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Las Vegas Labor Protest Brought to L.A. Builder

April 02, 1999|NANCY CLEELAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 70 Las Vegas construction workers gathered outside the Los Angeles headquarters of building giant Kaufman & Broad Home Corp. on Thursday morning to protest what they called discriminatory and unjust working conditions.

"The companies grab onto the Hispanics, the Mexicans, and take advantage of them," said Pedro Andrade, an immigrant roofer who said he earned less than half of what U.S.-born roofers are paid on unionized commercial jobs along the Strip. "They cheat people. They work you seven days a week and don't pay overtime. They don't even give you water."

Spokesmen for Kaufman & Broad and its Las Vegas roofing subcontractor said the complaints were baseless and merely part of a union-organizing strategy. "It's utterly ridiculous," said Paul Schofield, an attorney for Willis Roofing.

The protest was timed to coincide with Kaufman & Broad's annual shareholders meeting Thursday. Organizers hoped to bring attention to a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of workers, accusing Willis Roofing of illegally withholding wages and charging for the use of safety equipment, among other practices.

Six prominent home builders, including Kaufman & Broad, were also named in the suit because they contract with Willis Roofing, which builds about 65% of the roofs on new homes in Las Vegas. "We have thousands of subcontractors," Kaufman & Broad spokesman Jeff Charney said. He added that Kaufman & Broad had no reason to believe the workers' charges.

Building trades organizer Allen Smith and four construction workers entered the annual meeting, holding proof of 100 shares, and briefly spoke about the lawsuit. "We told them they have a problem because they're using subcontractors who cheat people," Smith said. "They weren't happy."

Union activists have been trying to organize residential construction workers in Las Vegas for about two years. The workers are primarily Latino immigrants, many of them drawn from California by the Las Vegas construction boom.

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