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St. Petersburg College chief, son in dispute with union organizers

PINELLAS PARK — A labor dispute at St. Petersburg College has sparked an off-campus dustup involving college president Carl Kuttler Jr., his son and two union organizers.

Now Pinellas Park police are investigating a claim that the younger Kuttler tried to run over the union men while driving his red Dodge Ram pickup truck.

No arrests have been made, but police plan to consult the State Attorney's Office before deciding whether to file charges, Pinellas Park police spokesman Sandy Forseth said.

Shortly after the incident with the truck, the elder Kuttler arrived, Forseth said. He had called police to find out if the union activists were breaking the law. When he arrived at his son's business, he was "agitated" and started taking pictures, Forseth said. The senior Kuttler also went over to the police officer, who was speaking on his cell phone, and pulled a copy of the union flier out of the officer's hand.

"It wasn't a big deal," Forseth said.

Carl Kuttler III could not be reached for comment Thursday. But the senior Kuttler said he has been the victim of a union campaign of threats and attempted intimidation. Dragging his son into the dispute, he said, "is unfair, unethical, unmoral and borders on behavior that is extremely low of picking on a family member. ... It is very unfair to bring (my son) into this. ... He is not even involved in this."

The Wednesday incidents stemmed from a dispute over labor practices at St. Petersburg College. The Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 15 of Tampa has written the elder Kuttler several letters objecting to the fact that the college hired non-union labor to work on its expansion. But Kuttler never responded, said union organizer Sam McIntosh.

McIntosh said he and another organizer, Alen Clausen, decided to take their fight elsewhere to make their point. They went to Kuttler Kitchens, a high-end design firm at 8820 66th Court owned by Carl Kuttler III. They handed out leaflets that asked if recipients had "experienced or witnessed" certain activities at Kuttler Kitchens. Those activities included illegal aliens, shoddy construction practices, contractor kickbacks, "or anything else that may be illegal or unethical."

The younger Kuttler called Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler for help. Mischler said Thursday that he was not far from the store when he got the call, so he went over to check things out. Mischler said the union activists were not breaking the law, so he called Kuttler III and told him that nothing could be done.

It's unclear what happened after that, but McIntosh said Kuttler drove at them in his red truck. McIntosh jumped out of the way, but Clausen was struck. He stayed on his feet but later later complained of a sore shoulder.

Kuttler III left the scene, and Pinellas Park police soon arrived.

Forseth, the police spokesman, said the two union organizers had apparently not broken the law but there were some marks on the ground that appeared to substantiate their claims that a vehicle had been driven at them.

The officer opened an investigation into claims that the younger Kuttler had committed an aggravated assault with his truck.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or alindberg@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg College chief, son in dispute with union organizers 04/30/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2009 11:14pm]

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