Carpenters Come Out in Force to Strike For More Pay, Halting Construction Across Washington

A construction strike is under way in Washington state as hundreds of carpenters have walked off the job in demand of better pay.

After a kick-off rally on Wednesday, members of the Northwest Carpenters Union were on the picket line Thursday. More than 800 members have already signed up to join the protest, the union said.

Evelyn Shapiro-O'Connor, the union's executive secretary-treasurer, told Newsweek that they probably had close to 1,000 members on the streets for the first day of the strike.

"The attitude on the line was positive," she said. "I think a lot of the members that I marched with today on the picket line were excited to be coming together. We're excited to be talking about carpenter issues, and just have the conversation."

There are five picket locations across the state with two in Bellevue, and one each in Fife, Redmond and Seattle.

Carpenters for more than 30 employers will not go to work on Thursday amid the labor dispute between contractors that have assigned their bargaining rights to the Associated General Contractors of Washington (ACG).

In a vote earlier this month, 56 percent of the union's membership rejected the latest contract proposal from the AGC and authorized a strike. This was the fourth tentative agreement union members have rejected this year.

Ryan Hyke, the union's regional manager in western Washington, said that those working under the agreement are obligated to withhold their labor until a new tentative agreement can be offered to the union for ratification.

"We couldn't unite over a contract, we're spending this time uniting over a strike," Shapiro-O'Connor told Newsweek. "The most important thing right now is bringing every voice to the table."

The ACG believed their most recent proposal was "fair" and said it offered workers a "strong package" of pay raises.

"We are disappointed in the outcome but continue to believe that both of our future successes are dependent upon the continuation of our partnership," the ACG said in a statement.

The rejected agreement would have included a 20 percent total package increase—including wages and benefits—over four years, expanded parking reimbursements for some worksites and increased employer contributions to health care and pensions.

WA carpenters strike for better pay
A construction strike has started in Washington as hundreds of carpenters walked off the job Thursday in demand of better pay. In this photo, a general view of Climate Change Arena is shown as it undergoes construction on July 23, 2020 in Seattle. Abbie Parr/Getty Images

According to the Seattle Times, carpenters want to see a bigger increase in pay in order to keep up with the rising cost of living in the area. The newspaper reported members want a $15 per hour increase over three years, and the ACG proposal would have incrementally increased pay over the next four years by $9.40 per hour.

The construction projects that may be impacted by the strike include two Microsoft campuses in Redmond and Sammamish, a Madison-Boylston affordable housing tower and the Bellevue Plaza project.

Construction projects that won't be impacted include the state's Climate Change Arena, the Port of Seattle and Seattle school sites.

Update (9/16/2021, 4:30 p.m. ET): This story has been updated with comments from Evelyn Shapiro-O'Connor, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Carpenters Union.