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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 12:58 am

Painting by the numbers

Union protests non-union hotel work crew

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The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades formed a picket line for about two weeks outside the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Springfield. The group was protesting against a non-union business hired to comple
PHOTO BY PHOTO BY ALLAN LAUHER

For about two weeks last month, a group of painters protested outside the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Springfield as a small crew worked to update the look of 316 guest rooms.

The picket line, made up of a handful of members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, protested the hotel developers’ use of a non-union company to paint the hotel interior. The picket has now disbanded, but the group’s efforts are ongoing – IUPAT is now developing a handbill, or informational flier, to pass out in the community.

Tim Powell Expert Painters, the company hired to do the remaining work, produces fine work and is an excellent business, says Allan Lauher with the IUPAT Local 90. Lauher’s only problem, and the impetus for the picket line at Seventh and Adams streets and the future handbill, is that Powell doesn’t use union workers.

The union has chosen not to protest several other instances around town of non-union workers being hired, Lauher says, but couldn’t ignore the job at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel. “This is the most high profile,” Lauher says, referring to the number of work hours the job would provide. “This is one that we just couldn’t let go by without doing anything.”

Phone messages left for Powell were not returned, but the hotel developer, Steve R. Horve, says Powell’s business was chosen primarily because it was the lowest bidder. Horve bought the hotel from the state earlier this year, after the state foreclosed on previous owners for failure to make loan payments.

Horve used union labor for upgrades including new key card and telephone systems, but to paint the hotel rooms he hired Powell’s Jacksonville-based business after its bid came in under all the other contenders. He says Powell’s workers had worked in the hotel in the past and know the layout and the staff.

Lauher says Springfield-based painters know the hotel layout, too, and had Horve chosen a union company, from any town, at least half of the workers would have been Springfield residents.

Lauher says the local union has about 270 members with about 20 of them looking for work. While the number of remaining members waiting for work is an improvement from last year, Lauher says it should be even lower. “Typically right now there shouldn’t be anybody sitting unless they just don’t want to be working,” Lauher says, blaming the recession. “This time of year we’re typically fully employed.”

Lauher says the eventual handbill Springfield residents and visitors might receive from IUPAT members won’t ask them to boycott either the hotel or the painting company. But he adds, “We are wanting to educate people. … If they choose to take their own course of action after receiving the information, or they choose to do nothing, that would be their individual decision.”

Horve says the protest hasn’t affected business at all and he plans to have the first set of refurbished rooms – 34 rooms on the third floor – available in the third week of August. The last of the remaining nine floors, or 292 rooms, should be complete by the first of next year.  Only one floor will be worked on at a time, leaving most of the hotel available for guests as renovations continue.

“If they want to picket, they have the right to picket. I’ve also got the right to spend my money the way I want to,” Horve says, adding that he’s taken no government money. “I didn’t ask the contractor if he was union or non-union. … What I’m interested in is: Is the contractor insured? Is he bonded? Does he pay his bills? Does he have references?”

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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