Pickets Pressure Contractor to Drop Non-Union Workers
By Phil Wayne
January 15 – A spirited group of over 40 picketers flexed their collective muscle in front of the new Equinox gym this week as they protested the use of a non-union subcontractor doing work for a new tenant in the building.
Wednesday’s relatively small but boisterous display -- and its impact on workers in the building -- showcased the larger dilemma faced by contractors and laborers across the country, who must each decide whether or not to go the union route.
Non-union laborers afraid of triggering union pickets and possibly losing work, as well as contractors apprehensive about negative publicity and job delays, spoke in guarded tones and were even reluctant to give full names.
The lively picket line, which was punctuated by the cheers, whistles and honking horns of supportive passersby in a labor-friendly city, succeeded in removing -- at least temporarily -- CenterPointe Contractors from the work site at Santa Monica Boulevard and Second Street.
“I had to send them home,” said a man entering the unoccupied fourth floor space undergoing renovation. He identified himself only as Chris, saying that he is with the general contractor renovating the site, which had subcontracted the work to CenterPointe.
The general contractor was responding to complaints, he said, adding “the building doesn’t want them (CenterPointe) here.” He declined further comment, but others on the site identified the general contractor as KNR Builders.
CenterPointe is “not paying the area standard, and they don’t pay any healthcare to their workers,” said Charles Bloodworth, the line captain and business representative for Carpenters Local 1506.
He identified the incoming tenant as Ascent Media Group.
Bloodworth, a towering presence at over six and a half feet tall, explained over the piercing whistles and loud yells from the picket line that the carpenters’ union “wants to make sure that all the contractors are paying the area standard, so that we don’t have to lower our wage and lower our standard of living.”
The union, Bloodworth said, “is doing a lot of organizing of the non-union guys.”
An opposing view was expressed by George, an electrical worker for a non-union company also performing renovations at the site. He, too, declined to offer a last name, citing concerns that the next picket line might be comprised of unionized electrical workers seeking to force his company off the job.
“I think it’s a waste of their time,” he said, referring to the union picketers on the street below. This job is “small potatoes,” he claimed, pointing out that union workers got the lion’s share of recent improvements in the building, including the first, second and third floors.
“We don’t picket their jobs,” said Mike, another electrical worker. “Our kids have to eat, too.”
George claimed that there is more work available as a non-union electrician.
“If you work for the union, you work maybe nine months out of the year,” he said. “If you work independently, you’re guaranteed at least 40 hours of work a week. It doesn’t pay the same, and it doesn’t offer the same benefits, but you work twelve months out of the whole year.”
Reached at the Tustin offices of KNR, a man who identified himself only as “the owner” indicated that CenterPointe has “been asked not to come back at this point in time until the client (Ascent Media Group) determines what course of action they wish to take.”
The official added that a determination on the continued use of CenterPointe Contractors will be held off until Ascent “corporately can make the decision if they want to roll over to the union’s request.”
Comments from Ascent Media Group and CenterPointe contractors were not immediately available.
Asked if other non-union workers at the site might also be subject to removal, the KNR official flatly replied, “No,” pointing out that only the carpenters’ union was picketing the site.
Aside from Bloodworth, he said, “All of those people that are picketing, you might want to know, are non-union. Those are not union members that are carrying those signs.”
He claimed that they “are non-union day help that they bring out simply to be voice pieces.”
“The union elects to play games with non-union contractors,” he said. Builders, he claimed, “should be allowed to use whatever legal workers the general contractor wishes to hire.”But Bloodworth contends that non-union carpenters are paid “a substandard wage,” not the “livable age” that the area standard provides. And without health benefits, he believes, the well being of non-union workers and their families is in jeopardy
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