The labor dispute


Perhaps one of the highlights of my day is ditching my office and hitting the road in search of a good cup of coffee—or in my case coffee with lots of milk, chocolate, and sugar. I’m of course talking about my medium mochas from Caribou Coffee. Though, it should be noted I’ve decided to become a bit picky and have started ordering, bear with me now, a Medium Less-Chocolate, Stirred Mocha.

I die a little inside ordering a coffee with that many requirements, but someday my inner-yuppie will take over. Granted, that’s a slippery slope as if I don’t stop soon I’ll be shopping the organic aisles and using words like “fair-trade” and “right-on.”

Anyway, before I get too far into a discussion about hippies let me tell you a tale of a recent coffee excursion, or rather a few coffee excursions that have led to an interesting discovery.

Cataldo who?

A coworker, Kimberly, and I decided to grab a cup at the local Caribou Coffee off Olson Memorial and Revere Lane. On the corner of such we discovered some protesters holding up a PVC and vinyl sign with the words: SHAME ON DR. BRENT CATALDO printed on the front in big bold letters. (See picture below)

Brent Cataldo Protest Sign
Protesters: Notice, this photo is crappy because it was taken with a cell phone while driving by, Shannon, driving, was taking the picture and I was steering from the passenger side.

Confused, Kimberly and I looked around the parking lot to try and figure out who exactly they were protesting. At first we laughed because it seemed like the Dr. they were supposedly protesting wasn’t even in the same locale. What we later discovered is that Dr. Cataldo’s new office was located in the strip of businesses behind Caribou and adjacent to the Rainbow Foods.

Sometimes the obvious is the hardest thing to see.

Research at work: Gay Wrestlers and Magicians

Kimberly and I often do some strange research at work. Granted I’m probably divulging information that could be taken improperly by my employer here, but ah well. The most recent research aside from Dr. Cataldo was searching the country to try and locate a gay wrestler that used to live in Kimberly’s basement. Update: We found the gay wrestler, Sweet Stevie, his website is here.

Sweet Stevie Sweet Stevie

At any rate, we were able to discover Dr. Cataldo’s prior office location and get some information from classmates.com and his business’ website. (Which you can visit here)

You can also discover a Facebook page for a Brent Cataldo that looks nothing like our Dr. Cataldo in question. Don’t be fooled, the guy on Facebook looks like he’s a magician with pet pigeons in his back yard. If you happen to be that particular Brent, please leave a comment and let me know what you do for a living, and if you’re not doing magic, why not?

The (everyday) trip to Caribou

Eventually work took over and the curiosity died down. The next day I was off again to get coffee, this time all by my lonesome. I drove by the same group of protesters, and my interest was piqued again. I stopped at Caribou and started chatting with Brit (the best-damn-ever-Caribou-coffee-barista, ever!) about the protesters. She informed me they had been hanging around out there for some time. A debate amongst employees broke out about the exact time frame, somewhere between a month and three months. Either way, it had been going on for a while.

How could I have not noticed this? I mean really, I go there like every day…My only thought is that they may have been protesting their prior location first, and have moved over to the new location? Not sure, but I digress.

Armed with a mission and the best-damn mocha in the metro

I told Brit that I was going to head over to the Arby’s climb the little hill and go talk to the protesters. Armed with a mission and the best damn mocha in the metro I headed over. Smiling broadly as I trudged around the wet grass in my doc martins and slacks I walked up to the protesters and casually asked one simple question, “What’s the deal here, guys?”

Protester 1, the left-most sign holder turned and told me that they weren’t allowed to say anything. Protester 3, the right-most sign holder turned and told me that they were only allowed to give out pamphlets. He reached into a plastic bag and pulled out a strange looking yellow piece of paper and handed it too me. I first noted that there was a picture of a rat, in a house, chewing the American flag (below).

Tacky, I thought to myself. Then again, protest material is often pretty alarmist and weird.

