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Conviction: One Word, Two Very Different Meanings

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The word conviction has two meanings. If you're in a New York City construction union, it means belief if teamwork, quality and productivity. To many non-union construction bosses, conviction means you got caught cheating the system.

When Anthony Smiling graduated from his apprenticeship to become a unionized member of local 18A in New York, he said, “It took a lot to get here. A lot.” The apprenticeship he had just completed included over 4,000 hours of on-the-job training plus hundreds of hours of classroom training on best practices, tools of the trade, and safety.

Mr. Smiling said, “What it took was conviction. I believed in myself and I was determined to get this,” he said, holding up his union journeyman certificate. “And now, my babies are real proud of their daddy. Their mom is proud too,” he said of his daughters and wife who had come to the graduation.

What Conviction Means to a Union Member

Paul Primiano, Training Director at the Liuna center in Jackson Heights, drove that point home. As he addressed a graduating class of apprentices he noted that “if you look around this room, you see that a lot of the people who started this program with you didn’t make it here. But you believed. You stuck it out. You did the work. And now you’re in a union. And you can look forward to a great career and a great future.”

Conviction has driven Dominic Edlin, a longtime member of local 20 in New York. He told Union-Built Matters, “Construction is not an easy job. The hours start early, the work is physically and mentally demanding. But when you’re in a union, you commit to do those things. And the union takes care of us. I put in my hours, at the end when I’ve put in my years, I get benefits for life, I get a pension.”

Mr. Edlin explained that “we spend more time with the people we work with than we do with our families. They become a family, and we are committed to looking out for each other.” To a union member, conviction means belief in the value of shared effort, it means commitment to doing great work at the highest level, and being fairly compensated for that endeavor.

What Conviction Means in Non-Union Construction

The word conviction has a completely different meaning in many corners of the non-union construction world. The non-union contractors, JM3 Construction, LLC and JACG Construction, LLC recently pleaded guilty to charges of engaging in multiple criminal schemes to increase their own revenues at the expense of its workers and fair market competition. Also on their rap sheet: convicted of insurance fraud, stealing money related to a New York County construction project, bribing a construction executive in order to obtain a contract, and other forms of corruption. The two owners are expected to get prison terms of 2 – 6 years and 6 months respectively.

Meanwhile, another non-union construction company, Anaar Construction & Contracting Corp., pleaded guilty to insurance fraud for their role in a scheme to defraud the New York State Insurance Fund (“NYSIF”) of more than $18 million. The convicted owner of that company was sentenced to 3 years in prison and the certified public accountant who was integral to the plan received a sentence of 2 – 7 years in state prison. They were instructed to pay $7,750,000 in restitution to NYSIF in connection with these convictions.

New York’s construction unions' convictions about quality, teamwork, and productivity are reasons we should all want to live or work in a building constructed by unions.

A Criminal Conviction

Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg, Jr. is also seeking a conviction against a slew of non-union contractors for a bid-rigging scheme that allegedly stole millions from developers. As many as 24 individuals and 26 companies have been arrested for a wide-ranging kickback scheme that corrupted the competitive bidding process for dozens of contracts over more than 8 years. The D.A. office seeks a conviction in 83 counts for conspiracy, grand larceny, commercial bribing, commercial bribe receiving in the First Degree, bid-rigging, and money laundering.

The Real Difference

Clearly, for many non-union contractors, “conviction” is a frightening word, because it means they’ve been caught corrupting the industry for their own benefit. On the contrary, unions ask that their members hold convictions about quality and teamwork. To a union member, “conviction” is what makes the work they do more meaningful, and in the end, much better.

New York’s construction unions are the best trained crews who show up and consistently perform the best quality work that our city deserves. Their convictions about quality, teamwork, productivity, and shared success are reasons we should all want to live or work in a building constructed by unions.

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