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Schwab project protested

August 04, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Rallying under the cry that West Virginia development money should benefit West Virginians, members of Laborer's International Union Local 379 and dozens of supporters picketed the site of S. Schwab Co.'s planned clothing distribution center and the Berkeley County Development Authority office in Martinsburg on Monday afternoon.

But that cry doesn't apply to Schwab's project, said representatives of the Cumberland, Md.-based company, who blamed misconceptions about the North Carolina firm acting as general contractor and the project's funding for the short, but vocal protests.

More than three dozen picketers paraded back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the Berkeley County Development Authority office on Burke Street, while another group picketed the construction site at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

"We're fired up. Can't take it no more," was one of several chants they yelled as they walked, some carrying hand-lettered signs with messages like "West Virginia tax dollars should be bargained for West Virginia jobs. Wake up EDA. You should be ashamed!"

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The pickets were organized to protest state help in the form of low-interest loans for Schwab's project without stipulation that West Virginia workers benefit, said Timothy S. Millne, assistant business manager for the Laborer's District Council of Charleston, W.Va.

The union represents construction laborers.

"We've got a local jobs, local people issue," said Millne, who said the state and local economic development authorities should be held accountable for not taking the extra step to insure jobs go to West Virginians.

Picketers included female union members from West Virginia and other states attending a summer program on unions in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., as well as members of various local unions.

"We just want justice in the workplace. We don't think that the majority of jobs should be filled by other than West Virginians," said Shepherdstown, W.Va., resident Sheila Hamilton, 50, a parts distribution technician at the General Motors plant in Martinsburg and trustee of United Auto Workers Local 1590.

There seems to be a misconception that because a North Carolina-based company, Rentenbach Constructors Inc., won the bid for general contractor, that construction jobs are going to North Carolina workers, said Cliff Sumner, director of distribution for Schwab.

However, all but one of the subcontractors on the job are from the region, if not the state, and all the major material suppliers are from West Virginia, Sumner said.

Though a subcontractor may come from Hagerstown or Winchester, Va., that doesn't mean it employs workers only from its home state, said Martinsburg lawyer Mary Clare Eros, whose firm is serving as local counsel for Schwab.

"I'm sure there will be plenty of West Virginians hired," Eros said.

There's also a major misconception about the state's hand in the project, she said.

"There's not any state money involved in construction of the project at all," Eros said.

The company started site preparation work for its $7 million Ralph Lauren clothing distribution center in mid-July at the John D. Rockefeller IV Science and Technology Center, Sumner said.

The 187,000-square-foot plant is expected to employ about 140 people by spring 1999, he said.

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