Sheet metal workers ready to strike


Members of Sheet Metal Local 16 overwhelmingly approved a strike if arbitration fails to produce a new master agreement.

THAT’S A DEFINITE YES. Outside the IBEW Local 48 hall where the strike vote was held, Local 16 organizer Korri Bus displays the initial count. | PHOTO COURTESY LOCAL 16

On Aug. 5, nearly 800 members participated in an in-person strike authorization vote. It passed 789-14. The turnout represents about 46% of the roughly 1,750 members covered by the union’s master agreement with nearly 60 contractors from Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Members drove in from as far away as Idaho to cast their ballots, said Local 16 Regional Manager Brian Noble.

“Even in our biggest election, I think we only had 500 members participate, and that was in 10 locations,” Noble said. “This was in one location, and we had over 800 members show up. … I think they’ve clearly stated that they are willing to put it all on the line.”

Local 16 reached an impasse last month while bargaining for a new master agreement with its signatory contractors. The previous contract with SMACNA expired June 30.

While pay raises are part of the holdup, the critical issue for members is SMACNA’s proposal to decide how pay is split among wages and benefits, such as health care coverage and pension contributions, said Local 16 special projects counsel Scott Strickland. In most building trades master agreements, the signatory contractors will agree to a total compensation rate, and workers decide how much to allocate to wages and how much to benefits, he said.

“Everything down to the penny, (the contractors) want to decide,” he said. “The contractors say they don’t want to lose any control over the benefits they claim they provide. … Our members are saying that it’s their money and they have a right to say where it goes.”

Both parties agreed to enter an internal arbitration process in which the union’s international staff meet with SMACNA representatives to try to broker an agreement. That will take place Sept. 19 and 20. The sides can agree to implement a new contract or send negotiations back to the local if they can’t reach agreement.

Noble said it’s uncommon for arbitration to lock up, but members are ready to walk out if it does.

“I think that gives us a lot of leverage with them,” he said. “If we don’t get what we want, we are ready and prepared to go on strike.”

This article has been updated to correct an incomplete quotation from special projects counsel Scott Strickland, which might have led some readers to think that benefits are provided directly by the signatory contractors. The benefits come through a joint union-employer trust which union members fund as part of their total compensation package. 


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