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Derecho Workers Receive Late Pay

Four men in neon yellow work vests and face masks hold signs that say "Stop wage theft, BluSky, Pablo Ramirez, Nuestro comunidad, esta mirando, We work hard for our pay."
Courtesy The Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa
The rally to speak out for the workers who hadn't received pay was canceled on Friday after the construction executives agreed to not only meet with community advocates, but to also pay the workers in full.

A month’s dispute between six construction workers and their employer over derecho cleanup pay has come to an end after the company agreed to pay the employees in full.

Community-led groups canceled their planned rally this past Friday after meeting with BluSky Construction executives. They were advocating for six construction workers who said they did not receive pay for almost a month from subcontractor Pablo Ramirez. The workers had come from Texas to help rebuild Cedar Rapids after the derecho in August.

Royce Peterson, the lead business representative for Eastern Iowa, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, participated in the meeting with construction executives Friday morning. He said after hearing the workers were owed more than $35,000 and removed from their provided housing, the community came together to give them food and shelter. Peterson said the workers were thankful for the support.

“If we ever come to Texas, we have a home with them,” Peterson said while chuckling.

All six workers received their payment in full early Saturday. They plan on immediately going back to Texas.

“I mean, I don't blame them. They've been through a lot," Peterson said. "I'm sure this has been a very stressful ordeal for them.”

Peterson said the construction executives were very reasonable and agreed to more closely watch subcontractor practices.

This agreement comes after a week of community outreach. Peterson, along with the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, the Johnson County Interfaith Council, Rep. Art Staed and other local religious and community organizations had attempted to reach out to the subcontractor before meeting with executives. Peterson said they were turned away.

He said the practice of construction workers not receiving pay is not as rare as it may seem. He described how it is relatively common for construction managers or companies to claim the work was not completed properly, then refuse to pay the laborers.

In the press release that announced the workers had received their paychecks, the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa said: "This is also a shocking reminder that these kinds of abuses are far too common in our state, and we need stronger laws to hold employers accountable.”

Although Peterson said the initial lack of pay for the workers was not a positive situation, it ended well and showed an aspect of living in Iowa.

"It was awesome, the outpour from the community as far as helping them with food and, and board and everything. That's great. It makes me proud to be an Iowan," Peterson said.

Peterson is confident that although the city lost some construction workers in a complicated ordeal, the community in Cedar Rapids should still stay on track to recovering from the derecho.