United Properties must respect workers’ rights on their senior housing projects

Company President Bill Katter received an award despite a record of using exploitative subcontractors

September 23, 2022 6:00 am

CTUL construction workers and organizers hold up signs outside the award ceremony for United Properties President Bill Katter on Sept. 22, 2022. Photo submitted by Shiraz Mukarram.

United Properties president and Chief Investment Officer Bill Katter received the President’s Award Thursday — that’s the highest honor from the Minnesota chapter of real estate development association NAIOP. The President’s Award “recognizes outstanding service to the commercial real estate industry… and to the community.” 

Our community, however, sees routine abuse, wage theft and safety violations at the hands of bad-actor construction subcontractors that have been used on United Properties’ senior housing projects. 

While we applaud Katter for ensuring workers’ rights on United Properties’ high-profile, commercial and mixed-use projects through partnerships with the building trades unions, we wonder why the same standards can’t be applied to their residential projects. 

The truth is, the metro area contains two rapidly diverging construction industries. 

On commercial and mixed-use projects, union signatory contractors offer workers a decent wage, worker’s compensation, and proper safety protocols. 

But in the non-union residential sector, worker abuse and wage theft rule the day. A recent study found that 25% of non-union construction workers in Minnesota experience some form of wage theft or payroll fraud. Here at our workers’ center in south Minneapolis, we frequently have construction workers walk in our door owed tens of thousands by exploitative subcontractors. 

Unfortunately, United Properties has chosen to use some of the exploitative subcontractors on their senior housing projects. For example, subcontracting companies Absolute Drywall and Constante Construction, LLC worked on United Properties’ Amira Bloomington project (formerly known as The POINTE of Bloomington). 

Earlier this year, Absolute Drywall was among the companies that collectively failed to pay more than $100,000 in wages to workers on the Wilf family’s Viking Lakes project — adding to the company’s history of violations, which includes previous wage theft findings, misclassifying workers, and a violation of child labor law. 

Subcontractor Constante Construction, LLC, has misclassified workers and retaliated against a worker they suspected of cooperating with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The leader of Constante Construction threatened the worker with physical violence and fired them without just cause, according to an investigation by DLI.

Especially worrisome is that United Properties has set a goal to triple the number of senior housing developments they build — meaning, potentially, triple the number of projects that may have exploitative subcontractors. Over the past year, CTUL has worked hard to meet with Katter and inform him of these potential abuses, but to no avail. 

Which is why Thursday we were forced to take action. CTUL members, alongside allies from North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, students, and community members joined together to demonstrate at the award ceremony honoring Katter. The demonstrators carried signs reading “Bill Katter: Meet with CTUL construction workers” and “Workers’ rights on all United Projects” while handing out fliers that detailed United Properties’ record of working with contractors that have violated workers’ rights. 

Daniel Sanchez, a construction worker and member of CTUL at the demonstration, said that an exploitative subcontractor owes him $110,000. “We, the workers, are essential. We cannot build a community without workers. We as humans deserve dignity and respect,” he said.  

The good news is there’s a solution. Bill Katter could be the first metro developer to sign into the worker-designed Building Dignity and Respect Program (BDR). In doing so, United Properties would make a commitment to using law-abiding subcontractors, as well as ensuring rigorous mechanisms for worker education, monitoring and compliance on all of their job sites. 

Worker exploitation shouldn’t be rewarded. Katter should meet with and listen to construction workers before United Properties expands their senior housing business model — and in doing so he can truly take the steps necessary to earn an award for “outstanding service…to the community.”

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Veronica Mendez Moore
Veronica Mendez Moore

Veronica Mendez Moore is the co-director of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, a non-profit worker center in Minneapolis.