Bureau of National Affairs

 

Thursday, May 2, 2002

 

News

 

Construction

 

Connecticut Carpenters Strike Statewide After Rejecting Employers' Contract Proposal

 

After rejecting a contract proposal from general contractors throughout the state, union-represented carpenters in Connecticut May 1 launched a statewide strike that could idle as many as 3,000 workers.

 

Some 2,000 union members meeting April 30 at a hotel in New Haven overwhelmingly voted down a contract proposal from the Connecticut Construction Industries Association that members considered unacceptable, according to Bert Durand, communications director for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. The previous agreement expired April 30.

 

Of the approximately 5,000 carpenters employed on construction job sites in the state, Durand said some 2,000 will continue to work either on projects covered by no-strike project labor agreements or with about 100 employers who signed interim agreements.

 

Marvin Morganbesser, president of CCIA, said increases recently approved in negotiations with the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Laborers' International Union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters were less than the increases offered and rejected by Carpenters members.

 

Durand declined to comment on specific terms of the rejected contract proposal. He said a "gap" remained in the wage and benefit increases sought by the union and offered by CCIA. Employer language seeking random drug testing language was unacceptable, he said, as well as a proposal to require prehire physical examinations and employer appointment of union stewards. According to Durand, employers in Connecticut have resisted union demands for "reverse subcontracting" language approved last year in the union's contract covering Massachusetts and Rhode Island (193 DLR A-9, 10/9/01) that requires subcontractors to accept bids only from union contractors.

 

Durand was reluctant to discuss money disagreements in the negotiations. "There is a tendency to focus on wages when often the language issues that govern day-to-day relations between employers and employees are more important," he said. "We view union employers as our partners in the industry and most of the time we have a good relationship."

 

Parties Far Apart on Money

 

Morganbesser explained that two agreements expired at the end of April: an agreement for commercial projects providing about 80 percent of the Carpenters' construction employment, and an agreement for heavy and highway projects providing about 20 percent of employment.

 

Employers made two contract proposals to the Carpenters, he said. Under the CCIA commercial contract, a wage and benefit increase totaling $5.50 per hour over three years was offered, an over-term wage/benefit increase of 17.5 percent or about 5.8 percent each year. Under the heavy and highway contract, CCIA offered wage and benefit increases totaling $8.05 per hour over three years, an increase that he said was 27.9 percent over term or about 9.3 percent a year. Union members rejected the offers in a voice vote, according to Morganbesser.

 

Sought by the union, he said, is consolidation of the two agreements with parity and commonality of terms and conditions by the end of the contract term. The difference in the wage and benefit packages of the two agreements when they expired was $2.55 per hour, of which $1.55 was in wages and $1 was in benefit payments. According to Morganbesser, the union sought parity at the higher rates of the commercial agreement with the following demands in three-year contracts: a total wage and benefit increase under the commercial agreement of $7.50 per hour, 23.8 percent over term or about 8 percent a year; and in the heavy and highway agreement increases totaling $10.05 per hour, representing 34.8 percent over term or about 11.6 percent a year.

 

While Morganbesser did not offer an opinion on these demands, he said the disparity in contract proposals created "a difficult situation."

 

As an umbrella group, CCIA and the Associated General Contractors' labor-relations division represents about 45 contractors in the commercial agreement negotiations. CCIA represents about 30 contractors in the heavy and highway talks.

 

No new negotiations between the parties are currently scheduled.

 

Copyright © 2002 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C


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