With help from Carpenters Union, Drywall hangers get back pay; more due

Exterior/Interior Specialists Local 2154 is helping 16 drywall hangers get wages for hundreds of board-feet of drywall they installed in March and April.

Local 2154 is an affiliate of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

After weeks of pleading for paychecks worth about $18,000, the non-union hangers contacted Local 2154 for help.

On April 21, nine men picketed Center Commons, a new assisted senior and federally-subsidized affordable housing community under construction at Northeast 60th Avenue and Glisan Street in Portland - where they have worked without pay for more than six weeks.

The general contractor is R&H Construction and the drywall subcontractor is Western Integrity. The project is co-sponsored by Oregon Department of Housing Commission, Portland Development Commission and METRO.

The workers - all Hispanic - say they are owed an additional $10,000 for work at another Western Integrity jobsite at Northwest 25th Avenue and Thurman Street in Portland.

The picketing caught the attention of R&H supervisors and within a week (on May 2) the contractor issued two checks counter-signed by Western Integrity to two of the workers. One check was for $4,700 and the other was for $3,242 - far short of what the workers say is owed.

According to the union, the two men receiving the checks were somehow convinced to work under their own licenses as "independent contractors" and to pull together their own work crews.

Wally Mehrens, executive secretary of the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, said because independent contractors must pay for their own workers' compensation insurance, unemployment insurance and other tax liabilities, non-union contractors can underbid union contractors who provide insurance for their workers.

Mehrens said union contractors were unsuccessful bidders on the Center Commons project. Local 2154 contends that the workers are in no way, shape or form independent contractors.

"They are supervised by the original contractor like a regular employee would be; they are told what specific job they will do and what hours they will work," said Jerry Auvil, an organizer for the Carpenters Union.

Auvil said the Center Commons drywall scenario "is just the tip of the iceberg in the exploitation of workers - especially minorities - who are coerced and intimidated into getting a contractor's license to provide labor for a contractor."

Mehrens and representatives of the Carpenters Union met with Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz May 18 to inform her of the abuses. The outcome of that meeting was unknown at presstime.

"We now have documentation revealing this practice and we intend to expose it to public officials and the media," Auvil said.

May 19, 2000 issue

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