Alleged rape on Wilfs’ Viking Lakes development sparks outrage, calls for change

Barb Pecks (R), chair of the Carpenters union’s Sisters in the Brotherhood group, embraces Norma Izaguirre during a press conference on the Capitol steps.

A worker on the Viking Lakes project in Eagan came forward last week with allegations that she was raped and harassed while working for a drywall subcontractor on the troubled job site, developed by NFL owners Zygmunt, Mark and Leonard Wilf’s MV Ventures firm.

Unions and worker advocacy groups decried the alleged assault and, in a press conference on the Capitol steps Tuesday, issued an impassioned call for elected officials, developers, contractors and all workers to do more to stop exploitation of workers in the construction industry.

For developers like the Wilfs, that means cutting business ties with contractors that have public records of wage theft, worker misclassification and other labor abuses.

Absolute Drywall, which employed Norma Izaguirre and her alleged rapist, Diego Medina, has been cited for child labor, misclassification of workers and failure to pay overtime. The state Labor Department also found that the firm submitted false and misleading claims in response to an investigation.

Yet when representatives of the Carpenters union and the local worker center CTUL tried to warn MV Ventures about Absolute Drywall’s track record of exploitation, they were instructed to leave the property, CTUL Co-Director Veronica Mendez Moore said.

“They kicked us off the site and wouldn’t even let us go in and talk with workers, to see what the conditions were like,” she said. “They said to us that they could handle this themselves.”

By last spring, more than 40 workers employed on the Viking Lakes project had come forward to report wage theft, alleging Absolute and other subcontractors had cheated them out of over $100,000 in combined wages. Several workers reported their claims to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Madeline Lohman, a senior researcher for The Advocates for Human Rights, said developers that turn a blind eye to subcontractors’ potential violations of wage rules, safety standards and other worker protections too often foster an “environment of impunity,” ripe for more serious abuses.

“Many of the labor trafficking victims that we have served at The Advocates first came forward because of stolen wages, untreated workplace injuries or child labor that had been overlooked, and only afterwards was the trafficking uncovered,” she said. “If developers and large employers … allow smaller abuses to go unchecked, greater ones will flourish in those gaps.”

In fact, Izaguirre told the Minnesota Reformer website that she is among the workers on the Viking Lakes development who have filed complaints of unpaid wages.

She said Medina lured her to work for Absolute Drywall as a cleaner at Viking Lakes and other developments. After several months, he began making sexual advances and touching her inappropriately, eventually raping her in one of the apartments’ showers, according to her report.

Medina threatened violence against Izaguirre and her family if she reported the abuse. But on the Capitol steps, she stood up to the podium and explained what prompted her to come forward.

“I want everyone in the state of Minnesota to make sure no other woman is treated like I was on a construction project,” she said through an interpreter. “My question for Minnesota developers and construction companies is this: what are you going to do to prevent this from happening to another woman?”

One option for developers is to hire union contractors, whose employees can report abuses to their representatives and whose wages and benefits are spelled out in a collective bargaining agreement.

Or, Mendez Moore said, developers should sign a pledge with the Building Dignity and Respect Standards Council, requiring all contractors on their developments to uphold basic labor standards and agreeing to allow independent monitoring – with legally binding enforcement mechanisms – on their work sites. CTUL is ramping up public pressure on several prominent non-union developers to join the council.

Local elected officials, meanwhile, should require accountability measures on all approved projects to ensure workers are not being exploited in their cities, union officials said.

“If one of the most powerful families in Minnesota is not stepping up to prevent horrific worker abuse, it’s time for local governments and the state Legislature to step in,” said Adam Duininck, director of government affairs with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters (NCSRCC).

Construction workers – union and non-union – have an important role to play, too, said Barb Pecks, a business representative with the NCSRCC and chair of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ Sisters in the Brotherhood committee. She said the union would soon begin working with its contractors to train all members in identifying and reporting labor abuses.

“I can’t say enough about your bravery and courage,” Pecks told Izaguirre on the Capitol steps.


  1. […] Little said wage theft hasn’t been a top concern in the County Attorney’s Office. Pointing to allegations of worker exploitation on the Viking Lakes development in Eagan, Little said “the threat of prosecution alone would be […]

%d bloggers like this: