Construction Contract Dispute Disrupts Campus Life

Construction+Contract+Dispute+Disrupts+Campus+Life

Ruby Rorty

PCS students, parents, and staff have been greeted all week by protesters picketing on the sidewalk outside the new campus. If attention is the protesters’ aim, they have certainly received it. News of the controversy has spread quickly through the halls among students and teachers alike. Who are the protesters? Who is the contractor they are referencing? Is PCS really to blame? If not, why are there picketers outside our school demanding justice?

    Numbering  from two to six, depending on the time of day, the protesters carry large red-lettered signs that read: ‘Don’t Attend School Here” and “Pacific Collegiate Hires Contractors Who Don’t Pay Their Bills!” and, since yesterday, “Bogard $Pay$ Your Bill.”

    Bogard Construction, a Santa Cruz-based construction firm, was the general contractor in charge of renovating the 46,000 square-foot office building at 3004 Mission Street purchased by the Pacific Collegiate Foundation to be PCS’s “forever home.” The $9 million construction project, which involved extensive demolition as well as renovation and expansion, was completed in October 2015, when the PCS community transitioned to the new campus.

    The protesters in front of the school would only speak in very general terms on Monday about why they were there: “When you do work, you should be paid. That’s only fair,” said Sylvia Lopez, a protester who agreed to give her name and speak for the group.

    PCS was not given notice of the protest, which also took Bogard Construction by surprise. The City of Santa Cruz’s municipal office said that the protesters did not have a city-issued protest permit. As PCS Principal Simon Fletcher and other administrators tried to engage with the protesters on Monday to understand their grievances, representatives of Bogard Construction also came to campus to talk with the protesters.

    Ms. Lopez alleged on Tuesday that a Bogard representative threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the protesters, as well as the police. Jared Bogaard, executive vice president of Bogard Construction, denied these allegations. “I instructed Ms. Lopez and the group not to enter the property, otherwise we would be free to contact the sheriff, as PCS is private property,” he said. “However, in no way did I, nor anybody from my firm of which I am aware, make comments associated with contacting ICE, immigration, customs or otherwise.”

    Mr. Bogaard stated that the protesters were not directly associated with any firm that Bogard Construction hired to complete work on the PCS project. “As we understand it, they were hired through a local temp agency, by an undisclosed entity, and themselves do not know what they are protesting, let alone any specifics associated with the issue,” he said in an e-mail.

    On Thursday, a lead led ROAR staffers to Larry Tinsely, a project manager at Dietrich Iron Works, a metal fabrication firm located just blocks away from PCS at the intersection of Ingalls Street and Fair Avenue. ROAR reporters interviewed Mr. Tinsely in a second-story office at a table covered in blueprints and jumbo packs of chicken-flavored Cup-O-

Noodles. Mr. Tinsley confirmed that Dietrich Iron Works is currently involved in a business dispute with Bogard Construction over “change orders” made to construction steelwork done on the PCS site. According to Mr. Tinsely, a bill for $65,000 for necessary modifications made to the original building plans remains unpaid. Mr. Tinsely stated that Bogard Construction “signed off” on the change order modifications to the steelwork contract.

     Mr. Tinsely said that non-payment on the bill has not impacted the salary of anyone at Dietrich who worked on the PCS building. Since they are all union-contract workers, they have all been paid for the work done, he confirmed. The unpaid bill has, however, created “cash flow problems” for Dietrich.

     Mr. Tinsely stated that this type of conflict occurs frequently in large construction projects and is usually settled through negotiation between the construction company and subcontractor without involvement of the press or the public.

    Mr. Tinsely denied any connection to the protesters in front of PCS and referred the ROAR staff to Dietrich Iron Work’s president and owner, Eric Hanson. When reached by telephone on Thursday, Mr. Hanson declined to comment about the protesters or his firm’s involvement in the dispute, citing possible legal consequences.

    On Thursday, as the protest entered its fourth day, Mr. Fletcher confirmed this basic information in an e-mail sent out to the PCS community: “The picketers were hired by a subcontractor of the contractor who renovated our beautiful new building,” he wrote. “The underlying dispute regards a contractual matter, not a labor issue.”  

    “This protest only involves PCS because of the picketers’ unfortunate choices of venue and slogans as they seek attention for their employer’s cause,” he added.

    Mr. Fletcher has urged PCS families to use this incident to open a conversation “about a variety of topics, such as free speech and labor rights.” In his Principal’s Letter this week he said: “We know that PCS is run by honest, well-meaning people. We also know that there are plenty of examples of corruption and mistreatment of workers, and it is often through the free enactment of our constitutional rights that inequities and problems are brought to light.  I hope this sparks some meaningful conversations.”

–With additional reporting by Manu Chopra, Blake Dixon, and Jason ZhengIMG_0279 IMG_0609