Take Five Five questions for our new VP and Regional Manager, Mike Hellstrom, Jr.

Laborers Local 108 member Mike Hellstrom assumed office in early November as LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager. Most recently, he served as business manager of the Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York, and he succeeds Raymond M. Pocino who announced his retirement after serving for 25-years as VP and 66 years as a Union Laborer. We sat down with Mike to find out more about him, week one, and what to expect in the future.

Q. One week down. Any surprises?

HELLSTROM: Not really. I think that’s because I came into the position ready to learn. We can’t know everything, but we should be willing to learn anything. Thankfully, I wasn’t thrown into the fire. Ray Pocino spent countless hours with me in preparation of the transition. Also, our local unions, district councils, and funds have been open and eager to work with me.

Q. You mentioned Ray Pocino. Can you talk a bit about what Ray means to LIUNA?

HELLSTROM: Ray is a everything you want in a Union leader and his legacy will live on for ages. We all know about LIUNA’s motto: Justice, Honor, Strength. We know the importance of solidarity, organizing the unorganized, and protecting our jurisdiction. These are our values and Ray added to them his standards of always trying to do better, never giving up, and never becoming complacent. He is an amazing man and a good friend.

Q. Will things be different under you?

HELLSTROM: Of course, it will be!  We are different people with different styles. The challenges I face may also be different than what Ray faced. Things will change because life around us always changing. What won’t change is our mission: we will continue to provide the pathways to good middle-class jobs in construction and the industries we represent.  We will support our members and ask our members to support each other.

Q. What makes LIUNA special?

HELLSTROM: Just look at the numbers. LIUNA members earn more than their non-union counterparts. We also don’t have the huge wage disparities based on race, gender, and ethnicity. If numbers aren’t your thing, look at our people. LIUNA members come from all walks of life. We celebrate our diversity and value unity more than uniformity. Our training and apprenticeship funds, our safety, organizing, and political action funds—best in the business. I have been a Union Laborer for 38 years and every day I am grateful for the opportunity.

Q. You ready?

HELLSTROM: I hope we are all ready!  LIUNA members already know, we aren’t given anything. We work for it; we fight for it. Being ready for whatever comes our way is practically a requirement for being a union laborer. On the job, in boardrooms and legislative chambers, and on the streets and in our communities, LIUNA must always be ready for the next challenges and opportunities.

Statement from Raymond M. Pocino on passing of Governor Florio

“Governor Florio was a dedicated and determined legislator, a principled and effective Governor, and more than that, he was my friend.  I mourn the passing of this honorable man and true public servant.  

Jim and I cut our teeth together in South Jersey—he as an assemblyman and then Congressman, me representing Laborers Local 172. He was a man who was always available to answer questions or address concerns, and he challenged me to never settle for easy answers when the right answers were out there for those willing to work for it.  I was so honored when he appointed me to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in 1990, a role I would continue for the next four decades. 

Jim Florio leaves behind a legacy that will never be forgotten. I offer my condolences to Lucinda and the whole Florio family.”

Ray Pocino joins Governor Florio at the statehouse as he signs paperwork appointing Pocino as commissioner to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. 1990.

NJ DOL Stop Work Order:  

The Right Thing to Do for Workers, City of Newark

(September 8, 2022)
Today, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development issued a stop work order for the construction project at 155 Jefferson Street in Newark, New Jersey, the proposed Newark High School of Architecture and Interior Design which was being developed by an LLC managed by Summit Assets CEO Albert Nigri. Under the terms of the agreement, the building will be leased back to the Newark Public School District for use as a technical high school. Under New Jersey law, leaseback projects like these are considered public work and must adhere to all pertinent public contracting laws. 

LEROF—the organizing arm of Laborers’ International Union of North America—filed a complaint with the NJ DOL in May 2022 alleging workers are exposed to unsafe conditions and are not being paid prevailing wages as required by law. 

LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager Raymond M. Pocino stated that the NJ DOL’s decision to issue a stop work order for the 155 Jefferson Street project validates the union’s claims.

