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Ironworkers union settles dispute over ‘traveling’

Ironworkers Local 433 has to publicly denounce the practice of denying job referrals to members of other locals who seek work in Las Vegas, according to a pending settlement of a labor dispute.

The agreement being completed by Local 433 and the National Labor Relations Board responds to a San Diego man who claims the Las Vegas local broke the union’s labor agreement by ignoring “traveling” members with higher qualifications in order to steer work to its Las Vegas members during the present slow construction market.

Derek Dixon, a black union ironworker from San Diego who has worked here periodically over the past four years, went to the labor board in January, alleging Local 433 had failed to dispatch him to a job in the summer 2009, even though Schuff Steel Co., at work on the new Veterans Administration hospital in North Las Vegas, had requested Dixon by name.

As a result of Dixon’s charge, Local 433 and the labor board are completing a settlement that requires the union to pay him three weeks of lost wages and to post in its hall a notice that “we will not restrain and coerce Travelers by making intimidating statements to them or by telling them that they will not receive dispatch referrals by Local 433 because they are Travelers.”

Dixon objects to the settlement because it minimizes the economic hit he took, and because it ignores his theory the union also passed him over because he is black. The 46-year-old contends that after the dispatcher failed, per Schuff’s request, to call for him by name at the hall, the union later that day gave the job to a white traveling member.

“There was a mob mentality in the (union hall’s) day room,” is how Dixon recalled the July day he confronted Robbie Conway of Local 433 about its failure to dispatch him to the site.

Dixon claims Conway entered the room and said, “‘As long as I’m the B.A. (business agent), no … “boomers” (traveling members) are going to go to work.’ The local guys were like, ‘Yeah, that’s our B.A.’ The boomers, they were just quiet. There wasn’t that many of them.”

In the proposed agreement, Local 433 does not admit it violated federal labor law. But if it had not agreed to the settlement, the National Labor Relations Board was ready to go before a judge with its complaint on Dixon’s behalf.

The San Diego man has said he intends to sue Local 433 for racial discrimination and recovery of six months more in wages, which is how long he thinks Schuff would have kept him on the job if the union had dispatched him back to the hospital job. Dixon had already worked on the VA project for several months before the ironwork temporarily halted, due to a mandatory stoppage for concrete to cure.

The legal matchup pits one of the top labor lawyers in the Western states — David Rosenfeld of California, for the ironworkers local — against Dixon’s two California lawyers, Jonathan Holtzman and Willie Brown, who is the former mayor of San Francisco. Dixon told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he contacted Brown because he is friends with a retired California ironworker who is one of Brown’s relatives.

Conway did not respond to the Review-Journal’s multiple requests for comment. Rosenfeld derided Dixon’s claim of discrimination.

“The issue of race was never raised until the last couple days. It was an afterthought on Mr. Dixon’s part,” the lawyer told the newspaper.

Holtzman said Conway ran for business agent of Local 433 “on the platform of keeping outsiders out” of the Las Vegas job pool for union ironwork. And, during the National Labor Relations Board process, Local 433 “was grasping at straws, trying to continue to keep outsiders out,” Holtzman concluded.

Dixon has worked around the nation and in Puerto Rico, since many nationwide steel erecting companies call for him by name at the union halls nearest their construction sites.

Dixon’s first Las Vegas job was at the Palazzo in 2006, but he also worked on CityCenter, the Cosmopolitan and the Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s new condo tower on the Strip, which is mothballed.

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at
jwhitely@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0268.

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