BERTHA, the world’s largest tunneling machine, has taken a monthlong unscheduled leave of absence, costing precious time, and likely millions of dollars. She hasn’t moved since Aug. 16.
With so much at stake, it’s astonishing that the Highway 99 tunnel — the largest public-works project in Seattle in generations — is shut down in a labor dispute over four jobs.
What a debacle.
The state’s contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, screwed up a labor agreement giving the same four jobs — moving excavated dirt onto barges — to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Seattle Building & Construction Trades Council. The ILWU, insisting those four jobs are theirs, has picketed, and other union workers declined to cross the picket line.
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This tempest-in-a-teapot dispute cripples Seattle’s reputation and is the type of blind acquiescence to unions which leads companies, such as Boeing, to shift jobs out of state.
In what world can four jobs be so precious that two unions will hold a $1.4 billion contract hostage? Only in Seattle.
This dispute ultimately sticks to Gov. Jay Inslee. Highway 99 is a state project; he is Bertha’s boss.
Inslee’s staff say he’s been quietly working to settle the dispute, and this week finally met with the contractor and two unions for the first time.
Seeking a backroom deal is fine, but Inslee should have also already resorted to his bully pulpit, to cajole, badger and embarrass two unions — both of whom donated $1,800 to his campaign — into getting out of Bertha’s way. He finally scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning.
He used the bully pulpit when state budget negotiations between Democrats and Republicans went into double-overtime. Inslee did not hesitate to rattle political sabers against the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition.
Why not rattle sabers at labor, Mr. Governor?