“We have spoken to workers on the Jefferson Street project who have been exposed to dangerous and unsafe conditions. We know they have been paid significantly less than the state mandated prevailing wage. We also know that the only one who stands to benefit are the private developers who choose breaking the law over following it,” said Pocino.

“The New Jersey Department of Labor was right to issue a stop work order and I applaud Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo and his staff for doing so,” Pocino continued. “When evidence of illegal activities is found, the NJ DOL must use its powers to address the issue and hold responsible parties accountable. Enforcement of the law not only catches bad guys, it also helps ensure standards are followed and that the public gets what they paid for. It sends a signal to other developers and contractors—follow the law or face the consequences.”

Paul Roldan, Business Manager of LIUNA Local 3 echoed Pocino’s statement. “The public deserves to know that a $160 million school construction project like this is being built to the highest standards. This school can be a model for creating good paying jobs for local residents, for the quality of its construction, and for its value to the community. A stop work order eliminates the immediate risk to workers, but the work doesn’t stop there.  Newark Public Schools, the City of Newark, and the State of New Jersey must now do what is necessary to ensure Newark students receive the school they deserve, a school that is built by people who follow the law and serve the public and not themselves.” 

Memorial Day Message from LIUNA Vice President Ray Pocino

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, as a nation, as a union, and as individuals, we honor those who laid down their lives in service to our country.

These brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms are deserving of our respect, our remembrance, and our thanks.

Whether in private reflection, by watching or participating in a local parade, or through service at a memorial or cemetery, we see the highest virtues of our country and our citizenry illuminated by the beacon of their supreme sacrifice.

Every day, but especially today, we should honor and remember the last full measure these service members gave to our country.

In Solidarity,

Raymond M. Pocino
LIUNA Vice President
Eastern Regional Manager

A statement from LIUNA’s Raymond M. Pocino: “Kris Kolluri will Deliver for the Region.”

Today is a great day for the New York metropolitan region and for the commuters, businesses, and families who rely on rail service between New York and New Jersey. I applaud Governor Phil Murphy and Governor Kathy Hochul for their nomination of Kris Kolluri to serve as chief executive officer of the Gateway Program Development Corporation. The GPDC has been doing much of the heavy lifting to address the region’s critical need for a safe and reliable commuter rail system connecting New York and New Jersey, a system that not only connects these two great states, but in its importance and activity, also serves the entire nation.

I have known and worked with Kris for several decades now, I can state unequivocally: Kris Kolluri will deliver for the region. He has dedicated his professional life to public service; to issues pertaining to transportation and economic development; and to achieving great things by combining the vision of a great leader with the focus and drive of a professional who understands that details matter. He is an industry-expert, a consensus-builder, and a person of high-character and dependability. In selecting Kris Kolluri to serve this important role, governors Hochul and Murphy got things right.

As vice president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and eastern regional manager representing more than 40,000 construction craft laborers in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Puerto Rico, I am acutely aware of the tens of thousands of jobs which will be created building the tunnels, tracks, and bridges needed to increase rail capacity and resiliency on the nation’s busiest commuter rail line.  I also spent more than 20-years serving as commissioner of both the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and many more years advocating for a safe and efficient transportation system. Inasmuch that I understand the issues, I remind people that the Northeast Corridor line presently relies on a century-old rail tunnel, a frequently failing bridge, and a transit system where delays have become more common than delivering people to their destinations on-time. We need better infrastructure, we deserve better service, and Kris Kolluri can help us achieve better results.

Raymond M. Pocino is Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager for the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), representing more than 40,000 construction workers in New Jersey, New York City, Long Island, Delaware, and Puerto Rico

Statement from Local 77 Business Manager Carl Styles

As part of their protest against a contractor who stated to union officials that he would only hire workers of Macedonian and Serbian decent, members of the LIUNA Union 77 have been staging a peaceful protest outside of Lincoln Elementary School in Edison Township. The union believes there is no room for discriminatory hiring practices in this community or any community and are willing to fight against unscrupulous practices that hurt workers. The contractor Pal-Pro Builders has been hired by Edison Public Schools to perform work. 

