The union representing striking carpenters temporarily stopped picketing at union-sanctioned construction sites in Seattle after a series of unsanctioned wildcat strikes Thursday.
Workers were to remain off the job but not picket Friday, Northwest Carpenters Union Executive Secretary-Treasurer Evelyn Shapiro said in a statement Thursday evening. Shapiro said the union faces potential legal action from contractors because of unauthorized strikes.
“We are still on strike and members who are required to withhold their labor will continue withholding labor until we have an agreement to consider,” Shapiro said. In a statement late Friday, she said picketing would resume Monday.
The union has been embroiled in internal divisions since its members voted this month to reject a tentative contract deal and go on strike. Union leadership had recommended the deal, which failed on a 56% to 44% vote. That was the fourth tentative agreement rejected by members. Carpenters who voted no said the deal did not offer sufficient pay increases, coverage of parking costs or pension contributions.
The strike began last week, with union pickets slowing work at select job sites around the region.
But many of the union’s members continued working because of widespread no-strike agreements signed with employers. Of the union’s roughly 12,000 members, about 2,000 work at sites where strikes were allowed.
Some union members have criticized union leadership and discussed unsanctioned strikes. Union leadership had warned that such wildcat strikes could draw legal challenges from employers and cost union resources. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant entered the fray, backing union members who voted against the deal.
Sawant was present Thursday at a roving protest that included some carpenters and others. Her political party, Socialist Alternative, said in social media posts that the group slowed or stopped work at six job sites. (The union did not provide details on wildcat strikes.)
Despite the union’s official picketing pause, unauthorized actions appeared to continue Friday morning.
Carpenter Joe Sosa and about 30 others were picketing a job site at Microsoft’s Redmond campus and planned to continue daily, he said. (The site does not have a no-strike agreement.)
“We can’t stop picketing because once we stop picketing, all these trades are going to see that we’re weak and start crossing,” Sosa said. “Our intention is to keep the momentum going.”
Sawant’s support for carpenters agitating against union leadership has resulted in a public dispute with Shapiro.
Shapiro accused Sawant of “interfering in the NW Carpenter Union’s democracy just to grab the limelight for her own political agenda.”
MLK Labor, a coalition of unions, said in a tweet Thursday that Sawant should “ask how you can support instead of being a nuisance.”
Sawant has released a letter of support signed by about 80 members of the union, planned a rally for Saturday and said she would pay $10,000 toward a strike fund if the union established one.
She wrote on Facebook this week that the use of no-strike agreements “ties the hands of striking workers.” A public petition organized by Sawant says, “We support the carpenters’ calls to be able to picket all possible job sites, in order to bring the highest pressure to bear to win their demands.”
In a statement Thursday evening, Sawant reiterated support for the striking workers. “Their fight is on behalf of all workers, and I am proud to stand alongside them,” she said.
Sosa said he believes a “lack of leadership” from the union—not Sawant’s involvement—is driving the unauthorized pickets.
When a group of union ironworkers shouted down Sawant during a 2018 rally supporting a tax on big businesses, Sosa said he was working across the street and joined the ironworkers.
“I don’t really believe in her politics. I’m not a socialist. I’m not on board with defunding the police, the head tax or anything like that,” he said. “But I’m with her in support of the unions.”
Shapiro said Thursday that “because of the actions taken today, we have been contacted by legal counsel from several employers who are taking actions against NWCU [Northwest Carpenters Union].”
“These wildcat actions, and roaming protests, conducted in the name of union carpenters, would likely drain union resources (union members’ dues) and threaten the livelihood of our members,” she said.
The Associated General Contractors of Washington, which represents the carpenters’ employers, has not commented since the first day of the strike. Last week, the group said it had offered carpenters a “robust and competitive” offer.
The two sides do not have a date for further bargaining, the union said.