Rat from Cataldo FlierClick to see the flier (pdf)

Digging for answers

I started probing Protester 1 some more (it should be noted Protester 2, the middle guy, said nothing the entire time, nor acknowledged I was really around). I was told again that they weren’t allowed to say anything, and each question kept getting the same response. I asked why they weren’t allowed to talk about it. Protester 1 simply replied something about comments being held libelous.

As he was explaining the libel issue to me, Protester 3 became very uncomfortable and reminded him not to say anything. “So you can’t say anything about not saying anything, even” I asked with a grin on my face. He nodded making sure not to attract the attention of Protester 3, who I can only guess was in charge of this issue.

I left the protest with a lot of questions and a look of confusion on my face. I returned to the office and showed the flier to Kimberly who was equally confused. Not entirely satisfied, I let it go. After all, I do have a job to do.

Alright, still with me? It gets more interesting, I promise.

Thursday, May 8, 2008: The protest saga continues with more confusion

Fast forward to Thursday and I’m having the near-disaster morning. Reds are everywhere on my bigbrother monitor screen and I’m putting out fires (TRANSLATION: things broke, red light blink, I fix they). I will say one thing, proactive IT management is paramount to a successful overall IT operation. If I hadn’t got the monitoring notes this morning they would have been crashing vital services such as domain authentication, email, and intranet by the afternoon (Sorry for the geek-moment).

What says fix a stressful morning like a trip out to Caribou with another coworker, Shanizzle, the queen of corporate communications. I pointed out the protesters as we drove by and we snapped a picture (shown prior) with Shannon’s expert cellphone photo skills.

I make my way up to the counter when I realize that Protester 1 is standing next to me. Thankfully it was probably obvious to everyone as he was wearing layers of clothes and had protest-like buttons on his hat and coat. I knew Brit would want the story, but I was nervous about the protester standing next to me. I made an awkward nonchalant finger point to my left, Brit picked right up on it.

I think both of us were equally confused. From the flier here is what I’m deducing:

Dr. Brent Cataldo, DDS hired Karkela Construction to perform the construction of their new facility in Plymouth. As part of the construction process Karkela subcontracted to Friedges Drywall for that portion of the construction. According to the flier, put out by the North central States Regional Council of Carpenters, Friedges Drywall is a “substandard wage employer” who states “in our opinion the community ends up paying the tab for employee health care and low wages tend to lower general community standards, thereby encouraging crime and other social ills.”

Further, the flier encourages readers to call Dr. Brent Cataldo and urge him to do all he can to change the situation.

I attempted to contact the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters but was dropped into someone’s voicemail. The name I couldn’t clearly make out but it sounded like Phil Assbig.

Dr. Cataldo’s Office Responds

I decided to give Dr. Brent a call myself to get his side of the story. I dialed his office and spoke with a very friendly receptionist. She had some interesting insight that startled me a bit. First off, she told me that they did in fact hire a company who held a bidding process for drywall contractors (and other contractors alike) bids came in and the cheapest was selected. According to her the Friedges Drywall (New Market, MN) is a non-union shop.

This didn’t surprise me. Often times the cheaper contractor is picked as long as they can safely use a non-union shop. In this case, safely may be a fluid term.

She also said something that really surprised me; they were done building. That’s right, the protesters were protesting a construction project that has already been completed and is in active service. At one of our facility construction projects at work we had a mason union protesting a building. They were only there for the pouring of the foundation, then they left to protest a McDonalds or something…

Getting weirder, What’s the deal with these guys?

Dr. Cataldo’s receptionist told me North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters had contacted his office. They plan to protest for two years.

Yes, that is not a typo. Two years, 730 days. Considering the drywall contractor was probably in the building for a short period of time and the building is now completed…They’ve got a while to go. At least over a year.

This all begs three questions for me.

