To the editor:

A response to Earl Oliver [Letters, January 24]

Oh yes, there is power in our union, only it’s in the hands of one!

I am one of the persons mentioned in the January 10 article “Suits vs. Boots.” Now on a whole, all the response to the article I heard was good. Carpenters of all ages, races, and genders had told me so at all the rank-and-file meetings we attend. But all readers of the Chicago Reader were treated to, in response to the article, was none other than the response of the president/executive secretary-treasurer of the Chicago and Northeast Illinois District Council of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Earl Oliver. He said the “story claimed to be about the carpenters’ union.” It was, and furthermore, it was based on reality. Something he wouldn’t quite know about, since he hasn’t worked as a tool-carrying carpenter in nearly 30 years.

He said that we got an $8.40 raise for a four-year period. That’s great. What he didn’t say was that maybe only half of that will make it on the check and that we are taxed 3 percent of it by our union. There was also a laughable statement about an “82 percent” increase in our pension. I’d be staggered to meet some of the pensioners receiving that. Also mentioned was that 93 percent of all commercial building and 80 percent of all residential work is performed by union carpenters in Chicago. That’s great too. But what isn’t mentioned is that Mr. Oliver is the leader of a district council that covers Cook, Du Page, Lake, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, and Will counties too. Why doesn’t he talk about the percentage of union work done in his district council? It is because he can’t make such claims outside the city of Chicago.

Earl Oliver also mentions at the end of his response that “as a large group we have differences in opinion….But we have always welcomed dissent and discussion.” What he does not tell you is that the first listed offense a carpenter can be charged with in the Constitution of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners is “causing dissension among the members of the United Brotherhood.” In fact, an individual mentioned in the article was brought up on this charge just within the last year.

Finally, he doesn’t understand why members would choose to distort “the laudable record” [of the district council] and in such a forum as the Chicago Reader. First we need to say that Mr. Oliver did not respond to a single issue the story raised. Instead he only put out another union-leadership-issued statement that to those of us wearing the tools only amounts to sidestepping and smoke screens. Furthermore, to answer the president/executive secretary-treasurer in his question, we participated in the Reader story because we are proud of the issues we stand for and our organizing successes, despite the repression we get from his office. In October of 2001 the district council put out a press release that trumpeted our contract increases; it was something that their negotiators felt proud of. Carpenters for a Rank and File Union also has things that we want to shout to the carpenters across Chicago and beyond. When we make the changes to our union’s democracy and strength that we have set out to do, he will hopefully be able to read about it in a full publication owned and run by our members.

Joe Quattrochi


Local One