November 17, 2015
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Joseph Geiger, executive secretary-treasurer of the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters, was first elected to the post in December 2013. He ran on a platform of leading the union, which has been under federal monitorship since 1994, back to self-governance through more transparency, shop-steward protections, open lines of communication, and accountability.
He was re-elected last December, running unopposed. As executive secretary-treasurer, his job is to oversee the operations of the District Council, which comprises eight locals with a total of 20,000 members. Four represent general and commercial carpenters: Locals 20, 45, 157, and 926. The other four represent more specialized trades: the Millwright and Machinery Erectors of Local 740, who install massive and high-precision machinery; the Dockbuilders and Timbermen, in Local 1556; Local 2287, the Floorcoverers; and Local 2790, the Architectural Woodworkers and Industrial Workers, representing cabinetmakers and mill workers. Geiger, born and raised in Brooklyn, joined Timberman Local Union 1536 in 1984, when he was 17.
Starting out as a timberman helper, he worked his way up to journeyman, shop steward, foreman, and general foreman. He also became increasingly involved in the union, and gradually rose through the ranks. In Local 1536, he served as treasurer, president, and delegate to the District Council. After Local 1536 merged into Local 1556, he became head of that local, and was also its delegate to the District Council. He was hired as the District Council’s business representative in 2005. He also co-chairs the union’s benefit funds and is co-director of the New York City and Vicinity Carpenters Labor Management Corporation. The latter was created “to promote the use of union contractors and labor.
It does this from two sides: one, persuading developers and government agencies that union carpenters will do a safer, more professional job on their construction projects, and two, helping union contractors negotiate the “bureaucratic difficulties” involved in public-sector work. Last year, he helped file a court challenge to a state Department of Labor ruling that a building under construction on Roosevelt Island did not have to pay prevailing wages, even though it was publicly subsidized and on publicly owned land.
“We refuse to be complacent while workers are not being paid the prevailing wages and benefits to which they are entitled,” he said at the time. Geiger’s efforts to bring the Carpenters back to self-governance have won praise from the federally appointed independent monitor overseeing the union’s anti-corruption efforts. “While we do not agree on everything all the time—meaning that we both are zealously doing our jobs—I believe that, under Mr. Geiger’s leadership, the future of the Union is bright and will continue on the same positive trajectory as when I took over,” interim monitor Glen G. McGorty wrote in a federal court report last July.