More than 50 people gathered on Thursday morning to protest the racist treatment by United Electrical Contractors, the company has contracted to perform electrical work on The Standard, a new student housing building on South Main St in Ann Arbor. Six employees prosecuted The standard on January 20 on the racist treatment of black and brown workers at the site.
the complaint says the UEC leadership has exhibited “lewd racist behavior and practices”. The lawsuit alleges that managers used racial slurs such as the n-word, expected people of color to go to job sites while white co-workers were driven and fired from people of color before white employees when the company has laid off employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When some of the men raised these concerns with their superiors, the superiors reportedly told them to be “tougher” or ignored their concerns altogether.
Ryan Husse, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Richard Mack, the lawyer for the six men and the Reverend Charles Williams II, president of the National Action Network of Michigan, organized Thursday’s protest to push back against Landmark Properties’ inaction on the allegations. The protest marched to the Landmark office on S. Main St. before heading to The Standard where UEC employees could be seen watching as they worked in the building.
After Landmark was made aware of the racism allegations against the UEC last year, protesters claimed the contractor had taken no action against the allegations. Mack addressed the protesters and said many other employees with similar histories of racism have come forward since the complaint was filed. He said he hopes the protest will send a clear message to any contractor considering hiring UEC in the future.
“We want every contractor to know that … if you hire this company to let these atrocities happen, we want you to be part of solving the problem or you will become part of the problem,” Mack said. “Shame on all entrepreneurs who turn a blind eye.”
In an audience declaration Addressing the lawsuit, UEC President Scott Fleger denied the allegations, saying the allegations had not been presented before and were a ploy to harass and harm the company.
“We have reviewed the complaint released today, which includes new unsubstantiated allegations as part of an ongoing harassment campaign by a union designed to interfere with our company’s operations and relationships,” Fleger wrote. .
Jimmy Greene, President of Builders and associated contractors — a trade association that represents the non-unionized construction industry, including the UEC –– also published a declaration denying the allegations.
“I’m the first and only black CEO Associated Builders & Contractors has ever had, and I can tell you it’s based on merit, not color,” Greene wrote. “But I can also assure you that I will never defend any company or individual from this association guilty of such practices for obvious reasons.”
Vance Murray, one of six former UEC employees who originally sued the company, also spoke at the protest. Murray said black workers weren’t getting reimbursed for the gas they used to get to jobsites, even though white employees were and weren’t receiving the same level of job training.
“I’ve seen several other black employees not offer to work with more competent employees to teach them, and then when they did the job poorly, they were disciplined or possibly fired,” Murray said. “I will not tolerate it. I’m here to talk about it. I want the public to know. »
Eric Burch, another plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, spoke to protesters about his experience working for the UEC. He said UEC management asked for Burch’s nationality on his first day on the job, telling Burch it “matters a lot” where he came from, using insults to communicate the point. Burch also said his foreman told him to “go back to the plantation” and frequently called him the n-word. After Burch reported this behavior to his supervisor, he alleged that he had been demoted to a much more distant job site and that his 30-minute commute was now over 90 minutes.
“I heard the n-word so many times there that it became part of the tune,” Burch said. “That was the n-word, I hate LGBTQ people, I hate black people, I hate people who didn’t vote for Trump. (Other employees) were putting Trump signs on our cars. It was just a lot to endure there.
Jordan Shank, the only white plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleged he was treated unfairly by the UEC after being injured at the construction site. Shank also spoke out against the unfair treatment of his colleagues and said he was punished for his outspokenness. He told protesters Thursday that when he confronted a foreman who hurled racial slurs at Burch, the foreman repeatedly threatened to beat him.
In an interview with The Daily, Shank said he hopes his niece, who is multiracial with a black parent, doesn’t experience the same racism as her colleagues in her future career.
“I don’t want that to happen in the future,” Shank said. “I don’t want her to miss any opportunities in the workplace.”
Tyler Richardson echoed Murray’s sentiments, saying he hadn’t been given a debit card to pay for gas to and from job sites like his white colleagues had, despite asking Many times. He was also assigned to train with an employee who confessed that he had never trained anyone before, leaving Richardson insufficiently trained. Richardson also said he never received any diversity training, despite Flager’s statement that it was required of employees, and Richardson never received any security training mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In an interview with The Daily, Richardson said his colleagues would target anyone who disagreed with their political views.
“I always heard a lot of political comments like, you know, ‘Trump, if you’re not with him, then you’re against us,'” Richardson said. “’You are a problem.’ And they were chasing anyone who wasn’t with them in that aspect of things.
Mack hopes they can establish a dialogue with the UEC to get justice for the six men.
“It’s so rampant that we don’t think a simple trial is enough,” Mack said. “We need companies like Landmark, which hired United Electric, to help us solve this problem.”
In an interview with The Daily, Ann Arbor City Councilwoman Jen Eyer, D-Ward 4, who helped publicize the protest, said she was concerned for the safety of students moving into The Standard if training varies from employee to employee. .
“Think about how (Tyler) never had any training,” Eyer said. “(The Standard) is going to be inhabited by students. What if it wasn’t wired correctly? Will smoke detectors work if there is a fire? Will it catch fire? If I was a U of M student, I wouldn’t trust him. I wouldn’t want to live here.
Several members of the Graduate Employees Organization were also present, including Amir Fleischmann, a Rackham student and co-chair of GEO’s contracts committee. Fleischmann told the Daily that it was important for GEO to come because of their close connection to labor issues and their relationship with the IBEW.
“The protest aligns very well with many issues of deep concern to GEO, including both racial justice and organized worker rights,” Fleischmann said. “Most importantly, we wanted to support the six workers who have been discriminated against at work because of (the) disgusting racism they have experienced.”
In his closing statements, Williams told protesters the fight was not over.
“Let me tell you something: if you think you’re sick of seeing us now, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Williams said. “Wait until the weather rises, because we will be on all the construction sites, we will be on all the construction sites, we will be at each meeting of the municipal council, at each meeting of the regents. Wherever you try to get a contract, you’ll see the United Six, the National Action Network and the unions standing together to say ‘no’.
The daily journalist Isabella Kassa can be contacted at [email protected]