UPDATE: Oct. 12, 2021: The Northwest Carpenters Union and the Associated General Contractors of Washington reached an agreement Monday, ending a strike that began Sept. 16, according to the Seattle Times.
The new deal will feature a yearly wage increase of $2.26 per hour, along with parking benefits for those working in the Seattle and Bellevue areas. The Seattle benefit will increase from $1 to $1.50 per hour in certain areas. The new Bellevue parking benefit of $1.50 will start in 2022, according to the Seattle Times.
The striking carpenters had been asking for a $15 per hour compensation increase over the next three years to meet rising cost-of-living and parking expenses in downtown Seattle. Union members voted about 54% to 46% in favor of Monday’s deal.
- More than 2,000 members of the Northwest Carpenters Union continued their biggest strike since 2003 on Tuesday, driving their work stoppage against the Associated General Contractors of Washington to its fourth day, and one worker called for an unsanctioned wildcat strike Wednesday morning.
- Carpenters walked picket lines Tuesday demanding better pay and benefits in six locations across the greater Seattle area at jobsites for major tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook.
- But work continued on some of the city’s biggest projects, such as the Climate Pledge Arena, Sound Transit light rail and the Washington Convention Center, which have project labor agreements in place that prohibit strikes. More than 10,000 non-striking workers at those projects will have to contribute two hours of pay each day to support their striking fellow union members.
One union member called for a wildcat strike at a Conco project Wednesday morning, but the carpenters union made clear it wasn't endorsing the action. "This is not a sanctioned NWCU picket and we do not support this action," the Northwest Carpenters Union said on its website Wednesday morning.
According to Labor Notes, workers are frustrated at the number of PLAs — 45 in total — at jobs in the region because they reduce workers' bargaining power. “When you can’t strike over half the jobs that you’re working on, what use is a union?” Local 30 journey worker Jason Bartos told Labor Notes. “All we have is the ability to withhold our labor.”
General contractor associations, which represent construction employers, often also have a complex relationship with PLAs, since they ensure a stable workforce in a challenging labor environment, but also typically call for higher "prevailing" wages to be paid on jobs.
Earlier on Tuesday, communication between the two sides continued, according to David D'Hondt, executive vice president for AGC Washington. "We're still in contact with the negotiating team, and further negotiations will be coming up, but it's kind of a fluid situation right now," D'Hondt told Construction Dive. "Obviously, because of the strike, we're slowed down."
The walkout, which started last week after 56% of union members returned a "No" vote on a fourth offer from contractors that union leaders had urged workers to accept, highlights both the increasingly precarious labor situation in the construction industry, as well as philosophical divisions within the union itself about pushing for higher compensation as the industry continues to struggle with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The striking carpenters are pressing for a $15 per hour compensation increase over the next three years to meet rising cost-of-living and parking expenses in downtown Seattle.
Driven by high housing costs, workers say they often live more than an hour-and-a-half from urban jobsites, can't use public transit since they have to carry their tools to work and must pay $20 to $40 a day in parking fees. The latest rejected offer would have amounted to a 20.4% total package increase of wages and benefits over four years, or about $9.40 per hour, according to the Seattle Times.
Evelyn Shapiro, executive secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Carpenters Union has been both a lightning rod for criticism from union members disappointed by the restrictions of project labor agreements, as well as a unifying voice for workers.
“Our members have been divided over this historic agreement and we do not take going on strike lightly," Shapiro said in a statement posted on the carpenters' website. "We must come together and build an agreement that will unite our membership.”
Despite the carpenters' philosophical divisions internally, the group was well organized Tuesday, with detailed instructions and addresses for where striking workers should report to picket on its website, as well as a highly produced video of its first day on strike.
In a statement issued after the No vote last week, AGC Washington said it was "disappointed and perplexed the union is proceeding with this strike following such a robust and competitive package offer." It claims its rejected package represented take home pay exceeding $115,000 per year, and $160,000 of total compensation for full-time workers.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the contract length carpenters are seeking. It is three years.