Almost every morning since July, a giant inflatable rat and Local 66 union workers have been seen outside the high school, with some parents speculating that the ongoing protest is over two non-union workers hired by contractors completing capital improvement work at the high school as part of the district’s 2016 bond referendum. The company was hired to remove asbestos at the high school.
“It is important for you to know that the district is following all proper procedures for hiring contractors, per New York state law,” said district Superintendent Daniel Rehman in a letter to district parents last month. “The district is abiding by all rules and regulations set forth by the state for contracting capital improvement work.”
At a Board of Education meeting on Aug. 20, some parents questioned the hiring of the non-union workers and their credentials. “All of the individuals of the company that we hired to remove the asbestos, they have to be licensed by the State of New York,” said Joel Press, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “All the identification is checked by our construction manager and by our environmental testing company, J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc., who monitors all of the asbestos removal.”
Press added that the Department of Labor has visited on numerous occasions to inspect and has had no objections with the work done. Board President Karen Brohm said that the district cannot regulate who contractors choose to hire.
“If the Department of Labor is telling us that these people have the correct paperwork and are being checked everyday, we can’t tell the union contractor that they can’t hire those people, whether we agree with it or not,” Brohm said. “Not everybody in the world is a union contractor. I’m a union worker and I supported the unions, but not everybody can be in a union. I don’t see the issue unless they were doing something wrong, which they’re not.”
Brohm later said that if this were a serious non-union labor issue, there would be more efforts to stop the work. “The protesters are only here for three and half hours,” she said. “They’re simply just here to let you know that they’re annoyed with a company that owes them money.”
Some parents, who were still concerned over the non-union workers, proposed the idea of adding language to the district’s contract to say that contractors must hire union employees. “I’m sure there is something that can be written into a contract at some point,” Brohm said. Press also commented that he would look into other options for the district moving forward.
Requests for comment from Local 66 were not returned by press time on Monday.