Obama won yesterday for many reasons. One of them was the overwhelming support he had from unions– although let me mention that my sister’s union, the American Federation of Teachers endorsed Obama and worked hard for him on a national level, while her Staten Island local never tired of urging the members to vote for Romney. We’ve been talking about unions that back Republicans and we’ve concentrated on the AFL-CIO’s building trades unions, the worst of the lot. One of the most corrupt (and right-wing) of the unions is the Carpenters and Joiners Union. They spent close to $8 million on this election cycle and only 4 candidates running for Congress got over $10,000:
• Janice Hahn, a mainstream Democrat they backed to keep a liberal from winning the primary ($20,000)
• Michael “Mikey Suits” Grimm, Staten Island’s Mafia clown who we’ll discuss below
• Kathleen Hochul, one of the most conservative New Dems in the House
• David McKinley, a corrupt right-wing multimillionaire the DCCC wanted to see win
The Carpenters and Joiners also backed John Boehner, always the champion of the working man, to the tune of 10,000 smackeroos. But let’s get back to all this carpenter/joiner love for Grimm, a fervently anti-working family fanatic. What’s the story? Well, it turns out the Carpenters and Joiners Union is involved with the same fraternal organization as Grimm, the Mafia.
The former FBI agent who infiltrated the New York Mafia and helped convict more than 200 gangsters told Quebec’s Charbonneau commission on Monday that the Mob would manipulate the construction industry and rake in large payoffs by infiltrating unions and controlling the supply of raw materials.
Joseph Pistone, who spent five years undercover as a Mafia henchman and whose story was made famous in the movie Donnie Brasco, testified at the inquiry about his experience in “deep cover,” mostly inside New York’s Bonanno crime family in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“Organized crime cannot operate without corrupting someone,” Pistone said in response to questions about how New York’s five Mafia families insinuated themselves into business and government.
And in the construction sector, that meant gaining control of labour unions– generally by having a Mafia man get elected president or business manager of a local, Pistone said.
“They’ll start their own union, or there will be an existing union where they’ll have their man, a Mafia guy within the union, become the representative of the union, become the president of the union,” he testified.
Since most big construction projects use unionized workers, a Mafia family could then use its control of the labour force to extort the construction company’s bosses.
“They would tell their members to slow down the job so the company’s losing money every day,” Pistone said. “If a legitimate company did get a contract and didn’t play ball with the Mafia, that’s what they would do until they finally gave in.”
Construction companies could be hit up for millions in payments this way. It might happen subtly: Sometimes the Mob would dictate that 20 workers be hired for a particular construction project, when only 10 were really needed, Pistone said. Or Mafia-run construction companies would submit claims for more expensive unionized labour while actually paying cheaper non-union rates.
Organized crime also had a stake in raw-materials companies like cement or steel suppliers, and could squeeze a piece of the profit that way, even when public contracts went to a business not controlled by dons.
The ultimate consequence of these Mafia rake-offs is to drive up costs, the FBI veteran said.
“The government, taxpayers are paying more when the Mafia is involved in any particular business, if the government or taxpayers have to use that business.”
Early in September the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Locals 926 and 20, officially endorsed Grimm, in the midst of several scandals and an FBI investigation. Here’s their press release:
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.– Two Carpenters Union locals endorsed Rep. Michael Grimm Thursday, saying the freshman lawmaker understands working-class voters.
“We strongly support the congressman for re-election,” said Salvatore Tagliaferro, president of Local 926 outside the Bulls Head construction site of the new 121 Precinct. “His voting record is one of standing up for the working class. We hope everyone comes out and supports him.”
Grimm called the backing of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Union Brooklyn Local 926 and Staten Island Local 20 “special because they represent hard-working families.”
“You hear the sound bites about how Republicans don’t care about the working-class, the middle-class,” said Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn). “That shows how little they know about me. Here is more proof, added to the other union support I have gotten and will get. They know I have stood up for them and fought for their families. I do my homework on the issues. I won’t be swayed. I have broken with the Republican Party 70 times to stand up for our labor force.”
One time was on project labor agreement legislation, to guarantee skilled union labor at the prevailing wage on job sites, said Grimm and Tagliaferro.
“Some people think the congressman is a shoe-in,” added Tagliaferro. “But you never take your opponent lightly. You have to fight the fight. He fights the fight for us every day. He rides the wave; we ride it with him.”
Tagliaferro also noted that Grimm grew up in a union household. The congressman’s father was a roofer.
The Carpenters Union is one of the largest building trades unions in North America.
Despite Grimm’s Mob connections he defeated hapless Democrat Mark Murphy yesterday, 53.4 -45.7%. Grimm raised $2,120,030 to Murphy’s $824,424 (both figures as of October 17). Neither the DCCC nor the NRCC spent any money in the race, although right-wing groups spent slightly over $150,000 bolstering Grimm. And it appears there was some ticket-splitting on Staten Island yesterday. Obama beat Romney 67,524 (50%) to 66,420 (49%) but Grimm triumphed over Murphy 72,102 (55%) to 58,193 (44%).
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis