Labor group complains about Dundalk High asbestos contractor

Company's lawyer calls allegations 'totally false'

June 17, 2013|By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

A labor group is alleging that a supervisor with an asbestos abatement contractor at Dundalk High School pressured workers to drink alcohol on the job and violated safety standards.

The company's attorney called the accusation "totally false" and said it is part of the group's strategy to unionize asbestos workers.

The Laborers' Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition said that some workers complained last month that the Colt Insulation site supervisor brought alcohol to the location. The workers "were peer-pressured and humiliated" by the supervisor, said Ernest Ojito, lead organizer with the coalition's asbestos campaign, adding that a worker also complained that the site didn't follow proper safety procedures during asbestos removal.

A spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment said the agency received a complaint and is investigating.

Workers were removing asbestos from the school's music wing and auditorium, Baltimore County schools spokesman Mychael Dickerson said. The school is set to be demolished this summer, and the asbestos must be abated to keep fibers from escaping into the surrounding community when workers tear down the building, he said. A new high school is opening in Dundalk in the coming school year.

The abatement was done on weekends, he said. More asbestos work is scheduled for this summer, he said.

Colt Insulation's attorney, Jerald Oppel, called the union's allegations "totally false." Oppel said the labor group has tried unsuccessfully to organize temporary employees who are supervised by Colt, which is based in Baltimore. Oppel said the workers are employed by Bergman Brothers Staffing.

"What they couldn't do legally, they're going to try to do with innuendo and inflatable rats," Oppel said, referring to a rally at the job site this month with a giant inflatable rat. "They're using bogus safety concerns to motivate public opinions."

Ojito said leaders with his group "constantly are reaching out to workers" in the asbestos industry. "We go to all work sites and pass out cards," he said.

The industry employs many workers who are undocumented, he said. Many speak only Spanish and face language barriers if they want to complain about safety concerns, he said.

"Usually, people in this industry don't have other options to work," Ojito said.

Dickerson said school officials have contacted Colt "to see if the allegations were true."

"It's our expectation that all contractors and their employees act appropriately while they're on school property," Dickerson said.

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