An area union is publicly targeting Newtown Athletic Club owner Jim Worthington, who says the attacks are unfair and bordering on harassment.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 has set up picket lines in front of the NAC as well as at Council Rock High School North. They’re protesting Worthington’s decision not to use union contractors on a multi-million dollar construction project at the health club.
The NAC is currently in the middle of making significant improvements to the facility, including construction of a new field house, turf field and outdoor pool complex complete with a lazy river.
Worthington said he considered hiring union contractors, but their bids were a third more expensive than non-union companies. He said it didn't make financial sense for his business to pay 30 percent more to get the job done.
“We hire local contractors that pay acceptable wages,” Worthington explained, adding he has nothing to do with how much the contractors pay their employees. He said the companies are local businesses that do quality work. “A lot of these are family owned businesses; they have their kids on the job.”
But the union has a different viewpoint.
“He’s not paying a living wage to the workers there,” said union spokesman Louis Agre. According to its website, IUOE Local 542 is based out of Fort Washington and represents heavy equipment operators in the building and construction industry, along with members who are employed at quarries, landfills, shipyards, breweries, manufacturing, airports, bridges and public works.
Worthington said the picketing and protesting has become more intense over the past few days, with union members staking out at the high school and distributing a flyer that says “Wanted” with his picture underneath.
The flyer reads “tell Jim to stop destroying the American middle class and hire contractors that pay their employees fairly.” It lists Worthington’s cell phone, his home address and his wife’s cell phone, something Worthington takes issue with.
Agre said if Worthington believes he or his family is being harassed he should call the police.
Worthington said he’s particularly frustrated that union members are trying to characterize him as greedy. “Lining my pockets, are you kidding? If they think this is some sort of money making machine, they are welcome to come take me over,” he said.
He added that he’s taken a lot of risk to make such extensive improvements in the current economic climate. “My business is not different than any other business in America. I invest a lot of what I have into growing this business.”
He said he believes the union members are missing the big picture – that he is a local job creator who is trying to offer a top-quality product to residents at a price that’s affordable.
“People like me get vilified. In the meantime, I have 400 employees and I’ll have another 100 this time next year.”