More than 100 union workers in hard hats and holding picket signs arrived outside of the new Walmart site in Lakeville on Friday morning to protest the use of what they call "unskilled and underpaid workers" by the project's sub-contractor.
Local 512 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers began the protest at 7 a.m. on Friday. They say the use of non-union laborers to erect steel at the Walmart Supercenter that's under construction in Lakeville is a cost-cutting tactic by AME Construction of Wayzata.
"This is about supporting and representing the workers in there," Charlie Roberts, who is a Lakeville resident and business manager for Local 512, said while pointing to the Walmart construction site. "It's not a union or non-union thing."
AME Construction President Scott Vickerman said Friday morning that AME is a reputable company that pays its workers fairly. It has been in business for about 20 years, he said.
The allegations made about the company exploiting workers "are false," Vickerman said, adding there are seven non-union roofing workers on the project. He also said AME's pay ranges from $40,000 to $65,000 a year with full benefits.
Pointing to the Lakeville 21 Theater across the street, Roberts said many of the men standing in the picket line live in Lakeville.
"I worked on the theater," he said. "The fair wages we receive allow us to live here—allow our kids to go to school here."
Roberts wasn't willing to say how he or the union discovered AME's workers were being paid less, or how much less they were being paid. He said AME's workers are largely attracted to non-union work through word of mouth. He said there's not much training involved.
"We want the AME workers to be paid at established standards so the men in there receive the wages to buy the same tennis shoes for their kids that we do," Roberts said. "We're not protesting the workers or Walmart—just AME. AME is exploiting workers.
“It’s time for them to stop these deplorable business practices. Not only is the safety of those untrained workers at risk, but the public must also be concerned that a major retailer’s building was erected with untrained labor.”
Roberts said this is the first time the union has picketed a job site in Minnesota since the late 1990s.
The site of the new Walmart store is located at Keokuk Avenue and 207th Street West, near the Lakeville 21 movie theater just north of County Road 70.
According to a press release, Local 512 is staging what is called an "Area Standard Picket," which means they're protesting in an orderly and peaceful manner.
Lakeville Patch will have more on this story as it develops.