Union protests on campus

Their sign read: “Shame on the University of Minnesota.”

Union workers stood across from TCF Bank Stadium Friday afternoon protesting a University construction subcontractorâÄôs low pay and benefit standards. The protest is one of several the Carpenters Industrial Council (CIC) has staged around Minnesota against OâÄôKeefe Inc., a River Falls, Wisc.-based millwork company which they say does not meet area pay and benefits standards for their employees. The University hired Mortenson Construction several months ago to remodel the Gophers womenâÄôs basketball offices at the Bierman Field Athletic Building. Mortenson subcontracted OâÄôKeefe to provide cabinets for the remodel. The demonstration is part of the CICâÄôs metro-wide âÄúArea Standards CampaignâÄù for architectural milling, Doug Wendt, a national representative of the CIC, said. The union thinks milling workers should be paid about $24.50 per hour, Wendt said, which OâÄôKeefe is not meeting according to the CIC. OâÄôKeefe management said their pay is fair, but would not provide specific figures. âÄúPeople are going to say this is a union issue, but it’s not.âÄù Wendt said. âÄúIt’s about paying the area standards.âÄù For OâÄôKeefe, this is a union issue. OâÄôKeefe invited members of the CIC to a September meeting last year to discuss how to organize the company, OâÄôKeefe General Manager Brian Troska said. OâÄôKeefe employees voted not to elect the CIC to represent them, a motion that Troska said prompted the union to continue protesting OâÄôKeefe. âÄúItâÄôs a shame that [the CIC] has to involve third parties like the [University],âÄù Troska said. âÄúThis is what they call a labor dispute between [the CIC] and us.âÄù The CIC workers wielded a 15-foot-wide sign reading âÄúShame on the University of Minnesota,âÄù which is an inaccurate portrayal of the situation, said University buyer Kevin Sullivan, who deals with contractors for the university. He made the call to hire Mortenson for the project. âÄúMortenson has to follow University guidelines for how on-site workers are paid,âÄù Sullivan said. âÄúWho they use to make off-site wood is entirely [their] job to determine.âÄù Regulating which sub-contractors Mortenson hires for its building materials would be telling them how to run their business, which the University does not want to do, Sullivan said. Of the projectâÄôs $100,000 price tag, less than $20,000 is set aside for millwork, Ken Sorensen, vice president and general manager for Mortenson said. However, the CIC is not protesting Mortenson, Wendt said. The union is protesting OâÄôKeefe and the property owner using their products âÄî in this case, the University of Minnesota. âÄúContractors will point fingers at the owner and owner will point fingers at subcontractor,âÄù Wendt said. âÄúThey can point fingers all they want, but at the end of the day if you hire these guys we are going to be there.âÄù The Union chose to protest across from TCF Bank Stadium, despite the remodeling taking place at the Bierman building, seven blocks from the protest site. Workers chose the site because of higher visibility, CIC union representative Bill Rose said. The CIC pays workers $10 per hour to stand behind the sign. The protesters plan to remain there for the duration of the project, Rose said. The Twin Cities area can expect to see five to ten more protests this year with other projects involving OâÄôKeefe, Wendt said. âÄúWe could be out here in January doing this,âÄù Rose said. âÄúWe donâÄôt care if [OâÄôKeefe] becomes union,âÄù Rose said. âÄúWe just want them to meet the standards.âÄù