Trades push Royal Credit Union to ditch contractor accused of underpaying immigrant workers

Building Trades representatives join a protest outside Royal Credit Union in Inver Grove Heights.

Efforts to stop worker exploitation in the Twin Cities construction industry continued to gain momentum today, as construction unions called out Royal Credit Union for using an out-of-state masonry contractor accused by watchdog groups of underpaying immigrant laborers.

As the credit union cut the ribbon inside a newly acquired and refurbished branch in Inver Grove Heights, worker advocates set up a protest outside with signs, banners and an inflatable fat cat clutching a construction worker with one claw.

Unions accuse Eau Claire, Wis., contractor Stone Pro Concrete and Masonry of putting the squeeze on immigrants hired through the H-2B visa program, which allows employers to seek seasonal help when they are unable to hire enough U.S. workers.

The federal program requires employers to pay minimum wage rates based on the location and type of work performed. But after interviewing over a dozen H-2B visa holders on multiple Stone Pro job sites, representatives of the Laborers union (LIUNA) determined the contractor was underpaying workers by as much as $8 per hour.

“They bring on these workers as carpenter’s helpers, but they actually do concrete and masonry work, which is a totally different pay scale,” said Octavio Chung Bustamante, a marketing representative with LIUNA who has been investigating Stone Pro since 2019.

When Bustamante and other union representatives learned Stone Pro would be working on Royal’s new retail office in Little Canada, they took their findings to the credit union.

“We did reach out to Royal Credit Union on May 5,” Bustamante said. “We went to the branch manager in the St. Paul location, but we didn’t hear back.”

As a result, LIUNA and other unions active in the #NotOnMyWatch campaign decided to drop in on the ribbon cutting in Inver Grove Heights – and bring along their inflatable fat cat.

Organizers also circulated copies of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic Facebook content attributed to Stone Pro’s owner. Bustamante called it “hypocritical” for a company turning profits off immigrant labor – and contrary to Royal Credit Union’s stated values.

“It’s not about union or non-union,” Bustamante said. “It’s about making sure the industry is fair for everyone.”

The #NotOnMyWatch campaign brings together unions and community groups like Twin Cities worker center CTUL to identify cases of abuse and assist exploited workers in Minnesota’s construction industry.

“We’ve seen horrific abuse in this industry, from wage theft to dangerous working conditions,” CTUL Co-Director Merle Payne said. “So we’re calling on large developers and users like Royal Credit Union to take steps to use responsible contractors, to step up and make a difference.”

CTUL members who work in the multifamily residential construction industry launched a campaign last month to pressure large developers in the Twin Cities to partner with them in keeping wage theft, labor trafficking and other abuses off their job sites. They call it the Building Dignity and Respect program.

Organizers will announce the next steps in that campaign – including which contractors they will push to sign onto the new program – at a march and rally June 16, beginning at noon at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.

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