Workers underpaid by firms renovating fancy mid-Market offices

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A giant thumbs down showed up outside developer Group I's Bush Street headquarters today.
Guardian photo by Rebecca Bowe

Union members from San Francisco Carpenters Local 22 were distributing flyers outside a developer’s Bush Street headquarters this week, upset that the company hired contractors who don’t pay union scale wages. "Hurting workers!" The bright orange flyers screamed. "Shame on them!"

The developer is Group I, headed by Joy Ou. In addition to being the CEO of the development firm, Ou is also listed on state licensing records as the principal officer of Construction Studios, Inc., one of the general contracting firms singled out on the flyer. Ou did not return Guardian calls seeking comment.

Group I is conducting office renovations at 988 Market Street, a 1920s-era building located at Sixth and Market streets adjacent to the Warfield Theater. Group I purchased the Warfield office building from David Addington. It is a prominent location: when Mayor Ed Lee ran for election in 2011, his campaign office was headquartered there. The building is also included among mid-Market properties eligible for payroll tax exclusion under a program hashed out in 2011 to revitalize the central Market corridor.

Of the multiple floors under renovation, two will house Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in tech startups. Tech startup companies are poised to move in just below. It’s unclear whether these businesses will apply for the payroll tax break.

According to Bill Gerber of Tico Construction Co., a contractor tapped to conduct some of the renovations, the workers he’s hired actually are earning union-scale wages. “Tico is running it as a union job,” he said. “We are paying area wages.”

But Scott Littlehale, a spokesperson for the carpenters’ union, told the Guardian that Gerber never responded when the union asked him if Tico pays area standard wages on all jobs. “What we believe is that the developer in this case, Group I, has not required its contractors to pay area wages all the time on all its jobs,” Littlehale said. “This is a labor market that extends beyond a single job site.”

Under California law, workers employed on city-funded projects must pay the prevailing wage, which is $38.50 an hour for carpenters before benefits are factored in, according to the Department of Industrial Relations. Since 988 Market is not a publicly funded project, it’s not bound to this requirement.

Nevertheless, the idea that construction crews are working for less than the area standard in San Francisco's burgeoning economic climate – to renovate space for a venture-capital firm that will qualify for a payroll-tax exclusion – raises questions about whether this kind of development is actually helping struggling workers recover from the economic hit of the last several years. Group I stands to make top dollar by renting its office spaces out to tenants heavily invested in the booming tech industry. Meanwhile, San Francisco is becoming increasingly unaffordable for skilled laborers.

Construction gigs are temporary by nature, and Littlehale said many union members earn less than the area median income. “Construction work had been a pathway to fairly stable middle class standards, and that’s under threat,” Littlehale said. “The big picture is: We’re going to hold the folks up the food chain accountable.”

Comments

not what some union says?

Radical? Outrageous? You tell me.

But if inflation is the problem, then finding the best value employee makes sense.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

instead of as little as they can get away with, then there wouldn't be any need for unions.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 6:12 pm

more than they are worth?

How revealing.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

Unions are supposed to exist to promote workplace democracy.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

Their leaders are notorious for using strongarm tactics and for being corrupt.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 7:42 am

Unions are a lot more democratic than the plutocratic corporations.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

No union ever asked me to vote on their policies.

Posted by anon on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

ever belonged to a labor union because if he had, he would understand the varying degrees of organizational democracy that labor unions employ.

Thoughtful readers know that private corporations never ask the general public to vote on their policies. Shareholders get to vote sometimes, but the plutocratic formula is one share, one vote, not the one person, one vote model employed by labor unions and in public elections for office or propositions.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:06 am

there was zero democracy, the "elections" were a sham, and the union leaders did whatever theyw anted to do regardless of whether it benefited the members or not.

Posted by anon on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:31 am

But not as democratic and agile as they need to be if they intend to avoid extinction.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 9:24 am

and all things progressive. Why? It's due to a shortcoming in democracy...

by which he means that he's not done pissing all over everything decent and if he was put in a position of "authoritah" we'd all be so much the happier: marcosocracy.

Thank you oh great marcos. We hang on every word.

Posted by u spill bacillin on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:26 am

Failure to adapt means certain extinction, that is not just the law, it is a good idea.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 9:31 am

relevance only in the public sector and a few "old school" businesses like trucking and the docks.

Posted by anon on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:32 am

Inflation in the healthcare system should only be directed upwards and should squeeze dry patient and providers alike!

Posted by marcos on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

A gentrifier of the mission?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

Sez you, troll.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

a predominantly low-income POC area is contributing to the gentrification and ethnic cleansing of that neighborhood.

Posted by anon on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

Affluent? I thought you thought I was a loser. Perhaps you should take come time to collect your thoughts?

Posted by marcos on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

thru luck, without deserving it at all.

99 times out of 100, you'd still be squatting in a rent-controlled rathole.

Posted by anon on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

But your tax dollars ended up finding their way into my pocket courtesy of Willie Brown and Calvin Welch, so I'm here as long as I want to be here.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 9:23 am

which goes to other equally undeserving parasites.

If I could only prosper by means of a handout, I'd feel ashamed.

Posted by anon on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:30 am

there is no bigger handout in San Francisco than the "wealth" created from converting rental housing into TIC's and condominiums. Free money with no productive economic activity.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:41 am

A handout is the government throwing money at you merely because you are the member of a certain class

A profit is what you (may) earn when you take a risk, commit capital and work at an enterrpise. The city doesn't not give owners grants or handouts to TIC a building - it is funded privately

Posted by anon on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 11:04 am

A handout is government carving out an exception in the law to encourage condo conversions and reward the destruction of rent controlled housing.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 9:33 am

And if you're talking about TIC's going condo, they will lose rent control anyway as soon as they go condo.

Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 9:38 am

Thanks Local 22
Keep up the good work..

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

Rebecca,

Very interesting article. My understanding is that SFBG is now located at 225 Bush Street. I assume SFBG is leasing the space but was wondering if owner/manager of 225 Bush Street also pays prevailing Union wage for work on SFBG suites or any other suite at 225 Bush. It appears that there are a number of scheduled upcoming projects at 225 Bush involving numerous trades. While there may be no legal mandate to pay prevailing wage I would assume SFBG would of course demand the same as required by City funded projects so as to ensure workers in your building have the same pathway to middle class standards. Please let us know;
http://dbiweb.sfgov.org/dbipts/default.aspx?page=AddressData2&ShowPanel=BID

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

Rebecca,

Very interesting article. My understanding is that SFBG is now located at 225 Bush Street. I assume SFBG is leasing the space but was wondering if owner/manager of 225 Bush Street also pays prevailing Union wage for work on SFBG suites or any other suite at 225 Bush. It appears that there are a number of scheduled upcoming projects at 225 Bush involving numerous trades. While there may be no legal mandate to pay prevailing wage I would assume SFBG would of course demand the same as required by City funded projects so as to ensure workers in your building have the same pathway to middle class standards. Please let us know;
http://dbiweb.sfgov.org/dbipts/default.aspx?page=AddressData2&ShowPanel=BID

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

As we all know, union representation is appropriate for all organizations, except the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 6:43 am

Yes 225 Bush requires union workers for even small trade jobs. I know first hand and have done work there.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 8:17 am

As a TL resident I know the local crews at this site are getting paid prevailing wage and hiring more SF carpenters than Local 22 does. Local 22 shows interest in people of color and women only when it's time to distribute their flyers containing bogus information.

Check Local 22's history, even their own members protest against them. Not surprising they're picking on a local, Asian, small, woman-owned business - all characteristics representing what they do not. Too bad the Guardian was too lazy to do so. Is the Guardian also anti-Asian and anti-woman?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

minority" thing. Progressives only like non-whites who buy into victimhood and card playing.

Posted by anon on Mar. 09, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

Despite (or because of) their strong work ethic and family ties many progressives view them with suspicion and anger. They're not voting the way they're supposed to these days and that makes many progressives very disturbed.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 10, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

Once again, I challenge you to produce a single quote that I've ever made saying anything derogatory against asians, let alone a "rant."

It is you who go on racist rants, saying things like "blacks should be grateful to Europeans for their enslavement."

