ROGERS, Minn. (WCCO) — You can’t miss the sprawling concrete building taking shape at the eastern edge of a Rogers industrial park.
The large building will be a central distribution center for the Illinois-based Medline Company, a giant supplier of medical supplies to hospitals across the country.
Among its largest customers in Minnesota is the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. So it’s not surprise the facility is being built just 20 miles from downtown.
On Wednesday, the sounds of heavy equipment were mixed with the chants of, “Minnesota jobs, Minnesota workers!”
The protest by the areas’ unemployed trades groups is aimed at the California contractor building the complex, Panattoni Construction. Minnesota labor unions are upset that Panattoni is importing its workforce from outside the state rather than hiring locally. That’s bringing a stinging response from members of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council.
“It’s been real tough,” said Jon Burns, currently an unemployed electrician.
The recession has already cost Burns and his wife their home. He’s been without steady employment for the past three years. In fact, unemployment in Minnesota’s construction trades is close to 25 percent.
That’s why the hiring of an out of state workforce is prime for protest.
“Cheaper has got to be the reason. They don’t want to pay the wages that Minnesota has fought for to pay the bills up here,” said Burns.
The union rallied at the construction site in an attempt to persuade Hennepin County to step in. With no tax dollars paying for the private company’s job, the county has no dog in the fight.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman addressed the crowd, saying, “In order to enforce the prevailing wage there’s got to be government money in the project. The best we can figure out there’s no public money in this project.”
With no prevailing wage standard to enforce, the private contractor is under no obligation. But if Medline wants to keep a large customer happy, hiring unemployed workers like Mark Lindquist might be in everyone’s best interest.
“We’re able to do it. We are licensed in the state and able to do it just like they are – they’re just taking it you know,” Lindquist said.