ROSE HILL–Recently, the New York City & Vicinity District Council of Carpenters has been protesting the construction at Faber Hall with a large, inflatable rat that many students have noticed. The rat has been parked on the corner of E. 191st St. and Bathgate Ave intermittently for the past two weeks.
This protest, led by Council Representatives Michael Odenthal and Brian Brady, is in response to the lack of union workers and health benefits for the employees working on the Faber renovation. Faber, which is located behind Collins Hall and houses the Modern Languages department in addition to serving as a Jesuit residence, is being converted into a new dining and lecture space for campus events. The renovation is part of an ongoing plan to enhance both Faber and nearby Loyola Hall to free up classroom space in Keating and create more spaces for events.
According to Mr. Odenthal, the Council is seeking to even the playing field and ensure that workers are being treated fairly: “The dispute is about area standard wages and benefits…We put up the rat because they don’t want to negotiate with us. Usually when we put the inflatable rat up, we get the dialect going…usually come to some kind of mediation, but they refuse to talk to us. We’ll sit here with the rat until they do…we’ll stay until the issue’s resolved.”
The Council’s argument is that because Mamais Contracting, the company doing the work, is not using unionized laborers or providing benefits to their employees, which lowers the standards for all carpenters. The Council, which has over 23,000 members of its own, is trying to negotiate with Vincent Burke, the Director of Capital Programs and Planning, who is organizing and overseeing the project. Mr. Burke could not be reached for comment at the time this article was published.
However, students do not seem to be as intrigued by the protest as the Council may have hoped. Jonathan O’Neill, FCRH ’15 and resident of nearby Walsh Hall, says, “No one I’ve talked to knows why [the rat is] there other than as a vague protest, which seems at this point to be par for the course…they become the talk of the town for a while without providing a lot of information for discussion.”
Fordham College senior, Becky Daily, an off-campus resident, is also skeptical of the protest’s effect on the student body. “At first I assumed [the rat] was for Halloween, or a joke about the size of rats in the Bronx, but then I heard that it was about non-unionized workers,” Daily says.
Andrew Maitner, FCRH ’14 and Campbell Hall resident, agrees: “I knew it was meant to be some kind of statement, but I don’t know if it’s the best way to go about it. I feel like that’s not really an effective way to show what the workers want, they should do something in writing. The rat is just kind of there…most people are seeing it as a big joke.”
Odenthal and Brady still hope to reach a conclusion on the issue, regardless of the student body’s involvement. “We’re not against the workers, this is not about being union or non-union. We feel that if you’re going to do carpentry, there should be an area standard wage and benefit package,” Odenthal adds. “You shouldn’t lower our standards by hiring irresponsible contractors that aren’t gonna pay their workers. Nobody benefits from that.”