Community coalition targets major developers whose subcontractors stiff workers and allow dangerous conditions, signaling possible national strategy.
In 2021, Alvaro Chavez took a job doing wood framing for a new apartment complex in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The project was funded by Paster Properties, a prominent Saint Paul developer with the stated mission of “placemaking that strengthens communities.” But Chavez’s check came from Strong Framing, a nonunion subcontractor. When Strong Framing failed to pay Chavez for four weeks of work—$3,500—figuring out who might pay was maddening. Strong Framing had been hired by U.S. Framing, which had been hired by the general contractor Yellow Tree, which had been hired by Paster.
For decades, the combination of weak labor law enforcement, complicated hiring systems, and profiteering contractors has left nonunion construction workers like Chavez—who make up 88% of the country’s 8.7 million people in construction—with little recourse when cheated at work. Rather than fight each case one by one, a worker’s center, three labor unions, and community groups tried a new approach: Last fall, they began a campaign in Minneapolis-Saint Paul to stop mistreatment of all construction workers, union or not, on their own.
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