A cacophony of noise regularly emerges from 21st and H streets on weekday afternoons, as protesters walk in circles banging drums and bells, sometimes next to a large inflatable rat. Their chants can be heard from blocks away: “Who pays low? Tricon!”
They have been walking in circles on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters for more than a month to protest what they say are low wages that Tricon Corporation pays its employees working on construction at 2000 Penn. Tricon is a drywall subcontractor doing work in the University-owned building.
“There’s substandard wage being paid right here in this building,” protest organizer Michael Zaner said. “When they do that, they drive down the area standards for the carpenters in this area.”
Mid-Atlantic is been responsible for a number of similar protests in the area, including a month-long stint in front of the World Bank building and holding signs protesting developer Boston Properties at Square 54.
Zaner said the protestors are fighting against low wages and Tricon’s lack of employee benefits. He said Tricon considers their carpenter employees as “self-employed contractors … who usually get paid in cash or by a check.”
Ken Klinck, president of Tricon, disagreed with Zaner, and said the protesters are not affiliated with the company and are only protesting as a means of swaying people’s minds.
“We are a 100 percent employee-owned company,” Klinck said adding, “All our employees earn shares in the company while they work for us. We have entire benefits, medical … the whole nine yards.”
Klinck said the protesters are upset that his company uses non-union workers.
“They’re trying to get people to want to only use union contracts by doing that,” Klinck said.
Zaner said that while some of the protesters are employees of Tricon, most are homeless or family members the company employees. Zaner said any person who joins the picket line earns $10 an hour, free transportation and lunch. Last year, Zaner said Mid-Atlantic was paying people in need of money for medical bills to protest at Square 54.
Klinck contested that none of the protesters work for his company. He said they are union members or homeless.
“They are trying to create negative vibes out there about a non-union company,” he said. “They have stickers. They’ll put our name on it. Then, they’ll go to another job and put a different company on it.”
Klinck said the picket line has not hurt or affected his company’s business “as a whole.”
Metropolitan Police Department Officer David Hunter, who investigated the picket line, said they have a constitutional right to protest.
George Eisner, the lead organizer for MARCC, has not returned several calls from The Hatchet.