Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

Union Ironworkers Bolster Rally on Behalf of Non-Union Ironworkers’

In the parking lot of the Laurel Shopping Center in Laurel, Maryland, members of the V.O.I.C.E. Coalition (Victory Over Injustice for Concerned Employees), some of them brothers and sisters from Ironworkers Union Local 16, rallied in support of workers who have been mistreated during the construction of a new L.A. Fitness center.

As V.O.I.C.E organizer Enrique Reyna explains in the video below, welders on the work site have been exposed to unsafe conditions by Baltimore-based Winkler’s Inc., a welding subcontractor. But the fact that union workers came out in support of non-union workers is what makes this action special. Reyna told Joshua Garner of the Laurel Patch, “We expect some kind of response,we don’t want to be left out on the streets.”

Workers have claimed that they are facing rough conditions on the site due to a lack of safety equipment. They also claim that contractors are withholding breaks. Without a union, many of the workers on the site have no voice in terms of demanding a safe work environment. For a non-union worker on an unsafe site, the reality is often being complacent about unsafe conditions, facing retribution for speaking out, or simply finding another job. One of those former workers, Robert Shortt, marched with the group in protest:

Robert Shortt, 33, said he walked off a Winkler’s construction site in January 2011 after working as a welder because he felt he was being treated unfairly. He’s been out of work ever since but came to the protest on Friday to show support.

“It’s been an ongoing thing,” he said.

In an economic downturn, workers are likely to stay on the job despite unfair conditions because they feel lucky to have found work at all. While a majority of non-union contractors treat their workers fairly and with respect, human nature allows for holes in the honor system and some contractors try to (and unfortunately frequently do) get away with workers’ rights subversions in the name of profit:

Reyna said there have been issues with Winkler’s at the Laurel site and other projects. He said some workers have been walking off the job since early 2011. Workers for the contractor are not unionized and have no collecting bargaining agreement and are unable to strike. Workers are left with few options to protest, other than walking off the work site.


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