Striking Seattle carpenters returned to work Wednesday after the Northwest Carpenters Union said it reached a contract agreement with the Associated General Contractors and directed its members to return to work pending a vote.
Union members have been on strike since Sept. 16, with rotating pickets at some major projects in Seattle and on the Eastside. Leading up to the strike, members rejected four previous contract proposals put forward by union leadership.
Carpenters who voted no on previous deals said the agreements did not do enough to boost pay and benefits as the cost of living in the Seattle area skyrockets. Union membership was divided, with carpenters who voted no publicly criticizing union leadership over the bargaining and strike planning. Some walked out in wildcat strikes.
The new deal is a modest change from the previous tentative agreement members rejected.
The last deal offered a total increase, including pay and benefits, of $13.25 over four years. This offer includes $10.02 over three years. Both work out to about $3.30 a year in pay and benefits increases. Current carpenter wages range from $46.92 to $48.42 an hour.
“Sometimes people think that a strike produces automatic big dollars at the end of the game and that’s not usually how it works,” said Evelyn Shapiro, executive secretary-treasurer of the union.
Shifting from a four-year to three-year deal “keeps us in line with the other trade unions,” said bargaining committee member Ryan Case.
Parking pay was another key dispute for union members, who say the high cost to park near job sites in Seattle and Bellevue is a drain on their paycheck, but the new deal makes only slight changes to previous proposals.
The new agreement bumps up the start date for a new $1.50-per-hour parking benefit in Bellevue from 2023 to 2022. Both deals included an expanded Seattle parking zone and increase in hourly parking pay from $1 to $1.50.
In a Facebook group organized by carpenters who voted against past deals, some maintained skepticism and urged each other to stay off the job. It’s not yet clear when members will vote. The union said it would release more details later Wednesday.
Union membership rejected the last deal and authorized the strike with a 56% to 44% vote. The new deal will need a majority vote to pass.
The loss of pay during the strike may motivate more members to turn out for the vote, Case said.
Although a majority of union members voted to authorize the strike last month, many of the union’s 12,000 members have not walked off the job because they work at job sites governed by no-strike agreements. Those include high-profile sites, such as Sound Transit light-rail lines. Instead, those carpenters have paid toward a strike fund for their colleagues.