Carpenters for a Stronger Union Records
Language of Materials
In 1981, a small group of individuals acted in concert to organize and agitate within the District Council of Carpenters in New York City and some of its twenty-two locals in an effort to dislodge their corrupt leaders. Calling themselves Carpenters for a Stronger Union (CSU), they publicly challenged their elected officials. The records of the Carpenters for a Stronger Union include election materials, newsletters, flyers, NLRB decisions, correspondence, typescripts and newspaper clippings.
In his book, American Labor Leaders: Personalities and Forces in the Labor Movement, Charles A. Madison begins his profile of William L. Hutchenson, the boss of the "fighting carpenters" with a critical synopsis of the union. Briefly, he characterizes the history of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners as exemplifying an agressive and grasping model of trade unionism. He notes that the union quickly moved away from its roots as a politically progressive and cooperative organization into one deformed by the nature of the subcontracting system and the special character of the relationship between the contractors and the union. "Even after some of these misleaders of labor (notorious dictators and grafters) were exposed and sent to jail, the mass membership of the union failed to oust their kind from positions of power; the corruption of his officers did not trouble the average carpenter so long as he had work and was comparatively well paid."
In 1981, a small group of individuals acted in concert to organize and agitate within the District Council of Carpenters in New York City and some of its twenty-two locals in an effort to dislodge their corrupt leaders. Calling themselves Carpenters for a Stronger Union (CSU), they publicly challenged their elected officials. They published newsletters and broadsides (Rusty Nail and On the Level); they ran for office in their various locals; they held forums; took the floor at union meetings to present an opposing point-of-view. They acted as watchdogs and ombudsmen for the membership. They called attention to practices which short-changed the members. They utilized the various legalistic avenues open to them, through the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor and the Courts. They pursued their rights and the rights of their fellow members to have a fair, non-discriminatory hiring system; to receive the benefits due to them from their employers; to have the officers account for the expenditure of their dues money and Welfare Funds; to exercise their legal right to free speech; to present the members with a clear program for internal union democracy. They challenged the corrupt control of the District Council by various elements connected to New York City's Organized Crime Families, La Cosa Nostra.
In 1981, Ted Maritas was President of the District Council of Carpenters, representing 30,000 members. In March, 1981, Maritas was one of five union officials indicted by a Grand Jury and charged with accepting payments from the Drywall Contractors Association, use of non-union labor, and bid-rigging. The charges contained in the indictment were connected to the historical practice of the union which had long engaged in bitter jurisdictional disputes with other unions. The New York Carpenters Defense League was established as a way to obtain funds from the membership to help defray the legal costs of their officials.
1981 provided the focal point for the small group of like-minded individuals to organize in opposition to the blatantly criminal activities within the union. Some of the individuals involved in the initial formation of CSU included Frank McMurray, John Harte, Eugene Clarke, John Greany, Michael Murphy, and Consuelo Reyes. Throughout the next decade and a half, the CSU platform achieved some important successes. The stamps program advocated by CSU as a solution to the denial of benefits due working carpenters was adopted by the District Council. In 1988, the NLRB held Local 608 in civil contempt for its failure to comply with a 1987 order to supply John Harte with access to hiring hall records. In 1993, Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, government informer, exposed the ties of the District Council's leadership to the mob. In March, 1994, the Carpenters signed a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department which provided for direct election of officers for the first time in 120 years. And in July 1995, a small group of dissident carpenters from various locals came together to run in that election on a CSU slate. Despite the fact that that the leadership of the District Council won re-election, the CSU and other reform slates had the novel experience of speaking at local union meetings and promoting alternative programs to benefit the membership. The combination of continued exposure of corruption within the union hierarchy and the experience of dialogue and debate might continue to pose a challenge to the leadership.
Attie, Jeanie, and Steinberg, Allen. Carpenters - New York State: A History of the New York State Council of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 1881-1981. Buffalo: New York State Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, 1982.Brooks, Thomas. Road to Dignity: A Century of Conflict: A History of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, AFL-CIO, 1881-1981. New York: Atheneum, 1981.Christie, Robert A. Empire in Wood: A History of the Carpenter's Union. Ithaca New York: Cornell University Press.Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry. Interim Report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. Ithaca NY: ILR Press, Cornell University, 1988.Galenson, Walter. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters: the First Hundred Years. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.Horowitz, Morris A. The Structure and Government of the Carpenters' Union. New York: Wiley, 1962.Hutchinson, John. The Imperfect Union: A History of Corruption in American Trade Unions. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970.Lyon, David Nicholas. The World of P.J. McGuire: A Study of the American Labor Movement, 1870-1890.Raddock, Maxwell C. Portrait of an American Labor Leader: William L. Hutcheson: Saga of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 1881-1954. New York: American Institute of Social Science, 1955.Schneirov, Richard, and Suhrbur, Thomas J. Union Brotherhood: Union Town: The History of the Carpenters, 1863-1987. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1988.Seidman, Harold. Labor Czars: A History of Labor Racketeering. New York: Liveright, 1938.
The files are grouped into 1 series.
Arranged by topic.
Scope and Contents
The records of the Carpenters for a Stronger Union include election materials, newsletters, flyers, NLRB decisions, correspondence, typescripts, minutes, news clippings, transcripts, sound recordings, Grand Jury charges and indictments, affadavits, Judicial Opinions and Memoranda of Law.
News articles and drafts are included in the records for On the Level, Rusty Nail, Hard Hat Times, and Hard Hat News, publications which individuals at some point connected to CSU either contributed articles to and/or helped to distribute at union meetings or mailed to subscribers.
The records of CSU provide a detailed look at the way a small yet serious rank-and-file opposition group carried out its efforts at reform through research, monitoring the activities of their officers, organizational and information campaigns, and their use of the NLRB and courts to protect the interest of their fellow members.
Prominent names appearing in the records are Ted Maritas, Paschal McGuinness, John O'Connor, Martin Forde, Benny Schepis; Arthur Giangrande; Sammy "the Bull" Gravano.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by the Carpenters for a Stronger Union was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Carpenters for a Stronger Union Records; WAG 066; box number; folder number or item identifier; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The papers were created and collected by Frank McMurray and Michael Murphy while members of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, and of their respective local unions; McMurray in Local 608, the "Irish" local, and Murphy in Bronx Local 488, which later became part of Local 17. The first set of records were donated by Frank McMurray in 1988, prior to his move to California. Michael Murphy donated his papers in the summer of 1994. The accession number associated with these gifts is 1988.008. Two audiocassette tapes were donated by Jane LaTour in December 2018. The accession number associated with this gift is 2019.034.
Pictures and Election Materials, including photos from the 1989 election in Bronx Local 17, pictures and posters from the 1995 District Council election are part of the Non-Print (NP) Collection.
An audiotape, "Organized Crime in America," by Electric Shadow Productions, featuring Frank McMurray of CSU and Herman Benson of the Association for Union Democracy, is part of the sound collection at the Wagner Labor Archives.
About this Guide
Processing actions made prior to 2019 are not documented. In 2019, the materials from the 2019 accretion was housed in an archival box.