Friday, January 06, 2006
Carpenters Union 39th General Convention in Las Vegas, 2005
Barring Free Speech:
What You Didn't Hear About the Carpenters Convention
by ALAN WASDAHL (e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org)
San Diego, California
THE RESOLUTION in Support of Free Speech originated from Local 247 of
Portland, Oregon, and had the support of the Pacific Northwest
Regional Council, Local 22 of San Francisco, Local 792 of Rockford,
Illinois, and Local 547 of San Diego. The Rules Committee chose not to
incorporate this resolution into the Rules of the General Convention.
Since the rules could not be amended, Delegates were not allowed to
vote on the issue directly. In response, many Delegates spoke against
accepting the rules as they were presented, in hopes that the rules
would then be returned to the Rules Committee for new consideration.
The Delegates who spoke on behalf of the Free Speech Resolution did so
with great conviction and integrity, but the vote that followed failed
and Free Speech became a casualty on the floor of the Carpenters
Reasons for Supporting the Free Speech Resolution
The resolution in Support of Free Speech at UBC General Convention
proposed that it would be a violation of the rules to call for the
question to cut off debate before any debate has occurred. It would
also be a violation of the rules for any delegate to act as a "floor
whip" to seize control of the convention or to prevent, discourage,
intimidate, or threaten any delegates from reaching the microphones to
freely express their opinions on debatable issues. According to Gene
Lawhorn, co-author of the resolution, this came in direct response to
the widespread abuses that prevented free speech from happening at the
previous convention held five years ago.
Although the abuses at the 2000 convention were well documented, there
are many front men for the Carpenters union who now attempt to
discredit or minimize such reports, sometimes even claiming they never
happened to begin with. Had our administration adopted these two
points of the Free Speech Resolution, at least this would have
indicated a willingness to make amends for past indiscretions -- and
to simply do the right thing in the running of an open and democratic
union. Unfortunately, this did not occur and means that Doug McCarron
as Chairman holds the "ultimate trump card" and can effectively
prevent any Delegate from speaking at anytime.
In past conventions, if someone criticized the administration, the
plug was often pulled on the microphone; but now, the administration
reserves "the right" to preempt anyone to speak from the get-go. This
is done, simply by choosing to recognize another Delegate, someone who
is a "political insider," and acting on cue, will then call for the
question thereby ending any further debate.
Also noteworthy, was that for the entire convention there was never an
agenda provided for the Delegates. None of the Delegates knew what
would be the next order of business. A veteran Delegate confided, "The
agenda for each day is kept secret from everyone at the convention so
no opposing force can organize a solid debate."
In terms of free speech at this convention, there appears to be a
consensus among the Delegates - who witnessed such abuses at the
previous convention - that while there is still need for concern,
there were no where near the amount of blatant abuses at this
convention. Still, other Delegates maintain that such abuses never
occurred to begin with, and some have also reported that everything at
this convention was run on the up and up - with absolutely no barriers
to free speech. With all due respect, a Delegate cannot legitimately
make a statement such as this.
While some can say they did not personally witness any wrong doing,
they cannot make such a broad claim that such abuses did not occur.
The reason being -- they could not possibly have been at all places at
all times, and that this is in conflict with those who witnessed
abuses both on and off the convention floor.
On one such occasion, a Brother had been waiting patiently for quite
some time to speak -- when Doug McCarron recognized someone else who
was not even standing at a microphone - but was sitting in his chair a
good 50 feet away. When recognized by the chair, this Delegate had to
rise out of chair, make his way through the row, walk down the isle
and then approach the microphone -- where he then, called for the
question, -- and in doing so, denied another Brother the opportunity
to speak. McCarron slammed the gavel, and jokingly said, "I?m in a
hurry." Certainly the Delegate left standing at the microphone was
According to another Delegate, "The first time that I went to speak at
a microphone, I was standing behind the person speaking and no one
else was at another microphone. I would have been the last to speak on
a resolution. The floor whip next to me got on his radio and then
someone jumped up at another microphone and was recognized before me
-- he then called for the question... after another similar
experience, I didn't bother to get up to speak anymore."
