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Labor unions say subcontractor being unfair to workers in northwest Minnesota

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Labor union representatives gather to show concern for workers on the DigiKey construction project Wednesday in Thief River Falls, Minn. Ann Bailey / Forum News Service2 / 2

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — About a dozen labor union workers gathered Wednesday, June 5, at DigiKey in Thief River Falls to show their concern for what they believe are unfair labor practices by McShane Construction, an Illinois-based contractor building a 2.2-million-square-foot addition to the electronics company.

The concern of the union members who gathered was not with DigiKey, but with the companies that are constructing DigiKey's expansion, said Octavio Chung-Bustammante, LiUNA marketing representative.

“We are excited about DigiKey in the community,” he said.

No workers for Millennium Concrete, the Iowa company subcontracting the concrete work for McShane Construction, were present at the gathering. Darrell Lende, Northwest Building and Construction Trades Council president and Chung-Bustammante said they and other labor union council members were at DigiKey to represent the workers who felt too intimidated to attend for fear of losing their jobs.

“Last October we were with three Millennium workers and the next day they were shipped off to Iowa,” Lende said.

Latino workers have told Lende and Chung-Bustammante they are being discriminated against, Lende and Chung-Bustammante said. The workers also told them they are being shorted on hours and have been victims of wage theft.

“They’re stealing their wages. We talked to one of the workers last night. He said he was working on grouting columns for 16 hours and they were paying him a carpenter’s wage rate the whole 16 hours,” Lende said. Carpenter’s wages are about $19 less an hour than cement worker’s wages, he said. Meanwhile, the worker was not paid overtime.

“A lot of them have thousands of dollars they’re losing out on,” Lende said.

Lende did not see the workers’ pay stubs so his information is based on what they’ve told him and Chung-Bustammante, he said.

Union and nonunion workers plan to present a list of demands to McShane that will include closer monitoring of the company’s conduct, a plan for timely payment and compensation for a worker they say was injured on the job, pending resolution of his worker’s compensation case.

Calls to McShane Construction and Millennium Concrete were not returned Wednesday.