Bill Bumpus

Talvez você já viu esses caras. Às vezes, eles usam camisas verde T blazoned com as palavras:O trabalho barato não é hábil qualificados de trabalho não é barato." Eles são membros de 4 Local, União Internacional de Construtores Elevador. Durante vários meses, eles foram piquetes fora dois edifícios de apartamentos de propriedade da Habitação Cambridge Authority (CHA).They are protesting CHA’s use of a New Jersey-based non-union contractor to upgrade elevators at two developments: Norfolk Street congregate housing and Manning Apartments, an 18-story building in Central Square which serves primarily elder households. Each building has two elevators. While elevator work is being done, only one of the elevators may be used.

What motivates the pickets to keep at it? Why are the men still out there after so many months? “Because they’re still in there,” says one, pointing at the Manning. He means the non-union crew from New Jersey. “Because it’s a big precedent,” says another. “This is the Cambridge Housing Authority.”


On November 1. I spoke with Dave Morgan, a business agent for Local 4. Morgan gave me a lot the union’s information. He obtained a lot of it by filing Freedom of Information Act requests.

We didn’t get much from CHA because they declined to speak with us. We were told that their latest word was posted in June on the CHA website.  Otherwise all communication would be with the union and “through lawyers.”

The Manning has been running on one elevator since June while the other has been shut down for repairs. Residents have to wait twice as long and the poor elevator has to work twice as hard.  It has stopped working entirely twice, a frightening prospect for elderly people living on the upper floors. Meanwhile the other elevator keeps failing inspection so it remains out of commission.

On October 31, that elevator failed state inspection for the third time. The project was now almost three months behind schedule. Meanwhile, tenants must make do with one (usually) working elevator. They hear rumors about intruders. Security guards are posted around the clock. Residents are anxious about the situation. 

The working elevator was out for four hours on Saturday October 19, during the snowstorm.

That stoppage tied up two Cambridge fire trucks and a dozen firefighters who were present in case anything else went wrong. I spoke with the Deputy Fire Chief on November 4. Since the call to Manning was considered part of regular city service, CHA was not charged. The local taxpayers picked up that tab.

On Thursday, November 3, CHA staff called a meeting of the Manning residents. CHA department heads spoke about the elevator issue. According to residents who were present, Ms Gloria Leipzig, director of operations, asked residents to call politicians to get them to go to the state safety commission and ask for a new inspection. CHA is informally saying that the inspections were crooked because they were all done by the same individual and that individual is a member of the union. CHA says it's not fair that the same inspector was sent on all three occasions. 

After the union started picketing at Norfolk Street, CHA hired Cambridge police details. This continued when the action shifted to Manning. 

Bill Cunningham coordinates volunteers in the ACT office, which is located in the basement of the Manning.  “When I first saw an officer at Manning,” he says, “I asked him if this had anything to do with resident security concerns after a recent drug bust there. He said no, it was about the elevators. It turned out that they were there because of the union pickets.” 

"Residents heard rumors that union picketers were coming onto the property to sabotage the elevators,” he says. “Two responsible people at CHA told me privately that CHA believed this was true. One said that thousands of dollars in damage had been done to electrical systems in the basement and that whoever did it may have got in through the ACT Office.”



Blowup at the CHA Board meeting

The CHA is run by a five-person Board of Commissioners, four appointed by the city manager and one by the governor. Their meetings are nearly always rather laid-back, even boring. Their August 17 meeting was different. Only three members were present, but long-time observers could not remember such tension among the commissioners.

On August 17 the CHA Board of Commissioners was asked to authorize an eight-month contract with United Security, a private firm with headquarters in New York City. Commissioner Toni Pini, who represents organized labor on the CHA Board, asked why CHA had to hire a security service. He said he had been contacted by Local 4 about the dispute. 

Under state law, every housing authority must have a labor commissioner, named with input from the major unions. For over thirty years Prof Gerard Clark served as labor commissioner. He qualified for the job by buying a seafarer’s card for fifty bucks. Two years ago the city manager named Pini to replace Clark, who moved over to another seat and thus remains on the Board. Neither Clark nor tenant representative Jackie Adams was present at the August 17 meeting.

Commissioner Pini asked if there had been any incidents. Greg Russ, CHA executive secretary, said that a resident reported that someone peered in the community room late one night, and that someone was seen sleeping in a vehicle after hours. When Mr Russ said there were security cameras at Manning, Mr Pini asked to view tapes he could see if there were  trespassers and "if a licensed person is there at night" as required by state law.

Pini said he would deal with the union if there were any wrongdoing. Russ said he would have to review them first.

