The Connecticut Laborers’ District Council is not a fan of ESPN’s non-union choice of general and site contractors to build a new $100-million, 193,000-sq-ft digital center in Bristol, Conn., and it is encouraging union players in the major sports leagues to boycott ESPN. The district council charges that the GM, Associated Construction Company, Hartford, and site contractor, Mizzy Construction in Plainville, Conn., are non-union shops that “do not pay living wages or follow area standards.” Union members have been picketing the ESPN site.

Photo Courtesy of the Conn. Laborers' District Council

Neither ESPN nor the contractor firms returned calls for comment by press time. However, the Connecticut chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors supports ESPN.

“With the construction industry in the state struggling during this economic downturn, we applaud ESPN for offering equal opportunity to both union and merit shop contractors to participate on this project and get construction workers back to work,” says Lelah Campo, president of ABC of Conn.

Work is scarce and highly competitive in Connecticut for both union and non-union contractors, says John W. Butts, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Connecticut. “This is a construction-wide type of problem that affects all contractors, and ESPN is reflective of that,” Butts says. “Our goal is to get more projects and more work, but the frustration is on both sides.”

The district council maintains that the ESPN project “is of no benefit to the state.” The group seeks to “let people know that ESPN is not a good corporate partner,” says Charlie LeConche, business manager of the district council, which represents 7,500 state construction employees. LeConche is also the business manager of Laborers Local 230 in Hartford.

The district council says it aims to expose what it believes to be inequities in the construction industry. These include little or no minority participation, a failure to pay area standard wages, non-union contractors receiving the majority of work, and out-of-state contractors receiving work, it says. “Our contractors don’t bid because they’re not bidding on a level playing field,” says LeConche. The district council is looking for prevailing wage laws and “responsible contractor provisions” to apply to the ESPN contract.

The district council has no intention of backing down and will continue the campaign against ESPN until something has been accomplished, says a district council spokesperson. Several more protests in front of the center are planned for the coming weeks.

The center, which broke ground in August and is set for completion by 2014, will house four studios, six production control rooms and 26 edit rooms.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced in August that the state will invest more than $25 million in the project, under its “First Five” program, an economic development program that provides incentives to the first five businesses that, depending on the size of the company’s investment, create a minimum of 200 full-time jobs in the state within the next two years, or 200 full-time jobs in the state within five years. The ESPN center is expected to create 200 full-time jobs within five years, and provide incentives to create up to an additional 800 jobs.