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Protesters call for local workers on UI building

BY MATT STARNS | SEPTEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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More than 80 protesters from 25 different union-related groups protested on the University of Iowa campus on Thursday morning, accusing a Chicago-based company of hiring too many out-of-state workers.

This was the second protest by Iowa union advocates at odds with Walsh Construction, which is contracted to build the UI’s new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building.

Walsh took on the $78 million project — located on Newton Road near Westlawn — a year ago. Since then, Gov. Terry Branstad signed an executive order outlawing project-labor agreements, opening the way for Walsh to hire out-of-state workers.

The decision was a letdown for local union leaders.

“We’ve been looking forward to this job for a couple years, we saw it on the pre-bid list for the University of Iowa, and we’ve been telling all our local workers that there’s going to be a $78 million job here,” said Randy Rayner, a business manager for the local laborers’ union who helped organize the protest.

He said he was astonished when he found out who was subcontracted for the project.

“Unfortunately, on this job, they decided to bring in people from Colorado, Texas, Florida, Georgia … pretty much everywhere but [Iowa],” he said.

Leaders are particularly frustrated because some of the project is funded by the state through I-JOBS, former Gov. Chet Culver’s initiative that intended to strengthen the Iowa economy with infrastructure projects.

Shane Merrick, a local business representative for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, carried an upside-down Iowa flag during the protest.

“The flag is upside down, it’s the national standard for distress. Iowa is in distress,” Merrick said. “How can we have $10 million in I-JOBS money on a [construction] job, and I don’t think we have 10 percent Iowa workers.”

Bill Gerhard, a member of a local union building-trades council, also feels strongly that Walsh is in the wrong.

“This is an $80 million, three-year project, and it could feed a lot of families, families of taxpayers here in Iowa,” he said.

Calls to Walsh offices by *The Daily Iowan* were not returned Thursday.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, also spoke at the event, calling on Walsh to hire more local workers.

“This is in support of workers, this is in support of labor unions who should be having workers on the job here,” he said. “Walsh is not hiring the folks they should be hiring; they’re not hiring Iowans on any of these jobs either.”


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