Construction workers protested at the current Carolyn Pope Edwards Hall construction site at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for fair pay and benefits for carpenters working on UNL projects.
According to protester Juan Alvarado, the group was protesting allegations of unfair business practices and improper standards by Ramirez Contracting Services, Inc.
In particular, the group protests against Ramirez Contracting Services’ failure to meet industry standards regarding the treatment of workers.
“The contractor is cheating on the system,” Alvarado said. “They cheat their workers, don’t provide health care or workers’ compensation. If a worker is injured here, he is on his own. It’s unacceptable. This is the University of Nebraska. They should be provided for by law.”
The North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, which is part of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, held the protest. According to their website, the group fights to ensure decent wages, benefits and working conditions for professional carpenters the skills and productivity they bring to the job.
The group of protesters marched primarily on the sidewalk in front of Carolyn Pope Edwards’ construction site with signs reading ‘Ramirez Contracting Services, Inc. Unfair. Shut down area standards.”
The group also recited various chants such as “Equal work, equal pay” and “Hey, ho, Ramirez has to go.”
According to protester Richard Kolodziejski, members came to protest the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ Tax Fraud Days of Action initiative, an annual event where workers educate the public possible tax fraud going across the United States trying to raise awareness.
“We’re educating the public about the area of standards for carpenters,” Alvarado said. “We believe that the individual for this building is not paying the standards, providing no benefits, and offering no compensation to the workers. It is a law that you must provide your employees with worker’s compensation insurance. That is our goal, to raise the standards for carpenters.”
The protests are what the union describes as picketing for area standards, Kolodziejski said. Territory standards pickets occur when they believe that a contractor is not meeting territory labor standards related to payroll payments in accordance with the law. The group then contacts the contractor to give them an opportunity to respond and provide evidence.
If the contractor doesn’t respond, the group will set up a vigil to let the public know about their situation. Kolodziejski claims the union gave Ramirez weeks to respond with documentation on tariff zone standards and received no response of any kind.
Ramirez Contracting Services is currently on the construction contract for the new extension of the Teachers College Hall. But according to Alvarado, unlike the other locations on campus, which are operated by different contractors, Ramirez doesn’t meet area standards.
“The workers on the street get social benefits,” Alvarado said. “But not these workers here. It’s unfair to them. But we don’t just fight for them. We fight for all carpenters.”
According to Kolodziejski, not only the workers are neglected, the community is also affected.
“The money that goes into work is the wages of the workers and it is the money that goes into the community to support public services,” explained Kolodziejski. “If a group bids a million dollar drywall job for $500,000 and I bid it for a million just to win the cheaper bid, who pays the rest? That goes into our taxes. We are trying to raise awareness for this.”
The group was at the NU Board of Regents meeting the previous Friday and told the board there were three construction sites on their campus where labor standards were not being met. The group called on the Board of Regents to enact a policy on campus requiring contractors to demonstrate they have an honest payroll system.
According to Kolodziejski, an honest payroll system would involve verifying individuals as independent contractors to avoid misclassification and requiring the Board of Regents to verify the system as compliance standards before contracts are awarded.
Ramirez Contracting Services did not respond to the Daily Nebraskan’s requests for comment prior to the time of publication.