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King County seeks new suppliers as concrete workers' strike lingers on

The West Seattle Bridge is seen looking east following an emergency closure several weeks earlier, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson
/
The Associated Press file
King County and Seattle leaders are concerned that the lingering strike by concrete workers will delay repairs to the West Seattle Bridge.

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that he’s seeking bids for new concrete suppliers for local projects. Roughly 300 concrete mixers and drivers at a handful of companies have been on strike for several months with no sign of letting up.

That's endangering big projects around the region, including the county’s Rapid Ride expansion, the Washington State Convention Center and the West Seattle Bridge, among others.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell spoke about the city's concerns.

"Of course, the critical, most critical project is the West Seattle Bridge. All things considered, we certainly would have had that completed by midyear 2022. ... We anticipate that if the current labor dispute is not settled in a few weeks, around February 20th, that this will have a significant delay on the project," Harrell said.

The contract for a concrete supplier could be worth up to $35 million over the next several years. To qualify, companies need a union contract with their workers that includes a no-strike clause.

But Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff says he'd prefer a resolution to the current labor dispute.

“The quicker way of dealing with this problem is to get parties back to the table and settling the strike now. It has to end. We can't emphasize enough that the longer this stretches on, the longer the project that the taxpayers have been funding can get delayed,” Rogoff said Wednesday.

Jamie Fleming, director of communications for Teamsters Local 174, which represents the striking workers, says she welcomed the county’s announcement.

The striking workers argue they deserve a more generous retirement health care plan. But the contract negotiations have stalled.

Fleming says she hopes the county's announcement that it is seeking new bids for concrete suppliers will put pressure on companies to negotiate.

“These concrete suppliers have operated as a cartel for far too long, charging customers whatever prices they want while at the same time refusing to care for their workers in the most basic and fundamental ways,” Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks said in a statement.

The lead negotiator for the companies — Gary Merlino Construction Company, Cadman, CalPortland, Stoneway Concrete, Lehigh Cement Company, and Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel — could not be reached for comment.

Lilly Ana Fowler reports on social justice issues for KNKX. She previously worked for the nonprofit news site Crosscut — a partner of KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS station. Reach her at lfowler@knkx.org.