To begin with, why, would floor whips have the need for communication
head sets -- if not for the purpose of preventing someone from speaking?
Could it possibly be to help the Chairman to recognize Delegates
waiting to speak at all of the various microphones -- so, that they
wouldn't be overlooked?
Not likely -- thus far, there are 7 confirmed instances where
Delegates were denied to speak at microphones on the convention floor.
For the benefit of those who were not at the convention, and to
further document what did indeed happened, a request has been made to
the Carpenters General Office to obtain copies of all of the video
taping that took place on the convention floor. At this time, they
have not complied with this request.
The convention format currently in place does not allow a Delegate to
speak on anything unless it's specifically on the agenda. Delegates
must confine their remarks to the question under debate and everything
is then voted up or down. To change this, the Free Speech Resolution
also proposed that one hour per convention day would be reserved for
"good of the order" so delegates could share their views with the
The primary argument against the one hour of good of the order, was
time restraints. As one Delegate put it, "If too many people start
speaking on an issue, next thing you know, we'll be here for a month."
In response to that statement, and on that particular day, the
Delegates' lunch was from 11:45 am to 2:05 pm (over two hours), and
the day's agenda was concluded at 4:02 pm rather than the scheduled
Those in support of the resolution, said that one hour of Good of the
Order could be made voluntary, it could be done during the lunch
break, before or after the regular session.
According to Tom Lewandowski, "It's a shame, when carpenters come
together from every local throughout the United States and Canada -
only once every five years - and they don't have the opportunity to
express their concerns or ideas to all of the Delegates, here,
assembled. Our "Good of the Order" could be conducted much as it is in
Congress - often times there is hardly anyone in the audience;
however, this is when testimony can be given and a written transcript
is later made available to everyone. Our union and the members deserve
the same kind of forum for free speech."
As it now stands, the only way a Delegate can speak on an issue that
is not on the agenda -- is to run for office and then be guaranteed at
least some amount of time to speak.
Charles Campau says, "It's unbelievable, in this day and age, there is
no way for carpenters to communicate among themselves through our own
organization. This was a common concern shared by many of us -- to
foster open communications among the members. We could start with an
interactive website so that members could get more involved and
discuss their ideas. In addition, there is no communication between
rank and file members and those in charge of the union. We can't grow
as a union if members are not active in the effort. A big first step
would be to enlist their participation by more "personal"
communication from the "power players" at the regional and local
levels. It's time the information age came to the membership!"
Administration Condemns Free Speech Resolution
--- Supporters Called "Dissidents"
Prior to the Convention, a UBC Executive Board Member came to debate
Local 247's Free Speech Resolution. He denounced the Free Speech
Resolution and proclaimed Local 247 as a bunch of "dissidents."
According to Gene Lawhorn, we at 247 take pride in authoring the Free
Speech Resolution, and in being labeled as dissidents. In the words of
Thomas Jefferson, "Dissent is the highest form of Patriotism."
To celebrate our cause, we had made "Dam Dissidents Pins of 247 in
support of Free Speech" and to show our pride at the Carpenters
The pins featured a wrecking ball, breaching a dam with water and
salmon flowing through representing our desire for the free flow of
ideas within the UBC. It further represents our desire to communicate,
and to participate at the convention, and not as ornaments, mindless
mannequins, or spectators.
However, someone had apparently told McCarron that the dam represented
the UBC and we at 247 were the wrecking ball trying to destroy the
UBC! On the second day of the Convention it was made known that
McCarron wanted to see our delegation at the podium during the lunch
break. Floor whips were rounded up, and soon several surrounded us.
I'm not sure if this was meant to intimate us, or maybe it was to keep
other people away from hearing what was going on.
At any rate, McCarron was all bent out of shape about the pins, and
soon realized we were now wearing shirts bearing the same "Dam
Dissidents/Free Speech" message.
McCarron said to our President of local 247, I'm going to keep
visiting your local until you get your minds right.
I asked McCarron if he would like to hear an explanation?
