Building Trades

Labor & Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Raise Eyebrows Together

August 22, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce joins Labor at City Hall.

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce joins Labor at City Hall.

New York, NY – The chambers of commerce representing minority- and women-owned businesses who feel that the city is unfairly depriving them of vital economic opportunities through mountains of red tape, are teaming up with organized labor in a partnership that is being viewed as beneficial as it is surprising. 

Jack Kittle, political director, District Council 9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades conceded this week on the steps of City Hall that the innovative coalition fighting against the enactment of Local Law 1 – the measure that critics say is stymying business opportunities and hurting many business owners – might run counter to popular held notions about the relationship between organized labor and chambers of commerce. 

“Every time we find ourselves standing with any chamber of commerce, eyebrows get raised because there is the popular narrative out there that chambers of commerce and unions are supposed to be like the snake and the mongoose,” Kittle said. “But nothing could be further from the real truth.”

In actuality, the District Council 9 political director said that organized labor’s relationship with various chambers of commerce, is not as adversarial as many people want to believe that it is.

“We actually have a very symbiotic relationship,” Kittle said. “We understand, and our contractors also understand, that neither one of us is going to make a living unless we work together.”

Frank Garcia, chairman, New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that the group’s alliance with organized labor began with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, but that it will continue to grow. 

“In the past, we have not worked with each other,” Garcia said. “But I think working together opens doors.”

Garcia’s organization has already held joint certification workshops with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and the effort is at least starting to crack preconceived notions about the possibility of the groups working together. 

“We’ve got businesses here who are now interested in joining with the union where before, they didn’t know about the union,” Garcia said. “They just heard rumors and negative stuff.”

Jack Kittle.

Jack Kittle.

In joining with the NYS Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in their fight against the red tape that they maintain is unfairly excluding minority- and women-owned business from municipal procurement opportunities, District Council 9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades is hoping to make it easier for more of those same business to work in the fields where labor operates. 

“What we seek is a contractor base that is more representative of what our members look like,” Kittle said. “The only way a company can really get big is to sign a union contract. It offers them a lot of resources. We just have to get over the fear.”

Kittle said that organized labor wants its contractors to be wildly successful. 

“We want them to have a mansion on Long Island,” the District Council 9 political director added. “We don’t begrudge anybody succeeding – but we want them to work on the union side of the industry, and understand the we do bring value to the table in terms of a trained workforce, a safer workforce and a more productive workforce.”

According to Kittle, becoming a signatory contractor just makes it easier for businesses to become part of important Project Labor Agreements.

“You will have a market that is screaming to be filled in the union construction industry,” Kittle said. “And our contractors need you. It’s wide open.”

Additionally, District Council 9 is betting that working with the NYS Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and its many partners will also help its rank and file members realize their own dreams of launching a business.

“We well understand that there is help available to them through the many different chambers of commerce,” Kittle said. 

August 22, 2014

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