Carpenter strike begins in Seattle area; Hundreds of construction sites could be affected

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The loud construction noises were replaced with union chants on Thursday in South Lake Union as carpenters stopped working in a nearly complete 12-story office building in a strike that could affect hundreds of construction sites across the region.

Striking members of the Northwest Carpenters Union say they are demanding better pay and coverage for labor costs like parking.

“I’ve heard from other carpenters that they could build a house, but they can’t afford to live in one of them,” said Brandon Carmack, an apprentice who protested in Seattle Thursday.

Although the union leadership recently recommended a draft agreement, a majority of members voted against the deal last weekend, which sparked the strike.

The Association of General Contractors (AGC), which represents the employers of the carpenters, pushed back.

“Washington AGC is disappointed and at a loss that the union is continuing this strike after such a robust and competitive package deal,” the group said in a statement.

Today, a travel-level carpenter in the union makes $ 46.92 to $ 48.42 an hour, according to the union. The latest offer would have gradually increased the salary by about $ 9.40 an hour over the course of four years, along with incremental increases in pension contributions and parking allowances.

On Thursday afternoon, the two sides had not yet set a further trial date.

Carpenters demonstrated Thursday on several high profile projects, including Microsoft’s Eastside campus and Block 38 of Vulcan, the South Lake Union’s 12-story office building due to be completed for Google this year.

In Block 38, other unionized traders appeared to be leaving their posts instead of crossing the picket line. From the outside, a small group of painters were the only workers visible on the construction site. The contractor GLY has not returned a request for a statement.

Hundreds of construction sites are affected by the strike, according to the union. But many marquee projects, such as the Sound Transit light rail lines, are covered by strike bans.

The strike followed public divisions among union members. Criticism of the union leadership swirled on the internet, with some members denouncing what they described as comfortable relationships with management or too much shyness in the planned strike. After rumors of possible wildcat strikes, union leaders warned members not to take unauthorized action.

At the picket line, strikers tried to present a united front.

“I think it was good business for all of us,” said member Ernesto Perez. “It’s not about how I feel. It’s about standing united. “

“We want to close the gap between the cost of living … and wages,” said Perez.

MPs who voted against the deal called for higher wages, better pension contributions or more coverage of parking costs. Some said a shorter contract with the raises coming sooner would make the deal more palatable.

“It just wasn’t good enough,” said Trenton Towne.

Contractors “get richer and we get the same,” said foreman Matt Johnson, who voted no.

“I am 51 years old. My back hurts. I had a shoulder and a knee replacement. And a lot of it comes from that trade, ”Johnson said.

Brayan Gonzales, a carpenter who backed the deal, said his rent recently increased by $ 250 a month. “The rents are increasing every year,” he says.

The AGC warned carpenter of the threat from non-union contractors.

“Our AGC negotiating team has spent numerous hours over the past five months negotiating and evaluating this union offer, which also forced the team to carefully weigh the implications of such a generous package,” the group said in a statement.

Increased costs “can push developers into other markets, increase the loss of market share in the Union and potentially reduce carpentry hours,” the AGC said. “We want to make sure that every carpenter understands that the last failed provisional agreement is not immune to the problems listed above.”

How the strike affects the many office and housing projects under construction in the region will depend on how long members are absent from work and whether workers from other professions come to the construction sites.

The AGC declined to discuss the expected impact of the work stoppage.

The pandemic interrupted a year-long construction boom, delayed some projects and brought new uncertainty to the office and housing markets. Nevertheless, the East Side is full of new office projects for tech giants.

The strike is the latest in a series of union strikes that hit Seattle’s construction industry over the past decade. Crane operators, concrete truck drivers and glaziers all went on strike between 2016 and 2018. More recently, industrial unrest has emerged in sectors from health care to food production, with workers being encouraged by a tight labor market.

“If you’re being labeled an important worker and everyone is clapping for you, your wages, your safety at work, and your protection from harassment should be in line with your importance to the economy,” said Jake Grumbach, professor of political science at the University of Washington.


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