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Picketers take to the streets in downtown Hastings

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About 20 picketers made all kinds of noise in downtown Hastings on Monday, and it sounds as though they may be back.

The picketers were marching in opposition to Friedges Drywall, a New Market firm they say doesn't pay area standards and has inferior benefits for its employees. Friedges, a non-union business, is a sub-contractor working on the remodeling project at Hastings Family Service.

Steve Thom, the director of area standards for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the picketers are demanding fair standards and will be at the site "indefinitely" as the project wears on.

As long as Friedges is on site, the picketers can be outside, Thom said.

Todd Friedges, who owns the business with his three brothers, said his employees are paid fair wages.

"We've been in business since 1976," Friedges said. "We've been around for more than 36 years, and we've been union for about half of that. We are non-union. That's the way it is. Yet, people still work for us."

Friedges said the average length of time one of his employees has been with him is more than 20 years.

"If I didn't pay good wages, or the area standards, as they call it, why would people work for me?" he asked. "I do pay union scale. I do have medical and dental insurance. I have a retirement program. I don't pay full family coverage, which is one of the things they talk about. I don't, but in today's world, who does?"

Demonstrations like the one on Monday are nothing new to Friedges and its crew. For years, up to 50 people picketed outside the construction of the Minnetonka High School that Friedges worked on. The same thing happened for about six months when Friedges worked on the new Brunswick bowling alley in Lakeville.

Friedges contends that the people who walk the picket lines are "hired off the street" by the union. He said he has asked people who walk the picket line where their benefits are, and hasn't received an answer from them.