Chris Dunker Lincoln Journal Star
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters picketed a job site at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Friday to draw attention to unfair labor practices involving contractors working on these projects.
Blowing whistles and marching on the sidewalk at 14th and Vine Streets near an ongoing renovation of Mabel Lee Hall, members of the carpenters’ union said Friday’s action was part of an area campaign.
“Right now, as we speak, labor brokers are involved in the project with a number of workers who are being paid cash,” said Felicia Hilton, political director of the Northcentral Carpenters Regional Council.
Hilton, speaking at Friday’s NU Board of Regents meeting, was accompanied by about two dozen union members, each wearing a neon vest that read “Stand Up Against Tax Fraud.”
According to Hilton, the union is trying to draw attention to construction companies — including those working on the Mabel Lee Hall project, the Barkley Memorial Center on East Campus and the athletic training complex near Memorial Stadium — that pay workers under the table.
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Workers hired by employment agencies don’t receive benefits like health insurance or workers’ compensation if they’re injured on the job, which Hilton says the board can create additional costs for taxpayers.
The companies that hire off-the-shelf workers or classify them as independent contractors also don’t deduct payroll taxes, Hilton said, while the workers themselves pay no state or federal income taxes on their earnings.
Ultimately, if companies don’t deduct health insurance, workers’ compensation or taxes, they can bid lower than competitors, Hilton said.
The union said recruitment agencies were more likely to be involved with subcontractors on larger projects, but did not name any companies protesting unfair practices on Friday.
“Our problem is that there are legitimate companies, unionized and non-unionized, that can’t compete for this work, that can’t bid for this work because they don’t practice this model,” Hilton said.
That’s especially concerning as NU is trying to address a $800 million backlog of deferred maintenance projects through 2062, she said. NU received $400 million in bond financing from a sale in 2021 to begin renovating and replacing its aging infrastructure at its four locations.
“We think it’s a terrible business model and we think the university shouldn’t support such a model,” she added.
Chris Kabourek, NU’s vice president of business and finance, said the university requires companies to comply with all applicable state and federal labor laws when receiving projects.
A committee of university and non-university staff responsible for reviewing submitted project proposals also asks about a company’s ability to get the job done, Kabourek said, which includes compliance with the law.
A call to a spokesman for Hausmann Construction, the general contractor working on several UNL projects, went unanswered Friday.
Hilton said the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters has a questionnaire that it says will help screen contractors and subcontractors who are following best practices.
Kabourek said NU will arrange a meeting between staff at its facilities and the carpenters’ union to hear his concerns and see if they can address the issues raised at Friday’s meeting.