1. Is this protest fair? Technically, Dr. Cataldo hired a construction company to do work on his building and that company made the labor choices. So Cataldo is hardly indirectly responsible and there is barely any mention of the construction company, Karkela Construction. Only do you find this out if you walk up to the protesters and hassle them for more information.

This is my own personal opinion, but I don’t think it is in fact fair. Its not Cataldo’s responsibility to choose subcontracters based on anything besides cost, especially when they are an indirect customer. Right now these protesters are trying to hurt Dr. Cataldo’s business based on decisions he didn’t make. Granted there may be another side of this story and it will involve getting a hold of the organization that is protesting but its my estimation that the protest is a little too biased.

2. Will they stay out there? We’re all passionate about something. I highly doubt that I would ever be passionate enough to stand outside and wave at traffic for two years. Really, to be honest I don’t think I could do that for more than two hours. If you ever see a guy sleeping with a sign taped to his back, you’ll know that it is me.

3. I’m also really curious to know if the protesters are paid protesters that are actively involved with the project or not. I know that in many cases a union/organization/etc. will hire a group of protesters to actually do the deed for them. Its lazy, I know.

I’d like to solicit your feedback, loyal readers, tell me what you think about all of this.

lunks


32 responses to “The labor dispute”

  1. Nice blog. I am conflicted as an active member of my local union it is disappointing to see protests are being contracted to people who have no idea what they are complaining about other than what the pamphlet and their pay stub tells them.

    Is this a cause or effect of the current labor struggle? Outsourcing protests to people who are not vested in the outcome makes no sense. Are there really no members who care enough to protest? If this is the case then there should be no protest.

    I myself have never heard of the union’s outsourcing protesters. Although with the unions against the ropes in the modern labor struggle, unlike our European counterparts who are doing quite well, I don’t see where the initiative would come from.

    Every union I’ve had experience with has always had an abundance of scrappers ready to go plug away with signs and chants in order to help his or her fellow members. I have some friends who work for our council directly, I will make some inquiries.

    Oh by the way…

    “She told me that they did in fact higher a company”

    I think you meant hire buddy. 🙂

  2. Josh, Thank you for your comments. I have corrected the typo. I will be sure to give Shanizzle some crap (my proofer).

    I was speculating that they may be paid protesters. If you google for such a thing you will find many examples of that practice. Anti-smoking demonstrations and things of that nature, while not being union, are pretty common as well. There have even been cases of paying the homeless to protest to get the numbers up. It is a strange practice.

    Again, in this case I’m not saying that they are or aren’t. I agree with you that I’m a bit worried about the fact that the protesters aren’t ‘vested’ in the process in that they don’t seem to have any opinions on the matter. Even if they are worried about being libel, they could still talk about the protest and whether or not they agree with the sign they are holding…its a bit discontinuous I think.

    I would also point out that I’m not sure that this is a union (North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters) or just an organized group of people. I have yet to make my inquiries with the council directly. I will likely try again tomorrow.

    Thanks again for reading,
    lunks

  3. Fair? No way. If the good Dr. stopped by the local Home Depot and picked up a truckload of illegals to get his office done on the cheap that would be one thing. A drywall sub in a competitive bid process? Cry me a river. I could rail all day on this, but let me just toss a couple of numbers at you:

    The lady that sweeps the floors where I work: $10/hr

    The lady that sweeps the floors at the Caterpillar plant: $27.50/hr

    That’s not fiction. I know them both. It’s just weird.

    Anyhoo, to shed some light on the paid protesters: union protesters are paid, but they are idle workers out of the union hall paid a small stipend to protest. These funds come from the union general fund which is derived from union dues. The reason it’s a small stipend, mostly just enough money to cover meals, is so they don’t make enough money to jeopardize their UNEMPLOYMENT PAYMENTS which they collect while they are laid off between jobs. And they have the nerve to say the non-unions shops are a drain on the system. I say they are protecting their own stake in the system.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Lee.

