This story was updated at 10:50 a.m. on June 26, 2012.
A group of nearly a dozen construction workers gathered June 20 outside the gates of the National Institute of Standards of Technology for the second time to protest against what they say was repeated abuse and harassment they faced at a NIST job site.
The workers, former employees of L&M Construction of Capitol Heights, an asbestos abatement contractor hired by NIST, say they often were verbally abused and intimidated by L&M management. Several of the workers say they were fired or their hours were severally reduced for complaining about the abuse.
“Any employment should be secure, but in this case they just [found something] to lay off the workers that complained,” Dora Martinez, a former L&M Construction employee, said through an interpreter.
L&M administrators did not return three messages left for comment.
Martinez said her supervisors often yelled at her and, in one instance, held her captive in an office until she agreed to sign a complaint form filed against her that alleged she had harassed another employee.
Martinez said she and 11 other workers tried to form an employee union last year and subsequently faced harassment and even threats. She said she was fired in May after months of reduced hours, often called to work just a single hour in a day.
Martinez and others have filed complaints about these issues to the National Labor Relations Board, the most recent in May 21.
Tony Wagner, a spokesman for NLRB, said the May complaint is still under investigation. An earlier complaint by employees of L&M, filed in February and claiming that workers were unfairly prevented from forming a worker’s union, ended in a settlement April 23 requiring the company to post notices of employees’ rights to form unions.
Steve Lanning, a spokesman for the Laborers’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition, a workers’ rights group, said the group is protesting in front of NIST in hopes the federal agency will come to their aid. He said NIST representatives should be responsible for its contracts.
“Rather than assisting the workers, [NIST] has taken the lead on the company’s union-busting efforts,” he wrote in a statement.
Lanning said his group is working to get the workers reinstated.
NIST spokeswoman Jennifer Huergo wrote in an email that L&M or its employees have not directly complained or brought allegations to the institute. She wrote that NIST administrators are unaware of any safety or licensing violations or other legal actions against any contractors working within it.
She wrote that the laws governing contracts do not permit her organization to terminate its contract with L&M based on allegations and that NIST is working with both the NLRB and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in their investigations into allegations against L&M.
Huergo wrote that Lanning’s claim of “union busting” is incorrect and that NIST has no role in unionizing efforts by a contractor’s employees.
Lanning said the workers will continue showing up periodically outside the gates of NIST to make their complaints heard.