Members of the Keystone Mountain Lakes Brotherhood of Carpenters gathered at the corner of Haddonfield Road and Route 70 on the morning of Sept. 17, to draw attention to what they feel are unfair labor practices for construction projects throughout Cherry Hill. However, township officials strongly disagree with that accusation.
“We figured this was one of the heaviest flows of traffic in South Jersey, especially in Camden County, so we thought this would be the best spot to bring awareness,” said Shane Tate, KML’s representative at the protest.
The core of the union’s displeasure is spelled out on a newly-created website, cherryhillwhy.com, which questions why local union workers are being passed over in favor of non-local or out-of-state labor for construction projects within township boundaries.
“We came out with this rally to bring awareness to the community and what’s going on with these construction sites. A lot of these sites, the end-users who are building these buildings bring out-of-state contractors, they’re not putting our local men and women to work, and we also want to bring awareness to local politicians that we’re sick of being on the outside looking in,” Tate said.
According to the site, Cherry Hill boasts more than 100 union carpenters as residents, who have been allegedly locked out of more than two dozen private construction projects within its environs.
The mayor’s office responded to The Sun and to the protest through Chief of Staff Erin Patterson Gill on Sept. 18, saying: “The mayor and council members have, thus far, only received an email from the KML and a web address with a petition form, which airs their grievances, but no one from KML has contacted us as of yet. Yesterday was the first time anyone in the township became aware of the situation.
“They are complaining about private projects, these are not projects relating to the township, and it’s nothing we have control over. We are prohibited from enacting legislation to require using union labor as a condition of construction approval. All we can do is encourage the practice of hiring union or local labor. We respect the workers, and their craftsmanship,” Gill continued.
Gill further stated that it is illegal for the township to require a developer to utilize union labor on private projects. Furthermore, she added, the only way hiring non-local or non-union workers would be an “unfair” labor practice is if, for example, the township failed to hire union members in constructing a new township building.
“We certainly encourage developers to use local trained craftsmen. That’s what we want to see, but we legally cannot make it a requirement. The unions are critically important to us. We respect unions and their employees and want to see them work here,” Gill added.
Keystone, though, wasn’t backing down from its assertions after the corner protest concluded just after noon.
“When a community chooses to build union, they choose to take care of everyone. Unions directly help to create wage standards for all workers in a community regardless of union affiliation. This means that when unions are used in a community there are better wage standards set for union and non-union workers alike,” said KML Regional Council Executive Secretary/Treasurer Bill Sproule in a release.