FactFinder 12: Wichita Carpenters Union won't back up claims

Published On: Mar 14 2014 08:59:38 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 14 2014 09:15:01 PM CDT

They target businesses and organizations under construction and claim to be all about fair wages.  But who's really behind the "Shame on" and "Labor Dispute" signs you've seen all around Wichita?

Viewers contacted FactFinder 12 Investigators wanting answers.

The Carpenters Local 201 are behind the signs and protests outside of Wichita State, the YMCA, and Central Christian Church to name a few.   They claim non-union contractors aren't paying standard wages and benefits for the area.

"It's more frustrating because the contractors and owners are dealing with it," says Danny Satterfield, owner of Danny Satterfield Drywall.

His drywall company is the reason protesters stand outside Wichita State.  He received a letter from the union claiming it investigated the wages and benefits he pays.  That investigation, the letter says, concluded wages and benefits Satterfield pays are less than the established area standard. 

The union even provided a form for him to fill out, asking him to prove them wrong and detail his hourly wages, health insurance, vacation and holiday pay for individual employees. 

The letter came from the Topeka Carpenters Union, who tells Eyewitness News it's connected to the Wichita union.

"We did receive a letter requesting wages and benefits for all our employees and if you don't follow through they would proceed with what they're doing now. To be quite honest it doesn't bother me. I know I pay my guys and I know what's true," says Satterfield.

FactFinder 12 wanted to know how the union gets salary information from private companies. 

Despite repeated attempts for an interview with the union, FactFinder 12 was unable to get information from union leaders to back up claims made.

"I don't talk to the media because you'll just twist my words," said union representative Chad Mabin in a phone call to FactFinder 12.  The call ended with "no comment."

FactFinder 12 also tried several times to reach leaders of the regional St. Louis based carpenters union, but calls were not returned.

But we did get some information from a man at one of the protest sites who didn't give his name.

Michael Schwanke: "Do you think it's working?"
Protester: "It's about area standard wages man."
Michael Schwanke: "Do you think these tactics are working?"
Protester: "This isn't really a tactic. This is just what you do."

The protester was handing out a flier at Central Christian Church that calls Wichita based Drywall Systems a "rat contractor" and claims it doesn't meet area labor standards for its carpenters.

"I know it's not true.  I know how I feel about my employees.  I know how hard I work on our relationships with our employees.  I know how hard we work on our relationships with our contractors," says Drywall Systems president Larry Higgins.

The protester told FactFinder 12 that the salary information for their investigations comes from workers, but wouldn't share that information.

"We verify in the field with the workers," says the protester.  He wouldn't say how much the workers are paid, or what is considered a "fair wage."

Satterfield says he would lose workers if he didn't have a fair wage and benefit package.

"I always feel that if someone has a beef they should be able to back it up. I support their right to protest anything they want. That's what makes America great. I don't have to agree with it but I support their right to do it," says Satterfield.

FactFinder 12 was told the protesters, both men and women holding the signs are not union members.  Although they would not tell us how much they're paid, they say it's "fair wage" for that type of work.

There has been a least one lawsuit filed against the union for these tactics.

Last year a federal appeals court upheld a $1.7 million jury verdict for an Atlanta drywall contractor. The union argued that its tactics were protected by free speech.  But a jury and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the union campaign was designed to coerce third parties to stop doing business with the company.