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St. Louis unions face uncertainty after carpenters union shutters local regional council

The St. Louis - Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council trains apprentices at its training facility in Affton.
File photo / Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council trains apprentices at its training facility in Affton in this 2018 file photo.

Last week, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters shuttered its St. Louis regional council, moving oversight of St. Louis-area union locals to the organization’s Chicago office and ousting the St. Louis-based executive secretary-treasurer, Al Bond.

Bond served as the union’s regional leader since 2015 and has been with the organization since 1999. People with ties to the union told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Bond was removed from the position but did not know why.

His unceremonious departure has some experts wondering what’s going on — and whether another shoe could be ready to drop.

“It sounds that way,” said University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist Anita Manion. “And it feels that way. I think that there's a lot of questions about some of these things.” She added: “I don't know that we'll ever know. So that shoe may drop quietly. It might not be publicly, but I do think there are some things going on.”

“Usually when something like this happens, the other shoe may drop — or this may be the way to keep the other shoe from dropping,” said Greater St. Louis Central Labor Council President Pat White.

White’s union, part of the AFL-CIO, is separate from the carpenters union.

Analysis: United Brotherhood of Carpenters shakeup raises lots of questions

A former compliance officer in the carpenters union, Jonathan Gould, sued the carpenters’ regional council in 2016, alleging that union dues were “appropriated, stolen, embezzled and converted from the union coffers to inflate the pensions of Carpenters’ officials without the consent of the union members.” The lawsuit wended its way through both state and federal court, landing at one point at the Missouri Supreme Court. Ultimately, Gould was thwarted in his attempts to claim whistleblower protections against his former union.

Speaking generally, White said he had sympathy for union members in situations involving corruption. “I feel bad for the rank and file person because … they're giving part of their paycheck every month, [and] a lot of it, to be part of that organization, and when something like this comes out, regardless of the scope … that takes a little bit of that trust away.”

As Manion noted, the move will not only affect local union chapters, but it may also change the region’s political landscape. The St. Louis office of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters was a big donor in city and county elections.

The union was a major backer of the successful 2018 effort to block “right to work” legislation in Missouri. But in recent elections, the union backed losing candidates on the more moderate side of the Democratic Party. The organization contributed $350,000 to a political action committee supporting Mark Mantovani in his failed bid to unseat St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and $120,200 to various committees supporting Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed’s unsuccessful run for mayor, according to data from Manion and her colleagues.

The regional council was also a big supporter of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who later went to prison, and the failed effort to privatize the airport. (White’s organization was publicly opposed.)

“The concern should be for the local members and the dues-paying members [regarding] not just the trust they're losing, but some influence in the region,” Manion said, pointing to the example of the United Auto Workers abolishing its Hazelwood office in 2019 after its leader was indicted on charges of embezzlement.

“It can lead to some mistrust around the management of these situations. And at a time [when] unions are really trying to keep their footing and their clout — having been raised in a union household myself — I understand what those jobs mean to all the St. Louisans who are working in those areas.”

For dues-paying members, White is hopeful that “something good [can come] out of a bad situation.” Specifically, he’d like to see the local carpenters unions come back under the umbrella of the AFL–CIO.

“Our men and women are working side by side out there,” he said. “There's no reason we can’t all get together — whether it be right to work or paycheck deception or prevailing wage — fighting for one common goal. Labor can be stronger just by being together.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.