With construction delayed over Teamsters’ strike, King County wants to supply its own concrete

KING COUNTY, Wash. — King County’s frustration with the region’s concrete suppliers and Teamsters involved in an ongoing, four-month-long strike has boiled over. County Executive Dow Constantine has called for King County and local partners to develop “their own concrete manufacturing facilities to ensure the future of critical infrastructure construction in our region.”

Sound Transit, the Port of Seattle, the University of Washington, the City of Seattle have already set in motion what will culminate in the county’s direct attempt to provide its own supply of concrete for construction projects across the region.

In February, city and county leaders began sounding the alarm that high-profile projects such as the West Seattle Bridge would be significantly delayed were the strike to continue. The county offered up a direct purchase agreement with suppliers to try to resume supply.

“Repair of the West Seattle Bridge remains one of the city’s highest priorities,” writes Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “While the Seattle Department of Transportation, contractors, and community partners have worked tirelessly to keep the West Seattle Bridge reopening on track for mid-2022, this continued strike threatens to delay that schedule, as well as impact many other major City of Seattle projects. For an on-time opening, concrete companies and workers must return to mediation and reach a fair agreement – further delay and uncertainty is untenable for hundreds of thousands of neighbors across West Seattle, our city, and the entire region.”

No movement has been made with labor negotiations since that time. Teamsters 174 and the concrete suppliers have met with a federal mediator at least once to resolve contract disputes, which is largely tied to union demands for improved retiree health care benefits, a Teamsters spokesperson tells MyNorthwest. The suppliers point to an increase in wages, among other benefits afforded in the pending contract.

While Tuesday’s announcement is simply that of legislation to commission a study to determine the feasibility of internally supplying the county’s own concrete, it signals how Constantine, Sound Transit, and Harrell view their relationship with the suppliers moving forward.

“Clearly, the local concrete industry is failing the people of King County, and I won’t let our region’s infrastructure hang in the balance,” Constantine wrote in a news release.

“For the future of our infrastructure and our economy, the public sector must act to secure a reliable supply of concrete, even if that means manufacturing our own. While this won’t solve the stalemate today, we will begin the work to ensure taxpayers aren’t put in this position again, and to keep our region moving forward.”

The county has explored bringing in concrete from outside the region with other suppliers but cites the speed at which the construction material becomes unusable after mixed as a mitigating factor is leveraging suppliers outside of the immediate region.

The study will analyze the feasibility of the County facilitating the manufacture of concrete, including studying possible partners, locations, and a cost-benefit analysis. It will also identify any opportunities for private entities to be involved with the public project. The report will be due to the King County Council on Dec. 1.

This story was originally published by MyNorthwest.