Mr Russ suggested that it might be a good idea to have a public discussion about the elevator dispute. Commissioner Jim Stockard objected that he was “reluctant to give Local 4 a platform will attract public attention.”  CHA could get unfair press coverage and be “portrayed as anti-union.”  

Russ said he would ask CHA general counsel Sue Cohen to render an opinion on Pini’s request. In a memorandum dated September 14, she wrote, “No individual commissioner has authority to view otherwise confidential information held by the housing authority.”



Pini’s question was prompted by rumors that union members somehow gained access to the elevators at Manning to sabotage them. No public charges have been made, and no evidence produced—and the union indignantly rejects such charges. More than one picketer has said, in effect, “Do they think we’re crazy?”

Cunningham says that he heard "there were pictures, all right. But they show a man related to a Manning resident repeatedly trying to break through an interior stairwell door and finally succeeding. His motive was to steal copper and other metal, probably to sell as scrap, That's what caused the damage I was told about. Not union guys. 

"That raises an interesting question. I was told that there were tapes of an trespasser. Mr Pini seems to have heard a rumor to that effect. When did they first realize that there was an intruder who had nothing to do with the union? When they did, why couldn’t they have just admitted that they had made a mistake?”

And that naturally leads to another question. What other mistakes has CHA made which they are unwilling to admit?

Indeed, Greg Russ said it at the end of the August 17 meeting: “If we made mistakes we have to own it.”


The bidding process

On January 20, 2010, the CHA put a contract out to bid for repairs to elevators at Norfolk Street congregate housing and the Manning Apartments in Central Square. Unfortunately, not a single elevator contractor submitted a bid. Local firms explained why they were wary:

• the job could not be safely completed within the time frame specified

• the specifications included building modifications that were not work of the elevator trade and would require another company to act as a “general contractor” and subcontract the elevator portion of the project to an elevator contractor

In response to these comments, CHA rewrote the contract. What changes were made to the specifications? It appears that no significant changes were made to the scope of the work or time requirements. But there was one important change made—the contract no longer required bidders to have five years of experience in Massachusetts. As a result of this change, United States Elevator of New Jersey became eligible—and it was the only bidder.


Who is U.S. Elevator?

United States Elevator is a non-union company operated out of Fairfield, New Jersey. They have been under investigation in their own state for violation of wage and hour laws. In March 2010, the Mass. Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) issued a stop work order that barred U.S. Elevator from working in Massachusetts. The order was rescinded in September. During the intervening six months, rather than to change the specifications, reopen the bidding and hire a qualified local contractor, CHA held up the project. Apparently they knew that DIA reversal was in the works. 

The company's certification by the state Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) is also under investigation, as it turns out that four of the five references required for certification were provided by one person—Mr. Parry Berkowitz from B Squared Engineering—who, as it turns out, was also the consultant hired by CHA to help them write the contract!


Mr. Berkowitz has worked on CHA projects before and also has a long history of working with U.S. Elevator. For the union, this raises a number of questions. Did Mr. Berkowitz write the specifications in such a way that no local firm would be willing to bid on the contract, so it could be steered to U.S. Elevator? What communications took place among Berkowitz, the CHA, and U.S. Elevator? 


Norfolk Street

The specification for the work on Norfolk Street elevators allowed only two weeks for the project to be completed, with penalties of $2,000 a day for exceeding the project time line. In explaining why they did not bid on the project, locally-based United Elevator Company said that just replacing one element—an elevator’s hydraulic jack—would require two weeks.

But once U.S. Elevator was awarded the contract, the CHA decided that the jack didn’t need to be replaced. They allowed U.S. Elevator to omit this portion of the job in exchange for a price break of $18,000. But the union estimates that the job would actually cost something like $60,000, and that therefore the CHA lost themselves (and taxpayers) around $42,000—plus two weeks of penalties at $2000 a day, amounting to another $28,000.

US Elevator was able to complete the Norfolk Street work on schedule, and the elevators passed state inspection. But Local 4 questions whether much of the work specified in the contract was never performed, including

• all new wiring and galvanized raceways

• two new shut off valves

• complete refurbishment of the car frame, and a new steel platform

• stainless steel hall doors; 5 doors were to be replaced at a cost of $12,500

• new stainless steel wrapped entrances (cost of $18,500)

•  flush mounted hall call stations

• load weighing provision (to ensure that the elevators are not loaded to overcapacity)

• cleaning, filing and alignment of rails

• slowing down normal and terminal stopping devices

• new struts

• provision of all necessary hoist way fascias, toe guards and dust covers

• conductor connections of the terminal eyelet, solder-less type

• new door Gibbs and rubber bumpers

• header or hanger supports in the hoist way entrances

• replacement of the cab shell and canopy, return panel, transom, base, and guard

• voice enunciation option

• replacement of car sill (this requirement was dropped for a payment of: $180.05)

It's important to note that state inspection ensures that elevators meet safety standards. Passing inspection doesn't mean that all the work specified in the contract was performed. It would be up to CHA to determine that.



