GW officials say they are paying attention to organizations protesting labor practices of University sub-contractor Oncore construction but have received no complaints from workers on University construction sites.
A D.C. workers’ rights group, which is supported by the Progressive Student Union, paraded a 20-foot tall inflatable rat outside the Marvin Center Tuesday afternoon to symbolize non-union company Oncore Construction.
The University Police Department stopped protesters from entering the Marvin Center when the representatives from the group, Laborers Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition (MAROC), asked permission to protest inside the building.
Director of University Relations Gretchen King said UPD officers had no choice but to keep the protesters from the building because their intentions were unclear.
“They might have taken over the food court or something,” King said.
MAROC organizer Stephen Lanning said the group has been unsuccessful in contacting the University about Oncore.
Oncore, a concrete company, has been working with GW contractor Whiting and Turner on several projects including the Health and Wellness Center, a Somers Hall addition and the Virginia campus National Transportation Safety Board project.
Oncore came under fire early this week from MAROC and Laborer’s International Union of North America when it refused to sign a collective bargaining agreement that would unionize the company’s workers.
Lanning said the company mistreats workers by paying them “unfair” wages, offering unaffordable health plans, discriminating against black workers and providing no retirement plans.
“We are fighting for the employees of Oncore who cannot fight for themselves because they cannot afford to lose their jobs,” Lanning said.
We do not condone GW supporting an organization such as Oncore that exploits their workers. Students pay a lot of money to go to school at GW and deserve to know where their money is going.”
Oncore President Bob MacDaniels denied the allegations, citing other reasons why he believes unions are protesting against his company.
“If we did things the labor union accused us of doing, we couldn’t hold 350 employees,” MacDaniels said. “(The representatives) from the unions left an impression that they don’t care about my employees and only want to unionize my company.”
He said the unions are “going after” several local concrete contractors.
MacDaniels said 80 percent of the concrete construction companies in D.C. are not unionized and are “merit-shop,” meaning that employees are paid based on the quality of their work.
“They want me to pay everyone the same regardless of what they produce,” he said.
MacDaniels said the unions hold similar grievances against the Miller and Long construction company, which GW uses for the new Elliott School of International Affairs site, because of similar pay practices.
MacDaniels said unions “salted” his company, meaning that a union member got a job and tried to convince Oncore employees to sign union cards.
He said half a company’s employees have to agree to unionize before a group is formed.
MacDaniels said union representative John Peters met with him earlier in the week to discuss the prospect of a collective-bargaining agreement.
“He told me I did a very good job of presenting my side of the story to the employees and that he probably wouldn’t be able to get enough people to sign the (union) cards,” MacDaniels said.
MacDaniels said Peters threatened to deter his customers through protests like the one held at GW Tuesday if he did not sign an agreement that unionized his company.
He said unions gain dues and pension funds that can be lent and invested, and that these benefits may be the driving force behind the District unionization effort.
“There is a big movement to unionize across the country right now,” MacDaniels said.
King said she questions whether the allegations brought against Oncore are legitimate concerns or a “smokescreen” for unionization.
“They have worked on several GW projects, and we have never received complaints from workers on the sites,” King said. “If workers had complained, we would have eventually found out.”
King said the University chose Oncore because of the quality of the work and price.
“We will continue to pay attention to the claims and support good labor practices,” King said.
PSU members who joined the demonstrators said they support the efforts of the unions.
PSU member Allie Robbins distributed yellow flyers, which criticized Oncore construction on the Virginia campus, outside the Marvin Center Tuesday.
Robbins said she protested for several hours with MAROC.
“I paid to come to GW, and I want it to be the best school that it can be,” Robbins said. “By GW hiring contractors that exploit their workers, GW is not being the best that they could be.”
Other students had a lukewarm response to protesters after several environmental, feminist and labor-related rallies in the past months.
“Everyone is sick of this, and nobody wants to see these people running around anymore,” senior Joe DePaola said.
-Darren Gest contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the March 28, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.