Florida Carpenters Union Wages War on TD Bank

From Ohio to Wisconsin, organized labor is under attack. In that mitten-shaped slab of cheese up north, governor Scott Walker used a budget bill to kill collective bargaining. In Ohio, the working man is even worse off, with no Super Bowl to distract from the state's assault on public employees.

Not to be outdone, Rick Scott and Florida Republicans are also aggressively undermining unions in an apparent effort to ensure that corporations are the only collective that can influence elections.

So naturally Riptide's interest was piqued to learn that a local union, the Florida Carpenters Regional Council, had reversed the equation by taking on a big corporation. But what's the beef with TD Bank?

Riptide first learned of the dispute when we drove past a TD Bank yesterday and spotted a large protest sign (above). We also picked up a flier entitled: "Shame on TD Bank."

The pink broadsheet calls TD "America's most inconvenient bank" and lists a dozen gripes against the company, from a high instance of being robbed to links to Ponzi schemers Allen Stanford and Scott Rothstein. The name and number of the Florida Carpenters Regional Council is listed at the bottom.

"They are tied to ponzi schemes here and in New York," claims FCRC's Director of Special Operations Terry Darling. "So we keep banners up on a regular basis to warn people."

The carpenters' real grudge against the bank is much more personal, however. Darling says his union had a long-standing agreement with Commerce Bank under which the FCRC built and refurbished banks all over the state.

But when Canadian TD Bank bought Commerce in October of 2007, Darling says the bank broke the contract with the carpenters in favor of cheaper, non-unionized labor.

"Since then, they've hired contractors that engage in illegal activities like workers compensation fraud and cash payment fraud," Darling alleges. "We have substantial evidence in regard to that," he adds, but directs our more specific questions to TD bank.

"We stand by our practices," insists Rebecca Acevedo, a national spokeswoman for TD Bank. "We hire people with high standards and with professional skills," she added. "But we're a free society. They have a right to protest and distribute fliers."

And so Darling and his fellow Florida carpenters have been waging a three-and-a-half year-long war of attrition against the bank: protesting outside branches, handing out fliers linking them to Ponzi schemers and the financial crisis, and using Facebook to slam the corporation's reputation.

Darling directed us to two Facebook pages devoted to detailing TD's supposed shittiness: the "I Hate TD Bank!!!" and "TD BANK SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WE WANT COMMERCE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!" sites. They have a combined 2,000 followers, many of whom post complaints about TD Bank fees.

"So I just found out effective March 9, this shitty bank is charging a service fee for non-TD ATMs," wrote one follower recently. "I'm taking my talents to PNC."

When asked if he was behind the websites, Darling laughs.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that," he says.

TD Bank says that there is no dispute with the union and that its members are "welcome to the table" anytime. But reconciliation isn't likely. Darling says the bank is engaged in a "race to the bottom in terms of wages" and should shoulder some of the blame for the plight of the working class.

"What happened to the concept of being a responsible corporate citizen?" he asks. "A carpenter in today's world will never get rich. But we believe that a carpenter working with his hand and his tools has the right to live with dignity, at least. That concept is lost when we get into an overcompetetive labor market like we have today where businesses are looking for the cheapest labor they can find."

Carpenters built this country ever since they hosted a secret congressional meeting in Philadelphia in 1774, Darling says. So he's not about to quit his quixotic campaign any time soon.

"I'm not ready to roll over and play dead," he says.

Click here for more photos of FCRC protests and fliers.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.