Before the school day on Friday, September 3, 2021, members of LIUNA Local 77 began setting up to peacefully protest. As part of their preparations, they assembled props including an inflatable rat, which symbolizes unfair labor practices, as well as a coffin and banner which symbolizes how bad employment practices kill middle class jobs.  All of these things were set up before school had started and the coffin and banner were down before students arrived.  How do we know this? Because at 8:21 a.m. a school official actually knocked down the display which was never put back up before its removal.

Regarding the coffin’s use as part of the protest.  Some have argued that its use was inappropriate for an elementary school setting.  We agree and have begun a review of the process and will work to ensure we don’t make this mistake again.  We think it is not good to expose young children to the imagery and we also think it distracts from the issue-at-hand—that a contractor hired in Edison is using what appears to be discriminatory hiring practices.  We believe workers should not be discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or any other arbitrary standards and we are willing to fight to ensure workers are protected.

To be clear.  We do not condone the use of any props or messaging that may negatively affect children and apologize for the poor judgement. In this instance, the coffin was down before students arrived and we think that is for the best.  We will work to do better, and we hope Edison Township Public Schools will, too.  We need to send a message that Edison Township Public Schools will not reward discriminatory business practices.  On this matter, we should ALL be on the same side!”  

Rev. Carl E. Styles is Business Manager of Building Laborers Local 77 representing more than 1,500 members if Central and Southern New Jersey. Through its innovative apprenticeship and training programs, industry-leading labor-management partnerships, and commitment to protecting the rights of workers, Local 77 is proud to serve its members, its signatory contractors, and the communities where they live and work.  Reverend Styles also serves as Pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church in Camden, New Jersey. 

Never too Big to Organize

LIUNA Local 199 took on huge multinational bank, JPMorgan Chase (and won)

With a market value of some $460 Billion, JPMorgan Chase is a huge corporation to say the least. The multinational investment bank and financial service holding company has offices all over the world, but the decisions they make and actions they take affect local families, businesses, and communities. This is why Delaware-based Local 199 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)–along with its affiliated funds–decided to take on the corporate giant. Big companies can put a big hurt on the little guy, and sometimes the little guy has to fight back.

Yes then No

JP Morgan Chase has big expansion plans for its Chase Bank. New brick-and-mortar retail branches are being built throughout Northern Delaware. Local 199 Business Manager James Maravelias was aware of that fact which is why he approached representatives to JPMorgan Chase about hiring union contractors and skilled union labor to build their proposed branches.

“To me, hiring union contractors and workers is a good business decision,” explained Maravelias.  “A company like JPMorgan Chase would benefit from productivity, dependability, and quality construction.  They seemed to agree with me when they promised to hire a union masonry contractor for one of its new branches in Wilmington, Delaware. When time came to actually do the hiring, however, the bank was silent on their promise. As a result, we decided we’d remind them, and the community, that breaking one’s word is no way to operate.”

Taking it to the Streets

With so many branches in the immediate area, LIUNA Local 199 had ample opportunity to let the public know of JPMorgan Chase’s underhanded practices.  Working with the Laborers Eastern Region Organizing Fund (LEROF), Local 199 members joined organizers at information lines near Chase Bank customers.  While many people were sympathetic to the union message, the actions did not lead to a positive outcome, so the union decided to shift strategies and bring the message to JPMorgan Chase’s corporate headquarters in New York City. With huge corporations like this, you sometimes need to bring your message to the top, and that would be JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Diamond. 

The Delaware and New Jersey LECET Funds joined LEROF researchers on a deep dive of JPMorgan Chase’s business practices. With pages upon pages worth of information at-hand, the union laid out a pattern of questionable business practices—from averaging more than $1.7 billion in fines each year, to settling lawsuits on racial discrimination and discriminatory lending practices, to having a lower tax rate than the average America (despite reporting almost $120 billion in net revenues last year).   As the union spelled out in flyers, signs, and conversations, going back on the promise to hire local contractors and local workers in Delaware was another example of poor corporate behavior.

