Protest Breaking 4.8

Workers protest outside of the Teachers College on Friday, April 8, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Construction workers protested at the current construction site of Carolyn Pope Edwards Hall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for equitable pay and benefits for carpenters working on UNL projects. 

The group was protesting alleged unfair business practices and unreasonable standards by Ramirez Contracting Services, Inc, according to protester Juan Alvarado.

The group is specifically protesting Ramirez Contracting Services failing to meet industry standards with regards to the treatment of workers. 

“The contractor is cheating the system,” Alvarado said. “They’re cheating their workers, not providing health care or workers’ compensation. If a worker gets hurt here, they’re on their own. It’s unacceptable. This is the University of Nebraska. They should be provided by the law.”

The North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, who are a part of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, held the protest. According to their website, the group fights to assure proper wages, benefits and working conditions for professional carpenters in exchange for the skill and productivity they bring to the job. 

The group of protesters primarily marched up and down the walkway outside of Carolyn Pope Edwards construction site with signs reading, “Ramirez Contracting Services, Inc. Unfair. Driving down area standards.” 

The group also recited various chants such as, “Equal work, equal pay”  and “Hey, ho, Ramirez got to go.”

According to protester Richard Kolodziejski, the members arrived to protest to take part in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Tax Fraud Days of Action initiative, an annual event where workers educate the public about potential tax fraud going around the United States and try to raise awareness.

“We’re informing the public of the area of the standards for carpenters,” Alvarado said. “We believe that the individual for this building is not paying the standards, not offering benefits and not offering workers compensation. It’s a law that you have to provide your employees with worker's compensation. That's what we’re after, raising the standards for carpenters.”

The protests are what the union calls an area standards picket, Kolodziejski said. An area standards picket occurs when they believe a contractor is not meeting area labor standards regarding salary benefits in accordance with the law. The group then contacts the contractor to give them a chance to respond and provide proof. 

If the contractor fails to respond, the group stages a picket to inform the public of their situation. Kolodziejski claims the union has given Ramirez weeks to respond with documentation of them paying area standards and has not received a response in any form. 

Ramirez Contracting Services currently has the contract for the construction of the new extension to the Teachers College Hall. But, according to Alvarado, unlike the other sites across campus that are under different contractors, Ramirez isn’t meeting area standards. 

“The workers down the street, they get benefits,” Alvarado said. “But not these workers here. It’s unfair to them. But we’re not just fighting for them. We’re fighting for all carpenters.”

However, it’s not just the workers who are getting the short end of the stick according to Kolodziejski, the community is also being affected.

“The money going into the work is wages for workers and it’s the money going into the community to help support the public services,” Kolodziejski explained. “If one group bids a million-dollar drywall job for $500,000 and I’m going to bid it for a million, only to have the cheaper bid win, who’s going to pay for the rest? It goes into our taxes. That’s what we’re trying to raise awareness on.” 

The group was at the NU Board of Regents meeting earlier on Friday, and explained to the board that there were three construction sites on their campuses where labor standards were not being met. The group requested the Board of Regents enact a policy on campus where the contractors must prove they have an honest payroll system.  

An honest payroll system, according to Kolodziejski, would involve verifying people as independent contractors to avoid misclassification, and having the Board of Regents verify the system as meeting area standards before awarding the contracts. 

Ramirez Contracting Services did not reply to the Daily Nebraskan’s requests for comment before the time of publication.