Posted by Greg on Mar. 10, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

Greg gets to accuse people of racism and bigotry for purely not agreeing with his opinions as fact. Now Greg wants concrete data around his racism concerning his views on Asians?

This really is high comedy.

Keep screaming Greg, your mother will care.

Posted by matlock on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 12:51 am

He has a long history of hate based on all kinds of classifications and stereotypes. In fact, he rarely posts without exhibiting bias and prejudice for or against people based purely on their membership of some class.

Examples. He regularly hates on landlords, cops, capitalists, republicans, christians and anyone who isn't a fully paid-up socialist. He also routinely appears to hate America, citing a preference for all manner of shitholes around the globe.

He shows the not uncommon progressive trait of hating on white people, even though he surely is white himself. But then he panders to non-whites, but only if they are hispanic or black. He hates Asians even more than whites because Asians know how to play the game, and show up how weak the excuse of "not being white" really is.

The model minority is anathema to Greg.

Posted by anon on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 6:16 am

No evidence, just baseless smears. It's no wonder that all the usual trolls come out and defend Lucretia the Troll.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 6:55 am

people do to you what you try and do to them?

When your go to position is howling racism or bigotry you're upset now of all times?

Posted by matlock on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 7:19 am

recently giving him high kudos as a fellow avant-gard type thinking.

Also recently, some people observed that matlock had forsaken some of his well known verbal tics, such as "heh" and "hum"... which leads me to think marcos of late has been having conversations with himself using that identity.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 8:35 am

Lucretia and anon have developed the personal attack strategy to an artform in order to discredit anyone who promotes economic justice. Since you're one of the few thoughtful and informed posters on this site, and since ideas have power, they spend considerable time trying to smear you or waste your time in their mud-wrestling pit. Anon and Lucretia have both admitted to being pasasitic economic exploiters, part of the small group of people they define as "winners," while many of us SFBG readers are the so-called "losers." Why they need to post daily hateful thoughts on this site speaks for itself.

Let them spend their time with the few others on this site who also enjoy resorting to personal attacks and wasted verbal jabbing. Anyone of import who glances over the comments section and sees another of their untruthful and hateful posts will understand Lucretia and anon for who they are.

Posted by guest on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:37 am

for his or her insightful comment and invites this thoughtful commenter into its ranks.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:53 am

and anyone who happens to disagree with him, then and only then will he br granted credibility.

Posted by guest on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 11:06 am

that anon is imping the "guest" name from the above thoughtful commenter in order to discredit him or her.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 11:28 am

But now you claim it is more than one.

Which is it? were you lying then or are you lying now?

And why never offer any serious commentary, but just throw insults around? Nothing interesting to say?

Posted by anon on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 11:52 am

that no matter what screen name he uses, he will never be part of the SFASC because membership is open only to thoughtful commenters.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 11:59 am
Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 9:38 am

Clearly, discerning individuality from anonymity is much more important than the substance of what passes for discourse from these failed Turing Tests.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 9:56 am

after our state's only Japanese-American senator was motivated solely by pure anti-Asian animus. How do I know? Because you claimed any opposition to renaming the airport "Harvey Milk International" was motivated solely by homophobia. I took the line you drew and used it to draw out your own prejudice and hatred, which is clearly driven by your white male privilege.

Then let's add your mutterings about Rose Pak, someone who upsets you because she's both a powerful woman and an Asian. The eyes of the masses are bright and clear as snow Greg - we see your bigotry as plain as day.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

The SFBG- a paper that busted union organizing efforts in the 1970s and fired employees who tried to organize a union, is not upset that unions are not getting all the contract work downtown. Do what as I say, not as I do.

Posted by Whackamole on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 7:32 am

Where is your proof that these firms are not paying area wages? The one contractor you asked said that they were. Your only proof is because some guy in the union didn't get a return phone call from a contractor?

Either I'm missing something here or you are being irresponsible in the headline of this post.

(And for the record, I can't decide which is more moronic: all the "Greg hates Asians" shit that goes on in the comments, or the SFASC "contributions" to the discussions).

Posted by GuestD on Mar. 11, 2013 @ 1:13 pm