Allegation of Workplace Racism Brought Against Contractor for St. Croix River Crossing

While the Minnesota Department of Transportation continues to communicate progress on the St. Croix River Crossing, the project’s largest contractor is coming under fire.

In November 2013, Lunda-Ames Joint Venture was awarded a $332 million contract to lead construction of the St. Croix Crossing bridge superstructure, along with some roadwork associated with the project.

This week, Lunda-Ames has been in the news for a “contract dispute” that led to ironworkers walking off the job for a couple of days, and most recently, an allegation of workplace racism.

A Twin Cities man who was hired by Lunda-Ames to work as a carpenter at the Grey Cloud casting yard for the St. Croix River Crossing, told WCCO he was targeted because of his race after he discovered a noose in a toolbox at the job site just months after he started work.

“On the second shelf, I pull the box out, I turn and set it down. I reach back and see a rope. I pull it out and I notice it was a noose at the end of it,” Lee Jackson told WCCO.

Jackson sent a photo of the noose to Lunda, according to WCCO, which reportedly launched an investigation, but never determined who put the rope in the toolbox or if it was racially motivated.

Forty-four days later, Jackson told WCCO he was terminated.

“I believe I was terminated from the job, because … I brought that situation to light. Second of all, because I had an attitude about it,” Jackson told WCCO. “A lot of people told me that I should have just kept my mouth shut, keep my head down and just work.”

Lunda did not respond to request for comment on WCCO’s story.

Just days before that story aired, the contractor was making headlines after a more than 100 iron workers walked off the job — slowing work on the St. Croix River Crossing.

The iron workers walked off the job after a “contractual dispute” between J&L Steel and Electrical Services, a subcontractor on the bridge superstructure, and the Lunda-Ames.

The dispute arose, according to a Pioneer Press report, after “Lunda-Ames officials began complaining last fall that J&L did not have enough ironworkers working” on the project.

“There have been a lot of issues on the project,”J&L Steel and Electrical Services Owner LouAnne Berg told the Pioneer Press. “We’ve tried to work through them, and there was no resolution, and so we had to walk. It’s very sad. In 38 years (in business), I’ve never, ever walked off a job. (The ironworkers) were supportive of what we had to do, but nobody is happy. It’s a lose-lose situation for the contractors and the state.”

Ironworkers returned to the job this week.

In addition to being awarded the contract for the superstructure, Lunda-Ames also won the $58 million contract for the reconstruction and realignment of Highways 36 and 95 in the first phase of the St. Croix Crossing project.

At the time, that contract was challenged by the low-bidder, C.S. McCrossan and Sons.

Originally, C.S. McCrossan and Sons was the apparent best-value bidder for the first phase of the project. However, MnDOT determined that McCrossan did not demonstrate “a good-faith effort for hiring disadvantaged business enterprises, a requirement of all projects that receive federal funding.”

“Disadvantaged business enterprises” are defined by MnDOT as women- and minority-owned businesses.

Subsequently, MnDOT rejected the McCrossan proposal bid proposal. McCrossan filed a federal lawsuit to halt work on the approach work, but the complaint was later thrown out of U.S. District Court.

This season will be the St. Croix River Crossing Project’s busiest to date, with hundreds of crew members, vehicles and equipment on the river and construction sites on both the Wisconsin and Minnesota sides of the river.

Construction of the new bridge is expected to be complete by fall 2016.

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