with 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East for a new contract for health care aides. These contracts might have persuaded Mount Sinai to cut labor costs elsewhere, although only a dozen or so Local 814 members have worked at the hospital. Ide said that Local 814 hasn’t asked neither NYSNA nor 1199SEIU for statements of solidarity.

Ide said that the threat USWU poses to the New York labor movement in particular and to unions nationally is worrisome because if Mount Sinai goes down this road, why wouldn’t others follow?

Apparently, USWU has other locals in New York. On its website, it claims to represent members in diverse industries such as transportation, manufacturing, building and construction and electrical, among others. It also claims that over the past four years membership has grown by approximately 22 percent.

Ide noted that’s why Local 814 and some building trade unions are taking a strong stand against Mount Sinai because the unions fear that USWU is establishing a trend of driving down wages and benefits. 

“If more of this happens, decades of standards will go down the drain.”

He also noted that what USWU Local 1212 is doing is not necessarily illegal, but it gives the hospital the cover it needs by saying, ‘We’re paying less for labor, but we hired a unionized firm, so what’s the issue?’”

In fact, LaborPress reported in 2010, “TWU Rebuffs Raid by IUJAT” [USWU is affiliated with the International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades] that Transport Workers Union Local 100 successfully beat back an attempt by IUJAT to snatch away workers working for the private Bauman Bus Company in Ossining, NY from the TWU.

The current USWU president is Lori Ames, but the union was founded by Steve Elliott, who reportedly was ousted from the ranks of the AFL-CIO a decade ago because of the union’s notoriety of swooping in on other unions’ jurisdictions and undercutting their contracts with different companies.

George Miranda, President of Joint Council 16 of the Teamsters, said of USWU, “It’s always a race to the bottom with them because they try to undercut everybody.”

He noted that the leadership ranks of USWU are staffed by former officers and business agents of legitimate unions such as the Teamsters or SEIU, who, for whatever reason, left their old union to join USWU.

“They know the industries they come out of and that enables them to go after and raid legitimate unions’ long-standing contractual agreements.”

LaborPress reached out to USWU Local 1212 for comment, but Richard Greenspan of the Law Offices of Richard Greenspan, P.C., in Ardsley, NY, who represents Local 1212, said only, “My client doesn’t want to make a statement to the press.”

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