A Chicago-based carpenters union has been protesting the ongoing construction at Roycemore Private School's new building, saying that one of the construction companies hired for the project is paying substandard wages.
As Roycemore staff packed up boxes and furniture last Thursday in anticipation of its weekend move to its new location at 1200 Davis St., members of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters protested outside the school’s old 640 Lincoln St. building, alleging that The Edge Construction, a Bartlett-based company subcontracted for the school’s carpentry work, threatened “area-standard wages” by undercutting the competition and paying its employees less.
Richard Aldrecht, director of organizing for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, said that it is not difficult or uncommon for contractors to undercut “area-standard wages”.
“Typically in a bidding competition, if a general contractor wanted to get the cheapest contractor, it’s easily able to undercut our area standards in Chicago,” Aldrecht said. “And that is exactly what The Edge Construction has done, and they’ve done it for years. … We’ve had conversations with employees in the past [to know that they’re paying substandard wages]. They are unrepresented and don’t have a voice.”
Aldrecht said that the “area-standard wage” for carpenters was $40.77 per hour with an additional $20 in hourly benefits
But Roycemore and the other contractors involved in the dispute say that they have done nothing wrong.
Roycemore Headmaster Joseph Becker said that the school knew it had limited resources for the move to the new location, so he instructed The Dobbins Group, the project’s general contractor, to hire union or non-union workers, to make recommendations based on a combination of price and quality, and to stretch the school’s budget to better serve Roycemore students and families.
Similarly, Tom Dobbins, owner and president of The Dobbins Group, said he bid the project out fairly and let the marketplace decide the best value for the work.
Bill Haidl, owner of The Edge Construction, said that the union’s “area-standard wages” are too high for the current marketplace and that union workers are suffering because of it.
“The union contractors don’t have any work right now, because they’ve priced themselves out of the market,” Haidl said. “I pay my guys based on what we agree on as a fair wage for each individual. These are not indentured servants. If they feel that I’m not paying enough money, they’re free to go anywhere. I’ve had guys with me for 10 and 15 years. Guys that have quit, joined the union, can’t make a steady living there and have come back.”
Haidl went so far as to accuse union organizers of driving up workers’ hourly wage for personal gain.
“They make these accusations that we’re not supporting area standards,” Haidl said, “but they have this inflated standard. And it’s inflated because you’ve got so many fat cats running the union. I mean, that’s my opinion.”
Haidl declined to reveal the average hourly rate for his employees.
Royecmore is in the process of moving its school to a new location on the land when it expires in 2014. The school is moving to the building formerly home to the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church but hired a general contractor to renovate the building.
Thursday’s protest was the most recent chapter in the Chicago Regional Council’s decade-plus-long campaign against The Edge Construction. The union has held at least four protests against the Roycemore project in the past six months, but last week’s was the first to take place away from the construction site.
Roycemore’s first school day at its new location will be Jan. 3. The school comprises students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.