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Miller & Long: Construction Industry Poster Child for Exploitation and Harm

In the September issue of Commonwealth Contractor, Miller & Long President Brett McMahon decries what he calls the “war on free enterprise.” He quotes Ronald Regan by asking, “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” in response to the Obama administration’s refusal to allow the GOP’s war on workers to go unchecked.

The “war on free enterprise” is an all-encompassing term used by McMahon to describe any resistance to the Right’s union-busting, pro-corporation takeover of the labor market. In the same interview, which appears in its entirety below, McMahon states that, “We’re not worried about what the federal government is doing at all times. It’s a great waste of time and energy that should be directed at private enterprise.”

It isn’t surprising that this sentiment would come from McMahon. The man built Miller & Long on the backs of illegal immigrants under conditions bordering on indentured servitude. The company notoriously plucks its workers from destitute situations and pays them the bare minimum in a field of heavy, dangerous labor. Then, these exploited souls are released from duty right before completing apprenticeships.

McMahon’s current gripe is with the 2nd phase of the Dulles MetroRail project and the fact that it is scheduled to be completed under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA). His concern, along with that of Republican legislators and other pro-business lobbies, is baseless considering on-time and under budget results on Phase I of the project as well as previous instances of worker deaths on large-scale non-PLA transportation projects in Virginia.

McMahon, though, calls out Democrats by misquoting Kevin Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspect: “The devil’s greatest trick is making you believe he doesn’t exist,” he said (view the accurate quote here). If this is true, it makes you wonder if his second greatest trick is calling others the devil, because for a man trying to portray himself as an “All-American boy”, McMahon’s actions are anything but American.

According to several estimates in 2008 (see massive PDF expose, below), nearly 90 percent of Miller & Long’s 3,000-man workforce was comprised of illegal immigrants, many of whom were yanked from El Salvadorian poverty in the early part of the past decade after earthquakes ravaged the economically struggling country. Myles Gladstone, former Miller & Long higher-up, took 21 “humanitarian” trips to the region after the 2001 earthquakes, making contacts within the communities that he would eventually use to create a network of refugees/slave laborers in America. When legalities became an issue, Miller & Long used their money to try to buy new laws, often allowing their immigrant workforce days off in order to attend rallies for issues that would support Miller & Long’s exploitation. In 2006, Gladstone told the New York Times:

“‘We are indebted to the work ethic they bring us,’ Mr. Gladstone said. ‘Without them, Miller & Long would not be as successful, and I would not be as successful.’”

Of course not. History is cyclical and just as plantations would not have been as prosperous without forced slavery, modern construction contracting would not be as low-road and profit-driven without companies like Miller & Long exploiting illegal workers who would otherwise be turned over to the authorities if they made attempts to work elsewhere. Miller & Long has also found other avenues for desperate workers: hiring out of prisons.

The company’s prison job fairs often touted a minimum wage of $10.50 with unfathomable benefits and retirement packages that promised to leave men millionaires. Unfortunately for the majority of the prisoners, they were fired before the end of their apprenticeship, preventing them not only from accruing any true wealth but also from leaving Miller & Long’s evil grasp with a transferable skill. To boot, the early firings rendered these workers ineligible for raises and increased benefits. These apprenticeships, through the Associated Builders and Contractors, are all but a joke given the organization’s reputation for contractors that pay notoriously low wages and hardly graduate anybody.

In the same Washington Post article (cited in the PDF, below), Miller & Long officials admit that only two of the 200 people hired in to the program remained with the company. When they run into legal resistance, Miller & Long use their money to lobby Congress to change laws in their favor. According to the Contractors critic,

“It seems, by sheer coincidence, at the same time the laws to toughen immigration policies and policing were being proposed in the U.S. House and Senate, the amount of funds Miller & Long lobbyists primed politicians with zoomed from almost nothing in 2005 to some $130,000 in 2006 and then to somewhere around $220,000 in 2007. You’ve heard of politicians “glad-handing contributors”? This new move by Miller & Long might also be termed “Gladstoning the politicians.”

Miller & Long has orchestrated an elaborate revolving cycle for exploiting the needy to make as much profit as possible and then using that profit to quiet all opposition to the exploitation. In May of 2006, at least 15 undocumented workers were removed from a Miller & Long worksite after a group of illegal workers were part of a traffic accident in West Raleigh, NC. Seven of the 15 were arrested and charged with having false ID’s and returning to the United States after previous deportation. Don’t spend too much energy trying to figure out how they managed the second trip.

The tale of Brett McMahon and Miller & Long is one of arrogance, exploitation and disregard for societal and moral standards. Things are to be done their way or they will make you pay. In a ten year span from 1998 to 2008, Miller & Long rang up an OSHA tab that included 68 safety violations (73% of which were classified as serious or repeat violations of federal safety law), and over $155,000 in fines, likely a fraction of what likely should have been levied.

But workers are not the only people who are on record as having incurred the wrath of Miller & Long. There is also a history of neglectful injury to innocent bystanders. In 1997, Miller & Long had to pay over $300,000 to a man who suffered injuries after being hit by a large piece of plywood that was dropped at a Miller & Long worksite. Just a year later, the company was again sued when they dropped an aluminum beam onto a car from four stories above. In 2006, Miller and Long was sued by a Virginia woman after being rear ended by a Miller & Long tractor trailer. The impact then pushed the woman’s car into a jersey barrier. This woman, just driving down the road, was left with permanent disability, deformity, loss of earnings and earning capacities as a result of the collision.

Brett McMahon plays the part well. He acts outraged as if both the government and the public are out to get his small company and his industry as a whole. He has jumped on the Dulles Metrorail bandwagon as a means of demonizing the union labor which is outperforms his slave labor workforce by leaps and bounds. The reality is that McMahon and his big business conglomerate don’t care about the average American, or true Americanism, in any way, shape or form. When unemployed Americans need jobs, Miller & Long hires illegal workers from El Salvador. When rogue elements of government threaten workers’ rights, safety, and protections and American citizens fight back, Miller & Long declares their actions a “War on Free Enterprise.” When Democrats try to fight for the rights of workers who do not want large companies to bust their unions, McMahon refers to them as the devil. Brett McMahon is an all-American boy, but only if you believe in an America where money rights your wrongs and greed allows you to build an empire on the backs of the exploited.

McMahon’s Interview

The Miller and Long Expose


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