A group of protesters picketed outside the 20 Hawley St. housing project yesterday to express their opposition to the hiring of a New Jersey-based contracting company, Future Coating Inc. by Alfred Weissman Real Estate Inc., the company that owns the building.
The protesters said the carpenters hired to work at 20 Hawley are being unfairly paid. 20 Hawley management did not respond to multiple phone calls for comment.
The 23 picketers carried signs that read, “Future Coating, Inc. does not pay area standard wages and benefits on all projects.”
The protesters were members of Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, a regional branch of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, a non-union laborer’s rights organization.
Chuck Smith, a local carpenter who led the protest yesterday, said he believes the workers hired by Future Coating to work on 20 Hawley are paid a lower amount than the area standard wage for the Southern Tier region.
The area standard wage, determined for each region by the United States Department of Labor, is a calculated average of yearly earnings in various fields. This standard is not a state-enforced wage limit like the minimum wage and does not require that employers pay their employees at average rates.
According to the Department of Labor’s website, area standard wages are based on the Occupational Employment Statistics survey, which collects information from approximately 52,000 businesses yearly. The area standard wage for carpenters in the Southern Tier is $39,620 per year.
Smith said he thinks Future Coating is exploiting workers by hiring out-of-state employees who are likely unaware of the area standard wages in New York state.
“Most of the workers probably don’t even know that they’re being paid below area standard,” Smith said. “We feel that they should be paid like everyone else in the area. It’s hard enough that they’re traveling so far from home to work here, they should be paid area standard.”
Smith and the other protesters do not work on the 20 Hawley project and are not considered an organized labor union. Smith said he is protesting with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters to raise awareness and help his fellow workers earn fair wages.
“This is a not a union issue, it’s an area standards issue,” Smith said. “We don’t want to take their jobs, we just want them to achieve the area standard. We’re doing this for them.”
Yesterday’s protest is not the first hiccup in 20 Hawley’s renovation.
Last March, Kathleen Labarre, the building’s property manager, announced that the opening of the building would be postponed because management had underestimated the amount of time necessary to remove asbestos in the building.
Many students had already signed leases for apartments in the building when the announcement was made and were forced to find last-minute accommodations for the fall 2011 semester.
In November, Labarre announced that all asbestos had been removed but full renovations were not yet complete. The complex plans to open for students by fall 2012.