Drywall finishers get $9.25 an hour over three years


Around 400 union drywall finishers in Oregon and Southwest Washington will see their compensation rise $9.25 an hour in the next three years under a collective bargaining agreement ratified June 14. 

The agreement was negotiated between Drywall Finishers Local 101 and Associated Wall & Ceiling Contractors of Oregon and Southwest Washington and is to be signed by about 30 individual contractors, of which Performance Contracting Inc. (PCI) and Western Partitions Inc. (WPI) are the largest.

The agreement came after members earlier voted 97% to reject a “last best and final” offer that contained the same raise. Members authorized a strike and gave the union permission to convert a market recovery fund to be used as a strike fund, but in the end the two sides reached agreement. 

Contract negotiations were different this year than they were five years ago, said Local 101 business representative Kirk Malcom. Rather than start with a low-ball compensation offer and expect to move upwards, employers opened with what they described as a fair and generous offer, and didn’t budge. The $9.25 offer matched the raise the same employer group had agreed to previously with drywall hangers who are represented by Carpenters Local 503. 

The problem — from Local 101’s perspective — is that local drywall finishers are being paid $1.85 an hour less than local drywall finishers, whereas in other locations, like Seattle, drywall finishers make the same or more than drywall hangers. Drywall hanging is a more physically demanding job, but drywall finishing, or taping, arguably requires greater skill. 

“We’re artists,” Malcom said. “We mold the walls to look smooth, and that can be very difficult depending on how the sheetrock looks as your substrate.”

Local 101 went into negotiations hoping employers would match the drywall hangers’ wage by the end of the contract, but employer negotiators wouldn’t agree.

Bargaining resumed after Local 101 members rejected the employer offer. AWCC still stuck to its wage offer, but agreed to spell out the terms of a new sick leave benefit. The earlier offer had left those details to be determined later. 

The new sick leave benefit is meant as a way for employers to comply with new paid sick leave requirements in Oregon and Washington. Starting November, employers will divert $1 an hour from wages into a paid leave fund to be held at the IBEW and United Workers Credit Union and overseen by William C. Earhart Company, the company that administers the union benefit funds. When a member is sick, they’ll notify the union, and sick leave pay will be transferred. At the end of each year, any unused funds will be deposited into employees’ vacation savings accounts. 

Though they didn’t get the pay parity they were proposing, the increases in compensation in the new contract still amount to the biggest ever for Local 101, Malcom said. Total compensation will rise $3.25 on July 1, 2024, $3 on July 1, 2025, and $3 on July 1, 2026. That works out to 5.1%, 4.5%, and 4.3%. Journeyman drywall finishers who currently make a $42.52 an hour wage plus $21.18 an hour in benefits will go to $45.52 an hour wage plus $21.43 in benefits as of July 1. Union benefits include a guaranteed pension and a generous full-family health care benefit paid for by employer contributions, with a $300 deductible and a $1,300 annual out-of-pocket maximum.

As with many other building trades unions, members decide each year how to divide up the increase between wages and benefits. Of their $3.25 increase in the first year, Local 101 members voted to allocate $3.00 an hour to raise wages, $0.07 an hour to the pension, and $0.18 an hour to the union health and welfare fund. 

Malcom said members voted by a healthy margin to approve the modified employer offer. 

The three-year agreement runs through June 30, 2027. 


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