This post has been updated.
Some of the construction workers who are helping erect the more than $320 million Omni Louisville hotel and luxury apartments walked off the site this morning.
Roughly 100 workers who have been installing metal studs and hanging drywall at the Omni claim that they are being paid roughly $20 less an hour compared with other construction workers on the job who are making $40 to $45 an hour, WDRB News first reported.
Marco Cruz, one of the workers who walked off the construction site, told Insider that he is not so much upset that they are making less than other workers as he is troubled by the fact that they were told they’d earn $24 an hour but are only receiving $17 to $20 an hour.
“I saw that that’s not right,” he said. “We feel like they are taking advantage of us.”
Louisville labor attorney Dave Suetholz told Insider in a phone interview that the construction workers, most of whom are Hispanic immigrants, were told that their wages were lowered because Gov. Matt Bevin repealed Kentucky’s prevailing wage statute this year.
Suetholz, an attorney with Kircher, Suetholz & Associates PSC, argued that construction on the Omni “started before the repeal of the prevailing wage,” making the argument invalid.
“Their employer has lied to them,” he said. “It’s all immigrant workers. They are the only ones being paid lower rates. …Just on the face, it looks very bad.”
The prevailing wage law required construction workers to be paid a wage and receive benefits comparable to what workers receive on average construction sites in the area. It applied to public construction projects, according to an article by Stites & Harbison attorney
Back in 2015 when the Omni project was first announced, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer stated that construction workers on the Omni would be paid a prevailing wage. The Omni received $139 million worth of incentives from the state and local government to help pay for the project.
“The city contracted for the prevailing wage to be paid on this project, and as far as we know, that is happening,” Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said in an email. “If there is evidence to the contrary, we recommend the employees go to the Human Relations Commission.”
Brasfield & Gorrie is the project’s general contractor. The company issued this statement Wednesday evening: “At the outset of the Omni Louisville Hotel project, wage rates for the project were established. Those wage rates were subject to legal challenges and proceedings brought by the Carpenters Union. Those wage rates have remained intact and have been in place since that time. All employees on the project site are being paid appropriately based upon the wage requirements which are applicable to this project.”
Cruz said he hopes that Brasfield & Gorrie and the workers can come to an agreement.
“We actually like working here, but as long as we get the same treatment as everyone else,” he said.
As Suetholz spoke to Insider around noon Wednesday, car horns and cheering could be heard in the background.
“It’s really kind of wonderful,” he said. “All the unions are coming to support.”
The Kentucky chapter of Jobs with Justice posted an event called “Stand with picketing Omni Hotel workers!” to its Facebook page, encouraging members to protest with the workers Thursday morning.
Construction workers Tonya Druck and Michael Creekmore stood among the workers who’d walked out. They were still working on the Omni Louisville but came down to talk to the other workers and smoking cigarettes on their break.
“Every worker on this job site is in there talking,” Creekmore said. “They’re all supporting, can’t believe what happened to them.”
Druck and Creekmore said they also were told that their wages would be cut because of the repeal of prevailing wage as well. Creekmoore took a $2-an-hour pay cut, he said, but Druck told Insider that she was told her wages would be slashed $13.79 an hour to $25 an hour.
“They said insulators weren’t a trade,” she said. “It’s not right.”
The decision of the drywall workers to walk out was made Wednesday morning, and Cruz was glad to receive encouragement from union leaders and construction workers.
“We’re surprised. I didn’t know we were going to have this support from everybody else,” Cruz said. “That means what we are fighting for is the right thing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have that support.”