    You make an interesting point. I know for a fact that lady sweeping your floors at work is non-union. I know that when my grandfather worked for Caterpillar he was in a Tool and Die union, so I’m assuming the floor sweeper is as well.

    This brings up an interesting thought. Unions push for fair wages but perhaps sometimes they push too far? Its no wonder that businesses are looking for alternatives and those alternatives are so tempting. It takes me back to the Hormel strike where a nearly reasonable deal was rejected and Hormel instead hired new laborers, changed the rates, and effectively changed the meat packing industry to be more congruent with the economic times.

    In that case, the world was changing anyway and something was going to have to be done. We are a consumption hungry society that doesn’t want to work blue collar jobs anymore and with that we are creating some very interesting rifts.

    Also, there have been many cases of non union employees, paid by unions, to protest. It happened in Minnesota and in one particularly embarrassing case in Washington D.C. where homeless protesters showed up with their belongings in suitcases, some drunk, some skeezily hitting on women…it was pretty embarrassing and shameful.

    They are protecting their own stake, indeed. They want to create a climate of fear where an employer/vendor/contractor/consumer would feel uncomfortable hiring non-union labor. These things like this current protest are bad PR although since this one is carried out somewhat poorly (in my opinion) I don’t think it will make quite as big of an impact.

    One thing to remember is that those big union shops come with big union price tags. If someone asked me if I wanted to pay 10 dollars or 100 dollars to do something, and I would have the same result, I would pay 10.

    So, for my final thought here, I think the labor market is ever-evolving and if the unions don’t keep up with that they will find more and more situations like this happening and they will separate their employees from more and more jobs…Thoughts on that anyone?

  5. My wife saw them picketing his house. At least she is pretty sure it is a residence. So I Googled it and found your blog entry.

  6. Guest, thats interesting…I knew of the business picketing but I hadn’t heard of the residential stuff…that seems like its going a bit far, don’t you think? I’d hate to have protesters outside of my house.

    lunks

  7. If you want any more information you can e-mail me. These protesters are also picketing outside our neighborhood as well.

  8. Hi Rosie,
    I’m Tyson’s coworker, and he and I drive past that sign every day. What a nightmare it must be for you. Has the local news picked up this story?

  9. Thanks for the blog, lunks – I work right near that intersection as well and have been increasingly intrigued about the protesters that seem like they’ve been there far too long. I honked at them one day & gave a friendly wave just because they looked so downtrodden, but instead of perking up the way normal protesters do when someone supports them, they looked away embarassedly until I was out of sight. Strange.

  10. Robyn,
    Thanks for your comment. It looks like they show no signs of stopping. You used the word ‘downtrodden’ and I think you’re right. Today when I drove by to get my daily coffee I saw the protester, sitting on a bucket, with his arms above his head leaning behind the face of the sign. Anonymously with his head down…It looks liked rain, but it hadn’t yet. I wonder if this denotes that their resolve is wearing thin…

    lunks

  11. I was out there today and I chatted with the people handing out fliers. They aren’t allowed to say anything, included who hired them, but one of them did tell me, “They just pay me to hand out these fliers.” So they are apparently paid protesters, and probably not members of the union anonymously sponsoring this protest. They don’t need resolve — if they quit the union will just hire someone else.

    What I want to know is, are these workers represented by a union, and are they being paid the standard wage for standing on a corner handing out fliers, whatever that is?

  12. Andre, thanks for your comment. It confirms what I had heard as well. I can’t believe they admit this. I agree that they don’t need resolve, just warm bodies.

    The organization is purported to be the “North central States Regional Council of Carpenters”

    I believe they tell their protesters not to say anything so that their opinion can be protected and probably because it would embarrass them if everyone knew they were simply paid protesting. Sometimes unions will pay a wage and hours just high enough so that the workers can still collect unemployment. I’m not sure if that is true in this case.

