Written by Melissa Burden
Saturday, 13 September 2008 07:14
Members of Laborers Local 500, of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, have spent the last week holding an informational picket outside the former Toledo Edison Acme Power Plant in East Toledo.
The union is at odds with the city of Toledo concerning the use of non-local, and non-union workers who are completing the asbestos clean-up at the plant.
In July, the city hired Ecological Services, of Toledo, to perform the asbestos clean-up at the site located in the planned Marina District. ESI is being paid $2.17 million for the abatement project.
David P. Fleetwood, Local 500 field representative/recording secretary, stood outside the plant on Front Street alongside 10 union workers and a giant inflatable rat.
“They’ve got Ecological Services in there. They’ve got a bunch of non-union people in there including people from overseas,” Fleetwood said. “They say they’ve got green cards. They say they are paying prevailing wages, but they won’t hire the workers who are making prevailing wages.”
A Press reporter noticed that several cars parked at the site carried license plates from several states including Indiana and Illinois.
“We’re concerned because Toledo’s unemployment rate in July was 8.9 percent. We are loyal workers that when we work, we work safe, we work union, and we put the tax dollars back into the community,” Fleetwood said. “This company (ESI) is giving work to workers who aren’t putting the tax dollars back into our community.”
Fleetwood told a Press reporter that the union members he was picketing with are licensed in the state of Ohio for asbestos abatement.
“He’s (Harish Pandhi, ESI president) admitted openly to having about 11 foreigners from overseas,” Fleetwood said. “Nobody can verify that. We can verify that they are foreigners, but we can’t verify that they have green cards.”
“They are supposed to be paid prevailing wage. They are supposed to be paid roughly what we make,” Fleetwood continued. “So how can you save costs. This contractor outbid everybody by a million dollars. He’s either got to make it up on shortcutting on safety, or shortcutting on finances.”
Elizabeth Phillips, public information officer for the city, said that is was untrue that union workers were not on the job at the ACME site.
“The City of Toledo hired the lowest and best bidder for the job. The next bidder was $1 million more,” Phillips said. “ESI uses union labor, plumbers, electricians, scaffolders, etc. and they are being paid the prevailing wage.”
Phillips said ESI was an approved company for removing asbestos and is a local Minority Business Enterprise company as well.
“The majority of the people working on the project were and are from union shops,” Phillips said. “Most of the subcontractors are union employers.”
Harish Pandhi, ESI president, said that although ESI is a non-union shop, his company is paying the prevailing wage to its employees.
“We are a non-union shop and our contracts with city state that we have to pay the prevailing wage, union scale. We have to do that,” Pandhi said adding that 21 to 22 workers are currently at the ACME site. “All of the workers are state certified and many have been with me seven years. All of my employees are licensed to do asbestos removal.”
Pandhi acknowledged that some of the employees at the site are not local and some are “legally documented” workers from other countries.
“I have a mix of employees who are local, from across the state and some from out of state as well. It is an equal mix of local and non-local workers,” he said.
Pandhi said he has been involved in the environmental business since 1985. Prior to starting ESI 15 years ago, he was a project manager for another environmental company.
“This is the first time that I have had complaints like this,” Pandhi said. “I did not think it would be this much of a headache.”
Besides dealing with picketers, the ACME site has been burglarized four times within the last month. The latest burglary took place on September 8.
“They are taking company tools, workers’ tools and personal belongings, as well as other equipment,” Pandhi said adding that he has filed complaints with the Toledo Police Department. “It is hurting us and slowing the project down.”
Pandhi said that security measures at the ACME site are now in place, “So we will find out who is doing it.”
Although he said he does not know who is burglarizing the site, Pandhi said that between the union issues and the thefts at the site, he would have to think about bidding for a city job again.
“I will think twice about bidding,” Pandhi said. “ The theft is harassment. It not only affects me but it will also affect future projects coming into town.“
Fleetwood puts the blame on the City of Toledo because the city hired ESI, a non-union shop.
“It’s the same city we work in. The same city we live in. The same people that hired them are probably the same people that we voted for,” Fleetwood said.
As for the picketing, Fleetwood said he and other union members will continue.
“We’ll be out here as long as we have to be. We don’t have anywhere else to go. We don’t have any jobs,” he said.
As for the inflatable rat?
“That’s just something we got from our union,” Fleetwood said.
“The rat symbolizes the non-union contractors,” one picketer in the crowd said. “What a rat does is they pick up all the scraps and eat the garbage and there is little left.”