By Will Carless
Girard Avenue has been ringing daily with the calls of picketing workers as a union brings its dispute with a San Diego contractor onto the streets of the Jewel.
Carpenters Local 1506, headquartered in Los Angeles, is picketing a site at 7863 Girard Ave., where construction is ongoing on Jack’s Grill, a new restaurant being built by Wheelihan Construction.
The labor dispute is one of many sites the union has picketed in a three-and-a-half-year campaign against E.F. Brady Co. of San Diego, a subcontractor specializing in metal stud framing, drywall installation and fireproofing.
The union claims the subcontractor does not meet union standards for pay and benefits and is therefore contributing to “an erosion of area standards for local carpenter craft workers.” E.F. Brady bosses claim their pay is in line with local standards and that the union has been uncooperative in seeking an end to the dispute.
The wrangling started in 2002. According to Larry McClure, operations manager for Brady, Local 1506 decided that year to make an attempt to standardize - unionize - every carpenter craft worker in California, a move that McClure said was based on commercial gain and stood to net the union some $3 million.
“Their campaign, from what we can tell, was a campaign of ‘one California,’ ” said McClure. “So, what they wanted was to take all the carpenters unions in California and have one area wage, and they chose the L.A. model.”
The union most likely targeted Brady because of the company’s size. According to McClure, when Local 1506 first came to San Diego, there were an estimated 600 or 700 workers in this trade in San Diego, half of whom worked for Brady. The assumption, according to McClure, was that if Brady took on the union model, the rest of the tradesmen would follow.
Rather than approach the owner of Brady Co. to seek out an agreement to unionize, Local 1506 launched straight into a campaign of intimidation. Union spokesman Randy Thornhill said to do otherwise would have been a waste of time.
“The bottom line is that they weren’t interested. We had a labor dispute from the get-go,” said Thornhill. “They weren’t interested in dialogue.”
McClure said the lack of amicable communication from the onset of the dispute started the two parties off on the wrong foot.
“We actually heard them saying that, ‘We’re not going to negotiate with Brady. We’re going to either force them to go union or go out of business,’ ” said McClure. “They never knocked on the door and said, ‘Here’s the value-added contribution that we have for your company. We’d like to talk to you.’ ”
The first step in the union’s campaign against Brady was to park a large motorhome directly in front of Brady’s office in Mira Mesa. In addition, about 15 union members would show up at the office each morning to picket Brady workers, often following them to their workplaces and homes.
Since then, union workers have turned up at various Brady sites, sometimes for weeks at a time, with an aim of publicly shaming the company and recruiting company workers as union members.
La Jolla has seen its fair share of the disputes, including a three-week-long dispute that raged over the conversion of 460 Prospect St. - the original Scripps Hospital - into luxury apartments, and this latest dispute over the building of Jack’s Grill.
Thornhill said La Jolla residents have nothing to fear from his picketers, but one incident on March 29 shows how such confrontations can descend into violence.
According to Lt. Dan Christman of San Diego Police Department’s Northern Division, two of the union protesters picked up a bag of cement that had been left outside the construction area and dropped it from the second level of the surrounding shopping area, narrowly missing workers in the site below.
Joel Frayer, the on-site foreman for Brady, said the heavy bag of cement was intended to injure one of his workers.
“They threw it over to hurt somebody, to hit somebody,” said Frayer. “Luckily, the guy had moved right as the bag was in the air, and it landed right next to him on his tools. ... It was just a big ordeal.”
Christman played down the seriousness of the incident, however. He said that nobody was arrested and that police usually maintained a presence at the protests to ensure such matters are few and far between.
While the protests are not necessarily threatening to the public, they can be disruptive. McClure said neighboring building managers and business owners have complained to him about the noise and aggressive nature of the picketing, which has been an almost daily occurrence, usually in the mornings up until about noon.
Thornhill said he regretted having to resort to such methods, but his organization won’t back down any time soon.
“We go wherever Brady goes ...” he said, “whether it’s in La Jolla, whether it’s in La Mesa, whether it’s in El Cajon or Downtown San Diego, they know that we follow them and we’re going to take the fight to the streets. We’re going to let the public know that there is a dispute.”
Meanwhile, Brady Co. has changed its tactics. Starting Monday, April 4, Brady tradesmen began work on site at 6 p.m. and finish at 2 a.m. so as to avoid confrontations with the union.
This move, Frayer said, would increase the labor cost for the job by 50 percent, a cost he said would be incurred by the building manager. The workers will also bear their own costs.
“It’s wrecking my whole lifestyle,” said Frayer, “because I’ve got to leave my wife at home each night and go to work.”