Labor Dispute Signs Across Metro Raise Questions
You've seen the signs, they say "Shame on” a business or organization. But what are they actually protesting? The answer may not be what you think.
They're everywhere, signs claiming shameful practices by local businesses calling it a labor dispute. They were even outside the Omaha Archdiocese on Ash Wednesday demonstrating against work done on the St. Pius X/St. Leo School. Many places have been "bannered" in recent years around Omaha and Council Bluffs. Though they openly put blame on the business or organization itself, owners are completely taken off guard.
Cherry Berry, a yogurt bar, recently opened two new locations. Protestors have shown up at both places; 132nd St. & W. Maple Rd. and at countryside Village on Pacific St. Scott Gamet, the owner, still can't figure out why his name is being targeted.
"There's no dispute with Cherry Berry. We're just a small family owned business,” Gamet explained. "It's just frustrating because we don't really feel like we have a dispute with them and when we try to get answers on what they're disputing there's not much information to be given."
These banners are organized by the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters claiming unfair labor practices by non-union carpentry companies. To clarify how the process works, a business owner hires a contractor to construct, renovate, or expand a building. The contractor hires sub-contractors like carpenters, and electricians to do some of the work. They also send letters to business owners asking them not to hire certain contractors “as long as their subcontractors do not meet area labor standards and not allow any non-area standard contractors to perform any work on any of your projects”. Demonstrators are not allowed to speak to people, but hand out flyers calling these contractors and subcontractors “rats”.
Multiple metro area contractors and subcontractors have told KMTV Action 3 News that this tactic is used to pressure contractors to hire unionized subcontractors, or to get them to join the union.
One of the places named is Precision Drywall Inc., which worked on the new Raising Cane's on 70th & Dodge St. Owner Paul Janky, says the carpenters union claiming his company doesn't meet area labor standards, is wrong. The only contact he's ever had with the union is when they sent him a survey asking what he paid his employees. He didn't fill it out because it is not required by law to give that information to a third party.
“They really have no leg to stand on,” Janky described. "That's totally false; they have no idea what I pay my employees. I pay my employees more than a lot of times what the union wages are."
But who are the people holding the signs and handing out flyers? Most would figure they're union members taking a stand. The Center for Union Facts says generally across the country most of those “bannering” are paid a minimum wage and not given benefits, which is what the union is perceived to be fighting for.
Merlee Shire is a dental assistant and office manager for New Image Dentistry in Council Bluffs. She says they moved to The Marketplace in December, and they stood out front their new office for about 8 weeks.
"Their dispute supposedly was that by hiring non union employees we're taking away from the union having health benefits and wellness benefits,” Shire said. "I'm sure these people working out there didn't have any benefits. I'm sure they weren't paying them anything but minimum wage."
KMTV Action 3 News called the number on the flyers many times during this investigation. We also contacted the NCSRCC's Nebraska representative, and a person believed to oversee the sign workers. Action 3 News never received a response.
Though the pointed message is just feet from the entrance of most of these businesses, answers seem to be a never-ending mission for people all over town affiliated with "a so-called rat"
"To say who do we contact what's this about? They have nothing to say," Shire noted.
"I wish they would come in and talk to us about it and let us know what their dispute really is," Gamet concluded.
Meyers-Carlisle-Leapley Construction of Omaha actually filed a petition for removal against the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters in U.S. Federal Court in June 2012. They said because they felt the union was threatening a company to get them to stop doing business with them. The case has since been dismissed by MCL.