Nearly one out of four of the 4,300 members of Local Union 98 are out of work, union officials have reported, so members have been protesting construction at a Mount Airy health facility.
A halt in steady contracting opportunities have left the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) with few options, so they have decided to speak out.
Local 98 worker Clark Hamilton had only three months of steady work last year. “Lately I’m just going stir crazy–I’ve worked since I was 12. I need to get up in the morning and go somewhere–I just need to go to work,” he said.
Hamilton is recently divorced and with no steady income his lack of work “was kind of the icing on the cake to finish the marriage,” he said. To fill his days, the Port Richmond resident goes bike riding and runs in the park. He said he is fortunate enough that his bills are low, so he is able to provide for himself.
Hamilton is just one of the many who are confronting the bitter reality of a jobless life. Local 98 Business Representative Mike Hnatkowsky is all too familiar with the destructive habits developed by unemployed union workers, not to mention the threat that idle time and an empty bank account brings to a stable marriage and family life.
The union official said the most frequent problems plaguing the unemployed are high divorce rates, alcoholism and drug abuse. “It’s a self-esteem issue,” Hnatkowsky said on the corner of Germantown Avenue and Johnson Streets where he and union members are protesting the hiring of non-union electricians for a job.
The Caring Heart Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on 6445 Germantown Ave. has hired contractors from New York to perform work on the building, said Hnatkowsky, who said that some of the workers were sleeping on the third floor in the evenings. Hnatkowksy questioned the motives behind both the facility and the contracting companies hired to do the work. “There’s multiple issues here, but what it really comes down to is are these workers being hired legal citizens and, if not, are they being taken advantage of for cheap work?” he said.
Passing out fliers to cars on Germantown Avenue since Monday, Local 98 members will be protesting the hire three days a week until their questions are answered.
Electrician Edwin Santana is one of hundreds of electricians in the union out of work in Philadelphia. “I could be doing work inside the [Caring Heart Nursing and Rehabilitation Center], but instead I’m spending my time out here with these other guys handing out fliers,” Santana said.
By hiring outside workers to come in and do this work, the contracting companies from New York, East Coast and WA Contracting, are avoiding paying taxes. These workers are not paid or compensated in the same way that a member of the union would be.
Multiple attempts to contact the administration at the Caring Heart and Nursing Rehabilitation Center have been made with no response. “Who‘s being cheated here?” Hnatkowsky asked. “Are you telling me there aren’t enough out of work people living in this area qualified for this type of work?”