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Local union protests at MIT

By Karen Kaplan

Members of the Cambridge Painters Local No. 577 denounced MIT this week for employing a non-union contractor. The union members, including one dressed as a rat wearing an MIT T-shirt, began distributing handbills in front of Building 7 on Wednesday and in Kendall Square yesterday.

The handbills asserted that "MIT is not a good neighbor" because it approved of hiring an "unfair contractor." The handbill also called on people to let "our elected city officials know that MIT is not a good neighbor and does not deserve to be treated as one."

Joseph "Duke" Carter, a business representative of the Painters' District Council No. 35, said this was not a "union versus non-union" issue. According to Carter, members of Painters Local No. 577 are picketing to discourage the hiring of non-union firms.

The contractor under dispute is Gerald H. Berggren Company, which was hired by H. H. Hawkins and Sons Company. Hawkins, in turn, was hired by MIT Physical Plant to renovate several math offices in Building 2.

Berggren, a painting company, employs non-union workers. Carter characterized Berggren as an "unfair contractor."

Members of the local chapter, which is a member of the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades, had previously picketed on Memorial Drive in front of Building 2.

Physical Plant Director Harmon E. Brammer said that after MIT chooses a contractor, "We rarely intervene in the contractor's decision" of which subcontractors to hire.

"Hawkins hires both union and non-union subcontractors," Brammer said. "Hawkins does lots of good work on this campus, and this is the first problem we've encountered."

Brammer spoke to Carter about the situation at the end of last week. "Carter said he wished we would hire union shops, but I explained that MIT hires both," Brammer said.

The handbill distributed by members of the Painters Local No. 577 alleged that Berggren does not pay its employees " `area standard' wages and fringes." It also claimed that "Berggren has no bona fide apprentice training program which would accord area youth the opportunity to learn a decent living. In addition, Berggren has failed to demonstrate a commitment toward affirmative action hiring goals for women, minorities and local residents."

Carter said, "All unions provide for health insurance, pension funds [and] apprenticeships . . . and Berggren doesn't do these things." He added, "The quality of life is not what it should be for those who don't get union wages, pensions and health insurance."

According to Carter, the local's only concern is that all workers, including those hired by Berggren, be able to enjoy a union standard of living. By picketing, the union's members hope to discourage MIT and other employers from hiring non-union companies which take advantage of their workers, he said.

According to Carter, Berggren employees are uninterested in unions. "Whenever I try to speak to Berggren employees [about joining a union], they snub up at me," he said.

The Painters Local members, Carter said, plan to "reach out to the entire community as much as we legally can," especially by utilizing their freedom of speech. But Carter doubted that the union had a chance to convince MIT to change contractors.

Brammer said MIT is not particularly concerned about the picketers or with public opinion. "[The picketers] are doing what they have to do," he said.