Carpenters in Action Update
Carpenters Union holds UC Davis and Brown Construction accountable for shoddy construction and abusing workers
NCCRC field representatives and the Carpenters In Action joined forces with community members over the last several months to successfully fight a slow-motion construction train wreck at the Tercero South dormitory complex at the University of California, Davis.
On June 10, the lengthy battle proved worth it when California’s Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet issued an order for one of the project’s subcontractors, Russell/Thompson, Inc., to pay $1.3 million in wages and $200,000 in fines for failure to pay 74 employees their proper wages.
Field Reps and Cia help Drywallers Get Union Agreement
There have been problems at the Tercero South dormitory complex project since April 2009, when, over the protest of Carpenters Local 46, UC Davis hired Brown Construction, Inc. as its general contractor. Brown subcontracted with the 84 Lumber Company to perform the framing work on new dormitories designed to house 600 freshman students. No other general contractor listed 84 Lumber, best known in Northern California for a string of recent retail outlet closures, in its bid.
The Tercero project subsequently became the site of subcontractor switches, state wage and hour investigations, National Labor Relations Board charges, picket lines, handbill actions, rallies for workers issues, an Unfair Labor Practice Strike, marches, mold issues and dysfunction.
Carpenters field representatives warned the university that low-ball bids are risky, and prodded Davis to investigate the qualifications of 84 Lumber. Northern California Carpenters had never seen 84 Lumber frame any project, let alone anything on the scale of Tercero.
The university arrogantly disregarded Local 46’s concerns, noting, “Brown is eminently qualified to perform the work in question … the listing of 84 Lumber does not make Brown not responsible.”
After UC Davis failed to act, 84 Lumber shopped for a subcontractor willing to take the job for 84’s low-ball number. Russell/Thompson, Inc., a Redding outfit that had been issued a license barely one year earlier, showed up in September at the jobsite with a framing crew.
Research uncovered that Earl “E.J.” Thompson, Russell/Thompson’s self-described manager, had his contractor’s license revoked and had served prison time in the 1990s for two white-collar felony convictions. Furthermore, a state judge had recently ordered Thompson not to operate without a contractor’s license. Local 46 shared these facts with the university, and pointed out questionable entries in the framer’s certified payroll records.
The university’s project manager told Local 46, “I am not sure what I can do for you.”
Russell/Thompson continued to frame the job.
Carpenters Union fills the vacuum
Union field representatives were dispatched to the job to document framing omissions and code deviations carefully, as well as unusual and excessive mold growing on the framing.
Carpenters Local 46 sent the university photos of questionable framing shortly before the originally scheduled “early finish” date for rough carpentry. Carpenters continued working for four additional months.
Certified payroll records indicate that the rough carpentry work has cost an estimated $1 million more than UC Davis, Brown Construction and 84 Lumber envisioned in the original bid.
Carpenters In Action Support Non-Union Workers Standing Up
Carpentry and drywall workers at the Tercero dorms came to realize this year that they needed to stand up and expose wrongdoing at the jobsite.
The framing employees moved first, shining a spotlight on the fact that they were not paid the prevailing wage rate. More than a dozen marched into UC Davis’ construction management offices in February. There, they presented UC Davis Assistant Vice Chancellor Clayton Halliday with a petition that demanded that the university become actively involved in the fight against violations of workers’ rights.
Non-union drywall hangers at Tercero went next. With the assistance of the Carpenters In Action, they launched an Unfair Labor Practice strike on May 18, and declared their support for the Drywall/Lathers Local 9109. Working as a team with field representatives, the workers organized a two-day campus community petition drive. The workers then rallied and marched to the offices of the Campus Architect’s supervisor, Vice Chancellor John Meyer. Following a brief worker sit-in, Meyer descended from his locked office suite to accept the petition with signatures from more than 600 members of the university community.
Within one month of the jobsite and campus actions, Kings Drywall, Inc. and a related licensed contractor signed the 46 Countywide Drywall/Lathers master agreement.
The State calls out Brown Construction
On June 10, justice was served when California’s Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet ordered Russell/Thompson, Inc. to pay $1.3 million in wages and $200,000 in fines for failure to pay 74 employees the proper wage for their work at Tercero Housing Project at the University of California, Davis. The Labor Commissioner also served a civil wage and penalty assessment against Brown Construction, Inc. and 84 Lumber.
“Our investigation uncovered serious wage violations in this case,” said Commissioner Bradstreet. “We believe the employer intentionally underpaid its workers. This not only robs those employees of the money they earned, it also hurts other contractors who chose to do the right thing and comply with the law.”
Director of the Department of Industrial Relations John C. Duncan said, “Prime contractors cannot plead ignorance when their subcontractors fail to follow California’s labor law. The state holds seminars and outreach events to make sure contractors across California are aware of the specific requirements involving public works projects. These requirements are designed to ensure that public money is being spent properly. Our enforcement efforts are intended to help fight California’s underground economy and help compliant businesses compete fairly.”
The Tercero saga at UC Davis vividly illustrates the need for California public agencies to review the trustworthiness and qualifications of contractors with great care. Brown committed to complete its contract by August 16. The university already has paid, or is preparing to pay, an overtime differential to Brown Construction for “acceleration” of the work of at least seven different contractors.”
Union carpenters will continue to fight to ensure that the current and future tuition-paying families of UC students don’t bear the costs of Brown’s strategy of subcontracting to inexperienced or untrustworthy contractors.
It takes teamwork
Wherever Carpenters are under attack in our jurisdiction, we will continue to use a teamwork approach involving field representatives from the union locals, Research, Labor Compliance and Organizing departments, and most importantly, the rank-and-file members of Carpenters In Action.