Meaning behind first Labor Day motivating local union carpenters to consider strike

The Northwest Carpenter’s Union, which represents more than 25,000 members, will consider a tentative agreement for wages and benefits on Tuesday with the Associated General Contractors. And if an agreement is not reached by week’s end, some members are calling for the union to strike for the first time in years.

“We’re in the largest building boom this city has ever seen,” said union member Art Francisco to a Labor Day rally in Seattle.

“I strongly suggest a ‘no vote’ on this contract,” said Ray Sheppard, another member from Idaho.

Before getting into details about why their union is so frustrated regarding the collective bargaining, rally organizers reminded members about Labor Day’s roots, with one-day strikes where workers filled the streets of New York City calling for rights in 1882 when the founder of the carpenters’ union, Peter J McGuire, called for a federal holiday. McGuire is now known as the father of Labor Day.

“We’re willing to fight, just like the original member, P.J. McGuire, was willing to fight,” said Sheppard. “People actually died fighting for this union.”

Union carpenters work on enormous projects around the clock, such as the Climate Pledge Arena and one of the largest construction projects on the West Coast that’s on the Microsoft campus in Redmond.

“Most of us that work here in Seattle cannot afford to live here,” said Miguel Perry, a representative at Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

The carpenters’ union has turned down three consecutive offers, and it put on black armbands today, preparing to consider a new multiyear proposal tomorrow.

“What the black armband represents is if it comes down to that, we are ready to strike,” said Sheppard.

“I think half of downtown would be shut down,” added Perry.

And on the 127th American Labor Day, members said they, like their predecessors, are fighting for future workers.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘We’re greedy,’” said Sheppard. “We’re not greedy; we want a living wage.”