May 3, 2023

Union Workers Protest Non-Local Labor at Graduate Hotel Site

LABOR ACTION: Union workers, with sign boards and giant inflatables, are continuing their demonstrations into the third week in front of the Graduate Hotel construction site on Nassau Street. The IBEW Local Union 269 electricians claim that Graduate Hotels has hired non-local workers in order to pay lower wages and benefits. (Photo by Jeffrey Tryon)

By Donald Gilpin

An inflatable giant rat, a pig, and a cat, along with a skinny Uncle Sam and an inflated image of a construction worker have towered over pedestrians and cars outside the Graduate Hotel under construction at the corner of Chambers and Nassau Streets.

A cluster of construction workers, members of the IBEW Local Union 269, has been standing on the edge of the street for several hours every day for more than two weeks, carrying signs and protesting the Graduate Hotels’ hiring of non-local workers.

“The contractor on site, Academy Electric, is not from this area and doesn’t pay the wages and maintain the standards that we fight for in Mercer County,” said Robert Beerhalter, one of the demonstrators and a representative of the union. “They’re from South Jersey — Hammonton. They’re cheating us and Mercer County.”

He continued, occasionally drowned out by passing cars honking their horns in support of the demonstrators, “The wages and standards that we fight for in Mercer County are able to support the businesses and living standards in the area, and the wages here don’t compare,” he said. “We’ve had great support from the community and local businesses. It would be nice to have a local contractor and local workers on this project.”

Work on the hotel has been ongoing since August 2021, with completion anticipated by the end of the year.  Graduate Hotels, which is run by AJ Capital Partners, focuses on college towns and has 30 other locations across the country and two in England.

IBEW Local Union 269 President Wayne DeAngelo, who is also a New Jersey assemblyman, emphasized that the protests would continue. “We want to give notice to the public that Academy Electric, contracted by Hunter Roberts Construction Group, is not paying their employees the level of wages and benefits that have been established in this area. New Jersey states a prevailing wage in Mercer County, and we’re informing the public that this employer is paying substandard wages. We have also asked them about health and retirement benefits and we got no answer.”

De Angelo continued, “We’re letting

the community know that this employer is not a good neighbor. We like to see local people on local jobs, people who live in the community or at least the greater Mercer County area.”

He explained that the large rat is a universal symbol for labor unrest. “People drive by and they know someone’s on strike, on the picket line,” he added. “Often they can’t slow down, but they know that some sort of job action is taking place. We want to make sure the community gets the message.”

A flier distributed by the electricians of IBEW Local 269 contends that Graduate Hotels “is simply interested in promoting corporate greed and other selfish interests rather than the welfare of Mercer County families.”  It goes on, “We believe that by renovating their new hotel on Nassau Street in Princeton, Graduate Hotels has endorsed lower wages, fringe benefits, and lower living standards for Mercer County residents by contracting with a general contractor that does not pay its employees the area standard for wages and fringe benefits.”

Princeton Municipal Administrator Bernie Hvozdovic noted that there have been some complaints from local businesses about the presence of the demonstrators and their giant inflatables, but that the protestors were complying with all laws. Officials from various departments, including police and health, have been sent out to observe and address any problems to the extent possible.

Corporate headquarters at Graduate Hotels and Hunter Roberts Construction did not respond to requests for comment on IBEW Local 269’s charges.