Manning Apartments

Work on the Manning elevators was supposed to be completed on August 17, 2011. On October 31, the elevators failed state inspection for the third time. It will take at least 30 days for a fourth inspection to be performed, putting the project 100 days behind schedule.

On August 16, U.S. Elevator wrote to CHA claiming that the only work remaining to be done consisted of modifications to the fire alarm system. They claimed that was CHA's responsibility. Thy also claimed that there had been a delay in parts delivery because the delivery driver had honored the union picket line. They said that once they managed to get the components on site (via an off-site location), it would only take one day to install them and finish the project. Six weeks and three inspections later, it remains to be seen how much longer it will take. But the work has already taken up the allotted time frame of 63 days – without the machine room work that was originally specified (see below).

And as with the Norfolk St. project, the union questions whether the work has been performed according to specifications. In particular, raising of a machine room was removed from the contract after it was awarded to U.S. Elevator. While the CHA received some compensation for dropping this work (which filled hundreds of pages in the original bid document), industry experts told the union that it was much less than the actual cost of such work.

• daily furnishing of an accurate contractor log

• affirmative action to meet hiring diversity goals

• local hiring

• safety training

At both Norfolk and Manning, it appears that U.S. Elevator got a much better deal than was put forward in the original bidding specifications. Was this a gamble on the part of U.S. Elevator – or did they know from the beginning that they weren't going to be held to the same standards demanded of local companies? In other words: what did US Elevator know, and when did they know it?


Curiouser and curiouser



On April 9, 2010—while the Norfolk and Manning projects were on hold and CHA waited for U.S. Elevator's eligibility to work in Massachusetts to be restored—the CHA started tracking U.S. Elevator's credit score via Dunn and Bradstreet. On April 20th, the credit score dropped from 48 to 43. On April 27th, it went down to 34. And on October 19, 2010, Dunn and Bradstreet warned that the company was under “financial stress.”

Despite these warning signs, CHA kept the project “on hold” for another five months while US Elevator tried to regain its eligibility to work in Massachusetts. Why did CHA bother tracking US Elevator's credit rating if it was unwilling to take action as it continued to decline?



Blame the union


Of course, many people buy into the ideas that the corporate media has been pushing for a hundred years – that unions are lazy, greedy, and only care about their own members. In fact, there's nothing that the “one percent” hate and fear more than workers having their own independent voice and organizations.

So even if the CHA wanted to restrict bidding on these projects to union companies (or local companies for that matter), federal law forbids them to do so by. Many communities try to mitigate the “race to the bottom” by requiring firms to pay a “prevailing wage” or instituting “project labor agreements” with requirements for apprenticeship training, safety standards, and so forth.

In this case, it appears that CHA has chosen to take the opposite tack. Did CHA give unfair advantage to the non-union, out of state contractor over local unionized firms?


CHA's response

In a statement posted on their web site on June 16, 2011 ( http://www.cambridge-housing.org/Whats-New/Press-Room-News/CHA-Responds-to-Union-Action-%285-16-11-revision%29.aspx ) ,CHA responded to some of the questions raised by the union and others, saying that

•  IUEC Local 4 contractors had the opportunity to bid for this work but chose not to.

• The work was completed in the required time line

• The bid documents anticipated testing of the hydraulic jack unit at the start of the construction period to determine if it required replacement. 

•The CHA advertised the first bid opening of 2/4/10 in the Central Register and received no bids. 

• CHA hired an independent engineering firm to review the bid documents prepared by B Square Engineering, the engineering firm under contract for the elevator modernization project. 

• CHA was not aware of any such violations and is in the process of obtaining information from the NY Department of Labor.

• A licensed elevator mechanic is doing the rigging at Manning Apartments.

• U.S. Elevator is using Manning Apartment 16-E as a construction field office and for storing equipment.


None of these statements address why U.S. Elevator seemed willing to gamble on finishing the project within the allotted time, while no local companies believed it possible. 

The union also points out that posting a project in the Central Register, or looking up records of wage violations are not tasks that take a great deal of time. Is CHA still “in the process” of investigating US Elevator's illegal activities? Why was this due diligence not done before the contract was awarded?