August 2010

IBEW, Allies Fight Rogue Carpenter Local
index.html Home    Print    Email

Go to

With one in three of its members out of work, St. Louis Local 1 is facing futher job losses from an unlikely source. The Carpenters District Council of Greater St. Louis has formed a rogue electrical union—Associated Electrical Contractors Local 57—that is aggressively going after construction projects by undercutting prices and lowering wages.

“They’re trying to take our jobs and right now there aren’t many jobs out there,” said Julie Parker, a third year Local 1 apprentice and a mother of two.

Parker is one of the thousands of union members angered at the carpenters’ efforts to steal work from other parts of the building trades. More than 3,000 tradespeople—including IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill and the top leaders of eight other trade unions—rallied against the renegade electrical group during an early summer protest in St. Louis’s Forest Park.

“We cannot and we will not tolerate efforts to steal work from other trades,” Mark Ayers, President of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, told the crowd packed with union electricians, plumbers and pipefitters, bricklayers and other allied union members.

Other unions have joined the IBEW in the fight because they know their work could be next, Hill said.

“The carpenters’ long range plan is to reform the building trades to their satisfaction, to the way they think it should be, and I think that’s wrong,” Hill said.

The dispute has also spilled over into nearby southern Illinois, where members of Alton, Ill., Local 649 staged a protest in June at the site of Wal-Mart store being constructed by the carpenters and Local 57.

Local 1 has launched an advertising blitz in the region, including billboards, radio ads and the Web site The advertising touts Local 1’s experience, safety record and extensive training programs.

“Our productivity, coupled with our training and our safety record are second to none,” said Local 1 Business Manager Steve Schoemehl, who is also a member of the International Executive Council. “You always get what you pay for and get the bang for your buck when you hire the IBEW.”
IBEW members are trained in five-year apprenticeships that certify them as master electricians. Quality and safety are the top lessons, according to veteran instructor Jim Kerry.

“We make sure that our apprentices understand that people’s lives and property depend on what you do,” Kerry said.

Several former carpenters who now work under IBEW contracts said they left the council because of concerns about quality of work and safety on the job.

Fred Heitkamp, a carpenter for 16 years, became an IBEW apprentice a decade ago over fears for his own safety and the safety of co-workers, he said.

“I didn’t learn a thing about electrical work as a carpenter and I think it’s dangerous that they’re bringing in people that haven’t been through the [IBEW] training I’ve been through,” Heitkamp said.

The fear on all sides is that the simmering dispute will cause nonunion contractors to flood into the area, putting in jeopardy the jobs of all 30,000 union construction workers in the region.

“This takes away from what we ought to be doing,” Schoemehl said. “We ought to be working together and proving to customers that union construction—not just the IBEW, but union construction as a whole—should be the customer’s first choice.”

Thousands of St. Louis-area building trades members attended a unity rally in June.