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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Open letter to the board

Dear President Byerly and Members of the Board, 

We are writing to inform you that a member of our Board of Trustees, Catherine Gunsbury, has not followed Carleton’s professed values of integrity and ethical action and should be held accountable.

Board member Catherine Gunsbury is a Founding Partner and Co-Owner of Solhem Companies. She has been informed about the violations of construction workers’ rights that have occurred on Solhem projects. This includes unpaid overtime, no compensation for injuries sustained on the job, unsafe working conditions and connections to contractors who have used child labor. Mrs. Gunsbury has been repeatedly asked by workers to change the ways her company does business, starting with hearing about their experiences. She has not, however, responded to workers, despite months of attempts to contact her. 

Carleton College has a responsibility to uphold the values of our institution. For as long as the Board continues to exist, we require the same level of commitment from the Board to be “citizens and leaders” that embody the ethical action that Carleton expects from us students.

We learned about the actions and inaction of this Board member in June, when the two of us and many others joined the March for Building Dignity and Respect led by non-union construction worker members of the worker organizing center CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha) advocating for their workplace rights. 

One of the most common forms of exploitation in the Minnesota construction industry is wage theft, with one recent study finding that 25% of non-union construction workers in Minnesota experience some form of wage theft or payroll fraud — and that’s the tip of the iceberg for worker abuses in the industry. In 2019, Hennepin County prosecuted its first labor trafficking case that ended when subcontractor Ricardo Batres pleaded guilty to labor trafficking charges. Most recently, workers on the Viking Lakes project in Eagan have come forward reporting over $100,000 in stolen wages and sexual assault on the job site.  

Unfortunately, the legal system designed to protect workers is overwhelmed and insufficient to handle the depth of exploitation in the industry, which is growing as pressure to cut costs comes from the top down. A new solution is needed, which is why workers have asked to meet with those in the industry who ultimately benefit from construction workers’ exploitation: the developers. 

We stood with workers as they called on three developers in the Twin Cities to hear their stories, take accountability and be a leader for change in the industry. Among those three developers with the power to change the industry was Solhem Companies. 

We lift up the workers’ request of Mrs. Gunsbury to meet with workers to learn more about the issues they face day to day in the workplace. We hold the Board accountable for the follow-through of this ask. 

For the consideration of our institution, we raise: what legitimacy does the Board have to make decisions on the behalf of students, when one of its members has not followed the values we are all expected to uphold?  


Maya Stovall and Aashutosha Lele

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