It looks like Brent McKim has some competition.

In what seems to be a regularly-occurring scenario, an individual has again attempted to influence a decision before the Jefferson County Board of Education by intimidation. Previously, it’s been McKim, Jefferson County Teachers Association president, behind most of the Machiavellian maneuvering.

Last Wednesday, Walter M. Zolla, Vice President of Wells Fargo Insurance Services of Kentucky, Inc. sent the elected school board members in Jefferson County an e-mail message via his Wells Fargo email address. In the emails obtained by Insider Louisville, Zolla complains of what he calls the “negative impact” of a proposed Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on a public school construction project in Valley Station and also addresses what he believes to be a “conflict of interest” concerning board member Larry Hujo.

Hujo is a member of the local carpenter’s union.

Zolla wrote: “Since ‘Merit Shop’ contractors don’t operate under these type [of] labor agreements, PLA agreements will reduce competition by excluding 85 percent of the workers who choose not to belong to the union. They are discriminatory in nature and only benefit one group, construction trade unions. All these factors will result in increased construction costs to JCPS and taxpayers.”

For purposes of this discussion, “merit shop” means “non-union.”

Mr. Zolla, at the end of his anti-PLA rant, signed off his communication by stating his name and position in the Wells Fargo organization, complete with his business address and contact information.

I will not be diving into a debate on the merits of PLA’s here, except to say they have been used in the past with wild success. Louisville’s new KFC YUM! Arena is but the latest example of a public construction project that benefited from the implementation of a PLA, which requires contractors to use an agreed-upon percentage of local workers.

PLA’s are legal under Kentucky law.

Any person of sound mind who read the email would have considered it to have come from – and been sanctioned by – Wells Fargo Insurance Services of Kentucky, Inc., a local firm that issues surety bonds to non-union contractors.

The email set off alarms in the labor community, with some privately suggesting unions should take a look at their pension funds and go as far as to sell off shares in companies actively seeking to harm the labor movement.

The national carpenters union holds 1.9 million shares in San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, (NYSE, symbol “WFC”), valued at $66 million at the current share price of $33.

After sharing this information with Wells Fargo Corporate Communications, I was contacted by spokesperson Kathryn Ellis. Ellis was more than eager to help explain the situation:

“Walt is not representing Wells Fargo or Wells Fargo Insurance Services in this issue. It is a personal issue that he inadvertently addressed through his work email. Wells Fargo does have policies in place to ensure proper use of company email and any further communication from Walt on this issue will come from his personal email.”

What isn’t revealed in his email is that in addition to his role at Wells Fargo, Walter Zolla is also Chairman of the Kentuckiana chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. According to the organization’s website, the ABC “is a full service “merit shop” construction trade association representing over 450 companies throughout the state of Kentucky and 7 counties in southern Indiana” and claims members to be “united under our banner of free and open competition in the construction industry”.

What was that about a conflict of interest, Mr. Zolla?

Walter Zolla failed to reveal his hidden agenda and his association with ABC.

Local jobs for local workers isn’t just a good social policy, it’s good business. Everyone benefits. Even Wells Fargo.

Brian Tucker is a lifelong Louisvillian. He is the founder of The Valley Report, and has been writing on Southwest Louisville's political environment for several years.

Leave a Reply