Dying to be a Carpenter

Las Vegas has always been a dangerous place to be a carpenter. By the summer of 2008, workplace accidents at the $10 billion CityCenter project cost six carpenters their lives. As if the constant threat of injury on the job wasn’t enough, it turns out unemployment is even more dangerous for carpenters. According to Local 1977, eight members of the carpenters union—desperately unemployed and underwater in the mortgages— committed suicide between November 2009 and February 2010.

Las Vegas, you see, is the suicide capital of the United States and the carpenter suicides have revealed another dark side of the spreading economic panic. Over the past 12 years, according to the local coroner, an average of more than one visitor a month comes to Las Vegas to end their life. But this sad surprise of sin city tourism has taken a local turn since 2008 as economic misery settled in for a menacing Las Vegas holiday. Ten violent deaths, nearly all linked to economic anxieties, followed the carpenter suicides and marked August of 2010 as the crash of the colossal crest of “a wave of murder-suicides in the Las Vegas Valley.” One homicide detective told a local paper of the deaths, “It appears that maybe the economy is starting to take effect.”

The storm started in 2007 when Las Vegas became home to the hardest-hit zip codes in the country when it comes to home foreclosures. At the close of 2007, 741 default notices and bank repossessions made North Las Vegas (89031) the worst in the Country. An adjacent zip code, 89131, was a close second with 665 foreclosure-related filings. While the mammoth CityCenter project kept the economic wolves at bay, at least for carpenters, the bottom finally fell out in 2009. By the summer of 2010, the unemployment rate in Las Vegas hit 14.5%.

This is Las Vegas, the home of Douglas McCarron’s United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Surely there’s help for desperate carpenters in the city that drives the union. How has McCarron’s carpenters union reacted to these dire circumstances? What has the union done to deal with this growing anxiety? What could, or should, they do? After all, according to Mark Furman, the president of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, this is all just the cost of doing business. “It’s the business we’re in,” Furman told a local newspaper discussing the high levels of unemployment and stress among carpenters. “If you want to work all the time, become a public employee.” (Anywhere but Las Vegas of course, where cuts in the public sector cost 3,000 jobs in August 2010 alone.)

If this is their position—it’s just business—it seems useful to consider exactly what business Furman and McCarron think they’re in. Is it the business of defending and protecting the interests of workers? No, not for McCarron. His business is the business of Wall Street.

Furman’s comment is less a function of the cluelessness of the carpenters union leadership regarding local economic conditions than an illustration of the extent to which McCarron has turned the UBCJ into his own personal vehicle for Wall Street speculation. Much has been written about how his authoritarian leadership has undermined union democracy, but the real legacy of McCarron may well be the way in which he has contributed to the economic anxiety of rank and file carpenters. Throughout his reign at the helm of the UBCJ, he has squandered millions of pension dollars paying Wall Street advisors, invested millions more in dubious financial instruments and all the while lined the pockets of his Wall Street friends.

His most notorious schemes are the stuff of legend now. He joined the board of directors of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company (Ullico) after becoming President of the carpenters in the 1990s. There he played a central role in a massive financial scandal when Ullico officers and directors purchased shares in the telecommunications company Global Crossing based on insider information. Ullico board members gobbled up 33 million preferentially priced shares and enjoyed a $1 billion windfall when Global Crossing went public.

Global Crossing of course eventually tanked, but the Ullico board members got out. The union pension fund was left to pay the price. One thousand union members of the Communication Workers of America lost much of the value of their 401(k) savings when Global Crossing went bankrupt. “They lost everything they worked thirty, thirty-five years for, they’re devastated,” said one local member.

So, what exactly is McCarron? Is he an union leader or is he a corporate CEO? According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, he is the President of the Inland Empire Hotel Corporation, President of the RPS Resort Corporation, President and Chairman of the Santa Nella Hotel Corporation and President of the THMI Motel Corporation.

He also has been on the board of directors of the Tutor-Perini Corp., one of the largest general contractors in the United States with nearly $6 billion in annual revenue, and the board of PB Capital Partners, a derivative-trading firm owned by Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband Richard Blum.

In 2000, three retired carpenters sued Blum, claiming that he, Tutor and McCarron conspired to invest $2 billion in union pension funds. The suit claimed that Tutor and McCarron, both trustees of the Carpenters Pension Trust for Southern California, invested $27 million with Blum, who in turn used the money to invest in Perini. Blum, who was paid $54 million in consulting fees from the carpenters union pension fund, then appointed Tutor and McCarron to the board of the Perini Corporation, which eventually changed its name to Tutor-Perini.

In retaliation Blum countersued one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Horacio Grana, for libel. The lawsuit ended, however, with Grana’s death.

In the years since McCarron has consolidated his control of the union while he and his corporate crowd have grown richer and richer. Meanwhile unemployed carpenters in Las Vegas are shooting themselves in the head. “Every time I turned around,” said the local union secretary “somebody was coming into my office to say that someone just popped themselves in the head with a 9 mm or some other thing,”

Such is life and death in Douglas McCarron’s carpenters union.

DAVID CORREIA is a Visiting Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico. He can be reached at dcorreia(at)unm(dot)edu.



More articles by:
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir