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Negotiations resume to end strike that has stopped constructions projects across region

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 is once again meeting with the Association of General Contractors of Washington to try and come to a contract agreement. A strike by heavy equipment operators has halted construction at sites across the Puget Sound region. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - The only sounds coming from dozens of construction sites between Bellingham and Olympia are the sounds of car horns honking in support of striking heavy equipment operators.

The union representing the workers posted a notice to members online that both sides were returning to the bargaining table.

It’s the first time International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 has met with the Association of General Contractors of Washington after workers rejected a second tentative contract one week ago.

Both sides are not disclosing how many workers are on strike or how many construction sites are effected. But, the representative for all union construction workers in Seattle and King County said it’s thousand of workers when you count all the other members of various trade unions like carpenters, welders and electricians who are not crossing the picket lines.

“There are thousands of hours not being performed and it's slowing down the schedules considerably,” said Monty Anderson, Executive Secretary for the Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council.

Both sides have instructed their members to say quiet. In an online posting, International VP & Business Manager said, "The Local will not distract from the negotiation process by litigating its positions in the media."

Despite union solidarity that has paralyzed many construction sites, there are others where union workers are working as normal.

Anderson said they have signed Project Labor Agreements, a one-on-one contract between the union and a specific contractor for that specific project.

“Part of those agreements are no-strike clauses and some people enter into them for just that reason,” said Anderson. “So everything with Sound Transit is still going, everything with the Port of Seattle is still going, the City of Seattle.”

He said many project that involved government-funded projects get PLA’s and no-strike clauses for the ability for the union to increase its diversity of its work force and open up new jobs for apprentices.

While AGC is not talking about the strike, its Chief Economist of Association General Contractors of America is talking about the shortage of skilled construction workers.

In survey of 2,300 contractors nationwide, 83 in the state of Washington, Ken Simonson said the shortage of construction workers is delaying projects and costing contractors more money.

“Our survey found that 89 percent of the companies in Washington state said they were having a difficulty time filling craft labor positions. That's considerably higher than the 80 percent who said that nationally," said Simonson.

He said it’s particularly acute with electricians in Washington, whereas there is a shortage of pipefitters in most of the country.

“They (state contractors) realize if they don't have enough workers, it’s going to take longer, they are going to have to pay more in overtime, spend more time on looking for workers and all of those things add to cost,” said Simonson.

Anderson said local unions have met all the labor needs of contractors of all local projects.

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