Union Cries ‘Shame’ On VA Labor Contract

Construction trade union Carpenters Local 1506 is claiming a labor dispute with William Rogers Drywall — a non-unionized subcontractor — as well as with general contractors the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Pacific Building Group.

The USACE has been hired by the VA hospital, while the PBG is working for Scripps Green Hospital.

The Los Angeles-based worker union claimed that these contractors are not meeting area labor standards, such as providing payments for family health care and pensions. Union members are currently staging protests at the two sites to encourage the hospitals to hire union labor instead.

“VA hospital has an obligation to the community to do all it can to see that area labor-standards contractors are used for construction on their hospital,” union heads announced in a statement.

However, according to William Rogers Drywall co-owner Jim Horn, though his workers receive no pension, vacation time, dental or eye insurance, their paychecks are comparable to union ones that have medical benefits subtracted from the total.

“The real reason they’re having the labor dispute is because they wanted a union company to work for the hospital,” Horn said.

According to Scripps Green Hospital spokesman Johnny Hagerman, the hospital itself is not responsible for subcontracting construction labor; contractors like the PBG choose whom to hire for specific aspects of construction jobs.

“When unions want to bring public attention to these things, the thing that they usually do is picket in front of the business,” Hagerman said.

However, Hagerman explained that because the PBG has no physical headquarters, the union workers are holding their protests on the property of the hospital that awarded the company its contract.

“So the signs that you see say ‘Shame on Scripps,’ [but] it’s really the union’s only way of trying to get at the construction company,” Hagerman said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with Scripps at all.”

Because the issue does not directly involve either of the hospitals, Scripps Green Hospital has not responded to the union. The VA Hospital claimed it has communicated with the union in the past, though the union denied this.

The VA hospital released a statement saying it is in compliance with the wage requirements mandated under the Davis-Bacon Act — a federal law stating that construction contracts over $2,000 commissioned by federally funded companies are required to provide prevailing local wages and benefits.

“We are in compliance with proper pay benefits,” VA Hospital spokeswoman Cindy Butler said. “We’re not violating any laws.”

Contractors with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they will be performing an audit in the upcoming months to ensure that the VA Hospital is in compliance with the labor laws.

Union workers are arguing that hiring non-union labor will lead to unfair wages and, ultimately, re-allocated taxes, when the state is forced to pay for the health care of uninsured workers. The union also provides fringe benefits for its members, such as paid vacation; apprenticeship and training; and life insurance.

“I have a good salary and benefits, [so] my family lives better,” carpenter and protester David Meling said.

Randy Thornhill, a business representative for the union, said the two hospitals have not yet responded to the protest.

“They have not told us anything,” Thornhill said. “They’re probably going to take the position that ‘It’s out of our hands.’ [But] we’re saying that they have a social responsibility when they select contractors that pay area standards to all their workers on all their jobs. They should be more [selective] of who works on their property.”

Readers can contact Regina Ip at [email protected].

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