Carpenters walk out in Western and Central Washington

TACOMA — Construction work came to a screeching halt in Western and Central Washington June 25 when some 8,000 members of the Carpenters Union went on strike. The labor dispute reaches from Bellingham to Centralia along Interstate 5, and from Yakima to the Olympic Peninsula.

Large projects at the Tacoma Convention Center and the University of Washington’s Tacoma Campus “were eerily quiet with no construction noise,” said Clark Gilman, spokesperson for the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters. “The scene in Seattle was much the same.”

Health care is the main issue in the strike. The union proposed funding full maintenance of benefits in its health insurance plan in lieu of any wage increases and it wanted employers to contribute to the retiree medical care fund. Management (the union is negotiating with Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Washington on behalf of 42 contractors) responded with an offer that included drastic cuts to the plans. Since September 2001 union Carpenters have diverted $1.34 an hour of wage increases to fund the insurance plan, yet the plan still sustained cuts.

The Carpenters and AGC have been negotiating since April 10. Their labor agreement expired May 31 and was extended twice. A strike vote was held the weekend of June 21, at which time Carpenters voted 84 percent to authorize a strike.

After talks broke down on health insurance funding June 24 the bargaining committee called for a walkout the next day.

Gilman told the Northwest Labor Press that workers from all the trades went home when pickets showed up June 25. “They risked their jobs to stand up for family health care insurance for carpenters and all building trades workers,” Gilman said. “It is not the power of the Carpenters alone that shut down Western Washington construction. The solidarity of thousands of construction workers shut down Western Washington.”

Gilman said several contractors sent notices to AGC rescinding their authority to bargain on their behalf. Those contractors will now bargain independently with the Carpenters. “These contractors feel that it is fair and right to fund our health care,” Gilman said.

No new talks had been scheduled as this issue went to press.

Meanwhile, AGC is in the process of negotiating new agreements with the Operating Engineers, Laborers, Cement Masons and Teamsters.

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