Conn. Union protests possible York Hill contractor

By on April 23, 2008
Matt Andrew

Students and visitors arriving at Quinnipiac University through the main entrance on Mt. Caramel Road on Monday morning were greeted by a handful of protesters from the Connecticut Carpenter’s Union, who gathered along the road side to demonstrate for, as one union member said, “basic human rights.”

The Union’s protest focused on Konover Construction Co., which the Union claims has placed a bid on Quinnipiac’s impending York Hill campus project.

Construction companies often misclassify workers as subcontractors, according to Union Business Representative and Organizer Margaret L. Conable. This practice prevents them from receiving benefits and other compensation usually given to regular employees.

One example the union gave was last summer when Intext Building Systems was enlisted as a subcontractor for the Village dormitory expansions. Due to a worker shortage, the company opted to utilize labor from sub-subcontractors, reported a fact sheet distributed by the Connecticut Carpenter’s Union, New England Regional Council of Carpenters.

Labor costs for companies such as Intext can be cut by as much as 30 percent, said the Union. Because workers on the Village project were paid hourly and used Intext equipment to perform their duties, they should have been classified as employees of the company, Conable asserted.

Konover also has a reputation for such practices, Conable said. Union members also claim the company is lacking in the area of workplace safety. Protesters asserted that over the past 10 years, the company owed $10 million in workers compensation for on-the-job injuries.

“The community should not be supporting a contractor like that,” Conable said.

Union demonstrator Bill Jordan, 55, echoed this sentiment.

“That should speak volumes as to what they’re all about,” he said.

Among the bidders for the York Hill campus construction is the company ONG, which the Union supports. The Union has been unable to conduct meaningful dialogue with the administration on the issue thus far, said Conable.

Through Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan, the university refused to comment because they have not yet picked a contractor.

“We would like to see the right choice made,” said John Masselli, 45, a union member who protested Monday. “The bigger people just keep getting bigger and the middle class gets smaller.”

Jordan agreed.

“[The university] should really consider who they’re dealing with and how their past work practices have brought us down here in this movement,” he said.

Konover President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kolakowski denied the allegations, asserting that the company’s status as a merit shop contractor has strained its relationship with the Union.

“As a merit shop contractor, we hire the most qualified and competitively priced sub-contractors, regardless of union

or nonunion affiliation,” Kolakowski said in a letter sent via e-mail. “This isn’t always popular with some labor unions-which prefer an exclusive use of union labor.”

The Carpenters’ Union is currently pressuring Konover to use union labor only, Kolakowski said. Responding to accusations of hazardous working environments, Kolakowski pointed to the company’s partnership with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), although the Union fact sheet alleges that this relationship was terminated in 2005.

The Union places blame on Konover for an accident at one of their work sites in 1999. But Kolakowski claims the accident was the fault of one of his company’s subcontractors. The Union fact sheet states that Konover was responsible for the safety of workers at the site.

“If you look in the industry, accidents do occur,” Kolakowski said. “It doesn’t mean a company doesn’t pay attention to safety.”


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