UA 290 wins $13.54 increase in new three-year deal



United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290 members ratified their largest collective bargaining agreement April 1. The new contract with the Oregon chapter of the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association raises compensation $13.54 (15%) over three years. It replaces a six-year contract that expired March 31. It covers work throughout Local 290’s jurisdiction in Western Oregon, Southwest Washington, and two Northern California counties. That includes about 3,300 Local 290 members who work for union-signatory contractors, plus currently about 600 “travelers” from other UA locals who are filling jobs in the area’s ongoing construction boom.

The agreement came through an unusual bargaining process that the local first tried about seven years ago. Led by C. Richard Barnes, a former Laborers union business manager who was the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service during Bill Clinton’s second term, it’s known as co-interest-based bargaining. And the union bargaining team was open to any member who wanted to take part and was willing to commit the time. As many as three dozen members started out, and 28 stayed to the finish. Members were paid their regular wage for their time on the committee, thanks to a special 10-cents-an-hour contribution from employers through a jointly overseen Labor Management Cooperation Committee. The union team was led by business manager Lou Christian, assistant manager Joe Neely, and business reps.

The process can be time consuming and costly — more than $750,000 for the mediator and pay for the large bargaining team. But it resulted in a very different tone at the bargaining table, Christian said.

“It’s both of us looking at the things that benefit both of us,” Christian said. “We didn’t have either side walk away in anger from the table. Now, was everybody happy? No.” But Christian said that’s what you’d expect from a contract that was fair to both sides.

The two sides started meeting once or twice a month in early 2022, and picked up the pace last November. A tentative agreement was reached March 10, but the union bargaining team referred it to members without a unanimous recommendation, and members voted by a 78% margin March 18 to reject it. 

One sticking point was concern about how the contract implemented a new paid time off policy. The policy was a way for contractors to be able to meet new paid sick leave mandates in Oregon, Washington, and California. The rules differ in each state, but by meeting the Oregon standards, contractors would satisfy requirements in all three states. Construction workers can work for multiple employers over the course of a year, so it’s been tricky to figure out how their employers can provide access to paid sick leave. The agreement does that by setting up a new paid time off benefit to be managed by the existing multi-employer health trust. The benefit can be used for sick leave and is to be funded by a new employer contribution of $1.35 an hour. But initially the proposal was that workers would have to show proof of illness, and employers wanted the new benefit to come out of the first year’s compensation increases. That requirement was later dropped.

After that was rejected, contractors improved their offer, and a new agreement was reached March 24. Members ratified it 559-396 (58%) on April 1.  

“In the end, we had a unanimous decision to recommend that this was the best we were going to get to the members,” Christian said.

The final agreement raises total compensation $5.59 an hour (6.5%) in year one: a $4.24 (8.3%) increase in the journeyman wage plus the $1.35 to fund the new paid time off benefit. That means the new hourly wage for journeymen is $54.92, plus $36.65 for fringe benefits, for a total package of $91.57 an hour. The benefits include full family health care that covers vision, dental; life insurance; vacation; and retirement.

Total compensation will then increase 4.75% ($4.35) in year two, and 3.75% ($3.60) in year three. The increases mean total hourly compensation will reach $99.52 after April 1, 2025. As is often the case with building trades contracts, members will vote on how to distribute the second and third year increases between wages and benefits. The votes are expected to take place in October 2023 and 2024 for increases that start the following year.

The new agreement also contains a recommendation to the state apprenticeship board to set a new ratio of apprentices to journeymen. Because apprentices are paid at a lower rate, contractors may have an incentive to employ them over more experience journey-level workers. Under the proposed ratio, an employer would have to have at least 4 journeymen for the first three apprentices, down from five.

The new agreement runs through March 31, 2026.


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