Editorial: To bully or be rational?

May 18, 2011

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

Note: This paper has a bias in favor of YouthBuild. We donate $7,280 in ads to YouthBuild yearly and the occasional quarter or half page for fund-raising events. Jan. 16-17, 2010, YouthBuild students helped us to paint our office, and they have helped us since 2008 with the Winnebago County Green Business awards set-up and take-down. We love these kids. They are a blast to work with, and we learn as much as they do. They have always done excellent work for us, and we are very proud of them. YouthBuild’s Executive Director Kerry Knodle is a longtime friend.

Rockford Carpenters’ Union Local 792 is acting like a bunch of bullies. They have been picking on a local nonprofit organization that tries to train and put disadvantaged and minority kids (many have dropped out) to work, CCS YouthBuild, since early 2010.

And when are they doing this? Just as various right-wingers are attacking unions and collective bargaining around the county. Great PR move, carpenters. The other unions in town, such as the teachers, firefighters, police and municipal workers, should tell their brother carpenters to back off the little guy that helps little guys and gals.

Local 792 has initiated various actions against YouthBuild, resulting in more than $100,000 in potential liabilities to the nonprofit. So much so, YouthBuild had to declare bankruptcy last week. More great PR, Local 792! Now, the union will have a very hard time getting any money, and YouthBuild is tottering over the body blows.

These actions are based on their assertion that the nonprofit is subject to a collective bargaining agreement formerly signed by CCS LLC, the for-profit branch, that went bankrupt, which filed December of 2009 and completed in January of 2010. That corporation was dissolved shortly thereafter. These actions have resulted in rulings against CCS and aggressive attempts to collect or levy penalties against CCS.

As a result of pending or possible legal actions, Local 792 has filed Citations to Discover Assets, and CCS’s bank has frozen payroll accounts according to the citations, resulting in extreme hardship to students and staff. Staff members literally went to their own savings so the kids could have paychecks. One student was evicted because he didn’t have funds to pay rent.

The actions by Local 792 may have jeopardized grants that contribute to training new potential union members.
“The mystery is why did we become a target for the union in the first place?” said Knodle. He set out several points to consider:

– CCS operated a for-profit union general contracting company for 10 years, employing union members, apprentices and paying out more than $3,000,000 in wages and generating more than $250,000 in union dues for Local 792. Knodle says those figures are very conservative.

– He asserts the Carpenters’ actions appear to be retaliatory and aimed not at resolving a dispute, but rather at retribution for unknown reasons.

– He also says this state of affairs is contrary to most communities, where labor fully supports such training programs. In St. Louis County, the Carpenters’ Union actually has a YouthBuild grant.

– He says these claims are unfounded, as no harm has come to any union members or companies as a result of YouthBuild’s deconstruction activities. This action may actually set a precedent that will damage other green efforts by other nonprofits across the country. Great. Union prevailing wage demands would make most deconstruction projects unfeasible for most nonprofits. Great.

– Carpenters have acted similarly in Chicago and Cook County, attempting to shut down deconstruction training programs putting ex-offenders to work. Great.

–Knodle points out other unions (e.g., painters) have reached out to YouthBuild programs to train and recruit new apprentices.

– Knodle continues to assert YouthBuild programs that participate in the YB-TAP apprenticeship program are exempt from federal prevailing wage, saying Illinois law needs to be changed to allow training programs to operate free from these onerous requirements.

– As to the bankruptcy filing, Knodle said after exhausting other available remedies, and due to the exigent circumstances (Carpenters froze bank accounts), CCS made a difficult business decision to protect its clients, students, staff and customers, and to execute its fiduciary responsibilities to federal, state and local funding sources.

The filing of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy was, unfortunately, necessary to protect CCS from the union action that Knodle considers an illegal seizing or preventing appropriate use of these funds.

CCS fully intends to continue to operate all of its programs and services, and to emerge from bankruptcy as expeditiously as possible in an even stronger position to meet the demands from its constituents.

Although the Carpenters’ actions were the precipitating cause, there are other factors that have contributed to the difficult financial situation of CCS YouthBuild, which if anyone should be sympathetic to it, should be the carpenters, including:

– Decline of residential housing market—CCS has four single-family homes and a 10-family apartment building for sale. No takers.

– A decline over the past 1-1/2 years in donations and fund-raising

– Aftermath of the previous closing of the subsidiary construction company

– A decline in the value of real estate holdings

– Loss of state and county grant funding over the past two years

– Cutbacks in federal funding

Knodle asserts the future remains strong for CCS. Demand for the YouthBuild program continues to be high, and other new programs under development, such as green job training and other entrepreneurial ventures, are under way.

CCS has a 20-year track record of serving the community, investing in its poorest neighborhoods, and the at-promise young adults who live there and who depend on it. Among its many partners and supporters, CCS has produced a strong return on investment, and will continue to work with funders, donors, partners and supporters to emerge stronger and better able to manage future downturns.

It is indeed unfortunate that an organization like the Carpenters’ Union, which has actually benefited from CCS’s programs over the past 16 years, has chosen to undertake a course of action apparently intended to destroy the agency.

An old friend, Rick Cervantes, called in to correct our story that he was president of the union, stating: “I have not been president of the union for a year and a half; Joe Dunker is the president, I’ve been too darn busy with the RHA.

He has been the chairman of the Board of Commissioners since December of 2004]. Knodle was found guilty of not paying prevailing wages that were required by the grant he received by the Department of Labor. Dan Jansen of the Chicago office brought that action,” Cervantes said.

Knodle replied that he provided the information on Cervantes’ position from the web site unionfacts.com/unions/unionProfile.cfm?ID=28037. If you go to that site now, it reads: “The service is unavailable. Down For Maintenance. The website is currently down for maintenance and will be back up shortly.

Sorry for the inconvenience.” Obviously, I am sure we all regret the error.
One more question, where is the minority community? Why not stick up for YouthBuild and our kids? Would it be out of line to see a giant inflatable rat in front of the Carpenters’ Union Local 792 office at 212 S. First St. No. 105, with minority and other YouthBuild supporters picketing?

Or would it be better to stop this dispute, and sit down at the table with minority leaders, YouthBuild and the carpenters, and come up with a solution?

Someone has to do something because besides Congressman Don Manzullo’s (R-16) Deputy Chief of Staff Bryan Davis, not one of our public officials replied to a letter Knodle sent out for help.

This paper would be glad to mediate the meeting. Bullying is not permitted in our schools; and it should not be permitted anywhere in our community. Also, green deconstruction must continue and be affordable. How can we work this out?

The Rock River Times is available for rebuttals or an agreement to meet and be rational. Name the time and place (please make it on a Thursday or Friday because of production and distribution, thanks). Offering the fair right of reply and our good offices for mediation, we look forward to hearing from everyone.

Oh, by the way, ironically, bankruptcy and all, YouthBuild just received a U.S. Department of Labor $1.1 million grant.

Please click on YouthBuild Coalition Facts, March 2011, to read more about the value of YouthBuild.

From the May 18-24, 2011 issue

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