3rd in a Series
By ED FINKELSTEIN
According to an investigative news report on KMOV Channel 4, the general contractor hired to remodel both Sumner and Roosevelt High Schools – Raineri Construction — is not licensed to clean up lead which the St. Louis Public School District and Raineri knew was in the buildings as they were built before 1980 when lead was a standard component in paints.
Raineri has hired two subcontractors — Huddy Painting (at Sumner) and Rice Painting (at Roosevelt) — to do the paint removal and repainting work. According to the Painters & Allied Trades District Council 2, neither of these subs is licensed to do lead paint removal either.
According to a July 1 report from the St. Louis Public Schools, after a Painters’ investigation went public at a June 27 School Board meeting showing substantial lead paint residue scattered all over the floors of the two schools in violation of federal standards, the school said that they discovered “the presence of lead dust in excel of Federal and State standards…”
The paint was not only in the schools, but also in the surrounding Sumner High School neighborhood where there is a children’s daycare center some 30 yards from the school and a cluster of churches of many denominations within a one to two block area, including the Homer G. Phillips Health Center. The Painters union found contaminated paint chips on sidewalks around Sumner High School.
What makes this particularly galling to the Painters is that the Request For Proposal (RFP) made specific safety demands which union contractors fulfilled in their bids. Raineri’s $4.4 million bid was $1.8 million below three other bids. Interestingly enough, the three other bids were all in a $6.2 to $6.6 million range, which indicates a realistic range to fulfill the RFP’s demands… if you’re not cutting corners.
“We’re concerned for two key reasons,” said District Council 2 Organizer Page Lucks:
• First and foremost, “there is the safety of the children that will be in those schools,” he told the Labor Tribune. “Lead dust is everywhere and no amount of ‘cleaning’ is going to eliminate it entirely, which means kids will be exposed to it. And we all know the hazards to kids from lead dust.” The school district says Raineri has agreed to clean the schools at his own expense.
But dust is just that, dust and it gets into every crack and crevice. Last week the Labor Tribune printed pictures of furniture and bookcases let uncovered and coated with paint dust from the paint being removed from walls everywhere.
• Secondly, there is the issue of a “level playing field” for all contractors. “It’s clear that when all bids come in at the same range and one is almost $2 million less, it’s not a level playing field.”
WINNING CONTRACTORS HAD SERIOUS PROBLEMS
While the other three bidders were union and Raineri and his two sub contractors awarded the work are non-union, “This is not a union vs non-union issue. It’s an issue of the children’s health and welfare and a level playing field so that all contractors can compete fairly against one another with the best-qualified contractor winning. In this case, the ‘best qualified’ did not win,” Lucks said, with emphasis on “qualified.”
Previous stories in the Labor Tribune have explained how the Raineri/Huddy/Rice bid apparently does not fulfill many of the basic RFP requirements according to the Painters union, yet the School Board awarded them the work.
A review of public records by the Labor Tribune discovered that both subcontractors and the general contractor have had serious problems in the past. Whether or not the St. Louis Public School was aware of these is not known, but had there been a cursory investigation, the following would have turned up:
• Home explosion: Last May 9, a home in St. Peters where Huddy was working exploded, making the home totally inhabitable. The company was painting the basement floor with epoxy. Fire department officials on the site said the blast apparently occurred after Huddy’s painters failed to use adequate ventilation and failed to turn off the hot water tank pilot light that ignited the fumes.
Homeowner Pat Smith said in TV news interview that she saw sparks coming from the basement “and then it just felt like an earthquake. Everyone started screaming and trying to get out.
“We are just so glad to be alive,” she added. Five people and three dogs were in the home during the blast.
The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) still has the disaster under investigation.
• “Serious” violations: Last year, Raineri was cited for three OSHA violations termed “serious” by the federal agency. According to OSHA records, one charge was dropped and Raineri was fined $9,800 to settle the other two.
• “Serious” violation: In 2011, Rice received a “serious” OSHA violation citation and paid a penalty of $4,410.
• No city license: Rice does not have a city business license, although they have an application pending but there apparently is a “problem” with it which apparently they are trying to resolve.
The Painters union has raised the issue of whether Rice should have been allowed on the project in the first place without having a city business permit before starting work, something that’s generally required of all businesses before they can begin working in the city.
FELONS ON THE JOB?
The Painters have also pointed out that the school board’s Request for Proposals requires a background check on all employees. Despite this, the painters union, checking license plates, discovered that an unacceptable number of Huddy’s and Rice’s workers have criminal backgrounds and a child protection order against them.
Additionally, the RFP has minority employment requirements that the Painters said are also being violated. During an inspection of both Sumner and Roosevelt worksites, of the some 20 workers from both companies viewed on the job, none were minorities.
Hearing to get the facts on school painting dispute seems stalled. Why?
An effort by St. Louis Alderman Joe Vaccaro (D-23rd Ward) to help ensure the safety of the children who will attend school this fall at Sumner and Roosevelt High Schools is being met with some inexplicable resistance.
Before the last session of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen ended, Vaccaro introduced a bill to establish a special three-person committee to examine the charges leveled by Painters & Allied Trades District Council 2 that the current painting efforts at the high schools did not meet the original Request For Proposal specs and that childrens’ health could be seriously jeopardized. The Board adjourned without giving his bill a hearing or taking any action.
Alderwoman Sharon Tyus (D-1st Ward) then told Vaccaro if he would submit a resolution to the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee she co-chairs that it would get a quick hearing. However, it has been two weeks since the submission and no hearing is yet scheduled.
“This is not right,” Vaccaro said. “Too much is at stake for the Board of Alderman not to investigate these very serious charges. I’m hoping the resolution will get a hearing shortly so we can bring facts to light and determine the extent of the hazards, if any, our kids might be facing when they return to school in the fall.”
“I believe the Board has a responsibility to get to the bottom of this, quickly,” he added.