J&M Concrete and Waterproofing is a non-union residential contractor based out of Rosemount, MN. Run by father and son team Mark and Mike Schroeder, they get their business pouring slabs and walls for add-ons, doing waterproofing work, and other renovations. But to help make ends meet, they have another way to pad their books: wage theft.
On March 9th, the Solidarity Network was contacted by Cam, a former J&M Concrete worker who has several years of experience in residential construction. Cam knew some of the workers who form our construction committee, and that we were on the lookout for contractors cheating workers. What Cam told us was a classic story of small-time crooks retaliating against workers for practicing basic workplace rights, and short-changing checks to the tune of hundreds of dollars on a week’s work. To make matters worse, we uncovered a troubling disregard for worker and public safety.
Cam sat down with fellow Solidarity Network construction workers, and wrote down his experiences at J&M:
I got the job off of Indeed. I’ve been mostly out of work since the pandemic began. I had to spend some time nursing a shoulder injury, but was ready to get back into concrete after almost a year. J&M Concrete and Waterproofing seemed like a good fit. I had several years of experience in the field and applied. I had a phone interview. It was brief and straightforward. I told them that I had experience doing drain tiles, regrades, parge jobs, sidewalk, stairs. One of the owners, Mike Schroeder said I seemed like a good fit. I asked for 23 an hour in pay. He agreed.
Week later I started on a muddy Monday. Immediately when I showed up on the site- early- I was greeted with clear disappointment. Mike and Mark Shroder, a father son duo who ran the company and the sole other employee (who we’ll call Jared) were there. As I approached the jobsite wearing a mask to attempt to be covid safe, they seemed outright offended at the very notion. They openly mocked masks and those that wear them. Of the three at the job site, none were wearing masks or really any other safety equipment for that matter. For construction gig workers and those working for independent contractors, this is a fairly common sight to various degrees. No goggles for angle grinders. No masks for mixing mud - nevermind for covid. Nearly every cable for a power tool had been spliced and exposed, without bothering to even wrap with electrical tape to protect from potential shock. It was clear from the beginning what kind of outfit this was.
I worked for them for a week on excavating near 15 yards of dirt and replacing an old basement coal room with a new block wall. The labor is manually difficult as anybody who's worked it knows. Work was 7:30- to 3:30 or 4. In an 8 hour day we were offered one 10 minute break and a 30 minute lunch. Not too generous but also not uncommon for this culture of work. For the typical worker in this industry, this is a common problem- easy to overlook so long as you get paid. Even their unbearably low-brow right wing banter and unwillingness to play any music save for their own prattling, although egregious in this case, is somewhat of an industry standard.
While it can be fairly easy to ignore the usual tired lamentations of cancel culture and faux outrage at "burger flippers making 15 an hour" detestable though I find it, the constant bragging about killing coyotes, wolves and even the neighbor’s pit bulls if they wander on his property is a more unusual type of abhorrent. It became clear from day 1 that they suspected me of being one of those "know-nothing libs" and that this wasn't going to last long. Their clear distaste for workers rights of any sort convinced me to finish out the week or I knew I wouldn't see any kind of pay. Besides, like so many of us, I needed the money, at least a week's worth.
My co-worker, the sole employee other than me, seemed like a fairly normal lower working class conservative white dude in his mid 20's. I have to give him credit though, because the moment when we had a moment alone he asked me how much Mike was paying me. I told him we agreed at 23 and told him my experience. He was making 18 an hour, had been working for them for a year and had a year experience elsewhere prior. He thought it was time he got a raise, I told him he was absolutely right. Though Jared espoused some of the same beliefs as the bosses, he seemed more interested in talking about making BBQ pork then their vitriol- which was a relief. He was also helpful on the jobsite and even when Mike barked orders at him, he didn't act an ass. He also told me of the other employees who had come and gone. There was clearly a high turnover rate at the company. He had mentioned disputes and workplace accidents- including a wall cave in on a worker a few years back. His eagerness to tell me this I think largely reflected the employer/employee work dynamic.
Determined to make it to the end of the week without a direct confrontation for fear of not being paid, I put on my superficial customer service face the ten years of restaurant work had taught me. I mostly smiled and nodded and talked about food to change the conversation. If talking about cooking the fish they catch can steer the conversation away from treating service class workers as subhumans or yelling about the wolf hunt getting canceled early after its most devastating year on record back to just their fishing season, it was a merciful change. When I didn't nod in agreement with their childishly selfish politics or contribute more to the conversation they got suspicious and more hostile. To make matters worse we were doing block work which I had very little experience in. Mike had never asked during my interview if I laid block. As the week progressed, he would disparage and complain and riddle for things I had never done before, things I told him I'd never done but was willing to be trained in. They clearly didn't have much interest in training.
