Price Chopper protests

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By Greg Brenn

Over the past few months, at the Price Chopper headquarters on Nott Street, there have been three men standing behind a large banner reading, “Shame on Price Chopper,” with “Labor Dispute” printed in both corners.

Behind these men is a comically placed banner that says, “We have no idea what this is about.—The PChopper Team.”

Price Chopper Spokesperson Mona Golub had very little to say on whether Price Chopper was truly clueless about the matter.

“We do not know who these men are,” she noted. “They have never worked for Price Chopper, nor do we know why they are standing there with that banner.”

However, the individuals on the street answered questions readily and provided informational booklets.

The three individuals are hired by The Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters (NRCC) to stand with this banner. The NRCC is a carpenter’s union that has a labor dispute with Ron Wright Inc., a contracting company hired by Price Chopper to perform all of the necessary carpentry work in new stores.

Brian Noteboom, the regional representative for the NRCC, states that the dispute is specifically related to two new stores built in the Syracuse area.

“Ron Wright Inc. doesn’t pay area standards to the carpenters they hire for their jobs. They are also cheating the workers out of healthcare benefits,” Noteboom said.

Noteboom claims that Ron Wright Inc. is performing “1099 Misclassification.” This means that contracting companies who use the 1099 form instead of the W-2 are classifying their employees as “independent contractors,” as opposed to those pertaining to a union. As a result, they can avoid insurance costs and payroll deductions by reporting the workers’ income as miscellaneous income. Noteboom feels that the unionized carpenters are “entitled to insurance benefits and income that meets area labor standards.”

However, unions are often criticized for setting wage standards that are too high for contractors to match. As a result of these standards, contracting companies such as Ron Wright Inc. employ non-union workers at rates much lower than those set by the union.

How does Price Chopper fall into this dispute? The company receives bids from contracting companies when they need a new store built. In an effort to save money, Price Chopper chooses the contractor with the most competitive bid. If Ron Wright Inc. was saving money by hiring workers out of the union or was misclassifying their employees, then they would consistently be able to secure the lowest bid.

Price Chopper V.P. of Engineering and Construction Bill Sweet was out of town and unavailable for comment, but Noteboom relayed a recent conversation with Sweet, commenting that “Bill Sweet told me that they choose the most competitive bidder, who may not be the most ethical bidder.” Noteboom feels that Price Chopper is “hiding behind the unethical practices of Ron Wright Inc., even when they know perfectly well what is going on.”

This raises a question about whether it is ethical for contracting companies such as Ron Wright Inc. to hire non-union workers at wages lower than the wages that the union demands for its workers.

With this new information about the dispute, Golub was asked about Ron Wright Inc. hiring workers outside of the union. She responded, “I have no additional comment about the matter. I have nothing new to say that is different from the first time that we spoke.”

The banners remain on display outside of the Price Chopper headquarters daily.

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