February 3, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
George Carlin used to rant against the Catholic Church for not paying taxes. Apparently, the Archdiocese of New York is balking at paying area standards to workers in the construction trades, according to Jack Kittle, political director for DC 9.
On February 1, DC 9 members stood outside the Archdiocese’s offices handing out flyers that were short on specific grievances, but long on Catholic canon.
The flyer cited numerous quotes from Pope Leo XIII on the unremitting dynamic between Capital and Labor back in the 19th century. “The most important of all are workingmen’s unions.”
The Archdiocese was in favor of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act to raise the minimum wage for projects that receive significant public subsidies, said Kittle, but at Our Lady of Good Counsel, the church hired a general contractor that is paying workers off the books without providing for the workers’ health care benefits and contributing to pensions.
In response, Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese, said, “The Archdiocese does have standards for the parishes and institutions that have work done on them, including the use of merit shops and the requirement that all workers be paid ‘on the book.’ While there is not a large amount of jobs that require painters, DC 9 has bid on and won some contracts.”
Also, in response to the Archdiocese’s support for a living wage for subsidized projects, Zwilling said, “The Archdiocese did not support any particular piece of legislation. We did support, and continue to support, good jobs with good wages and benefits. That is perfectly consistent with our position in this matter.”
Kittle explained that at one time the union and the Archdiocese reached a “labor harmony agreement” whereby the Archdiocese agreed to use general contractors who employed union craftsman for projects that were in the pipeline.
But then a new director for the Archdiocese’s construction division stepped in and terminated the agreement. “We operated under the assumption that we reached an institutional agreement with the Archdiocese, but apparently not because the new director just ripped it up,” said Kittle.
Kittle also said that the Church has a history of hiring contractors that don’t pay area standards, and it seems it gets a little miffed when it’s taken to task.
According to Kittle, church leaders in the Upper East Side, “in the second richest zip code in the country,” printed out flyers with Kittle’s contact information, indicating that DC 9 union officials were being too demanding in their compensation requests for their workers.
“For three straight days, I received extremely abusive phone calls from the parishioners using language they wouldn’t express in a house of worship,” Kittle said.
He also noted, “You’d be surprised how many parishioners take their church leaders’ words as an article of faith without bothering to ask questions.”
Kittle said every day of every week DC 9 leaders and members are out in front of different facilities when they learn that contractors aren’t paying area standards.
But the problem is exacerbated because a lot of the workers who paint, install glass and dry wall accept only cash for their work because they may not originate from this country, and they’re afraid that if they complain to their employer, they may be deported.
Kittle wants to organize every worker who does this work into the union, but if a worker can’t prove he’s been working in the industry, it’s impossible to organize them.
“I can’t remember the last time a guy showed me the necessary paperwork that he’s been working in our trade. He might have 20 years’ experience, but he’s been paid cash all that time.”
He noted, “Their experience gives you a little window into how bad things must be for these guys who are willing to be paid only cash.”
Kittle mentioned there’s a “very big difference” between how the Catholic Church and private companies like Rose Associates (manages Peter Cooper Village and other properties) manage their labor relations.
“Rose Associates doesn’t pretend it cares about workers. Their job is to make complexes more profitable by increasing rents and paying lower wages. In contrast, the Catholic Church pretends they do care about workers’ economic well-being, but act just like Rose Associates.”
Even though he’s not a religious man, Kittle’s only religion is to organize workers.
If he were a churchgoer, he’d attend the church of Rose Associates. “If it weren’t for managers like Rose, there’d be no reason for me to exist.”