I proceeded to tell him that the dam represented old ideas that were a
barrier to free speech and open communication of all our members. The
breaching of the dam represented the flow of our ability to
communicate to each other our ideas, dreams, and visions of the
future. It was about then that Vice President Draper called me an
anarchist. I should point out that I am 5'6" tall and McCarron is
something like 6'5" tall -- I'm looking almost straight up. But with
McCarron, its like he's looking right through me. He's not even
listening to me. He realizes that he can't intimidate me, so he then
asks, Who else here is on staff?
McCarron then approaches our Business Rep. and points his finger into
his chest and asks him -- Do you stand for this? Are you the wrecking
ball? Lawhorn, comments, "It was total intimidation."
McCarron became absolutely unglued about the shirts and demanded we
take the tee shirts off.
Lawhorn said, The other delegates from my local told me we should take
off the shirts otherwise I probably wouldn't be called on to speak on
the other resolutions -- and I did want to speak, and so we
reluctantly changed our shirts.
McCarron threatened to visit us every month till we got our act
together. I have since heard from our Executive Secretary Treasurer he
will indeed pay us a visit in the next couple of months. I felt a
strong implied threat of receivership!
Who Actually Spoke at the Convention and Who Spoke Out?
Every issue that required a delegate vote also came along with a
committee recommendation -- this was a "recommendation" as to how to
vote. It's important to note that the committees did not represent
rank and file members - at least not in their makeup - but represented
the high command of the Administration. Comprised mostly of Executive
Secretary Treasurers, Administrators, and prominent union officials --
all McCarron appointees. There is little doubt that the committees'
recommendations reflected the wants and desires of the Administration.
There were 62 delegate votes that took place at the Carpenters
Convention, and without exception, whatever the committee
recommendation was -- so was the outcome of the vote. And so, at this
convention, the Administration got everything it wanted.
In 40 of these votes, no delegates offered testimony whatsoever,
neither pro or con -- there was only the committee recommendation that
preceded the vote. It was during noncontentious issues such as these,
where clearly no one was standing at any of the microphones that
McCarron could be heard making overtures to the delegates, "Do we have
Out of the 62 votes, 53 were uncontested -- meaning that no one
offered testimony contrary to the committee's recommendation. Of
course, there were plenty of delegates who offered "rubber stamp"
testimony; this went something like, "I'm so and so, from such and
such a local, and I think this is a good idea and I concur with the
Throughout the entire four day convention - only nine issues were
contended -- meaning that there were delegates who actually spoke and
expressed a point of view other than what the committee recommended.
Taken in this context, the instances when delegates were deprived of
their right to speak, takes on a much greater significance.
Upon review, the Delegates who gave testimony in concurrence with the
committee's recommendations reads much like a "who's-who" of all of
the other committees. The pattern that emerges is that well-spoken
committee members and other paid staff took turns in concurring with
each other's recommendations that were then put to a delegate vote.
A lot of carpenters don't realize just how orchestrated all of this is.
Carpenters Rubber Stamp and Pin Trading Convention?
Scott Brineman suggests that perhaps a better name for this gathering
of carpenters would be the "39th General Rubber Stamp and Pin Convention."
"Rubber stamp" because the McCarron group got everything they asked
for, and the "pin" reference is because so many of the delegates set
up spaces and engaged in that carpenter tradition of trading pins.
There were delegates who were out in the halls trading pins while the
convention was in session! Some had pin sashes hanging around their
necks with over 100 pins on them.
We, as carpenters, spent over $18 mil on that convention when it could
have been accomplished for a lot less. It's my feeling that very few
took the convention seriously. This is why, I can even appreciate
those who got upset with us for running against Mac (McCarron).
There were those who took our fliers and ripped them up in front of us.
At one of the convention receptions, there were mimes posing as bronze
motionless statues, we gave one a "Restore the Vote" button. A group
on McCarron supporters came by and saw it and just went ballistic. One
of them ripped it off the mime and threw it on the floor and then
stomped on it and kicked it across the room. At least these guys were
involved enough to be pissed at us. Seeing so many others who came to
the convention seemingly just for the party and to trade pins was very
Selective Enforcement of Order on the Convention Floor
On Day 3, during the afternoon session, someone sitting in the guest
section had a bull horn. The person could be heard throughout the
convention hall, a voice had said "Mr. Chairman, give us our vote!" At
first it seemed no one knew exactly where the voice was coming from.
