Local 291 Union strikes outside of Skidmore College: Workers protest wages and benefits

Posted by Andrew Shi

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Carpenter Union members from the Local 291 Union picketed the Broadway entrance into the college for a second time.

The union was first seen protesting from approximately 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22 in the same place. The purpose of this demonstration was to publicize grievances the Local 291 has with Niatrust Drywall Inc., the private corporation contracted to renovate North Woods and to construct housing in Scribner Village.

The benefits Local 291 claims Niatrust is denying its workers include health benefits and pensions, which comes to an average of $15.84 per hour. In addition, Niatrust isn't paying the standard wage ($27.22 per hour) as standardized by the union, picketers say. The New York Department of Labor maintains this wage as standard, but only has the authority to enforce it in public projects.

Todd Banks, representative of Local 291 and leader of the picketing effort, said because Niatrust is a non-area standards contractor, meaning it is not bound to standards embodied by Local 291, it is not only undermining the union's work but is also depriving its employees of benefits and appropriate salaries.

A spokeswoman for  Niatrust defends the company.

While she concedes that Niatrust pays less than the standard wage, she says the company does provide its workers with benefits.  In addition, unlike union workers, she said, employees of Niatrust are at least kept busy and are able to provide for their families. She labels the union's defamation as "propaganda," and claims the union is only "interested in its own coffers."

While Banks said "the carpenters are fighting to maintain and improve the standard of living for all trades people whether or not they are affiliated with a union," the Niatrust spokeswoman believes they are only interested in ascertaining new members and protecting projects they think should be contracted to them, not non-area standards contractors. With a poor economy the union is becoming exacerbated as the members need to pay taxes, she said.

On April 5, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the national governing body for all Union carpenters and locals, decided to merge the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters and the New Jersey Regional Counci of Carpenters into the current entity known as the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters. As a result, Albany Local 370 and Plattsburgh Local 1042 combined to form Local 291.

This merge upset several of its members who left the union as a result. 

One of these members is Richard Dorrough, who has created a new local union, Carpenters Independent Local One, to compete with Local 291. Dorrough claims that Local 291 holds corrupt and undemocratic practices and is responsible for the mismanagement of funds that led to its losses in the Madoff scandal.

Banks, however, assures that his union is solely focused on protecting and improving the rights and standards of living for all carpenters. He says that Dorrough has no factual evidence to back up his claims, and that he has been known to resort to violence when challenged. "He makes a lot of claims and backs them up with nothing but heresy," he said.

Banks also recognizes that Niatrust is a private company, but disagrees with its noncompliance with the New York Department of Labor's standards. As he justifies it, "same work, same pay."

As of now there has been no compromise or resolution between Niatrust Drywall Inc. and the Local 291 Union. As for further information picketing, Banks said " they do plan additional action at Skidmore as well as various sites where Niatrust and other non-area standards contractors are doing work." No specific dates were given for these events. 

Skidmore Democrats host Meet-the-Candidates night for Democrats running in local elections: Students and Saratoga community meet with candidates to discuss local issues

"Celebration of the New" flute and piano concert showcases Artists-in-Residence talents: Jan Vinci and Pola Baytelman combine unique skills to present original works in Zankel