Using Labor Day and a freshly filed lawsuit as a backdrop, the Arizona AFL-CIO launched a campaign Friday to organize workers who build homes in the Valley.
A group of 50 or so employees and union organizers gathered outside the north Scottsdale office of Pulte Homes to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit that alleges Bean Drywall, a Pulte subcontractor, hasn’t been paying overtime for four years.
At a new conference, several Bean employees who hang, tape and finish wallboard spoke about harsh working conditions, including lack of water on the job, low pay and few benefits.
“We cannot afford to buy one of the homes we build,” said Rogelio Perez Barajas through an interpreter. He said 95 percent of Bean’s drywallers are immigrants.
The class action complaint alleges Bean is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act at seven Pulte job sites in the state. It says employees were paid on a per day basis without regard to the number of buildings completed or the number of hours worked in a week.
It also says Bean, which employs more than 600, failed to keep accurate records of hours worked. The employees estimate they work 15 to 20 hours a week of overtime. Union organizers said the workers make between $6 and $9 an hour.
“They’re not obeying the law,” said Gerald Barrett, a lawyer who filed the suit. “In this country, people who work over 40 hours a week are entitled to time-and-a-half. That is not happening.”
While the suit does not allege Pulte committed any unlawful act, it has a moral obligation to hire responsible contractors, he said.
Pulte referred calls to Bean Drywall.
“We were just made aware of this situation this morning (Friday),” said Jacque Petroulakis, Pulte spokeswoman. “We’ve asked Bean to keep us apprised and to talk to the employees so they resolve this amicably.”
Julie Pace, a partner at Ogletree Deakins who is representing Bean, said she hadn’t seen the suit. No employees at the company went to human resources or company executives concerning their pay or other issues, she said.
“They are very committed to their workers,” Pace said. “I’m not sure what the issue is yet in the lawsuit, but as soon as we can look at it, we will figure out what concerns there are and address them.”
Bean offers workers a 401(k) plan and it pays 100 percent of all of its employees’ medical insurance, Pace said.
“That’s a rarity in construction,” she said, adding the insurance is also made available to spouses and dependents. Dental insurance is also available.
The company sends out memos to ensure job sites have water at all times and superintendents buy water and Gatorade for employees, Pace said. Sick and vacation time is given to qualified employees, she said.
“Often times when people want time off, even if they don’t have any coming, they often let them take it,” Pace said. “They can take discretionary leave.”
The gathering at the Raintree Corporate Center was an effort to begin unionizing an industry with few employees who have collective bargaining power. Organizers said no large production homebuilders employ unionized labor in the Valley, but some custom homebuilders do.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for growth,” said Dana Marie Kennedy, Arizona AFL-CIO communications director.
Many contractors who do hire union employees don’t even bid some jobs because they know they can’t compete against companies who offer low wages and shoddy benefits.
“This seems to be an epidemic in the industry,” said John Smirk, business agent for the International Union of Painters and Allies Trades District Council 15. “If you want to talk about a race to the bottom, we’re there.”