Nearly two months since their strike first began, contracted painters at UCSB are still demanding wages that were allegedly withheld from them.
In late November, 13 workers alleged they did not receive wages for as many as seven weeks of work for painting housing blocks B and C of the 327-unit San Clemente Student Housing project. The new housing site, which is scheduled to open for the 2008-09 school year, will accommodate 964 graduate and transfer students and is located along El Colegio Road.
According to Mike Gutierrez, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades organizing director for District Council 36, the painters allege that UCSB subcontractor Ryan’s Painting lied on its certified payrolls about providing wages to its workers. As such, the union ordered the university to cease paying ProWest Constructors – the management company UCSB retained to oversee contractors like Ryan’s Painting.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Design and Facilities Marc Fisher said the university attempted to negotiate with the union in December. However, negotiations were interrupted when three of the painters decided to acquire their own attorney and independently sue Ryan’s Painting for the lost wages. As a result, the union was forced to postpone rescinding its order to UCSB until it frees itself from the liability of representing the three painters who have now sought their own representation.
Additionally, since the painters stopped going to work, Ryan’s defaulted on its contract, meaning the workers would now have to seek money owed to them from the painting firm’s bond company. While the university owes ProWest $50,000, Ryan’s Painting allegedly owes the 13 employees $87, 840.69.
Ryan’s Painting and ProWest Constructors could not be reached for comment.
Gutierrez said ProWest should have noticed the payment discrepancies and made sure the painters received their money.
“UCSB hires ProWest so the job keeps moving and to make sure everyone is getting paid,” Gutierrez said. “I believe ProWest needs to take care of these workers better.”
However, Fisher said ProWest’s role is to ensure the quality of the work and adherence to the contract, not to monitor whether workers get paid.
“The contractor is really the one responsible for paying their people,” Fisher said.
By state law, contractors involved in building public works such as San Clemente are required to pay a pre-defined amount called a prevailing wage.
According to the California Dept. of Industrial Relations, the prevailing hourly wage for painters in Santa Barbara County ranges between $31 and $37 for varying categories of painters.
Gutierrez alleged that Ryan’s Painting did not pay all of its painters the mandated prevailing wage.
“There were a couple getting prevailing wage, a couple getting $15 an hour and a couple that were not getting paid at all,” Gutierrez said.
Meanwhile, some UCSB students have rallied around the workers in a bid to help them receive payment. Chicano and Chicana studies graduate student Franky Fuentes attended a meeting last night to discuss the issue. During Fall Quarter, Fuentes put together a fundraiser and toy drive that raised money for the unemployed workers.
“People were generous,” Fuentes said. “We had donations from everyone, from students to faculty.”
Fuentes said he is working with other students on ways to further assist the workers, but has questions as to how they should proceed.
“Many families are in dire economic straits,” Fuentes said. “We’d like to help them. We’re just not sure how to go about it.”