Naked City

On the Palmer Line

Pickets gathered this week at the Palmer Auditorium job site on Barton Springs Road, as members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Local 520) were locked out by the general contractor, MW Builders. According to Rick Zerr, union rep at the site, about 50 electricians directly employed by sub-contractor Guy's Electric of Marble Falls were left without a contract after Guy's declared bankruptcy last week. Zerr says the general contractor initially told the workers they would be employed directly by MW Builders under the same terms, including their union contract and pay scale, etc. When the union wrote the contractor to confirm, however, the builder responded by locking out the electricians and hiring as many non-union electricians as they could find. "A few of our members crossed the line," said Zerr, "but we've still got 40 to 45 electricians out on the picket." Commented another picketer: "There's a difference between union members and union brothers."

"Last Friday," Zerr continued, "we all had to wait for our checks. Guy's Electric had requested a letter of credit from the contractor, but it took all day for us to get paid. They still owe us our back week's pay on top of that."

MW Builders spokeswoman Laura Rocco told us Wednesday, "There is no lockout. As you know, Guy's Electric is no longer on the job, because they were not able to pay their workers. MW Builders made sure that the workers have been paid and will be paid up-to-date by tomorrow. MW Builders does not discriminate against union employees, and a few of the union electricians have already been hired for other jobs on the site." Asked if the company intended to negotiate with the IBEW on re-hiring all the electricians, Rocco said, "At this point, we haven't made a decision on how to proceed regarding the replacement, if any, for the subcontractor."

Zerr said that by rescheduling, the contractor could probably make do with a few substitute electricians for a week or two, but after that progress on the project would get very difficult. "As for us," he added, "we all live week to week, paycheck to paycheck." "There are about 250 Austin electricians already out of work," said another picketer. With the company not yet responding, Zerr said the stalemate could last for some time.

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