Building Trades

Meng And St. John’s Clash Over Painters’ Snub

June 9, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

District Council 9 is in a beef with St. John's University.

District Council 9 is in a beef with St. John’s University.

Queens, NY – Congresswoman Grace Meng [D-District 6], the first Asian-American to ever represent New York in the House, says that St. John’s University and its decision to use non-union workers to paint vacated student dormitories over the summer – are actively hurting hardworking neighborhood men and women who are trying to make ends meet. 

But the venerable institution who’s motto is, “Christian education perfects the soul” – maintains that its decision to use workers earning less than their union counterparts, is actually perfectly in line with its best practices and policies. 

The first-term congresswoman, who is also the ranking member on the House’s Contracting and Workforce Subcommittee, called out University President Reverend Joseph Levesque in a letter dated June 5, in which she said, “Although non-union labor was hired for this job, I believe the university, its students, and the city would be better served by hiring union labor for these projects.”

Congresswoman Meng went on to state that members of District Council 9, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, live in the surrounding community – and some also have children currently enrolled at St. John’s.

“By hiring contractors to do this work, the university is undermining fair labor practices for those in the community,” the congresswoman said. 

St. John’s University, apparently, doesn’t see it that way – calling firms that pay less “responsible bidders.”

Media Relations Director Elizabeth Reilly released a statement saying that, “In this instance, the University accepted bids from both union and non-union firms. The contract was awarded to the lowest responsible bidders, which in this case were non-union firms. We will continue our best practices and policies as an institution of higher education in helping our economy in Queens and New York, and accept bids from all prospective companies that wish to do business with St. John's University.” 

Jack Kittle, District Council 9 political director, calls that position, “Another lap in the race to the bottom – a race that nobody wins.”

“St. John's has not been honorable in their dealings with us,” Kittle told LaborPress. “This is now the third year where they have committed to doing the right thing next year. There are 30 to 40 nonunion workers there now, which would translate to 15 to 20 union workers. This is a quick hit where they want to be done before school starts.” 

District 9 represents painters, decorators, drywall finishers, metal polishers, lead abatement workers, glaziers and architectural metal glassworkers and paint makers, among others.

In her letter to the university president, Congresswoman Meng, called on St. John’s to rethink its position on area standard wages.  

“I hope that St. John’s University will give proper consideration to union bids in the future and support paying area standard wages. I ask that you clarify the university’s position when considering bids,” the congresswoman said.

June 7, 2014

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