October 25, 2020

Local workers picket on Pennington

Union workers demonstrating at the edge of campus wore signs advertising the employment of out-of-state workers in College construction. (Jamie Primeau / Features Editor)

Groups of local workers gathered at the College’s entrance as early as 7 a.m. with signs hanging around their necks in a union protest on Friday, Feb. 18.

The picket line, which received frequent honks of approval and thumbs up from those driving past, was held to raise awareness about the College’s hiring of out-of-state, non-union workers to perform construction on the new education building, specifically the erection of steel. The picketers gathered on Wednesday and Thursday mornings as well.

“This is an informative presentation we’re making here,” said Ross Boyko, of Iron Workers Local 68. “We have an out-of-state contractor doing work at our local schools, and here we are, local workers, we live in the local Trenton area, and we’re not getting jobs that are right here.”

The members of Iron Workers Local 68, a Trenton-based union, have in the past worked to assemble the steel of multiple campus buildings.

More recently, however, the College’s contractor hired Low Bid Inc., a Long Island, New York sub-contractor employing out-of-state workers for steel erection on the education building project, according to Ralph Edelbach, president of the College’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) chapter.

Stacey Schuster, executive director of College Relations, said the hirings are in keeping with state law requirements.

“State College Contracts Law requires the College to competitively bid construction projects and to choose the lowest responsible bidder,” she said. “In addition, State College Contracts Law does not allow for discrimination against workers who don’t live in the state, or businesses that aren’t New Jersey-based.”

Mark Docie, another union member, was categorized by other workers as one of the protest’s main organizers and emphasized that it was an “informational picket line.”

“Some of the other trades on the (construction) job are union,” Docie explained. “The plumbers are union, and the electricians are union. So that’s why we’re here because all that steel is going up with non-union people.”

Left without work, members of the Iron Workers Local 68 said they resort to creative means to gather any money they can.

“I play the guitar on the side and sing. I make up the difference that way,” Dan Montagano said. “I make Christmas wreaths too.”

Yet for some, these side jobs are not nearly enough, they said.

“I’m homeless,” Boyko said. “I don’t have a home, because I don’t have any work.”

When asked who the protest was targeted toward, Boyko said, “the public’s attention.” He further defined the picket’s intended audience as “anybody that’s interested in why

Members of Iron Workers Local 68 stood by the Pennington Road entrance to the College last week in an ‘informational protest’ of the College’s hiring of non-union construction workers. (Kate Stronczer / Photo Assistant)

people are on the streets not working, because out-of-state contractors are taking our jobs, local jobs.”

While explaining the situation, Montagano said, “The teachers here are union. It’d be like if teachers came in here and weren’t union.”

As fellow union workers, the protesters felt a sense of solidarity with the school’s professors.

“All the teacher’s were giving us thumbs up,” Jack Cottone, of Iron Workers Local 68, said. “They’re behind us.”

“They’re upset too,” Docie said, referring to the College’s professors. “We’re all union people, whatever we do. You have non-union people back there, that’s not right.”

“The Ironworkers are concerned that a local project, funded primarily by the state of New Jersey and student tuition, is using a company from out-of-state and their employees instead of hiring local residents, who pay taxes in this area and spend their money here as well,” Edelbach, who teaches technological studies, said.

“Everything in the past here has been done union,” Docie said. “All the buildings we have put up here in the past has been done by us, union Local 68 Iron Workers.”

“This is the first time in awhile where they have a non-union steel erection company in here,” he said. “And we’re all upset and aggravated about it.”

While it was the Iron Workers crew that were not hired by the College, the painters and crane operators came out in support of their fellow workers.

“We’ll see if it gets turned around, where these guys get out of here and we go in there and finish the job,” Docie said, explaining the group’s goal. “Like it’s supposed to be.”

Jamie Primeau can be reached at primeau2@tcnj.edu.

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