By STEVE LEIGH
— SEATTLE — Since Dec. 3, over 300 concrete mixer drivers in Teamster Local 174 have flexed their strike power to demand decent wages and conditions. The concrete companies have been intransigent. They are unwilling to pay the workers prevailing wages and benefits. They have recently refused to come back to the bargaining table. Ten weeks ago, workers at all the major concrete companies in the Seattle area went on strike, extending a strike that had only affected 30 workers. The union believes that the companies are aiming to bust the concrete drivers’ union and rely on lower paid non-union labor. The union says this is an unfair labor practices strike since the employers won’t engage in serious negotiations.
The strike has shown the power that even a small group of workers have when they are united. Before the holidays, the strike began to bite into Seattle’s $23 billion construction industry. Now a large part of the industry is shut down. At a certain point in the process, lack of concrete prevents further work. Besides the drivers, 7500 other construction workers have been laid off. If the strike isn’t settled soon, a total of 15,000 workers will be idled.
The workers are not demanding anything exorbitant. They just want the same pay and benefits as other construction workers in the area. They worked without a new contract for months after the last contract expired in June. When it became clear that the companies were not budging, the workers finally went out on strike. As one worker said, “We worked through the pandemic. The companies made a lot of money. Now they want to deny us the medical coverage we had years ago.”
Rick Hicks, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamster Local 174, said, “These giant, multinational construction companies are demanding that workers accept a package of wages, health care and retirement that would be a decrease in compensation over three years when you take inflation into account. This package would also be significantly less than compensation packages other construction workers in Seattle receive.”
The Teamster 174 website also reported that the companies refuse to “fund a health care plan that could save workers thousands of dollars per year in retirement.”
Rank-and-file workers are united in their opposition to the union-busting attempt. They will not allow further erosion of their living standards. Workers on the picket line made this clear: “The cost of living has gone through the roof! It’s not just us. An entire class of people is tired of being pushed around. Workers deserve to earn enough to go out and eat once in a while, to think about a vacation. We are not meant to just go to work, go home and die.”
They expressed solidarity with the Starbucks workers, Amazon workers, and REI workers who are trying to organize. In turn they were grateful for the other workers, especially other building trades workers, who have come out to their picket lines with food and support.
The general construction shut down has thrown contractors into a panic. They blame the strike for delaying important public and private projects. This caused the city and county government to step in. On Feb. 9, they came up plan to end the strike. County Executive Dow Constantine promised that the county would award an exclusive contract for public projects to a company that would sign a contract and settle the strike. So far, the concrete companies have not taken the offer. They have maintained their united anti-union position.
Workers are not accepting the bosses’ stubbornness. On Jan. 10, “concrete mixer drivers and plant workers employed by Lehigh Northwest Cement Company extended their picket line to the Port of Everett’s 55,000 ton bulk storage cement facility for 3 hours” (Teamster 174 website). This shut down the port of Everett.
On Feb. 3, over 100 members of the union rallied at the headquarters of Associated General Contractors because it has been spreading misinformation about the strike. They had signs saying, “Tell the Truth” and “Why are you defending bad behavior?” The AGC has been blaming the union for refusing to bargain, including saying that it refused federal mediation. However, the union has said that they would agree to mediation.
On Feb. 9, over 100 workers picketed the headquarters of Cadman, one of the struck companies. They picked it out because the lead negotiator for the companies is employed there. They set up a bargaining table outside in front of the company. The union negotiators sat at the table and the workers chanted for the company’s negotiator to come out, but of course, he never did. Also, the same day, they picketed at two Cadman-owned plants in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, in Woodinville and Smith Island. The plants shut down for the day, holding up several potential concrete pours.
The strike has been solid. The companies have been unable to operate since the strike began. There has been no serious attempt at scabbing. Concrete must be produced locally; it cannot be trucked in from long distances without spoiling. This has given the workers added leverage.
As workers on the picket line noted, union contracts influence wage rates even for non-union workers. One worker said, “It sets the bar across the board.” It is important that all workers and supporters of unions do what they can to help the concrete drivers win their strike!
CONTRIBUTE TO THE LOCAL 174 STRIKE FUND:
Or make checks to“Teamsters 174 Worker Assistance Fund” and send it to Teamsters Local 174, 14675 Interurban Ave. S., Suite 303, Tukwila, WA, 98168.
VISIT A PICKET LINE and DONATE WOOD:
Thanks to their union siblings at the Ironworkers unions, Teamsters on the picket lines now have burn barrels to stay warm during the cold, rainy shifts from 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Donations of firewood would be greatly appreciated at the following picket locations:
Calportand Seattle – 5900 West Marginal Way SW; Cadman Seattle – 5225 E Marginal Way S; Lehigh Cement Seattle – 5225 E Marginal Way S; Stoneway Seattle – 3803 E Marginal Way S.
To keep up on strike developments: http://teamsters174.net/teamsters-local-174-construction-concrete-cement-strike-information/
Steve Leigh is a member of the Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and of the Revolutionary Socialist Network.
Photo: Thank you to Teamsters Local 174.