The Current | August 21, 2000

Strike snags Arts Center

by Josh Renaud

Construction of the University of Missouri - St. Louis' $50 million Performing Arts Center has been delayed several months because of a strike by Teamster concrete drivers.

The strike was centered around a dispute over wages between the Teamsters and the Material Dealers Association. The Teamsters wanted a $1.05 an hour raise. Last Thursday, the eight-week strike came to an end when the Teamsters ratified a new contract that included a $1 an hour raise.

Officials at UMSL said they were glad the strike was over and that it only affected one of the three major construction projects on campus. The other two projects — the Millennium Student Center and the East Drive Parking Garage — are still on schedule, said Tom Royster, a senior construction project manager. The student center should be finished Oct. 1, and the parking garage is scheduled to be complete in mid-December.

"The only project that was really hurt by the concrete strike was the Performing Arts Center," Royster said. "For the parking garage, they were still able to get concrete. We were already using a company that had signed contracts with the unions a couple of months ago, so we were okay."

Without concrete, the construction crews were kept from pouring support piers for the Performing Arts Center, said Bob Samples, director of University Communications. Consequently, construction of the center ground to a halt.

The lack of concrete ultimately led to a labor walk-off early last week. Two piers were poured after work hours, Royster said. The truck companies used management to drive the concrete trucks, and the Teamsters responded by handing out leaflets the next day. When laborers saw the Teamsters at the construction entrance, they assumed it was a picket and walked off, he said.

But the Teamsters weren't picketing, said John Rinderer, superintendent of the Millennium Student Center project.

"They [the Teamsters] were trying to act like it was a picket," he said. "Ultimately it was a handbill, an informational thing. You can't do what they were doing - holding [the handbill] on their chests like it's a picket and walking back and forth.

"There was a lot of people that walked off the campus thinking it was a picket, but it wasn't. A lot of people got in trouble with their union halls" because of it.

This wasn't the first labor incident during the three construction projects, though. The University faced a a legitimate union picket and walk-off about three weeks ago, said Sam Darandari, director of campus planning and construction.

"One of the furniture contractors started delivering furniture with non-union laborers," Darandari said. "The union guys, starting with the electricians, just walked off. Once we noticed that, we got together, talked to the union, and resolved it. It didn't really affect anybody and they were all back working the next day."

Rinderer, who is a member of the Carpenters' District Council, said the dispute was actually about pay.

"The school hired a non-union furniture installer and they were paying them substandard wages when this is a prevailing wage job," Rinderer said. "The school said they were paying prevailing wages, but they weren't. So we had carpenters out here and got it all settled and taken care of."

Rinderer added that Darandari told him another contractor would be using non-union labor to install new furniture in the Student Center's bookstore. Rinderer said the AFL-CIO would picket if they got wind of that and probably shut down all the UMSL construction projects.

Darandari said that the University couldn't force contractors to use or not use union workers. He also said the University closely monitors its contractors to make sure they meet the prevailing wage scale.

"We're always concerned about [walk-offs]," Darandari said. "It's tricky. We schedule non-union people — when we know they're not union — to come in at times when the union people are not there. It's silly, it's just silly."