Building Trades take to the streets to keep heat on non-union developer

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Summer in downtown Minneapolis has been long and hot, but especially for developer Ned Abdul. Abdul is the target of the Minnesota Building Construction Organizing Taskforce working to expose and stop unjust labor practices.

Abdul is the owner of Swervo Development and a partner in the redevelopment of the former Whitney Hotel into condominiums. Workers there, the Taskforce reported, said they were paid in cash, didn’t receive safety training, worked 12 hours a day six days a week, received no overtime pay, and received no health or retirement benefits.

“It’s really sad to see a historic building like that being redeveloped by bad development policies,” said Al Kearney, director of organizing for the Laborers District Council.

“More than anything, what distinguishes good development and bad development is safety on the job,” he noted. And, he added, “if you want a skilled, productive, qualified worker,” they come with a price.

Since a March 25 kick-off, the Taskforce has been on the streets in downtown Minneapolis three days a week to expose Abdul’s practices. The Taskforce created eight 16-foot “billboards” that read “Shame on Swervo and Whitney Partners, LLC. Tell Ned Abdul to Stop Exploiting Workers.”

Tuesdays Building Trades workers stand with the billboards at locations across downtown. Thursdays the billboards line Nicollet Mall during lunch hour. Saturdays they stand outside an open house at the Whitney site.

Passers-by often ask, “what’s this all about?” Kearney said. When they hear about the Whitney workers’ treatment, he said, “they’re shocked… They tell us to keep up the good fight.”

Kearney said the Taskforce’s very public campaign aims to discourage any other developer from emulating Ned Abdul.

“We estimate we’re hitting 50,000 people a week with these billboards,” he said.

The Taskforce also has met with city officials, Kearney reported. “We now have a working group… made up of city officials and labor representatives to discover how to stop this type of exploitation through the permitting process.”

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