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Unions target Hyatt project for protest

By: admin//December 12, 2008//

Unions target Hyatt project for protest

By: admin//December 12, 2008//

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Milwaukee labor leaders rallying Friday over a contractor using out-of-state workers on an $18 million project shouldn’t be surprised local businesses are willing to take the best deal, said a Milwaukee business analyst.
“It’s all about competition,” said Steve Baas, director of governmental affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “This shouldn’t be shocking to anybody. Adjustments need to be made in an economy experiencing trauma.”
But those adjustments are hurting Milwaukee’s economy, said AFL-CIO member Mike Balistriere, who is helping organize the protest outside the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee in the city’s downtown.
“It’s tough enough to get people in the city working,” he said. “For us to be importing workers from other places in the country is absurd.
“It’s not a good way to bring the economy back in order.”
The Hyatt Regency, with its rotating Polaris restaurant and location near the Bradley Center and U.S. Cellular Arena, is a signature building in Milwaukee. It’s owned by the Atlanta-based Noble Investment Group, which hired the Virginia-based Digney York Associates LLC to revamp the hotel’s interior.
The job is part of $1.3 billion in planned renovations to Hyatt hotels around the country, according to a company press release.
Local union organizers claim Digney York hired workers from Florida and Tennessee and pays them $9 to $12 per hour, well below the prevailing wage in Milwaukee, Balistriere said. Out of the $18 million for the project, $400,000 was set aside for local workers, he said.
Friday’s rally was designed to bring attention to the need to hire local workers and pay them a living wage, Balistriere said. He described the Hyatt project as a “city problem” that needs to be corrected by the Milwaukee Common Council and the mayor’s office.
“The prevailing wage is an issue here,” he said. “We need to start making these jobs more attractive to our young people looking for good-paying jobs to support a family.”
Jim Pugh, spokesman for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said a prevailing wage law, as well as a union-backed proposal requiring companies to buy U.S.-made products, will only compound the problem of creating local jobs.
“It takes competition out of the system,” he said.
Trisha Pugal, president and chief executive of the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association, said hotels are seeing a reduction in business with the down economy, which is affecting decisions to move forward with construction projects.
“We’re seeing a conservative approach to capital outlays,” said Pugal, noting most projects are meant to keep existing properties current. The group’s members “are committing their expenditures carefully with the uncertainty of the economy,” she said.
Baas said, across industries, businesses are looking for the best deal in a poor economy. While he said he is not familiar with the specifics of the Hyatt project, he is not surprised to hear Hyatt is using out-of-town labor.
“It’s a more competitive atmosphere,” he said. “Labor needs to be more accommodating. Businesses need to be more accommodating.”
Representatives from Hyatt, Noble Investment Group and Digney York did not return phone calls seeking comment before deadline.


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