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Carpenters union dissolves its St. Louis-based regional council, a major force in local politics

Carpenters union dissolves its St. Louis-based regional council, a major force in local politics


ST. LOUIS — The United Brotherhood of Carpenters has dissolved its politically powerful St. Louis arm, reassigning oversight of its area union locals to its Chicago office.

According to a letter dated Friday from Carpenters General President Douglas J. McCarron, the dissolution of the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council went into effect on Monday.

Local unions under the St. Louis-based regional council have been reassigned to the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, McCarron said.

The end of the St. Louis-based regional council, which has been led since 2015 by executive secretary-treasurer Al Bond, is expected to affect local politics. The regional council has been a major donor to local candidates and controversial causes.

McCarron said he made his decision to dissolve the regional council, which is headquartered on Hampton Avenue, after reviewing an internal report prepared by national union representatives.

“After careful review and consideration of the substantial benefits to the members — including but not limited to better oversight of the Council’s operations, reducing costs and maximizing available resources, and increasing market competitiveness — I have determined it would be in the best interests of members to take the following actions,” McCarron wrote.

He did not describe the contents and scope of the internal report.

Several people with ties to the union and the labor movement on Tuesday told the Post-Dispatch they had heard Bond was removed as leader of the local carpenters union, but did not know why.

Officials with the union are staying quiet. A spokeswoman for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, reached by phone Tuesday morning, said she would get back to the newspaper about Bond’s status, but did not.

Spokespeople for the regional council did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Bond.

Al Bond

Carpenters Union official Al Bond is seen on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, at a news conference at Carpenters Hall in St. Louis.

McCarron’s letter ordered “property, books, charter and funds” held by or on behalf of the St. Louis regional council be “immediately transferred” to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. He will soon appoint interim delegates to the Chicago regional council, he wrote.

Six-figure checks

Whether the carpenters union will still maintain the same clout remains to be seen. Locally, the council has been a major political force, often writing six-figure checks to influence the political process. The 20,000-plus member construction union was involved in typical labor issues, including major successes for the group such as the campaign to repeal Missouri’s so-called “right-to-work” law that let employees work in unionized workplaces without paying dues.

Carpenters under Bond’s leadership have also joined some of the region’s most polarizing issues, backing efforts that eventually suffered high-profile collapses, such as airport privatization and the proposed merger of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Bond was front and center in a push to revive an effort to lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a private operator following former Mayor Lyda Krewson’s December 2019 decision killing the process. The carpenters and the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, another major backer, pushed a petition to put the issue to voters but later dropped the effort amid the pandemic.

Privatizing Lambert was just one of the big issues where Bond and the local union supported causes close to major political donor Rex Sinquefield and his libertarian-leaning political operation, led until last year by Travis Brown.

Bond and the carpenters were also among the first and most vocal backers of the proposed city-county merger known as Better Together, initially bankrolled by Sinquefield but aborted in 2019 amid the fallout from former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s indictment on federal corruption charges.

Carpenters were big financial supporters of Stenger. The former county executive appointed Bond to the board of the St. Louis County-centric St. Louis Economic Development Partnership in 2016, where he served until stepping down earlier this year. That organization was embroiled in the former county executive’s legal troubles. One of Stenger’s top aides, Shannon Weber, was also on the Partnership board and worked for the carpenters after she left the county executive’s office.

It later would be revealed that the union helped turn a $150,000 donation from one of Brown and Sinquefield’s organizations into support for Stenger.

The union has also put big money behind some losing candidates in recent elections, including $350,000 it poured into Mark Mantovani’s campaign against St. Louis County Executive Sam Page last year. In the city, the carpenters’ $100,000 donation to Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed’s unsuccessful mayoral candidacy this year was at one point the largest political contribution in that race.

The carpenters represent many of St. Louis’ correctional workers, putting them at the center of a fierce debate over closing the Medium Security Institution, the city jail known as the workhouse — among the most galvanizing issues for Mayor Tishaura O. Jones’ progressive supporters during the April mayoral election.

The union’s representation of the workers was part of the reason they contributed to candidates in St. Louis’ April election who supported keeping the jail open in the face of accusations from activists that its conditions were inhumane. Some of those candidates, such as former Alderman Tammika Hubbard, ultimately lost.

Bond and the carpenters are also close to controversial developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration, helping to finance a new medical facility the developer is constructing at the corner of Jefferson and Cass avenues.

Al Bond

Carpenters Union official Al Bond is seen on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, at a news conference at Carpenters Hall in St. Louis.

At the national level, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has been contending with a federal investigation following the 2019 indictment of George Laufenberg, who led the New Jersey Carpenter’s Pension, Annuity, Health and Training/Apprenticeship funds and was a former commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Following Laufenberg’s indictment on charges he embezzled pension funds and helped another person steal via a “low-show” job, a federal grand jury in late 2019 issued subpoenas to other entities tied to the national union.

The shakeup here is the second major change at a local union office in recent years. In December 2019, the United Auto Workers abolished its western regional office, headquartered in Hazelwood, and merged it into regional offices based in Lebanon, Tennessee, and Lincolnshire, Illinois. That move followed a wide-ranging federal investigation of the union that ensnared its leader, Gary Jones, an O’Fallon, Missouri, resident who ran the local office before ascending to the top position in Detroit. The embezzlement investigation also led to charges against Vance Pearson of St. Charles, the former head of the local office.

Updated at 7:30 p.m.

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