Yes Again

In an organization as large as JPMorgan Chase, you don’t always find out what message or method helped change their mind but change their minds they did.  The Wilmington. Delaware branch that was supposed to be built using union contractors would be built union again. 

For LIUNA Local 199, the focus now moves from information lines and activism to delivering quality craftsmanship.  “We will always fight and scrap to win work,” explained Maravelias, “but longer term, we want to build mutually beneficial relationships with project owners like JPMorgan Chase. We want them to know that when you work with LIUNA, you work with a union that wants its partners to succeed and will do what it takes to make that happen.” 

Remembering Their Sacrifices

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today is Workers Memorial Day, a day for us to honor the dead and injured and recommit ourselves to advocating for safe workplaces for all.

The facts in America are alarming: on average more than 100 workers lose their lives from a work-related injury each week. That is one death every 99 minutes.  We should never accept even one injury or illness on the job let alone one every 99 minutes. We all must do better.

Brothers and Sisters, you know as well as I do–workplace deaths are largely preventable with proper planning, training, and worker protections. Let’s never forget that point and practice it each and every day. Afterall, as a union, we set the standards for occupational safety and health.
I thank you for your commitment to working safe and wish you and your family the very best. 

Sincerely and Fraternally,

Raymond M. Pocino
LIUNA Vice President and
Eastern Regional Manager

For stronger worker protections, Gov. Murphy and Commissioner Angelo deserve our thanks

By Raymond M. Pocino
International Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager
Laborers’ International Union of North America

Good government is good for New Jersey and the Three Sons Restoration case is a classic example of how creating, monitoring, and enforcing wage, hour, and labor laws is an effective way to support workers, save taxpayers money, and create an environment where honest businesses and not habitual cheaters are hired for public work.

Three Sons Restoration, LLC was a contractor of nefarious reputation. For years LIUNA heard rumors of the company exploiting their workforce. We heard it enough times that our union assigned organizers to investigate the claims. Over the course of many months, we met with Three Sons employees and listened to their stories. We visited worksites and pulled payroll records. It was clear that Three Sons was breaking several laws and we knew it. Of course, knowing something to be true and being able to do something about it are two different things. This is where good government and the leadership of Governor Phil Murphy and Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo were so critical.

Let’s cut to the end of this story and Three Sons Restoration. In 2019, the New Jersey Department of Labor issued work stoppage orders for wage violations at two construction sites managed by Three Sons. This was a first-of-its-kind action taken by the department after Governor Murphy expanded the department’s enforcement authorities only months before.

In 2021, Three Sons was assessed approximately $2.75 million in back wages, penalties, and fees following a NJDOL investigation into the contractor’s failure to pay its employees the state prevailing wage at six job sites. Approximately 90 employees will receive the back wages they earned but were denied by their employer.

LIUNA believes in protecting and advancing the rights of workers and thankfully so do Governor Murphy and Commissioner Angelo.  Especially in public construction where work is awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, cheating workers and falsifying documents becomes the “easy” way to gain a competitive advantage. It is easy, I should point out, until one is caught in the act by the State of New Jersey. Then, life for crooked contractors is anything but easy. This is as it should be, and thankfully, as it is today.

Raymond M. Pocino on the NJ Economic Recovery Act of 2020

In the middle of a global pandemic, there has never been a more urgent time to develop new and improved standards to recruit, retain, and support businesses here in New Jersey. Garden State residents will be pleased to know that this legislation incentivizes private investment and directs resources to help our main streets, our urban centers, our struggling communities, our working families, and businesses of all sizes.  

It is a fact that New Jersey is competing with other states, other countries, to retain and attract job-creating businesses. While we must compete with other states, we should not be at war with our own future by crafting policies that are too generous or lax in accountability and compliance. It may have been a long time coming, but the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020 recognizes this point and gets it right for New Jersey.  

I am grateful to Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Coughlin for their roles in advancing legislation that is smart, targeted, transparent, and in the best interest of ALL New Jerseyans.

Raymond M. Pocino
Vice President – LIUNA
Eastern Region Manager