By MALLORY GRUBEN
Members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 will see a record-busting $23.25 an hour increase in compensation in their new four-year agreement with union contractors. That includes an hourly wage increase for journeymen of at least $19.77.
Local 16 regional manager Brian Noble says workers’ willingness to strike made those raises possible.
The master agreement covers roughly 1,750 Local 16 members who work for the 60 contractors who are part of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA). The contract was reached through an internal arbitration process in which the union’s international staff met with SMACNA reps in Washington, D.C. The final agreement is binding, so members won’t take a ratification vote, but Local 16 special projects counsel Scott Strickland said union leaders are generally satisfied with the contract.
“It’s a good first step to addressing over a decade of issues we’ve had,” Strickland said. “It sets us back onto the right track.”
Wages vary depending on where work is done. In Area 1 — covering 18 counties in Northern Oregon and two in Southwest Washington — journeyman sheet metal workers were making $71.26 an hour total, with $45.80 in wages and $25.46 in benefits. The contract immediately raises their total compensation package $5 an hour retroactive to July 1, 2023, the previous contract’s expiration. Under the contract, members will decide together how to split the raise between their pay and benefits. SMACNA’s resistance to giving union members that decision was one of the key reasons negotiations previously reached an impasse.
“Almost all of the other locals in our council do that, and it is the norm across the country. We were kind of the outlier,” Noble said. “We needed this too. … It gives the members ownership of their benefits.”
On Jan. 1, 2024, Area 1 workers will see an additional $1 an hour boost to benefits. Their wages continue to increase over the term of the contract, rising $6 an hour on July 1, 2024, $5.75 an hour on July 1, 2025, and $5.50 an hour on July 1, 2026.
In total, the $23.25 an hour increase in compensation is a 32.34% boost, bringing total journeyman compensation to $94.51 an hour in the fourth year. Workers in the other areas will get 85% of the Area 1 raises, a $19.77 increase over four years.
The contract also merges two of the five areas outlined in previous agreements. That gets Local 16 closer to its end goal of having a uniform pay rate across its jurisdiction, Strickland said.
The agreement nearly halves the crew size that requires a general foreman, dropping it to 30 workers from 50.
Local 16 entered the internal joint arbitration process with members’ overwhelming approval to strike if a deal couldn’t be brokered. The way that process works, if representatives from SMACNA and the international union reach a deal, that becomes the new collective bargaining agreement, but if they’re unable to reach a deal, negotiations revert to the local level and members can strike.
Strickland think the contract’s raises would have been less than half as big if members hadn’t been ready to strike.
“As an attorney, I can go to the table and pound my fists and ask for all kinds of stuff,” he said. “But I have nothing to back me up unless the members are locked in arms behind me.”