A few minutes later this same scenario repeated, only this time
security and/or the floor whips got a bead on the Brother, who was
then quickly subdued and escorted away from the convention proceedings.
In contrast, consider on Day 4, Tom Lewandowski, a candidate running
for the position of General President under the Restore the Vote
Slate, was addressing the delegates. On this day, there were two huge
monitors behind the stage. Someone, sitting in the Western District
Delegate section, had a red laser pen aimed on the forehead, right
between the eyes, on the projected image of Tom Lewandowski.
Throughout most of Brother Lewandowski's speech, the red laser beam
was there. What kind of message was this suppose to send? Seeing as
how none of the Wardens/Floor Whips took any initiative in stopping
this action - are these actions then somehow condoned?
How long do you think a red laser beam would stay on the forehead of
Doug McCarron before something was done?
Minutes later, during the candidates speeches, McCarron supporters
blocked cameras by holding signs in front of them. During these
speeches, McCarron supporters who were sitting directly behind the
candidates, can be seen (all on film) standing and using distracting
antics and obscene gestures. How much of this would have been
tolerated if done to the McCarron slate?
Free Speech and Censorship
Throughout the convention we heard high energy songs; like, "Takin'
Care of Business," "Eye of the Tiger," and others. Multimedia
presentations were first rate productions and throughout the four day
convention -- everything was handled with the utmost professionalism
by the Hotel Audio Visual Staff.
The only "hitch" were the songs that you didn't hear played - these
were the selections from the Restore the Vote Slate. These songs were
to be played before and after their nominations and acceptance
But maybe McCarron doesn't care for reggae music or Bob Marley, or
were the lyrics of, "Stand up, stand up, stand up for your right..." a
bit too much for him to tolerate -- even if only in a song?
Or what about "We Won't be Fooled Again," by The Who?
Were these viewed as objectionable? Were they censored? If so, would
this constitute yet another violation of free speech? Well, the songs
weren't played -- and never was an explanation given. The next
morning, the songs on CDs -that were never played - were given to
the candidates, along with a video tape of their speeches. On the
video tape was written, "The Opposition."
Why didn't it read, the "Restore the Vote Slate/Speeches" instead of
This might seem like a small point, but it's consistent with the
entire theme of the Carpenters General Convention. For these guys, you
have to ask, why is doing the right thing, such a hard thing for them
to do? Did they have to give the order to pull the music? How much
longer would it have required to let 7 people to speak -- maybe 20
minutes, spread over 4 days. What's that? -- Nothing. Do they feel
threatened because of the T-shirts that someone wears? Did they feel
that the Free Speech Resolution threatened their political advantage?
Is it a control issue when they have to resort to school yard bullying
tactics both on and off the convention floor?
Displaying social skills and antics such as these, perhaps it is at
least understandable, why, McCarron feels the need for having bodyguards.
Election Results in Question
The Election Committee oversaw all aspects of the election for the
General President and the Carpenters Executive Board; however, the
actual voting process was contracted-out to Election Software &
Systems (ES&S). ES&S provided a "touch-screen" monitor method of
voting. According to election observers Scott Brineman and Tom
Lewandowski, the ES&S technician did the tally of the vote. Soon
after, a document was prepared by the Election Committee with the
final election results in which Brineman and Lewandowski verified by
signing their names to. Brineman said, "They were very specific about
the official tallies being the property of the Election Committee.
So, we were very careful in writing down the results for our own
records." Both observers claim, the original vote count reflected 11%
for the Restore the Vote Slate. "We were surprised when the results
were later published as only 4%," says Brineman.
Scott Brineman continued by saying, "We were not provided a copy of
the election results that we had signed. At the time of the vote
tally, we were told by the Election Committee they did not want to let
any documents out until they had a chance to give their report to the
Convention Delegates. It seemed reasonable and we didn't anticipate
the need for documentation other than what we wrote down. Live and learn."
