Omni workers walk off job again

Workers held signs claiming that Omni Louisville contractors are violating fair labor practices. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Roughly 30 Omni Louisville construction workers stood on the corners of Muhammad Ali Boulevard at Second and Third streets Friday morning protesting unfair labor and wage practice.

The workers claim they were not paid overtime for working 10-hour days and that the local workers are being let go this summer, according to David Suetholz, an attorney with Kircher, Suetholz & Associates PSC, who is representing the workers.

One worker, Luis Estrada, told Insider that when he attended a hearing in front of the National Labor Relations Board Thursday, representatives with construction companies said at the hearing that they intended to dismiss all the locally hired workers within the next month or two, he said.

Jim Smith, the attorney for the project’s general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie, said there could have been a misunderstanding at the hearing.

“There was no such testimony given,” he said in a phone interview, adding that they only discussed the eventual winding down of the job as construction progresses.

Smith, a partner at Smith & Smith Attorneys, said that drywall and metal stud hanging work — the job most of the workers who walked off the job last month hold — will likely be about 80 percent complete in October, and fewer workers will be needed.

He also stated that Brasfield & Gorrie is required to employ a certain percentage of local workers on the job per an agreement with state and local government.

Walter Sales, the attorney representing Omni subcontractor Professional Drywall Concepts, also told Insider that there was no such testimony at the hearing.

“That’s a lie,” Sales, an attorney at Stoll Keenon Ogden, said. “I think they are trying to drum up an issue. The testimony was that as the job winds down the need for drywall installers will decline on a gradual basis. Some of the employees will not be needed after July, and people will be laid off when the work starts to decline.”

The staff will go down to skeleton crew of six to eight people eventually, Sales said, adding that the last hired will be the first to be laid off.

“Those people just happen to be local,” he said.

Just days before, 81 construction workers sent a petition asking general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontractors Performance Commercial Contractors and Professional Drywall Concepts to respond to a letter from Suetholz by 3 p.m. Thursday.

“Your company representatives have been clear that this project falls under the prevailing wage law, which provides for overtime for all hours worked over eight,” the petition states. “As of last Friday’s paycheck, many of us were shorted yet again, even after we asked our attorney to give you notice of the mistake.”

State prevailing wage laws require that workers be paid overtime unless they’ve entered an agreement saying they will work 10 hours a day. Suetholz said the workers haven’t done so.

The letter states that the workers have clocked four 10-hour days two weeks ago and were not paid time and a half for the total of eight hours that they worked overtime.

“This letter should serve as a courtesy to you and your client since there is still sufficient time to correct their paychecks,” Suetholz wrote in the letter.

The letter addressed Sales, and a copy also was sent to Smith.

Smith echoed his previous statements, noting that the appropriate wage rate is being paid, but deferred questions related to overtime pay to Sales.

“We are paying them in accordance with the prevailing wage,” Sales said. “I am sure if they worked more than 40 hours in a week then they would have been paid overtime. …We’ve been on the job for nearly a year, and we have been doing it the same way for nearly a year.”

Suetholz told Insider that he’s received no response to his letter or the worker’s petition.

Workers walked off the Omni construction site in late May, saying they weren’t being paid the appropriate wage. They agreed to return to work the next afternoon.

“They didn’t get paid yesterday. They didn’t get paid today. They have to support their families,” Suetholz said at the time. “They said we will go to work tomorrow, but we are not going to stop the fight.”

Smith, the attorney for Brasfield & Gorrie, has stated after the first walk-off that workers were being paid the appropriate rates per their contract.

“I have absolutely zero evidence to suggest that the employees are not being paid what the subcontractors are required to be paid pursuant to the wage determination at that job,” he said.

Since then, some of the workers have signed cards indicating that they’d like to join the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, a regional union. Others have signed cards to join the local laborers’ union.

Suetholz also has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the general contractor and Professional Drywall Concepts violated the workers rights.