Bills will require construction contractors to fully pay for workers’ parking costs, strengthen enforcement and penalties for wage theft, and restore right to strike
Union members, Sawant organizing Saturday rally to support strikers
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), standing alongside dozens of striking union carpenters and other workers, this morning unveiled three legislative proposals to back construction workers in their demands for fair pay, protections, and rights.
Northwest Carpenters struck last Thursday, after democratically rejecting, for the fourth time, a substandard contract proposal from the contractors. The union members are demanding fully-paid parking, fully-funded benefits, family-supporting wages, improved protections against harassment, and a three-year contract along with all building and construction trades.
“The carpenters are not only courageously on strike for these concrete demands, they are on strike for all of us in the working class,” Sawant said. “Workers have been pressed from all sides and our conditions have been deteriorating. Meanwhile, just since the COVID crisis began, American billionaires have become nearly two trillion dollars richer. This is not new: the bosses have raked in trillions more over the last decade, while workers fell behind.
“We urgently need working people to get organized – to fight back against the endless attacks on us by the billionaires, to rebuild a fighting labor movement, to fight for better conditions and decent wages, to avoid climate catastrophe, against racism and sexism, and for a society that puts people before profits.”
Sawant’s first bill, which is being prepared for introduction during the City Council’s upcoming 2022 budget debate, would vastly strengthen the City’s ability to investigate and penalize construction contractors that engage in wage theft, and recoup stolen money for the workers.
Researchers have documented how “severe and widespread” wage theft is in the construction industry. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that bosses steal $15 billion/year from workers through various wage theft schemes. Sawant noted at the press conference that non-union construction workers and undocumented workers are especially exploited by contractor wage theft, and that her office has received reports of wage theft on City projects.
Sawant said her legislation will increase the City’s capacity to investigate wage theft claims and recover stolen money for construction workers. It also will strengthen penalties for employers that break the law.
“Over the years my office has joined carpenters, painters, ironworkers, and other construction workers in protests at various job sites around Puget Sound. What’s going on is shameful exploitation by the bosses, and we are going to put a stop to this.”
Sawant’s second ordinance would require contractors to pay 100 percent of the parking costs for all construction workers in Seattle.
Carpenters and other construction workers are required to drive to job sites – often with vehicles loaded with tools required for the job – but have to pay $100 or more a week for parking, especially if the job site is in downtown Seattle.
“Shamefully, the contractors, who have made billions in profits off of the backs of workers, have refused to cover this cost in bargaining with the Northwest Carpenters Union,” Sawant noted. ”So we will make it a city requirement that construction contractors pay 100 percent of all parking costs for all construction workers, beginning immediately.
“Our pay-for-parking requirement for contractors is no different from the City requiring employers to meet other employment standards, like minimum wage, paid sick and safe time, secure scheduling, and the Commuter Benefits Ordinance.”
Sawant’s third bill would restore the rights of workers to strike.
Right now union carpenters are being told that they must continue working on jobs that are subject to Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). These are agreements in which the union, the city, and the contractors agree to good union pay and standards in exchange for a commitment to not strike. But union contracts that spell out the PLA standards have expiration dates, and once that date passes, there is no reason for the union to be bound by this no-strike clause.
“It’s shameful, in fact, that the contractors are insisting on keeping the jobs open while exploiting carpenters with below-standard pay, and the City political establishment has gone along with that,” Sawant said. “The contractors are essentially saying, ‘Under the PLA we have the right to exploit you, but you don’t have the right to collectively fight back.’ Over the last week, I’ve heard from many, many union carpenters who are outraged about this, and our legislation will restore the workers’ basic right to engage in collective action to defend their interests.”
Sawant also announced her Council office has joined with unions in organizing a solidarity rally this Saturday at 11 a.m. to support the Carpenters Union strike.
Sawant’s office also has joined with striking Carpenters to launch an online community solidarity petition for the strike.
Sawant has issued two solidarity letters in support of the Carpenters: A Labor Day statement to Carpenters, and a follow-up solidarity letter last Friday. In addition, Councilmember Sawant has written this week to the Northwest Carpenters Union leadership, noting that “We are stronger standing together, united against the bosses,” and offering to meet with union leadership and members to build further support for the strike. Sawant’s letter followed a letter to her, signed by more than 50 rank-and-file Carpenters, applauding her support and urging her to continue using the Council office to back the strike.