So, what about the discrepancy of the election results as originally
reported by ES&S and the Election Committee, and what was then later
officially reported in other accounts? Lewandowski and Brineman
maintain that no explanation was ever made to them by the Election
ES&S was contacted and asked to verify the McCarron claim of winning
by 96% as was reported in the Carpenter magazine. However, ES&S would
not validate that this was accurate. In further inquiries, ES&S
refused to comment about any election result tampering or irregularities.
Brineman has since, requested a copy of the original document from the
Election Committee. That request; however, has gone unanswered.
Tom Lewandowski, makes the point, "A person is usually entitled to a
copy of whatever it is that they sign their name to. Having not been
provided a copy of what we had signed, and considering that a
different set of facts is then presented in it's place, and having
never received a legitimate explanation as to why any of this was done
-- yes, it raises a few questions about the integrity of not only this
election but of our organization."
A Wrong That Cannot be Excused...
Gene Lawhorn is not only a dedicated union member, but is also a labor
historian. Gene says, "I recently had a book on labor history
published by our Carpenter Training Center that I co-wrote. I wrote
85% of this book along with all of the power point presentations --
this was two years in the making! During this time, while writing and
compiling the book, it was promised to me that I would be hired to
teach the class. However, I am now told I will no longer teach the class."
After I drafted the free speech resolution, I also applied for an
organizing position but was told by an administrator that I would
never be hired for any position in the UBC. Later, it was admitted to
me by yet another high ranking union official that I was in fact
blacklisted. He said that the Free Speech resolution was one of the
principle reasons for this. In addition, he told me that I cannot
change the way the National Convention is organized, and that is the
way it is always going to be. He excused the way it is by using the
example of how the Democratic National Convention is organized. I
countered that he cannot excuse one wrong by using another as an
example. Blacklisting is the price that I have had to pay for my fight
for free speech and leadership accountability."
But, Gene Lawhorn is not alone. Other threats of blacklisting have
been reported in retaliation for those who attended the convention and
expressed views that were apparently not consistent with the
administration's way of thinking. According to one such person, "I
was told that if I were to continue, I'd be brought up on charges and
kicked out of the union. Aside from the threat of loosing my
livelihood, I was actually a little flattered to have intimidated the
powers that be and for them to go to such extremes."
To what extent are these threats real? That's a good question. Threats
can be open faced or they can merely be implied -- but the
consequences can be real enough. If you are dependent upon the union
for getting a job, then threatening a working man's ability to make a
livelihood is about as real as it gets. That's one high price to pay
for trying to create a positive change in your own union. It's
apparent these techniques are often times effective. If they can
intimidate you into submission -- they can eliminate you as the threat
that they obviously believe you to be. What they basically want is a
docile membership - one that is easily controlled - and that follows
their direction without question.
The Future of Free Speech in the Carpenters Union
Can we expect the Free Speech Resolution to resurface at the 2010
Carpenters General Convention?
Gene Lawhorn says, "If I am still alive I will present it. Interested
individuals need to get their rank and file educated about the issues.
We need to educate apprentices about the importance of internal union
history, involvement and leadership accountability. They are the
future and if they don't care or get involved the UBC is history!"
Rank and file working carpenters can help advance the Free Speech
Resolution and other worthy measures by putting it to a vote at their
local unions and making an endorsement. However, even though a local
union may go on record as being in support of a resolution, this
doesn't necessarily mean that the local union's staff will champion
the cause. In any contested issue that does not have the open support
of McCarron, how many paid staff have the courage to speak out on an
issue or to stand up and be counted when it comes to a vote?
Lawhorn sums it up by saying, "To have the best interests of working
carpenters represented at these Conventions - we have got to elect
more working carpenters as delegates."
In closing, integrity cannot be found in many of the actions that
occurred at the Carpenter's Convention, and for the union front men --
there is no integrity in defending these actions, but integrity can be
found in confronting abuses such as these. While there may be many
accomplishments that this administration and staff can take pride in
-- how far can you really progress if you loose sight of the
fundamental principles of union democracy? What is the cost once this
For more information, check out these write-ups from the 2000 Convention:
THE UBC CONVENTION REPORT by Tom Crofton, Wisconsin Local 314
CARPENTER CONVENTION by Mike Orrfelt, HardHat Magazine
posted by T. Scott Brineman