Union workers outside the offices of S.D. Deacon protest the hiring of Stephen Nagy of S&S Drywall Assemblies, who has been charged with racketeering, theft and other crimes. // Photo by Teresa Meier
They are protesting the contractor’s alleged use of low-wage, underground labor. The subcontractor pictured is Stephen Nagy, formerly president of S&S Drywall Assemblies, arrested January 2011 and charged with racketeering, theft and other crimes related to shady business practices. S&S has shut down its Hillsboro office and disconnected its phone line while Nagy awaits trial.
Ben Basom of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters says the campaign targets the all-too-common practice of general contractors hiring subcontractors that undercut prevailing wage rates by paying cash and avoiding taxes. Basom says the union is sharing information with public agencies to protect the prevailing wage and benefit package of $41 per hour for carpenters.
“The more digging we do into the underground economy, the more we’re uncovering,” says Basom, noting that companies that pay under the table can undercut legitimate subcontractors by 15% to 30%.
S.D. Deacon has been named one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon based on past employee surveys conducted by Oregon Business (contract employees do not participate in the surveys). General Manager Brad Howe says the company’s policy is to “take the lowest responsible bid,” and to double-check bids that come in suspiciously low.
Howe says S.D. Deacon “had no knowledge about what might have been going on behind the scenes” at S&S Drywall. He disputes the union’s characterization of what makes a fair wage. “The standard wage in the union’s mind is their wage,” he says. “We don’t necessarily agree.”
Workers say they will continue to demonstrate in front of S.D. Deacon for “as long as it takes.” Meanwhile, the union has its own house to clean up. Last year the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America stepped in to take over 1,200-member Local 247 in Portland after charging that local officials were mismanaging money. Basom says the union is consolidating nine locals in Oregon and Southwest Washington into one office in Oregon City to make union operations “more efficient and financially sound.”