By the end of Friday, I could tell that despite working my ass off and my very intentionally non confrontational can do attitude, I was clearly not well liked by anyone other then Jared. When I went to speak to Mike and handing him my w2 information before collecting my pay he started the conversation with "Look I don't want you discussing your pay with Jared. Now I know you said you didn't lay block but you are doing the same work as him." I then told him that I had told Jared on the first day what he was paying me. This irritated Mike. He then I was really gonna have to kick it up. I asked if I hadn't worked hard enough. He said it wasn't that but I'd really need to step it up with drain tiles but that he'd likely have to dock my pay anyway. He told me to meet them there Monday to start a drain title. I had no intention of making it.
Now, even with all this, working in the land of Craigslist and Indeed subcontractor work, I can let this go if they pay me what's promised.
Before I took this job, I was told it would be full time and that if we left a site early we will be paid for the day. They told me I'd be paid for the week on friday. I was told I would be paid 23 an hour. I was therefore expecting a gross pay of $920. When I got to my car and opened the envelope I found a near comically handwritten check with whiteout marks and rewrites telling me my gross pay was 678.50. Disappointment then immediately anger welled up in me. I pulled out my phone to do the math while the boss Mike waited in his truck across the street for me to leave. I imagine fucking people over like this has rendered disgruntled employees in the past to steal equipment as compensation, behaviour he clearly expected from me-- not that I'd want any of his garbage equipment! Even if they weren't including that final Friday in pay, my gross pay should have come out to $736. As I pulled out to leave I gave the boss the super fake ass see ya never wave, he drove off as Ieft. I no-call, no-showed them on Monday. For the average worker under contractors it's often the only empowering move to make. It has been a couple of weeks now and I still haven't received my missing wages.
We used the standard federal and MN payroll tax rates on the gross pay of $920 that Cam earned for working 40 hours at $23/hr. Taking away $83 in federal income tax, $40 in state income tax, $57 to Social Security, and $13 to medicare, Cam’s take home pay should have come out to $727. J&M claimed Cam’s gross pay was 678.50, and that his take-home was $549.59. His take home pay is short by $177.41.
Mike and Mark Schroder at J&M Concrete and Waterproofing are, at the very least:
1. Committing wage theft, a felony offense in Minnesota.
2. Violating workers’ long established right to discuss wages by retaliating against workers
3. Violating safety standards in the construction industry including COVID safety- and endangering workers, their clients, and the community
We have just one demand: Pay Cam what you owe.
We in the construction committee and the rest of the Twin Cities Solidarity Network stand with Cam and demand the rest of his paycheck. While we and Cam are pursuing legal options, we know that the court system is slow and is meant to take the boss’s side. As workers, we’re not afraid to take our grievances into our own hands. We are working to develop a direct action campaign to show Mike and Mark the high financial cost of scummy business practices. Keep following the Twin Cities Solidarity Network page as we move forward. Join us as we ratchet up the pressure and give these crooked bosses a sorely needed wake up call.
The Twin Cities Solidarity Network is a mutual defense group of workers and tenants doing direct action to support workers in struggles with bosses and landlords, and helping to organize workplace and tenant committees and unions. Our construction committee is a group of rank and file construction workers, both union and non-union, from multiple trades who are committed to building worker power across the industry.
Cam and the Construction Committee have decided to move ahead with a phone zap on St Patrick's Day, Wednesday March 17th. Our sole demand is that Mike and Mark mail Cam a check for the $177.41 they owe him.
While we encourage people to be creative with their delivery, we have prepared the following script:
"Hello. I am [any name you want], and I am calling to demand that you mail your worker, Cam, a check for the $177.41 you shorted him on his last paycheck. More and more people know about how you retaliated against Cam for discussing wages, how you shorted him on his check, and the lack of safety at your job sites. We will make sure more people know, until you pay Cam what you owe. Cam doesn't stand alone, and we will not stop until you make this right."
Mike and Mark can be reached at the following numbers:
651 407 8343
Most recently, J&M are claiming that the short check was for only 4 of the 5 days, and that they didn’t give Cam the check for the final day because he (wisely!) quit. This is:
1. Still wage theft by not sending the check for the final day.
2. Still wage theft even if we consider only the 4 days. The total for 32 hours at $23/hr is $736 gross pay the check they cut was for $678.50 gross pay.
3. Does not address the unsafe conditions, or the retaliatory wage cut for discussing wages with a coworker.
We wish everyone a happy St Patrick's Day.