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Carpenters protest subcontractor working on AmeriCU project

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“Same work, same pay!”

Holding up signs and chanting, a dozen union members paced back and forth on the sidewalk at noon Thursday in front of the AmeriCU construction site on Arsenal Street to protest low wages offered to carpenters by a subcontractor from Lacona.

It was the second picket this week organized by workers from the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Union Local 227 outside the credit union under construction at 913 Arsenal St., where a Salvation Army store formerly was. Fifteen workers also participated in a rally Tuesday to back the cause, council representative Fran M. Hardy said.

Mr. Hardy said subcontractor JMS Interiors of Lacona is paying carpenters well below the “area standard” hourly wage of $42 received by union workers. He estimated that non-union carpenters working for JMS are receiving an hourly wage in the range of $15 to $20, although he couldn’t be precise. He claimed health care and retirement benefits, which are required by the union, also aren’t being offered by the subcontractor.

“We believe all carpenters should be treated equally,” he said, carrying a sign that read: “JMS Interiors does not pay standard wage and benefits on all projects.”

“This is what (union carpenters) are up against, and we believe contractors should level the playing field,” he said. “All carpenters should be paid a living wage.”

The union represents some 2,000 members in 20 counties across Northern and Central New York.

The contingent of workers, which plans to hold more protests at the site this fall, ultimately wants JMS Interiors to change its payment policy for carpenters. It’s also pointing fingers at the Syracuse-based general contractor for the project, Hueber-Breuer Construction Co., and the AmeriCU franchise for allowing the subcontractor to be hired.

“The AmeriCU franchise seems to be acting in a hypocritical manner because it’s only hired contractors who pay carpenters at least the union wage in the past,” council representative Andrew W. Miller said. “I don’t know why they used a contractor that paid area wage to carpenters for a project in Syracuse and haven’t done it in Watertown.”

The credit union has its headquarters in Rome.

The general contractor also is reaping benefits from the policy, Mr. Miller said, because it is saving money by hiring the subcontractor.

AmeriCU released a statement Thursday claiming it had not been apprised of the protests, even though pickets were there Tuesday.

“Naturally, our organization is dismayed to hear of this situation,” spokeswoman Judith R. Cowden said in the prepared statement. “At this time, the specific reason for the protest is unclear. AmeriCU is working with our general contractor to gather additional information.”

Attempts to reach project managers from JMS Interiors and Hueber-Breuer on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The Watertown City Council approved a site plan for the project by Laker Development of Rochester in June.

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