(Tommy Alexander / MJ)
(Tom Alexander / MJ)

By SARAH LEWIS, Editor-in-Chief



On Friday February 22, members of the United Association of Plumbers, Sheet Metal Workers International Association, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will be holding an informational picket on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus to notify students of the non-union work force utilized for the construction of The Union at Dearborn.

Paul VanOss, Business Representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said “Our whole issue is where they’re getting people.” VanOss explained that sometimes non-union contractors work with a higher ratio of apprentices to journeymen than do union contractors.

Apprentices are more inexperienced workers, while journeymen have attended trade schools. “We have beautiful training facilities where our workers learn,” VanOss began. “It’s important where you get your education, and unions can provide that solid pay.”

“There is no anti-union animus,” said Larry Winokur, managing partner at Urban Campus Communities (the company constructing The Union). Although Jon DeRoo, Business Agent for the United Association of Plumbers, said that supporting non-union workers is a clear encouragement of non-union working conditions which could include low pay, little to no insurance benefits, and poor working hours.

“We’re not just selfish union guys. Non-union jobs got kicked to the curb once. You don’t see any older guys working non-union. You’re doing a better thing for the community by using union labor,” Lee Astrauckas, Business Representative for the Sheet Metal Workers International Association said.

Winokur explained that because of the building schedule for The Union, many contractors were not available to do the job, although they gave contractors the chance with competitive bidding opportunities in all trades.

“The University of Michigan-Dearborn has always built union, but they’re using a hands-off approach since it’s from a private developer,” said DeRoo.

According to Winokur, The Union at Midtown complex near Wayne State University was built with approximately 60 percent union contractors. While the project at UM-Dearborn is “not completely bid out,” it appears to be 40 to 50 percent union.

Although Winokur said that the lowest bidder does not always win and reputation and experience are considered, the unions disagree. “It’s all about money,” VanOss said.

“We want to let the students know what is going on [at the informational picket],” DeRoo said.


  1. To be honest, I trust and know the University of Michigan, and our Dearborn campus leaders, have selected a company (and contractors) that fit the best interest of the university. This project is vital to the future of the Dearborn campus. I think the actions of the union are simply an outcry for public support seeing they did not receive the majority of contracts. They say that the university made all decisions based on “money” and nothing else. Well, I think they are simply angry that they lost that so-called “money.” By all means, they are entitled to voice their opinions. But, at the same time, we are entitled to have opinions of our own. Move on – it’s clear that the University has made it’s choice.

  2. The reason we went to the newspaper was to get the infomation out. We are not upset over the lost of money. We are upset at the loss of jobs for local workers. The job is being done by out of state workers and possibly illegal immmigrants. Isn’t it better to employ local workers who in turn will spend the money in the area and help the local economy? As a higher institution I would also think that you would want a skilled workforce building such a vital part of your University. We pay a lot of money to educate our members so that we are the best of the best. Believe me that is not what you are getting on “The Union” site! I have court cases involving Solomon Plumbing who is the plumbing contractor on site, that show they hire unqualified workers and have been convicted of multiple unfair labor practices(Page 8..June 18,2010…The Labor News). The problem we have with the University is they said that this project is private and that is why they won’t get involved. They also said anyone in the public can live there. Where you aware that anyone off the street can live there? Through my own investigation I have found out numerous problems with the information coming from the University. As far as 60% of the “Union at Midtown” and 50% of the “Union at Dearborn” being done by Union trades, that is just not true. The “Union at Dearborn” has non-union Carpenters, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Sheetmetal Workers, Ironworkers, Electricians, and Flat Work Cement Workers. Don’t mistake what we are doing, we are educating the students of what is going on. Anyone interested in more information can call me at (248) 762-9238 or email me at jderoo98@ualocal98.org. My name is Jon DeRoo and I am a Business Agent with Detroit Plumbers Local 98. Thanks for your time.

    • Getting the information out and, as I said, creating an outcry for public support are essentially the same thing. Here’s the thing – it’s nearly impossible to please everyone in this world. If anything, my time at this university has solidified that belief. In that, I realize why one in your situation would be upset.

      However, I think it is best if you respect the University and realize that this project is, indeed, private and therefore not something for them to discuss. That would be like asking a lawyer to give you medical advice. They are education professionals, not construction/trade professionals. They made a judgment to move along with this project. By doing so, they agreed to hiring a company that has a proven track record of providing housing to students.

      Also, please keep in mind that “The ‘Union’ at Dearborn” is not meant to create “union” jobs. It is meant to create community and extracurricular educational opportunities among U of M-Dearborn students. Also, you are implying that non-union workers could not possibly be as skilled as union workers. This is harshly subjective and calls into question your ability to objectively argue your point.

      Regardless of this all, I hope you can understand where I’m coming from. I’m not lashing out at the unions nor am I doing so to you. However, we live in a free market society. We are allowed to do (and hire workers) as we please. In this case, the university has put faith into a company they believe will make the right decisions. The project seems to be going along quite well from what I’ve seen. Yeah, the workers may not be unionized, but this, alone, does not make them any “lower” than you. Everyone is trying to make a living nowadays. Clearly the price they offered was right and they won the bid. Again, move on. By now, this is dwelling on old news.

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