Gov. Inslee says tunnel work to resume as labor talks continue

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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SEATTLE - The tunnel-boring machine known as Bertha that's used for the Alaskan Way tunnel project was shut down because of a labor dispute, but the governor says the project will be back on track soon.

 The longshoremen began picketing at Terminal 46 on the waterfront on Aug. 20.  Bertha has not moved since.

 The dispute is about who should transport the dirt from the dig site.

 The jobs in question would cover about four to eight work shifts a day.

 The longshoremen’s union said the task of moving the dirt along a conveyer belt to the barges belongs to them.

 But the Seattle Tunnel Partners wanted to use building trades members instead.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has agreed to take down their picket line to allow work to continue.

I have been increasingly frustrated by this situation. And I know that Washingtonians feel this same frustration to the nth degree,” Inslee said at his news conference.

Still, the dispute continues among the unions and the contracted Seattle Tunnel Partners. The governor’s staff said that several proposals were discussed and rejected Monday.

The governor plans on reconvening all parties in the next few days to continue working toward a solution.

He emphasized that the state has contracted this work to Seattle Tunnel Partners, and therefore the state only has limited authority in its actions to resolve the issue.

Inslee said the responsibility ultimately falls on Seattle Tunnel Partners.

They owe us that job, to get done. And we are going to be demanding for them to get that job done,” he said.

Drilling began on July 30, but soon after fiberglass rods became stuck in a conveyer screw. Then the labor dispute stopped Bertha altogether, so not much progress has been made.

As the drilling resumes, the building tradesmen are handling the dirt-moving work for the time being as they try to find a solution.

Inslee said the delay has cost millions.

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