For two weeks, large inflatable rats and cats have been stationed in front of 20 Nassau Street, the site of the future Graduate Hotel, as part of a protest by construction workers in Mercer County.
Local workers from various labor unions are protesting the hotel contractor’s use of non-local workers who are not from Mercer County. The workers are from Academy Electric in Hammonton, where wages are lower than in Mercer County.
Robert Beerhalter, a representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 269, told Planet Princeton last week that unions in Mercer County fought for fair wages and benefits in the county for years. Most businesses are hiring local workers and paying the prevailing rate for workers, including Princeton University, Beerhalter said.
“We are here to let the public know the contractors are from out of the area and the hotel won’t pay them the wages we fought for,” Beerhalter said. “They are bringing contractors from outside the area and paying them a lot less. They also don’t get the standard benefits.”
A spokesperson for the Graduate Hotel has note responded to a request for comment about the issue.
Some business owners along Nassau Street have complained about the gas fumes from generators used to keep the rats and cat inflated, as well as the noise from the generators. They have also complained about protesters parking in metered spots all day and taking up too much space on the sidewalks in front of businesses. Planet Princeton contacted municipal administrator Bernard Hvozdovic about the business owners’ concerns on April 20, but Hvozdovic has not responded. The inflatable rats and cat were moved closer to the corner of the street this week to not interfere with customers of some of the eateries that have outdoor seating.
Beerhalter said the workers are exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech, and that they are protesting in space that is part of the public easement. He said they are not blocking the sidewalks.
“We just want a decent wage for our workers to make a living,” Beerhalter said. “When you bring in lower wages, what happens to local businesses? With lower wages, people can’t afford to visit the businesses, let alone live in the town.”