After rejecting fourth union-backed contract, thousands of Washington state carpenters strike

An estimated 2,000 carpenters in Seattle and across Washington state began their first strike Thursday in nearly two decades after rejecting the fourth proposed contract accepted by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC). Grassroots carpenters are seeking to extend their strike to other construction sites, where the union has signed no-strike pledges, and to get out the other 10,000 union carpenters who are currently kept at work.

Carpenters picket strike in downtown Seattle

Over the weekend, carpenters voted 56-44% to reject a four-year contract proposal that included sub-inflation rate hikes and further erosion of pension benefits. Due to the skyrocketing cost of living in the Seattle area, construction workers are forced to live long distances from their jobsites, sometimes spending three hours commuting and hundreds of dollars each week in costs. ‘gasoline and parking.

Carpenters are demanding a wage increase of $ 15 an hour over three years, while the agreement between the union and Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) calls for a raise of $ 9.40 an hour over four years. The highest paid carpenters currently earn $ 46.92 per hour. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, an adult with three children needs $ 58.29 an hour in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area to support a family.

The region, home to Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing and other corporate giants, as well as some of the richest people in the world, is also seeing an increase in construction projects, generating billions in revenue for the Association of General Contractors of Washington.

“Seattle has been booming since 2010,” said John McCallum, who voted “no” to the contract. Seattle weather. “Every time the contract comes in, the same crap is spat: ‘We did our best. We will improve you next time, ”he said of the union leadership. “This is coming to a head and we have to defend ourselves. “

Construction workers, who already work in one of the most dangerous industries, have also been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Washington state, construction sites are the sixth highest location for outbreaks. In Colorado, 111 construction workers have died from COVID-19 so far, more than any other segment of working-age adults.

On the eve of the strike, carpenters’ union officials warned grassroots workers that “hawks” and “sickouts” or “picketing without the express permission of authorized officials of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters” would constitute an offense. violation of the union statutes and the national labor relations law. Any worker the union finds guilty of such a violation, UBC bureaucrats warned, would be kicked out of the union and risk losing their job and potential fines.

The union has published 47 sites where it said it has non-strike agreements with contractors. But grassroots pickets went to various sites, including Microsoft office projects, and called their fellow carpenters and construction workers. As one worker wrote on the Facebook page: “Microsoft’s job wouldn’t have been closed today if we had followed this advice. This strike may get stronger and stronger, but it will not happen by blindly obeying the leaders who have proven time and time again to be on the side of the entrepreneurs.

A pre-strike rally at union headquarters on Wednesday

Sites with non-strike commitments include locations where UBC has signed project work agreements. As part of a corporatist arrangement involving federal and state authorities, these projects, which benefit from tax breaks and other government incentives, must employ unionized workers. In return, UBC agreed to give contractors various concessions to reduce their labor costs in addition to banning strikes. Grassroots workers denounced these privileged deals, saying they are not designed to “save union jobs” but the dues revenues that fund the inflated incomes of union bureaucrats.

Evelyn Shapiro-O’Conner, who as the union’s executive secretary-treasurer pockets $ 259,038 a year, leads negotiations for the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters. This is in addition to at least an additional $ 90,725 for his other positions, including that of co-chair of the Western Washington Carpenters Retirement Plan and administrator of the Pacific Northwest Regional Carpenters Council. On the picket lines Thursday, angry carpenters confronted Shapiro-O’Conner for trying to push through the sales agreement and blocking the spread of the strike.

UBC’s national leaders are undoubtedly multimillionaires. General President Douglas McCarron earns $ 519,000 per year, Secretary-Treasurer Michael Capelli $ 490,000, and the top 11 leaders average $ 383,745 per year – more than six times what a journeyman carpenter earns to the house and 12 times what an apprentice earns.

UBC bureaucrats are also known to plunder union-run health care and pension funds, invest for personal gain in various commercial ventures, including those built by non-union construction workers, and steal workers’ wages money to cover the deficit.

In 2019, George R. Laufenberg, the former executive director of the New Jersey / New York United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ benefit funds, was charged with defrauding funds over $ 1.5 million. Laufenberg, who pocketed an annual salary of $ 300,000, used his authority to grant himself a pension of $ 120,000 and $ 180,000 in deferred annual compensation, without retiring or giving notice or receiving the approval of the board of directors of the fund.

In 2011, Walter Ralph Mabry, former chairman of the Michigan Pension Fund board of directors, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in the form of $ 5,000 to $ 10,000 in hotel reimbursements. and entertainment from an investment consultant and one of the fund’s investment managers.

Carpenters are also unhappy with the four-year term of the deal, which would give them a different expiration date than all other building trades workers. After carpenters rejected the first two union-backed proposals in the latest round of contracts in 2018, Pacific Northwest UBC officials falsely claimed operations engineers agreed to contractors’ terms to block a unified strike . Shortly after reaching a deal, which drastically increased carpenters’ health care costs, the crane operators went on strike for 17 days.

The Carpenters organize the opposition via Facebook, including through a dissident page called the Peter J. McGuire Group, named after the 19th-century socialist and eight-hour day champion who co-founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America in 1881.

The organizers of the Facebook group have come under a formidable attack from Shapiro-O’Conner and Nicole Grant, executive secretary-treasurer of the King County Labor Council. The two bureaucrats also criticized Seattle City Councilor and Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant, with Grant denouncing “Marxist extremists, with elected official backing” for wreaking “havoc” within the union.

While calling for open negotiations and lower wages for corrupt union leaders, the prospect of the Peter J. McGuire Group is little more than union reform. There is a long history of such failed attempts by the Miners for Democracy, New Directions in UAW and Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which ended with the incorporation of these dissidents into the union bureaucracy.

The transformation of UBC and other unions into tools of business management and government is not due solely to the corruption of union bureaucrats. The roots of the degeneration of the unions, which is an international phenomenon, lie in their defense of the capitalist system and virulent anti-socialism, their old-fashioned nationalist vision and the long-standing political subordination of the working class to the two big employer parties.

There is a growing wave of working class struggles, from auto parts workers in Dana, to nurses and workers in Nabisco, to educators and parents fighting against the criminal reopening of schools as cases of COVID-19 are increasing. We urge construction workers to join the growing national and international network of grassroots committees to remove the leadership of the struggle from the hands of the corporatist unions and mobilize the full force of the working class to defend life and living standards. .

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