Church construction labor dispute singles out minister

A dispute between the contractor of a building project at an East Brainerd church and a labor union council has gotten personal.

A white banner outside Christ United Methodist Church, at the corner of East Brainerd and Morris Hill roads, says in red letters, "Shame on You, Minister Mark Flynn." In smaller letters are the words "Labor Dispute."

Flynn is the senior minister of the nearly 3,800-member church, which is in the midst of a 30,000-square-foot building project, but the congregation's director of ministries said the pastor makes no decisions on what workers are used on the project.

"Once we hire the general contractor we're only the owner," said Becky Hall. "They deal with all the [subcontractors], all the labor."

Helton Construction is the contractor for the project, which is expected to be completed in April.

A union flier handed out at the site "objects to substandard employers like Helton Construction working in the community."

Owner Eddie Helton said he assumes the beef of the Nashville-based Midsouth Carpenters Regional Council is that he doesn't pay his workers what the union thinks they should be paid.

"As far as I know they're happy, and they have health insurance," he said of his employees.

Robert Helton, director of organization and special projects for the Midsouth Carpenters Regional Council, did not return repeated calls seeking clarification of the dispute. Eddie and Robert Helton are not related.

The Hixson-based Carpenters Local Union 74 referred all questions to the Nashville office.

Hall said the banner, which went up Monday, is the second one placed in front of the church since construction started. The first, which went up the week before Easter, said, "Shame on Helton Construction."

By attaching the senior minister's name to the sign, she said, "they think that will grab more attention."

However, Hall said the initial decision on what contractor the church would use was approved by the building committee and the 30-member church council.

"It's so frustrating," she said.

Eddie Helton said the use of Flynn's name baffles him.

"I don't know why if there's a labor dispute with me, they would put up something with the pastor's name," he said. "He has nothing to do with the contractor selection."

Helton said when subcontractors bid for work on "bid day," he doesn't know whether they plan to use union workers or not.

"We use the best and most responsible bid," he said. 'We're just a small business. We're just trying to make a living."

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