MINNETONKA – Laborers, bricklayers, painters, electricians and other union craftspeople picketed together outside Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka this morning, targeting several contractors working inside the mall that are undermining area wage and safety standards, according to the unions.
Ridgedale’s Chicago-based ownership group, General Growth Properties (GGP), is spending $100 million to upgrade the mall, which opened in 1974. Several tenants are investing in improvements to their retail facilities as well.
But progress on the Ridgedale renovation has been anything but smooth.
Since breaking ground last year, the project has been plagued by interruptions and safety problems, including a roof fire in Macy’s last November. Two months ago Vito Construction abruptly left the project after the demolition contractor drew protests from union workers who said the company’s lax approach to safety – including failure to lock out electrical panels and improper disposal of potentially hazardous materials – were putting both workers and the public at risk.
Kevin Pranis, organizing director of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota, questioned whether GGP was putting profits before public safety.
“Anyone who shops at Ridgedale mall could be at risk because of the safety problems here,” Pranis said. “That’s why we’re here today. When members of the public are at risk, we certainly want them to know what the issues are.”
Problems at Ridgedale have not been limited to Vito Construction, Pranis and Laborers Local 563 business agent Joe Fowler added. Even after Vito’s dismissal, the union brought evidence of new safety problems, including an unsecured demolition site that was accessible to the general public, to GGP shareholders during their annual meeting in Chicago on May 16.
“GGP Executive Vice President Richard Pesin told me he’d take care of the safety problems at the mall, but apparently somebody didn’t get the memo,” Fowler said. “Just this week we found yet another unlocked electrical panel on yet another construction site that was not secured to keep out the general public.”
Other Building Trades unions joined the picket today, targeting contractors working inside the mall for undermining area safety and wage standards
- Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers carried signs targeting Daley Electric, Burnsville Electric and City View Electric.
- Members of District Council 82 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades picketed against TLS Decorating and Remodeling, Henke Painting, Dacey Painting, Tri-Commercial Glass and Commercial Systems LLC.
- Local 1 of the Bricklayers and Allied Crafts picketed Lusters Pro Floors.
Safety problems and labor unrest at Ridgedale stand in sharp contrast to progress at Bloomington’s Mall of America, where developers entered into a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council before breaking ground on a $325 million expansion project. PLA’s ensure all work done on a project meets area standards for wages, benefits and safety.
“Our experience has been very different on renovation projects at Mall of America and Southdale Mall,” Pranis said. “We see a general problem with vetting contractors here at Ridgedale.”
Fowler said many of the problems at Ridgedale could be avoided if contractors meet community standards for wages and benefits and comply with basic safety principles.
“The Twin Cities has high standards of safety and a good standard of living,” he said. “It is very important to all of us to keep it that way.”