12/4/07

Traditional AFL-CIO picketing raises complaints

Nonunion workers at the Hilton Garden Inn construction site in Hobart (IN) were victims of an attack that went well beyond a union-based picket line, project superintendent Kim Lackey said Monday. "We were verbally harassed and property was damaged," she said. "These people acted like a mob of crazy lunatics."

Lackey said that Friday, the day of the union pickets, workers at the site found evidence of vandalism, including 14 slashed vehicle tires, a cut phone line to the trailer and epoxy glue in the locks on the gate and the framer's trailer.

Lackey and other workers said the union representatives spewed both racially and sexually biased slurs at them, including targeting Hispanics, blacks and women. "They were totally out of line," she said.

Mike Summers, president of the Northwest Indiana Building Trades Council, said, "I couldn't give you a rebuttal because I wasn't there. I don't believe union picketers slashed any tires or they would have gone to jail. If there was violence on the picket line, the police should have been there and arrested someone."

Carl Lakomek, organizer for the Indiana/Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

Summers said project contractor Tampa Enterprises doesn't comply with local standards for wages, health and welfare benefits.

Buford, Ga.- based Tampa Enterprises Inc. is building the $6.7 million, 76,000-square-foot, four-story hotel scheduled to be completed in May.

Tampa Enterprises owner John Tampa called union pickets attempts to make him hire all union workers a form of extortion.

But union spokesmen Summers and Lakomek previously told The Times the general contractor doesn't have to hire all union workers, but they contend he should pay workers wages that meet local standards in order for the region's standard of living to be maintained.

Although no fighting was reported, framer Tad Ohmer showed scratches on his chest that he said were administered by a union picket as he tried to enter the construction site.

"We were attacked," Lackey said.

Chad Crandall, a framing foreman from Lansing, said he was on the roof of the hotel working Friday morning when the union workers began taunting him.

"They were asking me, 'How do you work next to Mexicans, how do you work for a woman?'" Crandall said.

Stucco supervisor Virginel Lapadat, whose ethnic roots are Romanian, said he was told to go back to Mexico by union pickets.

He said he couldn't believe his ears.

"In America, in this century, it's not working. It's unbelievable and a hate crime to be sure," he said.

Hobart police said they received five separate reports of mischief at the construction site at 7775 Mississippi St.

Lt. Dave Evans said the hands of police are tied unless someone saw one of the union workers slash the tires.

"With the union I don't foresee cooperation from them. Unless we can get a witness, it's difficult to prove," he said of the more than $1,000 in damage.

(thetimesonline.com)

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