    The rumor I had heard was $10/hr…pretty good for a fairly thoughtless job.

    lunks

  13. A Parent’s Perspective

    I have two sons who work for Freidges Drywall and who are about to lose their jobs because of what these “union” bozos are doing. My sons (one is a laid off electrician) took these jobs because they are among the better paying jobs in our home area, despite what union protestors are complaining about. They understand the work conditions they hired into and are happy with them.

    I have been a union member at two times in my work career, but I could never condone union activity that interferes with other peoples rights to do business and

  14. I work at Friedges and have had to deal with these jerks for a while now. Calling me names like rat trying to make me look bad. Who would want to hire these cry babies they look like idiots. All they are worried about is there retirement and there pay not there employees aka members but realistically they are all just numbers to them. It sucks I’m gonna be out of work laid off, I have bills a son to support, so what if I went to work at a non union shop the pay and benefits are the same if not better. Everyone in this world has a right to work at any job they choose union or not. Business is business don’t cause problems and force someone to choose union because you will get harassed if you don’t. Very poor business ethics in my eyes.

  15. I actually worked for the union over the summer doing basically the same job, only we actually picketed, with signs and yelling and all that. We were paid hourly and were told very little about Friedges Drywall besides “They are rat contractors” and “They’re breaking down area standards”. Most of the protesters are simply people who need work and found this job. Just thought I’d clear that up.

  16. There’s one of these groups at our local Home Depot in Portland, OR. We hadn’t heard anything on the news about union problems, so I googled it and found your site. The protesters in Portland were dejected and unkempt also. I’m sure the situation is the same here.

  17. I see these protesters frequently when I drive by. It all seems really stupid to me on their part. At first when I saw it was was angry at the Dr. as I saw ‘Labor Dispute’ then when I found out what it was really about it seems like these union folk are bozos. I think folks should go stand next to them with a sign: “Shame on the union” or whomever is not providing the right wages or health benefits.

  18. I thought of these guys when I drove past where they’d normally be standing today (It was drizzling ever so slightly, so there was no sign of them. Ha!) and after picking up my lunch and heading back to the office, I hit google.

    Wow. These guys are real dinks. Someone *really* needs to teach them about effective protesting.

    Interestingly enough, apparently there was a previous labor dispute involving Friedges Drywall in…**drum roll**…

    1997.

    http://www.mndaily.com/1997/01/31/bakery-caught-labor-dispute

  19. I drive past the same scene at a different intersection in Maple Grove. And now, months later, I’m finally finding out what the heck is going on. It’s scary to me that some people think that every other human being you have ever done business with is a direct reflection of who you are as a person. I mean, really, is it really this Dr’s responsibility to know EVERYTHING about EVERY company he EVER hires to do work for him? Obviously this Dr. is a nice guy…he’s from Iowa for crying out loud!! 🙂 Sad what people will stoop to for a buck.

    I’m also wondering if there are city regulations on how the protestors have to stand or the type of sign they can have. The one I’ve seen is a big banner on poles driven in to the ground and then the protestors all have at least one hand on the sign…do they have to touch it the whole time…?

  20. We live by Dr. Cataldo and I also drive by their sign on Hwy 55 on my way to work. We googled him because we also find the protestors irritating in our neighborhood. If anyone wants to protest the protesters, I am game for that. We recommend signs that say, “Shame on visual litter.” 🙂

    Thoughts and prayers Rosie!

  21. I too have passed the 2 protest locations numerous times over the months and have wondered what this guy did to p-off these people? It seems to me that it is an American right and privlige for us to pick & choose things in our lives, whether “right” or “wrong” in other people’s opinions. I am assuming that there are many other people in this world (and community) that have made choices that they are not entirely proud of either at one time or another. Why should this person be singled out above all others? It does also concern me that people are willing to stand in protest for that length of time and I would only have to assume that they are being paid for it. How pathetic that they cannot acquire a REAL job. Thanks for clearing it all up, I have been wondering about it for a while!

