Seattle-area carpenters have approved a new contract with their employers following a nearly three-week strike that slowed construction work across the region and exposed internal divisions among the union’s 12,000 members.
The Northwest Carpenters Union said Monday evening its members voted about 54% to 46% in favor of the deal.
Union members in Western Washington went on strike Sept. 16, then went back to work last week after the union reached the tentative deal with the Associated General Contractors of Washington.
The latest contract deal was the fifth tentative agreement union leadership brought to members for a vote. Members had rejected the previous deal and authorized the strike in September with a 56% to 44% vote.
Those who voted “no” cited the rising cost of living and called for higher wage increases. Today, carpenter wages range from $46.92 to $48.42 an hour. The latest deal will mean a $2.26 wage increase each year, according to the union.
Carpenters also called for better reimbursement for parking near job sites. The new agreement will increase hourly parking pay in certain areas of Seattle from $1 to $1.50 per hour and includes a new $1.50 parking benefit in Bellevue which will start in 2022.
Overall, the strike yielded only modest changes to the previous deal members had rejected. The last proposal included a total pay and benefits increase of $13.25 over four years. The new offer included $10.02 over three years. Both worked out to roughly $3.30 a year in pay and benefits.
The AGC, which represents the carpenters’ employers, said it was disappointed when the strike began after it had offered a “strong package.”
An AGC representative said the group would comment on the vote Tuesday morning.
When the strike began, the AGC warned carpenters about losing work to nonunion contractors. Increased costs “can push developers to other markets, increase loss of Union market share, and potentially reduce carpenter hours,” the AGC said at the time.
Pay raises in the deal will especially help entry-level carpenters, said Lee Carter, a member of the union’s bargaining committee.
Because of the strike, “the public is starting to understand our job a little better and some of the struggles we go through,” Carter said.
Although the union said the strike affected hundreds of job sites, work continued at many others. Thousands of carpenters work on job sites governed by no-strike agreements, meaning they continued working and instead paid a portion of their wages toward a strike fund. Those sites included high-profile projects such as the Sound Transit light-rail expansion.
The vote and strike made public internal divisions in the union. Some members criticized union leadership and eventually walked out in wildcat strikes.
A group of union members who advocated for a “no” vote on the deal will now focus on backing an effort from Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant to require contractors to pay construction workers’ full parking costs, said Nina Wurz, who voted against the deal.
“Our biggest focus is getting that for all jobs in Seattle,” she said.
The strike was the union’s first in Western Washington in nearly two decades and followed walkouts by other construction workers in recent years, including crane operators, truck drivers and glaziers.