June 2, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – After decades of trying, the New York City District Council of Carpenters (NYCDCC) is optimistic that a new vote taken today by workers at Manhattan Cabinetry in Long Island City will finally lead to a fair contract.
The cabinet factory at 903 44th Road, has been in operation since 1976, but in all that time, workers have been unrepresented and without a contract.
“They do beautiful residential work and they are paid pennies compared to what they should be getting,” Walter E. Clayton Jr., representative for the NYCDCC told LaborPress at a rally outside Manhattan Cabinetry on Friday. “It’s more like a sweatshop than a factory.”
The NYCDCC’s latest efforts to help factory workers organize started about a two years when employees at the shop earning as little as $12 an hour, reached out to the union for help.
Factory workers say they lack job security and that they are routinely denied vacation pay. Their overall salaries, they charge, are largely contingent upon how much favor they can curry with the bosses.
“My experience has not been nice,” 55-year-old Manhattan Cabinetry employee Luis Puma said. “We don’t have any benefits. And we are tired of it.”
In April, more than 50 percent of Manhattan Cabinetry’s highly-skilled workforce signed authorization cards setting the stage for this week’s crucial election.
Since that time, labor leaders and supportive workers say that the owners of the family-run factory have actively tried to dissuade employees from voting for union representation – and even threatened to shut down the nearly 40-year-old business.
“Every day, they talked to the workers and tried to frighten them,” Puma said.
A prior rally in support of unionization held at the Manhattan Cabinetry showroom at 227 East 59th Street, devolved into a scuffle after the owners reportedly attempted to tear down a pro-labor banner. Police were called in, but no arrests were made.
Union representatives say they are eager to work out a package deal with Manhattan Cabinetry that is beneficial to both workers and the business.
“We reached out to the employer,” NYCDCC organizer Ruben Colon said. “I tried to tell him about the benefits of working with the union – that we could help him expand his business by expanding his scope of work throughout the city. But He refuses to listen.”
Friday’s rally outside of the Long Island City factory was the union’s final push before this week’s all important election.
If successful, the Carpenters union would be officially designated as the factory workers’ representative in contract negotiations. The shop employs approximately 35 workers.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on board, and hopefully, we’ll win this election,” Clayton said.
Win or loose, Colon says he feels a special obligation to stand with workers and offer them support.
"At the very least, everybody deserves dignity in the workplace,” Colon said. “And at best, they deserve a retirement package.”
Editor's Note: The NYCDCC reports that the vote to unionize Manhattan Cabinetry fell short. More to follow.