AU students, construction workers protest for third day
Correction and clarification appended
Update: April 10, 8:24 p.m.
Workers and students continued the third day of protests outside of Katzen Arts Center on April 10.
“AU really prides itself on being an institution about social justice, but we all too frequently overlook when something on this campus violates that,” said Sarah Feder, a senior . She also attended the protest yesterday.
Members of the Student-Worker Alliance and the Community Action and Social Justice student group have joined the protesters, but Feder said the protest is not formally affiliated with any group on campus.
Students said the protesters could be heard in buildings during classes.
“I was in class on the second floor [of Ward],” Jenny Newman, a junior in the School of Public Affairs said. “We heard them for a little while, but honestly, the professor just shrugged and kept talking.”
The protesters may be getting noticed, but some students question the power of the protests.
“I’m not sure if it’s effective because they’ve been here three days and no response,” Washington College of Law student Eman Muhammad said. “Maybe they have to talk to the company that hires them and then that company talks to AU.”
The University responded to the protestors allegations by stating that it has not been contacted for any type of meeting, The Eagle previously reported. Coalition protester Ronnell Howard said that the group made attempts to contact the University
“We went to the recruitment office to ask for a contact person and we got no response,” Howard said. “There were numerous attempts throughout 2013, from beginning to end.”
It does not matter if the University is unaware of requests for a meeting, Howard said.
“They know we’re here now,” he said. “They’ve seen our flyers, why aren’t they coming out to meet us? They’re totally ignoring us.”
The coalition will continue to protest Monday-Thursday every week until they have a meeting with University officials, Howard said.
Update: April 9, 9:48 p.m.
AU students joined the Wings Enterprise protesters outside of Katzen Art Center on April 9, holding signs that said ‘Students and workers united!’ and ‘Students in solidarity’.
The protesters alleged that Wings Enterprise construction agency subjects their workers to poor safety conditions and mistreatment from management, The Eagle previously reported.
“Recent allegations of unfair work practices at Wings Enterprises have been investigated by the DC Department of Employment Services as well as the DC Office of Contracting and Procurement,” Assistant Vice President for University Communications Camille Lepre said in an email. “Each time, Wings was found to be either in compliance with legal requirements, or took corrective action if such was needed.”
The protesters handed out flyers, which included false information, including that the protesters requested a meeting, Lepre said.
“AU has not received a request for a meeting from Justice at Wings or from any of the workers,” wrote Lepre.
The flyers also stated that AU is in the process of a dozen construction projects, including East Campus and the Nebraska Hall addition. The Nebraska Hall addition is completed and Wings did not work on it, Lepre said in the email.
About 15 workers from the Wings Enterprises construction company protested outside of Katzen Arts Center on April 8 against low wages, poor safety conditions and mistreatment from management.
They held large signs that read “American University: The community is watching you!!!” and “American University: Don’t be a bad actor by hiring Wings!!!” as they beat on drums, blew horns and passed out flyers to people.
AU is currently in the planning process of multiple construction projects, including the new East Campus addition. East Campus construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2014 and be completed by summer 2016, according to AU’s website. Wings Enterprises is a subcontractor and could be hired by the contractor.
“We’re here representing workers who experience poor treatment everywhere,” Carlos Portiyo, a group representative, said in Spanish. The Justice at Wings Coalition is under the direction of D.C. advocacy group Jobs with Justice, which represents non-unionized workers.
AU Media Relations could not be reached for comment in time of publication.
The coalition hopes to meet with University officials to discuss upcoming contracts. The workers have tried to schedule a meeting with AU, but the University has not responded, according to a flyer the protesters were handing out. The University has not received a request for a meeting, Assistant Vice President for Communications & Media Camille Lepre said.
“We’re not talking two or three millions of dollars, but 20s, 30s and 40s,” Portiyo said of the contract budgets.
Protesting is one of the only ways to get the University’s attention, according to coalition protester Ronnel Howard. The Wing Enterprise protesters are primarily Latino migrants and often struggle with English.
“The company has been paying guys whatever they want to,” said Howard, who has been striking against Wings Enterprises since 2011. “If you complain, the foreman says that immigration will come pick you up.”
Several of the protestors work in unsafe environments and are threatened by their bosses if they seek medical treatment for injuries, Howard said.
“They’re told by the foreman, ‘You don’t want to go to the doctor, they’ll cut your leg off,’” Howard said.
Howard says the group plans to protest for the next four days.
“I want to sit down with AU and let them hear the workers’ story,” he said.
Quotes from Portiyo are translated by Lindsay Sandoval from Spanish.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that AU is considering Wings Enterprise to oversee construction. Wings Enterprise is a subcontractor. The company could be hired by a contractor but could not oversee construction.
A previous version of this article contained a picture of a flyer. The flyer contained incorrect information. The picture has been replaced with one of the April 9 protest.
Clarification: A previous version of this article said that Wing Enterprise requested a meeting with AU, according to a flyer. The University has not received any requests, according to Assistant Vice President for Communications & Media Camille Lepre.