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Concerns about safety and legal action grow as carpenter strike ends first week

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Lilly Ana Fowler
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KNKX
Carpenters picket on a Bellevue street on Sept. 23.

Concerns about safety and legal action have led to the temporary closure of all Northwest Carpenters Union picket activities just a week into the strike.

Late Thursday, union leaders said they had received reports of near-physical altercations, threats of violence, illegal picketing activity and harassment of union members on sanctioned picket lines.

Carpenters have been picketing in front of construction sites every morning, everywhere from Seattle and Bellevue to Redmond and Mount Vernon. As early as 5 a.m., picketers have been marching on sidewalks with signs that read “On strike for fair wages.”

Northwest Carpenters Union is in contract negotiations with the Associated General Contractors of Washington. Union members have rejected all four of the construction industry organization’s proposals.

Meanwhile, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has announced legislation that, if passed, would get construction workers some of what they’re looking for. Sawant hopes to make it a city requirement that construction workers traveling to different sites have their parking covered. Sawant also wants to strengthen the city’s ability to investigate wage theft in the industry.

But not everyone has welcomed the councilmember’s overtures of support. Union leaders from the Northwest Carpenters Union and MLK Labor, which represents more than 100 labor organizations in the region, have accused Sawant of meddling in the strike for political gain.

Union leaders said they are also concerned that Sawant’s office has encouraged so-called wildcat strikes: picket activities at construction sites that have non-strike agreements in place. Northwest Carpenters Union’s Evelyn Shapiro, executive secretary-treasurer, said in a press statement that wildcat strikes have led certain employers to threaten legal action. The union would not name the employers.

In response to questions about accusations of interference, Sawant’s office pointed to a recent letter signed by dozens of carpenters thanking her for her support.

Carpenter Cody Lewis, who has been a member of the Northwest Carpenters Union for 15 years, would not comment on roaming wildcat strikes but said he’s been on sanctioned picket lines every day. Lewis, a father of four, said he lives out in Kitsap County because he can’t afford to live where he works.

“I got to commute from a long ways out to get into work. So a fair wage, you know, just to keep up with inflation and the cost of living. I’d like to see a little more money go into our retirement because that retirement is kind of circling the toilet bowl right now. And I’d like to retire with dignity one day,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he wants the Associated General Contractors of Washington to offer a three-year contract with the kind of pay and benefits he’s demanding.

But so far, the two parties have yet to sit down and meet to discuss what might end the strike.

Union organizer Chris Dimond says there’s no end in sight.

It's going to go as long as it takes until these carpenters are heard and they get the fair contract that they're out here striking for,” Dimond said.

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