FOREST LAKE – Construction of a new City Hall in this northeast suburb slowed to a snail’s pace yesterday, as members of Local 110 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers erected a picket line to protest the city’s use of an electrical contractor that, members say, undermines area standards for wages and benefits.
Efforts to reach an agreement with Vinco Inc. to pay wages and benefits on par with area standards have been unsuccessful, Local 110 organizer Bill Malecha said. Union members have greeted the contractor with “Shame On You” banners at its job sites more than a dozen times in recent months.
But when the City of Forest Lake awarded the electrical work on the City Hall project to Vinco, it was the final straw.
“We decided to step up the pressure with a three-day picket,” Malecha said, adding that the action had been sanctioned by the St. Paul Building & Construction Trades Council. “We can’t tell our union brothers and sisters not cross the line, but you can see pretty much the only people on the jobsite are the non-union electrical workers.”
Laborers Local 563 was among the unions who honored Local 110’s picket line yesterday, business agent Chris Peltier said. He and a handful of other Laborers bolstered the IBEW members’ ranks on the picket line today.
“When there’s a dispute on a job, we try to do whatever we can to support the other Trades,” Peltier said. “Yesterday we were able to keep all our people out, along with the other Trades.”
Before work began this morning, the general contractor on the construction site, Kraus-Anderson, established a “double-gate system.” It allows union contractors to access the construction site through a picket-free entrance. Work has picked up somewhat as a result.
It’s not the first time in recent months that the City of Forest Lake, under City Administrator Aaron Parrish, has found itself the target of a union protest. In fact, the IBEW’s three-day picket isn’t even the only demonstration taking place on the City Hall construction site.
Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34 has put up a banner protesting R.J. Mechanical for subcontracting insulation work on the site to O’Leary Insulation, a non-union contractor that fails to pay the industry-standard wages and benefits established by Local 34.
Last fall members of Local 517 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees pushed back against Parrish’s drastic plan to reorganize city staff. Most notoriously, Parrish made firefighting a part of five workers’ job descriptions, despite the fact most were older than 50 with no previous firefighting experience.
“We’ve heard it many, many times from people who stop to ask us what we’re doing. They say, ‘It’s about time somebody does something in this town,’” Malecha said. “I would only hope the city would understand the reason this project is being held up is because they hired a non-union contractor who doesn’t pay area-standard wages and benefits.”
Local 110 plans to keep the picket line up through Friday.
“Our goal is to have Vinco sign a letter of assent with Local 110,” Malecha said.