Union at odds with car dealer; contractor disputes claims
Union members who have been protesting one local auto dealership for weeks have filed a complaint in Kanawha County Magistrate Court over harassment by employees, but the contractor on the job says most of the workers he’s using are union members who are paid good wages.
Members of the Charleston Building and Construction Trades Council have been holding up banners at the entrance to Patrick Street Plaza criticizing Bert Wolfe Toyota. Union members said the dealership hires contractors for sub-standard wages.
Earlier this month, union members M. Scott Brewer and Henry Neal filed the complaint in magistrate court. The complaint alleges that Andrew Holt and an unidentified person, both Bert Wolfe employees, approached the banner holders on June 16, the first day they were there, and “began screaming” at and threatening Brewer and Neal.
Brewer, a member of the Carpenters Union, said one employee “yelled at us and said he was offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who would knock us down.”
Holt, the complaint states, also posted the threat on Facebook that day, offering a “$1,000 discount on any pre-owned vehicle on my lot to the first person to come out and knock these three idiots to the ground!!! They are out front of K-mart on Patrick Street.”
Later that afternoon, Brewer and Neal allege in the complaint, Holt and others backed a vehicle up to within 15 feet of the union members and used the tires to spray them with gravel.
The complaint is pending in magistrate court. Holt and Jeff Boster, general manager of Bert Wolfe, did not return telephone calls.
Union workers have also been passing out leaflets stating, “Bert Wolfe has hired Jarrett Construction Services Inc. [to] remodel their dealership. Jarrett … has hired sub-contractors who pay their employees sub-standard wages and benefits.”
John Jarrett, president of Jarrett Construction, disputes that claim.
“Because we are not signatory to a union agreement, they don’t think we have a right to work. I have compared our wages and benefit packages to theirs,” Jarrett said Friday. “I am sure they are as good, or better, than what union contractors offer. We give our employees vacation time, sick leave, health insurance, 401(k) retirement benefits and a bonus program.
“We have been blessed. We haven’t had to lay anyone off throughout this great recession. We had to tighten our belts like everyone else. But we kept people working during those though times. We appreciate Bert Wolfe and people who are investing in the Charleston community.”
Jarrett said the “majority of work being performed at Bert Wolfe is being done by union contractors, including demolition, excavation, concrete work, steel erection, roofing, painting and electrical work. Those subcontractors are all union.”
Brewer said union members have been outside the entrance to Bert Wolfe every weekday since June 16. He said employees would “come by and flip us off or say something nasty out their windows” at first, but that has died down. “From the general public, 90 percent of their reactions have been positive,” he said.
“We want the opportunity to exercise our First Amendment rights. ... When you post [on the Internet] where we are at, post a picture of us, and offer to pay for people to assault us, that is stepping over the line,” Brewer said.
He said union members went to Charleston police immediately after the incident, and Steve White, executive director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, said the union group’s lawyer told Bert Wolfe officials they would prefer to work the matter out privately.
“Bert Wolfe told us they suspended one individual for two weeks. But we didn’t feel they were sincere, with their employees continuing to go by and making menacing gestures,” White said.
Jarrett said, “On the day the Building Trades set up their bannering, the only people working on the job at Bert Wolfe were union workers.”
Even those who aren’t union, Jarrett said, “are out here trying to make a living, to work there.”
“They do good work, high quality work at a very economical rate. Unions are trying to get them kicked off the job. Many of the subcontractors, that unions have a problem with, have been in business for a long time,” he said.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.