A Philadelphia-based union known as the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters is complaining about the establishment of the West Chester Commons, the new off-campus student apartment complex.The Council of Carpenters is angry that the Commons used an out-of-state contractor through which non-union carpenters were hired. In addition, the union charges the Commons with concealing the history of its site, which they allege could be contaminated by buried materials.
West Chester Commons responded that those working on the site are free to have a union if they choose, and dismisses the environmental charge as a selfish scare tactic.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazardous Site Cleanup Division investigated the complex’s location 200 East Rosedale Avenue in November of 2003. The EPA reports that from the late 1950s until 1989, the site was leased by the Sonobond Corporation, a marketing agent of Aeroprojects, Incorporated. Aeroprojects was a government contractor for the Department of Defense, the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Atomic Energy Commission and NASA.
“In the late 1950’s, a beryllium/molybdenum alloy rod and copper tube exploded and melted. Sonobond was instructed by AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] to collect and bury residual cleaning material and fragments,” the EPA report states. “In 1966, Sonobond buried air fil-ters used in the cutting and wielding of alloys containing beryllium and uranium. The filters were placed in a concrete container and buried on site. In 1975, three chunks of depleted uranium, the size of a “C” battery, were buried in three 6-foot holes in the area of the 1966 burial. In 1976, small quantities of beryllium wire, uranium chips, lead azide, lead styphanite, and various types of gun powder were buried in a small glass jar.”
Upon terminating its lease, Sonobond (by then called Philadelphia Ventures) hired the IT Corp., which manages the disposal of hazardous waste.
It completed an excavation and cleanup of the site in 1992. Philadelphia Ventures used its own contractor, BCM Engineers, to oversee and report on the cleanup activities.
“People who plan to live there ought to know what happened,” said Mark Derkalec, an organizer for the union. “If our union was involved in this construction, we would demand special tests beforehand. We operate safety-first.”
“As an environmental lawyer, Mark Derkalec makes a great carpenter,” quipped Wally Flamm, an attorney for West Chester Commons. “He should stick with what he knows.”
Flamm noted that his client has yet to be cited for any violation, and said that the Commons can guarantee there are no buried materials posing any danger to its residents. Flamm said that Derkalec’s true motive is to find work for those in his union, and said that the Council of Carpenters is reacting to its in-ability to recruit on the site.
Some students who have already paid their deposit to move into the Commons in the fall found it disconcerting that they are just now learning about the site’s history.
“Aren’t they required to tell us this stuff?” asked Kathy Presutto, a sophomore Communication Studies major. “What if these substances get into our water supply?”
“Had I known this information, I would have done my own research so I could decide whether I feel comfortable living there,” said Lauren Schachter, a sophomore Psychology major.
However, Megan Bryce, a sophomore Elementary Education major, was unconcerned. “As long as they cleaned everything up, I don’t see why they should have to tell us about it,” she said.
A representative of the Council, who wished to remain anonymous, said that at the beginning of the Commons’ construction, the union sent several of its members, legal Venezuelan immigrants, to apply for work without revealing their union affiliation. According to the source, the applicants were hired, but were soon fired and never paid when they passed out literature from the Council to workers on the site. The source said these legal immigrants witnessed illegal aliens employed as carpenters, and are willing to testify before the National Labor Relations Board.
Flamm predicted that nothing will come of such a hearing, and argued that the Commons is not responsible. “We don’t control who’s hired and fired; we subcontract to other firms. The workers are free to organize and they haven’t.” Flamm challenged the Council to substantiate its claims. “They’re welcome to call Immigration Services.”
The Council of Carpenters claims that by refusing to employ their union, the Commons is undercutting the community’s wage and benefit standards.
“Their claims amount to an illegal secondary boycott,” said Flamm. He said the Commons has no plans to pursue this offense because so far the allegations “have had no effect.”
Over the objections of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, West Chester Commons plans to open for the fall semester.