Carpenters vote to keep their union amid strike, dispute with big KC area contractor

Turner construction carpenters on strike over contract

About 50 carpenters have left Turner Construction or are on strike because their union and the company couldn't come to a contract agreement.
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About 50 carpenters have left Turner Construction or are on strike because their union and the company couldn't come to a contract agreement.

After leaving about 50 Kansas City area carpenters without a contract earlier this month, Turner Construction and the carpenter's union will soon have to take up negotiations.

On Friday, 18 members of the carpenters union who worked at Turner voted unanimously to continue to be represented by their labor union, the St. Louis Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council.

The union has accused Turner of wanting unworkable provisions in a new union contract, including a $15-an-hour wage and benefits cut.

Mark Iammarino, Turner's vice president and general manager in Kansas City, previously said the company and the union hadn't yet talked about pay rates. He said Turner wouldn't have a position on wages until it starts negotiating with the union.

The council represented about 50 carpenters who worked for Turner Construction but went on strike earlier this month when their contract expired.

In that time, most have found work with other contractors, said Dave Wilson, director of organizing for the western region of the council.

"They won't go back to work for them without a contract," Wilson said.

The carpenters' old agreement with Turner Construction, a large general contractor with a headquarters in New York and an office in Kansas City, expired April 30. Talks about a new contract fell apart ahead of the deadline.

Since then, union members have been on strike, but talks over a new contract could start soon. The union petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to hold the Friday vote.

“Now Turner doesn’t have a choice," said Judy Ancel, a Kansas City labor educator. "It can’t get out of its union contract by refusing to negotiate. Turner will be obliged under the law to sit down and negotiate in good faith with the union."

It's unclear how quickly the company and union might reach an agreement.

Iammarino said the company and union didn't have formal negotiations before the contract expired, only casual conversations.

“This is their next step in getting us to the negotiation table is conducting the vote," Iammarino said.

“The results of the election were no surprise to us,” Wilson said in a press release. “With the major concessions that Turner is trying to force their employees to take, we knew there was no way our members would agree to those conditions, especially during the current construction labor shortage.”

Wilson said in an interview that other Kansas City construction companies had extended contracts with the carpenters union.

“For us it’s really puzzling why they would choose now, especially with the labor shortage there is in the construction industry, to do this," Wilson said. "It really defies logic.”

Ancel called the supposed concessions the company asked for "union busting."

“That signals to the union that they’re in for a big fight because the general contractor is trying to get rid of the union," Ancel said.

Turner's main priority, Iammarino said, is removing an "archaic" provision in the carpenters' contract that Turner use union carpenters for any subcontracting work. He argued the requirement prevents the company from being "open and selective" when it chooses subcontractors.

The union argues that without the subcontracting requirement, the company could "undercut" its contract with the union by allowing it to outsource work to cheaper, non-union carpenters.

Turner and the union will now have to negotiate in "good faith," which Wilson said didn't happen previously.

"Asking us to take a $15 an hour cut in pay is — in our opinion — not starting from a position of good faith," Wilson said.

Iammarino said Turner went through a yearlong negotiation process with a local laborers' union that petitioned for a vote, like the carpenters. Turner and the union reached an impasse and couldn't agree on a contract. Now, Turner has only non-union laborers.

Wilson said being a non-union contractor would be tough for Turner.

"This isn't Texas here," Wilson said. "Kansas City is a union town, and it's going to be interesting to see how Turner would survive in this market being a non-union contractor."

For now, Wilson said the union doesn't plan to picket on Turner job sites as long as the company negotiates in good faith.

The union, however, has a website and billboards up calling Turner a "greedy corporation" and accusing the company of "dumping the very workers who made (it) a successful contractor in the Kansas City area."