Hoosiers have heard a lot about the housing bubble, and the plight of the homeowner during the economic downturn. In Indiana, more than 40,000 homes were foreclosed in 2009. But less well known is news of the 29,000 Indiana construction workers who have lost their jobs during the collapse of the housing market.
The Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) has put together a caravan of construction workers and homeowners to trek through 10 cities and tell their personal stories of deception at the hands of Pulte - the largest corporate homebuilder in America - and its partners. The caravan made a stop at Lockerbie Square United Methodist Church on Dec. 13 along with City Councilors Joanne Sanders and Jose Evans, IUPUI professor Tom Marvin and Pastor Darren Cushman-Wood.
"As we all know, owning a home is one of the pillars of the American dream," said Cushman-Wood. "Yet what we see with Pulte and others is violation of the American dream through deceptive lending practices, through not protecting their workers - denying them a voice in the work place." The pastor spoke on behalf of Interfaith Workers Justice - a coalition of religious leaders who support worker's rights.
The nine-person panel told familiar stories of unfair lending practices, neighborhoods full of foreclosed homes and declining home values.
Contributing to the event were the perspectives of construction workers.
"We are here because all residential construction workers are working piecework. We get a certain amount of money to build a house no matter how long it takes," said Jose Pedilla, a former employee of SelectBuild, one of the largest contractors in the corporate homebuilding industry.
Construction workers labor long days for $300 to $400 a week, while trying to support their families. These piecework practices force workers to build with great speed and sometimes carelessness. In addition, the wages are not enough to support their families.
"I worked for [SelectBuild] for 11 years, almost 12 years. If you asked me if I saved some money, I can tell you no. Why? There isn't any way to save money when you have a [wage] like that," said Pedilla.
One idea that reverberated between homeowners, construction workers and representatives from Indiana is that the time to change home selling and building practices has come.
LiUNA reported that Pulte recently fired seven workers for showing up to work with orange LiUNA shirts, demanding wages that were due to them.
"I think it's great what the Laborers' Union is doing in trying to connect the dots between exploitation on the job, illegal union busting tactics, the homeowner crisis, shady mortgages and then with the financial crisis that is affecting everyone... if we are going to make any progress on [these problems] we need to bring together all the people that are affected by them," said Tom Marvin, English professor at IUPUI.
'Dream Street' - a photographic narrative
Douglas McCulloh is the author of Dream Street a photographic narrative about the servitude of construction workers as they transform a Southern California strawberry field into a housing development.
The book delves deep into the inner workings of housing development.
"I knew," said Aaron Chappell, political organizer for LiUNA, "that this book made a more effective case for the Laborer's Union campaign than I could."
The Dream Street project began when McCulloh won the right to name a street at an auction in a fundraiser. After naming the street, McCulloh began what would turn into a long and obsessive project to photograph and catalog the workers and the transformation of the strawberry field.
McCulloh photographed everyone involved, from the lowliest worker to sharp dressed executives, and examined piecework, worker's wages and the grim world of the construction trade.
You can buy the book and get more information on the author at http://www.douglasmcculloh.com.