  22. You guys don’t get it and you never will. I know all the answers to your questions and concerns, but like the protesters told you, they can get sued for saying the wrong thing. It’s all about fighting for working people’s rights. The law is not on the Union’s side, so they do what they can to get their point across. They can no longer do like in the old days. So they are stuck to doing that kind of stuff. You think that the doctor really told you the truth? I doubt it. They usually downplay the situation because they know that you don’t know any better and will accept their explanation. Ultimately, it is the fault of the doctor. You think that he didn’t have a choice of the contractors that build his facility. Would you have a contractor work in your house that you didn’t approve of? I don’t think so. Working people need to fight for more always, because if they don’t the greedy rich will always exploit and hold them down. Union Yesssss!!!!!

  23. Answer to union yes…unions are no longer needed with their self pity and non utilization. Labor laws protect employees, not unions! The beautiful thing is people have a choice and if they feel they are being treated unfairly by a company they have the right to leave that company. It is really that simple. There is nothing a union can do for you in this day and age that labor law doesn’t provide except save you your hidden union dues.

  24. Unions are the reason those jobs are moved to China, then the union employees go ship at Walmart and put themselves out of a job.
    Union work = lazy employees
    Union work != quality work.

  25. there are actually people a couple of blocks away holding that exact same sign! and i never knew why! its pretty crazy seeing them outside as early as 7 in the morning in the winter doing this…

  26. Even in cold windy weather today, they were still there. I find it disturbing they make people do this.

    I understand their resolve but feel that they are targeting the wrong group – why aren’t they picketing Karkela Construction or Friedges Drywall instead of the customer (Cataldo)?

    If I hired someone to renovate my basement, they would be responsible for the subcontractors that THEY hired. You go after the decision-maker.

    I am not a litigious person, but if I were Cataldo I would consider hiring a lawyer to address libel issues.

  27. For “union yes” .. No, I wouldn’t have a contractor work for me that I didn’t approve of. I would never hire a union worker! I’m a non union mason and I make my living with hard work and fair pay. I don’t strong arm people into higher rates than what the work is worth. Sorry, unions are outdated. Fortunately, labor laws pick up where unions “should have” left off. We live in a wonderful country that stands by its people as long as they’re willing to work well. Why don’t you just try non union work once. It feels good.

    Here it is Feb. 7 ’09 and thanks to This blog I finally know what the heck is going on in Plymouth. Yes, it actually took this long for me to care enough about the protesters to even inquire.

    Thanks for the info!

  28. The Dr. Brent Cataldo protesters were out today (March 16, 2009)on Lawndale and Bass Lake Road in Maple Grove… I remembered seeing their sign last year near Bachman’s and got curious as to who this doctor was. Thanks for the summary! Personally, I know of several people right now who could use a dependable, hard-working drywall installer for home remodeling projects. If the protesters are worried about the state of the economy as suggested, it might be wise to get to work!

  29. I go to Cataldo and was wondering for about a 1 what the real story was. Thanks for that great investigative journalism.

    Sounds like a buncvh of BS to me, I still support Cataldo!

  30. I just saw them for the first time today. They are still going strong. Thanks for the blog posting.

  31. there is a duplicate of this picketing going on where I am from. They are at war with my parents company. Very frustrating. Union members are bullies and do everything they possible can to destroy companies that get in their way. Usually small family companies that find a couple successful year can find themselves target of a relentless, attack. sad

  32. I can’t believe it has been over a year since I first commented here after finding some of the answers I was looking for on your site. Do you have any idea how long they plan to continue? Dr. Cataldo’s office is still there and I doubt the protest signs are even noticed anymore other than by people like me who chuckle and shake their heads in disbelief that this is STILL what they see on their daily trips to Caribou. I usually see 2-3 “workers” behind the sign each day, and figure a very conservative estimate of what has been spent on payroll for this “protest” so far is well over 40K. It pains me to think of all the better causes that money could be going to.

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