The local arm of the Laborers International Union of North America will use Black Friday to launch a negative radio campaign against Mills Fleet Farm in the hopes of shaming it into hiring more local construction workers at higher pay at its new store in Carver, Minn.
The radio ads, which Fleet Farm insists are based on gross misinformation, are the union’s latest salvo in a controversy that has been brewing since August. Union members have passed out leaflets, contacted the media and now will hit the airwaves.
Construction began in late June. The complex will include the Fleet Farm retail store, a Mills Gas Mart and convenience store, and a Mills Car Wash on nearly 39 acres near Jonathan Carver Parkway and Hwy. 212.
The dispute started when officials of the union’s Local 563 accused Fleet Farm and its contractor, Breitbach Construction Co. in Elrosa, Mn., of using a Washington state day-labor temp-firm to hire four day laborers who performed temporary duties in August. The workers were paid minimum wage and came from Richfield, Minn.
Ryan Breitbach, vice president of Breitbach Construction, told the Star Tribune that he paid the temp agency $18 to $19 an hour and didn’t know the workers only received minimum wage. Upon learning that, Breitbach said he terminated all dealings with the firm. The workers don’t work on the project anymore.
Aside from the day laborers, Breitbach and other contractors have employed more than 100 workers on the project to date. About 30 are union members.
Those details have not mollified Local 563. Union officials say they now don’t know who to believe.
Tim Mackey, business manager for the Local 563 said that when the union initially complained to Fleet Farm about the low paid workers, the company denied the event ever took place. The union distributed fliers to customers at Fleet Farm stores in Oakdale, Blaine, and Brooklyn Park. The company countered with fliers of it’s own saying the event never happened and that the union was not telling the truth, Mackey said.
The company later told the Star Tribune that it discovered the hiccup did occur, but via its Breitbach contractor. Since then, “Our continuing efforts to reach out and meet with the Mills Fleet Farm executives about their business practices is falling on deaf ears,” Mackey said. Now, “I’m hoping they hear our spot.”
The ad will air in Brainerd and in the Twin Cities and cost the union $10,000. Union officials said that at least one of the four temp workers had no construction experience. Two were from out of town. All lacked the safety training union members receive, union leaders said.
The radio ad will feature two deer hunters who accuse Fleet Farm of using “cheap and unskilled labor” while taking tax dollars to build their $20.5 million project.
One hunter quips, “Shame on them!” while the other says, “Fleet Farm is cheating the community.”
The spot ends with one of the hunters going to spread the news that he is not happy with Fleet Farm’s business practices.
Breitbach said the ad is not fair, noting that the four workers at the heart of the controversy only worked 163 hours on the project, while other workers have over 6,000 hours on the job.
“The [union] is making it sound like that 163 man hours is going to contribute to a less than satisfactory or safe project,” Breitbach said. “And I think it’s a ridiculous claim.”
Officials from Fleet Farm did not immediately return phone calls for this story.