July 25, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hired nonunion contractors as much as he could and often shorted both workers and contractors, according to a report by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The report, “Does Trump Build Union?” looked at 45 construction projects that Trump developed, owns, or licenses his name to in the jurisdictions of 17 IBEW locals in the U.S. and Canada. Trump, it said, used union contractors while building in the union strongholds of New York and Atlantic City, but in other areas, “which includes most of his recent projects,” 60% were built nonunion. Of the 19 projects where he wasn’t compelled to hire union contractors by a project labor agreement, only four were built union.
The report appears in the current issue of The Electrical Worker, the union’s 123-year-old monthly newspaper, which was mailed to its 725,000 members in late July. It was posted online July 11.
“We wanted to make sure our members knew who Donald Trump was,” IBEW media director Mark Brueggenjohann told LaborPress July 25. “There’s a perception that Trump is pro-labor. He talks this populist game about supporting unions, but what he says and what he does are two different things.”
The report was based largely on interviews with business managers of IBEW locals about their experiences with Trump. The union tried to avoid hyperbole or a strident tone, Brueggenjohann adds.
“We thought, let’s just put the facts out there,” he says. “We don’t need to tell our members what to think.”
Among eight Trump projects in Florida, only one used union electrical contractors—the renovation and maintenance of his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach. “This is not complicated,” Bill Riley, business manager of Local 349 in Miami, said in the report. “Trump supports policies that are most common in those places where unions are weak, and where unions are weak, he hires nonunion. Except for his own house.” Trump’s three properties in Virginia and North Carolina were all built nonunion, as were a hotel in Vancouver, B.C., and the Estates at Trump National Golf Club, mini-mansions clustered around a golf course in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Palos Verdes, advertised as “occupying the most desirable location in California.”
“Not a bit of the work was built union and the unqualified workers that built the golf course went way over budget,” said Los Angeles Local 11 President Richard Reed.
In New Orleans, where Trump was planning to build a 70-story tower before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Local 130 Business Manager Robert “Tiger” Hammond asked him to hire IBEW electricians, noting that the union had done every electrical job in the city over $1 million, including the Harrah’s casino on the waterfront. Trump’s response, according to Hammond, was “There are 10 projects on that block. Why do I have to be union? Why are you picking on me?”
“It looks like you work union when you have to, but when you don’t, you don’t,” New York City Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson, who had helped set up the meeting, told him.
In cities where Trump used union electricians, the report says, he tried to evade using union labor in other ways. On the Las Vegas Strip, where the vast majority of projects were wired by IBEW members, Trump International Hotel management is battling to avoid having to give a union contract to the bartenders, waitresses, and housekeeping staff who voted last December to join UNITE HERE Local 226. In Washington, where Trump is converting the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue into a luxury hotel, the Labor Department opened an investigation in June into allegations that subcontractors were paying workers less than the legal prevailing wage, such as giving glaziers $13 an hour instead of $24.30.
In Atlantic City, where all three of Trump’s casinos were built union, including the 42-story Trump Taj Mahal—“Every wire was our work, and there was a lot of work,” said Dan Cosner, business manager of IBEW Local 351 in Folsom, N.J.—more than 250 contractors were paid either late or less than the full amount, according to New Jersey Casino Commission figures cited in the report. Others got shorted when the casinos declared bankruptcy. Taj Mahal contractor Triad Building Specialties went out of business after it got only 30 cents on the dollar. Dozens of bartenders and waiters have also sued him for not paying them.
“It isn’t enough to ask if unions got Trump’s work,” said Cosner. “You also have to ask if they got paid.”
“We controlled the city, so he built union, but he stiffed a lot of contractors and didn’t pay others what they were due,” he added. “And that is not usual. We don’t run into that here.”