Protesters at Loews Hotel Have Two Reasons to Wave Signs

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It keeps happening in Miami Beach. Cops pull up, tell demonstrators to put away their bullhorns, and to stop banging those drums. Then an officer whips out a small pad of paper and writes a noise code violation. That's how it went on three occasions in front of Loews Miami Beach Hotel. Each time, the ticket got more expensive and the sign-wavers got more pissed off.

The protesters are Miami-Dade carpenters --men with thick biceps, mostly -- who have been there for two months. They are fighting for fair wages, they'll tell you. And they aren't going anywhere.

Florida Carpenters Regional Council, the group that's making the noise, has a director named Terry Darling. He's a man of few words who sports a salt and pepper goatee. There's fire behind his voice when he says, "There is a criminal element that exists in the construction market...and we want Loews to be a responsible corporate citizen."

Initially, the battle was to raise carpenter's wages. According to FCRC, the hotel's sub-contractor pays the men just a fraction of the South Florida area standard. (The standard is $29 per hour, and these workers report making as low as $14.) The men recently filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and began showing up to demonstrate seven days a week.

The general contractor hired by Loews is called Tatro Construction and is based out of Orlando. But the guys blame the hotel. They chant and hold signs that say "Shame on Loews." One gentleman dressed in a yellow chicken costume.

(Don Tatro, president of Tatro Construction, did not return Riptide's calls Tuesday seeking comment.)

Then came another reason to fight.On July 1st, Miami Beach code officer Jorge Rios issued a fine to demonstrators noting "a protester with Bullhorn/Megaphone" being "unreasonably, unnecessarily loud." Police showed up at least three times after that, Darling says.

So last month the group sued the City of Miami Beach in federal court. The lawsuit claims the city violated the group's right to freedom of speech. Says Darling: "We feel we should be able to peacefully assemble without being harassed."

Even so, nothing has changed since the lawsuit was filed. Workers keep protesting, officers keep writing tickets, Darling says.

Hotel spokesperson Sarah Murov contends it's not the fault of the Loews. "The union only has a dispute with a drywall sub-contractor...The Hotel is disappointed that the union feels it necessary to misrepresent its dispute and wrongly accuse the Hotel of some type of wrongdoing."

As for Darling, he says the carpenters will be out there - bullhorns and all - everyday until things get better.

But the folks at the hotel don't plan to change much, either. Says spokesperson Murov: "We're happy and satisfied with the work [the contractor] has done. This is a company that has worked for Disney...We're very comfortable with them."

Too bad Miami Beach workers aren't.

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