Workers who walked off the Omni Louisville construction site last week stand across the street. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

A Louisville attorney has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the general contractor and a subcontractor on the Omni Louisville project violated workers’ rights.

The attorney for the general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie has denied the charges.

“There is no substance to any of these, and there is no validity to any of these,” James U. Smith III, a partner with Louisville-based Smith & Smith Attorneys, told Insider.

In the charges submitted to the NLRB, attorney David Suetholz, who is representing 80 construction workers on the $321 million Omni job, alleges that Brasfield & Gorrie and Professional Drywall Concepts, a subcontractor on the project, threatened to retaliate against employees if they joined or supported a union, as well as prohibited employees from talking about their compensation and gave the impression that they were surveilling workers’ union activities.

The 80 employees Suetholz represents install metal framing and hang and finish drywall on the Omni project, according to the document filing the charges.

Roughly 100 workers walked off the job last week, stating that they were paid unfair wages and making about $20 less an hour than other workers on the site. They agreed to return to work last Friday, but Suetholz said they would continue to fight for fair pay.

“They believed in the rule of law in our country and stood up for their rights,” Suetholz told members of Louisville Metro Council’s Labor and Economic Development Committee Wednesday afternoon.

Smith disputed the charges and also said they did not provide enough detail.

“I don’t know what they are talking about because nothing like that has occurred. I don’t even know what employees they are talking about to be honest with you,” he told Insider. “There is no detail here, and there has been no threats made to any employees. We don’t care if employees join the union or don’t join the union.”

The 30-story Omni Louisville will include 612 hotel rooms and 225 high-end apartments. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Smith added that as the general contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie has general oversight over the hotel and luxury apartment project, but the company did not “exercise any control, domain or administration of any of those people” who work for Professional Drywall Concepts, which is a subcontractor for PCC, a Brasfield & Gorrie subcontractor.

Brasfield & Gorrie has not filed an official response to the charges with the NLRB yet.

At the Metro Council committee meeting on Wednesday, Smith stated that all the workers on the Omni project were being paid the appropriate wages per the contracts that were negotiated. If rates are different for different workers performing similar jobs, it is because a subcontractor negotiated a contract that allows them to pay their employees more.

“It’s a shame that somebody doesn’t make as much as their supposed to, but you have a contract,” said Councilman Stuart Benson (R-20), who said he used to be a union toolmaker for General Electric. “If you signed a contract, you signed a contract.”

In addition to the charges, Suetholz has filed a petition for a representation election asking for a secret ballot vote of 100 non-union Omni project employees. The employees would vote whether or not to join the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters.

The NLRB will hold a hearing to consider the petition soon.

In late 2015, the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters took complaints about the wages and benefits being offered to workers who fall under the carpenters classification — which includes drywall workers — to the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission.

The union stated that Brasfield & Gorrie was using the wrong prevailing wage rates when advertising the jobs and that the $19.26 an hour wages the general contractor applied to the job were $4.29 an hour lower than they were supposed to be. The union also claimed that workers should receive at least another $16.46 an hour in fringe benefits, rather than the minimum $4.83 an hour in benefits Brasfield & Gorrie was advertising.

Brasfield & Gorrie disputed the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters’ argument, and the Human Relations Commission concluded that workers should be paid a wage of at least $20.47 an hour. It did not make a determination on how much an hour in fringe benefits the workers should receive.

The union then filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court in 2016 appealing the Human Relations Commissions’ decision, claiming that commission exceeded its powers and acted arbitrarily. A judge dismissed the lawsuit last October because the council did not name two “indispensible parties,” the Omni Hotel and Brasfield & Gorrie, as parties in the lawsuit.

The judge said that the council had a right to bring the appeal but did not otherwise comment on the merits of the case.

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]