By Don McIntosh
A strike by a group of ironworkers at nonunion Instafab is still under way 21 months after it began. Instafab, based in Vancouver, Washington, fabricates and installs structural and architectural steel.
The strike began Feb. 27, 2015, after company management refused to consider a list of demands five installation workers presented, including water and dry shacks on every job, safety training, company-paid medical and retirement benefits, and area standard wages. Instafab responded by terminating the strikers, which is illegal under U.S. labor law. Other installers and fabrication shop employers later joined the strike, eventually bringing the number of strikers to about 20 in a workforce of about 75.
On Nov. 4, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board approved a voluntary settlement of charges that Instafab violated federal labor law when it fired the initial group of strikers — and threatened to fire other employees for talking with them. In the settlement, the company agreed to backpay plus interest for seven strikers, totaling $27,500. The backpay covers the two-month period from when it fired them to when it first offered reinstatement. In its initial October 2015 complaint, the NLRB sought backpay of nearly $33,000, but the federal agency agreed to a settlement of about 80 percent of that figure.
The settlement also commits Instafab to post official notices in its shop and on job sites. In the notices, the company outlines employees’ union rights, and pledges not to do the unlawful things it was accused of doing. The notices say Instafab has offered the fired strikers full reinstatement, and will reinstate them if they make an unconditional offer to return to work.
“Our mission moving forward is to make sure we don’t get any more of those unfair labor practices against us,” Instafab owner Bruce Perkins told the Labor Press by phone.
Strikers and their allies have picketed Instafab job sites and customers such as general contractor Andersen Construction. Striker Laramie Lexow said he thinks union picketing and pressure have cost Instafab considerable business, especially on the installation side. For the NLRB posting, the company provided the locations of just two installation worksites. A number of Instafab workers have been laid off, and some have reached out to the strikers, Lexow said.
“Portland architects and developers really do want quality work, and they want the people on their jobs taken care of,” Lexow said.
Perkins acknowledged that Instafab lost business because of the strike, but says business is returning.
“We are probably doing a better job of listening to our workers because of the strike,” Perkins said.
Lexow said Instafab has made a number of workplace improvements since the strike began, but without a union contract, things could change back.
“We want a bargaining agreement saying he’s going to protect all things he changed,” Lexow said.