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Strike could impact BREC opening date

Members of the Local 49 International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers began picketing outside the Bemidji Regional Event Center construction site Monday. On Wednesday, they and other contractors left the job site.

The result is a work stoppage, said Gerry Domino, senior project manager on the BREC of Kraus-Anderson Construction.

"We're on a tight schedule on this project and we really didn't need this to happen," Domino said.

He said the grievance is between the Heat and Frost Insulators Union and Franks Mechanical Insulation, Inc. of Bemidji, a subcontractor of Peterson Sheet Metal of Bemidji.

The result, about 75 of the union contractors on the BREC project have walked off the job leaving about 25 workers to do what they can on the site. Both union and nonunion employees are working on the BREC, City Manager John Chattin said.

Domino said the letter the Heat and Frost Insulators Union sent said Franks doesn't pay wages and benefits according to the Minnesota Prevailing Wage set by the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry Labor Standards.

"Everybody has to pay those rates," Domino said. "You can pay more, but you can't pay less."

Prevailing wages are the wages required to be paid on state-funded construction projects, such as the BREC, which has received funding from the State Legislature.

Domino noted that the union can see what the workers' pay is by going to the Minnesota State Government Web site and scrolling to "Prevailing Wages."

No one from Peterson Sheet Metal nor Dick Webber, business manager for Local 49 based in Duluth, returned calls Wednesday.

Domino said the strike could have an impact on the scheduled Oct. 15 opening for the BREC.

"Every day you lose just makes the schedule tighter," he said, adding, "We're keeping the heat on, believe me."

In an effort to resolve part of the problem, Domino said Kraus-Anderson was in the process of setting up a two-gate entrance to the construction site - one for union workers and one for nonunion.