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Mechanical Crafts Unite To Protect Turf

SIX BUILDING TRADE unions representing mechanical crafts have formed a new division within the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Dept.

The unions, including the plumbers, boilermakers, electrical workers, ironworkers, asbestos workers and sheet metal workers, want their Mechanical Allied Crafts unit, or MAC, to present a unified front to owners and contractors. Owners are paranoid with all of the turmoil in the AFL-CIO, says one union chief.

Together, the MAC unions count 1.4 million members. In addition to calming owners' jitters, the group hopes to ward off jurisdictional raids, particularly from the carpenters' union which has left BCTD. "It's strength in numbers," says William P. Hite, plumbers' union president who also is president of MAC. There are no plans to take the group outside of BCTD.

While the organization's startup remains a "work in progress," initial response has been positive, says Hite. The group actually was formed in the late 1990s, but activity was stalled until recently.

MAC member unions collectively will define jurisdiction on a local level rather than national, says Thomas F. Panconi, an aide to Hite. At a pre-job meeting with contractors, MAC members will outline the jurisdictional agreement reached by the six unions so that there are no jobsite disputes. A region's past practices will be considered in those agreements. Any issues that arise will be resolved locally, Panconi explains.

The unions also will combine forces in organizing and training. "Our goal is to establish MAC as a business partner with the owner," says Panconi. There also will be a major crackdown on absenteeism and tardiness. "That's a major cost to owners," he adds.

Hite says the group might consider a joint organizing effort in the Gulf Coast. "We're open for anything," he says.

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