Has a crack appeared in Washington's concrete strike?
Last month, Soundside took listeners to the picket line as concrete workers continued their strike against six of the largest concrete suppliers in the region.
Workers were demanding competitive pay and benefits. The concrete companies argued that the union, Teamsters Local 174, had repeatedly rejected their competitive offers.
"I'm hoping to settle it and go back to work, but what we need is not to move backwards, we always need to move forward, especially with inflation. And healthcare is the biggest thing right now," Stoneway concrete truck driver Tim Davis told KUOW. "Hopefully they can do more than the same offer. It's not bargaining if you just offer one thing and walk away."
But just this week, a sign emerged suggesting that concrete will begin to pour again the area. Union members offered to return to work in good faith at three high profile work sites as contract negotiations continue.
"The union said that it would be willing to return to work at a limited basis at three plants in Seattle — the strike is much wider than that," said Puget Sound Business Journal reporter Marc Stiles. "And they used that to sway public opinion to their side in saying that they were responding to the critical need to get concrete flowing again."
Stiles says that the companies have slightly boosted their wage offer from an increase of 17.6% to 18% over a three year period. But the union argues that the increase will not keep up with inflation.
Concrete is essential for constructions projects across the Puget Sound region. Consider the repairs needed for the West Seattle Bridge, or light rail extensions, or the many housing projects that are in the works. The strike has therefore brought much of the construction in the region to a halt. Private contractors have therefore found their own ways of getting around the issue.
"Concrete is flowing, it is happening, but it's not on the scale that it typically happens," Stiles said. "Contractors are taking measures into their own hands and doing things, very inefficiently, to keep their projects going, like mixing concrete on site for smaller pours."
Listen to Soundside host Libby Denkmann's full conversation with Puget Sound Business Journal reporter Marc Stiles by clicking on the audio above.
Correction: This story was updated on Friday, March 18, 2022. A previous version of this story stated concrete workers gathered outside of Ash Grove Cement on Seattle's Marginal Way. A representative for the company says that the location is a coincidence and Ash Grove has no affiliation with the strike.