Easter Sunday, April 4,
marked the 53rd anniversary of the assassination
of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Reverend Dr. King had
been in Memphis helping sanitation workers to fight for
better wages and working conditions. It was King’s final
cause coming just days before he preached his famous last
sermon: “I’ve been to the mountain top and seen the promised
King’s support of the
Memphis garbage collectors’ strike for dignity and fair
wages marked a shift in the civil rights movement from an
emphasis mainly focused on “class-based” racial equality to
worker’s rights and economic injustice.
Fifty-three years later,
President Joe Biden has also championed several pro-union
measures that “dramatically enhance the power of workers to
organize and collectively bargain for better wages and
fringe benefits.” Biden recently encouraged the House of
Representatives to pass the “PRO Act,” a bill that makes it
“easier for workers to unionize, strike, and bargain for
better wages and working conditions,” according to People’s
World online news. Biden’s stance on empowering workers
represents a dramatic shift from former President Donald
Trump’s administration, which favored employers and their
ability to classify workers as independent contractors
rather than employees. The classification, critics say,
“exploits workers in order to keep costs low for the
All of this came to a head
last week in Toledo when a few dozen members of the Indiana
Kentucky Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters union picketed
a construction site in North Toledo’s Vistula neighborhood.
The contractor is ARK
Restoration & Construction, owned by Ambrea (an
African-American woman) and Kevin Mikolajczyk. The company
is converting the old Wonder Bread into 33 market rental
apartments in a $7.5 million renovation project.
What’s Race Got To do With
Much has been made about
the targeting of a black female-owned business by
“protesters who are mainly “middle-aged white men from the
suburbs, marching around the construction site shouting ‘No
Justice No Peace’.”
“Not so,” Mike Gibson,
senior representative of the Indiana Kentucky Ohio Regional
Council of Carpenters, says in rebutting the racial motive.
“ARK Restoration subcontracted carpenter work to a
contractor (KCS) that we feel is less than the area
standards for that type of work, and that’s the story, and
that’s the story behind the story,” he insists. “It’s not
Ambrea or Kevin. It’s the contractor, KCS Contracting, that
we are taking the issue with. KCS is a non-area standard
Others went even further
in their criticism of KCS, which works as a drywall
subcontractor for ARK Restoration.
“He’s a bad actor,” said a
credible source with experience over many development
projects but whose statements we were unable to confirm.
“They’re not after Ambrea. She’s using one of the most
notorious wage theft, wage rip-off, human rights-suppressing
contractors. [People] are having problems with KCS
everywhere. He gives people a really rock-bottom price and
then takes it out of his work saving wages, taxes, and
benefits. I don’t know how far into the project Ambrea is.
Still, this guy needs to step up, pay standard wages for the
area, which he never does, pays people under the table, and
uses some people that live in the shadows that he can
exploit,” the source added.
Why Was the ARK Project
Although there are at
least 10 other current projects using KCS as their drywall
subcontractor, the union targeted ARK Restoration for
protest because the site “offered the most exposure on a
main vein in and out of Toledo,” Gibson says.
Ambrea also came out hard
publicly against the union’s controversial proposal to
require a license for drywall installers in early 2020,
appearing on the Jerry Anderson Show with the owner of KCS
Construction. She likely is being perceived as “being in bed
with the enemy.”
Ambrea acknowledges that
she was vocal about the drywall ordinance that the
Carpenters’ union had proposed because it hindered Black and
Brown access to the construction field. “First of all, the
training facilities are in the suburbs. I have guys who ride
their bikes to work or carpool. How are they then going to
get to the suburbs, train, and then take this test? It would
be an opportunity to force us to use the union only and
drive out others. I didn’t think it was fair,” she
ARK – which is
constructing the project on tight margins, also indicated
that KCS has been a great partner who shows up, performs
their work safely, and is respectful. “They’re my nonunion
company and, also, my company is nonunion, but my other
contractors are for the most part, union companies. I know
they’ve been dragged through the mud, but it is not our
experience,” said Mikolajczyk.
Where are the Carpenters’
Union Minority Workers?
Gilbert insists that the
Carpenters union has data that shows the number of minority
and female union members and apprentices. The information
was requested but has not yet been provided. The union touts
its minority outreach efforts and partnerships with Pathways
and TPS to recruit apprentices.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Ambrea Mikolajczyk is a
minority entrepreneur and an excellent developer. She has
been willing to take financial risks to better her
community. She is exactly what our community needs. Some
feel that the Carpenters’ union has bullied her after
putting her and her husband Kevin’s lives and livelihood on
the line risking all to invest in the historic Vistula
Others, however, feel that
the situation can be best described as “a dog bringing a
bone to Ambrea’s yard.” The metaphor brings to mind the old
wisdom that says, “beware of the dog that brings you the
bone. It will only wreck your happy home.”
The best thing to do is
find a way to bring both parties together in a room to talk,
a process that is agreeable to Gilbert.
However, emotions are
still high for Ambrea. “It very much feels as if this is a
personal attack and a stain on my reputation and everything
that we’ve built, everything that we’re trying to do in the
community. But I have no problem sitting down to talk with
them,” she divulged.
Then, ARK Restoration and
the union can find a way to put the dignity in labor
That is what Dr. King
attempted to do 53 years ago.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at