Bakery caught in labor dispute

Max Rust

Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery responded Thursday to the publicized boycott of the chain by the Carpenters Council of Southern Minnesota.
Council members have been passing out leaflets in front of Bruegger’s stores throughout the Twin Cities, including the two campus area outlets, for the past four months. The council has targeted Bruegger’s because several of the restaurants in the metro area have been built or worked on by carpenters of non-union subcontractor Friedges Drywall. The union members say the carpentry company pays less than area standard wages.
“Our number-one concern is to have Friedges Drywall workers making the fair wage with full family health insurance, pension and participation in the State Certified Carpenters Apprenticeship Program,” said Scott Malcolm, field agent for the Carpenters Council.
In response to the leaflet distribution, Bruegger’s has issued a flyer of its own, which will be passed out to store customers, explaining its side of the story.
The flyer states that even though Bruegger’s has had work done by Friedges employees, Bruegger’s is not anti-union. It also states that Rochon Corporation, the general contractor used by Bruegger’s for renovation and building jobs, uses many union workers for trades other than carpentry on the company’s projects.
The standard wage the council refers to is the certified prevailing wage rate for state-funded construction, established by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
The wage rate is currently $28.23 per hour, with a base pay rate of $21.43 per hour and $6.80 in benefits.
Although Doug Seaton, an attorney for Friedges Drywall and Bruegger’s, would not disclose the wage amounts Friedges pays carpenter employees, he says that the sub-contractor meets all legal wage-per-hour requirements that relate to Bruegger’s projects.
“This is purely a spoiler operation,” said Seaton, who said that the council is trying to win a turf war and keep non-unionized carpentry employees from working. He said that a vast majority of Friedges carpentry employees signed a letter addressed to the council, stating they did not want to join the union.
Jerry Braton, vice president of Rochon Corporation, said Friedges was hired for the Bruegger’s jobs because it made the lowest bid for the contract. Braton said that many union carpentry companies would not bid for the Bruegger’s jobs because they were too small. He said, however, the contract Rochon has with Bruegger’s is very valuable, and if requested by Bruegger’s, Rochon would eliminate its contract with Friedges Drywall.
But Malcolm contends that Bruegger’s is profiting from the non-union contract. “Bruegger’s costs of building (stores) are lowered when the wages of the workers are lowered,” he said.
Malcolm said, however, that he appreciates Bruegger’s invitation to have union companies bid for the work, an offer stated in the response flyer.
Darryl Andrews, who passed out flyers for the council in front of the Dinkytown Bruegger’s on Wednesday, said he believes the campus is an important area to reach because a lot of people are unaware of the issue and should know where their money is going.
Malcolm further emphasized the importance of distributing leaflets near the Dinkytown and Stadium Village stores because a large percentage of the clientele are students.
“There is a consciousness within the students,” Malcolm said. ” They are aware of the status quo and are a wonderful group for taking the information, understanding it and acting on it.”
Kyle Kinter, a former University student, said he occasionally stops into Bruegger’s. “My immediate reaction (to the boycott) was support for the workers,” he said. “I don’t have a real problem with Bruegger’s. I think the union should go to the root of the problem, which is Friedges.”
The canvassing is working, according to Malcolm, who says that the council has seen a definite decrease in customers at certain stores in the area. He also said he received a phone message last week from Bruegger’s attorneys wishing to meet with the council. Representatives of Bruegger’s would not comment for this story.