Representatives of a local carpenters’ union joined in a labor dispute near Schmid Gate and Memorial Lawn April 26 and 27, where they accused Chapman University of hiring a construction company that does not uphold standards for its carpenter craft workers or fully pay for family health benefits and pension.
The construction workers that the union represents, who are contracted by R.D. Olson Construction, are working on the Villa Park Orchards Residence Hall, which will stand at the corner of Cypress Street and Palm Avenue and will house about 400 Chapman students starting fall 2019.
Despite the workers’ claims, the university is not aware of any validity to the labor standards issues, Kris Olsen, vice president of campus planning and operations, wrote in an email to The Panther.
A carpenter in Southern California should be paid about $59 per hour, which includes health and welfare, pension, vacation and training, according to the Department of Industrial Relations.
Pete Rodriguez, president of a local carpenters’ union within OC Carpenters Union, did not immediately respond to requests from The Panther about the wages that the carpenters in question receive.
“When I look at how much it costs to go to school at Chapman, there really are no shortcuts when it comes to your education,” Rodriguez said. “But your students are going to be in these houses. There’s going to be top dollar required to live in these dormitories … Why are we taking shortcuts on those that are building houses that are going to put a roof over these students?”
The university received a letter from the union last week about the workers’ complaints, Olsen said. While the union sets its own definition of what labor standards are, all the contractors on the project are licensed and bound by state labor and safety standards, he said.
But Rodriguez said that Chapman needs to raise its standards for the contractors it hires to build facilities.
“It’s kind of ironic that a university wouldn’t at least have a higher standard in who’s building their facilities, considering the high standards that they demand from their students,” Rodriguez said.
On campus, people held up banners saying “Labor Dispute, Coming Soon” and distributed fliers entitled “Shame on Chapman University for the Desecration of the American Way of Life.” The fliers called the contractor a “rat” for not paying standard wages.
Union members will research other anomalies within Chapman in the next two weeks, Rodriguez said, including gathering statements from students and community members and researching documents for lawsuits against Chapman. Members want to ensure that parents know “who they’re doing business with,” Rodriguez said.
“We’re not going to hold anything back,” he said.
In the past, Chapman has hired R.D. Olson for the construction of the Partridge Dance Center, the Rinker Health Science Campus in Irvine, and the temporary building for the Hilbert Museum of California Art, according to the construction company’s website. The company is also remodeling Reeves Hall.
Chapman selects its contractors based on quality, experience and reputation, and doesn’t discriminate between union and non-union firms, Olsen said. The university will allow the union members to dispute for “as long as they deem necessary,” Olsen said.
“All we ask is that we get an opportunity to work on some of the finer establishments in town, so we don’t have to drive to Los Angeles to get a fair wage,” Rodriguez said. “We just want to work in the town that we live in. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
Representatives from R.D. Olson Construction did not respond to The Panther’s requests for comment.
Kali Hoffman contributed to this report.