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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

Carpenters’ union expresses concerns with upcoming student housing project’s contractor

Union alleges selected contractor has a past of wage theft
Cristian Gonzalez
The large display of a judge put up by demonstrators in the library quad near Santa Clara Hall Oct. 11, 2023. Members of the Carpenters Local Union 46 handed out flyers alleging wage theft by contractors being considered for Student Housing Project III.

Brown Construction, the chosen contractor for the upcoming Student Housing Project III, is facing allegations of wage theft by the Carpenters Local Union 46.

Student Housing Project III is an upcoming student housing building slated to begin construction in January 2025.

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According to the Sacramento State website, the $67 million project is planned to be on the south end of campus housing, between the American River Courtyard and Riverview Hall with an estimated completion date of June 2026. It’s stated to be an estimated 94,000 gross square feet and will contain single, double, and triple-bedroom dorms.

Tania Nunez, project manager in Sacramento State’s facilities management department, said while the university is involved in the process, the selected contractor and architect team handles designing and building.

Workers representing the union demonstrated in early October, warning the campus of the malpractice litigations Brown Construction faced in the past. On Oct. 12, Brown Construction was selected as the general contractor for the Project.

Members of Carpenters Local 46 protested in the library quad outside Santa Clara Hall with a large graphic reading, “Don’t let this project become a crime scene.”

Protesters passed out flyers alleging wage theft committed in the past by the candidate’s subcontractors. Protesters claimed contractors committed wage thefts and gave unlivable wages, leaving some union members having to resort to outside resources for financial support.

A mockup of where the new student housing will be on campus. According to the Sacramento State website, the project is estimated to cost roughly $67 million. (Image courtesy of Sacramento State)

Union representatives also said the union helps provide resources for its members who are struggling to make ends meet. Members also alleged the university was ignoring the issue despite several attempts to alert officials.

“The construction industry is rife with rampant wage theft and countless crime scenes where workers experience miscarriages of justice,” according to a statement from Carpenters Local 46.

Nunez said the university had received two 65-page letters with complaints from the union about two of the shortlisted contractors.

“They sent those letters for two of the four firms that were shortlisted, the two firms that are not signatory to the carpenters union,” Nunez said. “I’m pretty sure if we looked at the other two firms, we would find similar things, but those firms are signatories to the carpenters union.”

Nunez said contractors are not interviewed, but they are required to fill out a thorough questionnaire prior to selection.

The selection process involves scoring the questionnaires the university had received, with the top scorers moving on to the second round. Nunez said that any convictions wouldn’t disqualify a contractor but would impact their score.

“There is a section on prevailing wage whether they’ve had any fines assessed or judgments against them from the Department of Industrial Relations,” Nunez said. “None of the teams had had any kind of Department of Industrial Relations assessments against them, or judgments, in the last five years.”

I’m pretty sure if we looked at the other two firms, we would find similar things, but those firms are signatories to the carpenters union.

— Tania Nunez

The union alleges that Brown Construction holds a history of its subcontractors stealing wages from their workers. They said they had informed Sac State officials of Brown Construction’s litigation history.

Nunez acknowledged there was ongoing litigation listed on all four of the shortlisted contractors’ questionnaires.

“Every single team had some form of litigation, just the nature of the business,” Nunez said. “All these companies are big companies with offices across the U.S. for the most part, so it’s inevitable.”

Dan Branton, a senior field representative for the Carpenters Local Union 46, said he wants to ensure the public has all the information before weighing in on the situation. After the selection of Brown Construction as the contractor, Branton expressed grievances with Sac State’s disregard for their workers’ well-being whilst making their decision.

“The leadership of Sac State can no longer hide behind this, that they made this as an accident,” Branton said. “This is an absolute choice. They know what they’re getting into.”

Nunez said the California State University system has safeguards in place to withhold funds from contractors accused of wage theft while the claims are adjudicated.

“We get a letter from DIR that says, hey, there’s been an accusation for this value, withhold that from all payment applications until it’s resolved,” Nunez said.

Nunez also said the details of the project were not decided yet and the architecture firm, Gensler, may not require carpentry in the design of the building. The union will still receive a fair shot at bidding for the work once the design is decided.

“When it’s bid out, it’ll be a public bid,” Nunez said. “Union and non-union contractors are able to submit their bid proposals.”

Senior Director and Chief Procurement Manager for the Office of Procurement and Contract Services Nicole Lack said she didn’t understand why the carpenters union was so incensed when the details of the project hadn’t been decided yet. Lack said that a bidding process is still to take place and that the union would have an opportunity to participate in it.

“You know, I think if we were telling them ‘no, we’re not going to accept any contractors’, then they have a reason to be mad,” Lack said. “But we’re not doing that. The door is open, and they’re gonna have every opportunity.”

Brown Construction Vice President of Construction Operations Darrin Henry, in response to the litigation concerns, said “The company complies with all laws and regulations in compensating both employees and subcontractors.”

“Brown Construction welcomes the involvement of all union subcontractors within the competitive bid and award process for all scopes associated with the project,” Henry said. “Furthermore, review of subcontractors and Brown payroll records for this project are welcomed by Brown Construction.”

Carpenters Local 46 also claims Brown Construction is not the only construction company that has a history of stealing money from its workers.
“Since California’s wage claim system is so backlogged– taking nearly four times longer than state law permits for the average case to reach a decision– many instances of wage theft are not brought to light and go unpunished,” according to a statement from Carpenters Local 46.

The construction industry is rife with rampant wage theft and countless crime scenes where workers experience miscarriages of justice.

— Carpenters Local Union 46

According to members of the union, low wages have left workers struggling to provide for their families and make ends meet.

Branton said the union has worked hard to provide resources for those affected by the low wages their companies provide.

“I don’t think it’s about just one person’s story, it’s not just about me, or anything like that, I think that it’s really the bigger picture,” Branton said. “And it’s the responsibility of all of us to look out for the most vulnerable among us.”

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Michael Pepper, News Staffer
(he/him/they/them) Michael Pepper is a senior transfer student majoring in journalism. He previously attended Cosumnes River College where he was a staff writer and sports editor for The Connection. This is his second semester with The State Hornet.
Analah Wallace, News Editor
(they/them) Analah is in their second semester at The State Hornet and their first semester as the news editor. Their passion lies in news reporting and they hope to use their time on the publication to bring back an appreciation for general news writing. Their overall goal is to make the public trust in journalists again, and they hope to one day be a journalist in a big city.
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