Seattle-area construction projects impacted by on-strike concrete truck drivers

by Lindsey Wells

Hundreds of Seattle concrete truck drivers are striking for wage increases, a movement that has stopped the flow of concrete deliveries to job sites and significantly slowed construction on many of the city’s developments. 

The strike began in mid-November with workers from Gary Merlino Construction (GMC) after the company’s lead negotiator, Charlie Oliver, refused to bargain in good faith for a new contract to cover 34 dump truck drivers, according to a press release by Teamsters Local 174, the labor union representing the Washington State drivers.

“I’m not sure why the Merlino Brothers have chosen Charlie Oliver to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge this Christmas, but that is exactly what they’ve done and their workers are paying the price for it,” said Rick Hicks, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters 174, in the release. “If they really cared about their employees the way they claim to, they need to come back to the bargaining table and let’s negotiate a contract that rewards the hard work our union members have performed day in and day out throughout the Seattle construction boom.”

Today marks day 32 on strike for GMC workers and 21 days for Stoneway Concrete mixer drivers, who joined the Unfair Labor Practice strike on Dec. 1. Workers from other concrete companies including Cadman, CalPortland, Lehigh Cement and Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel have since joined the strike. A total of 330 striking workers advocating for wage increases this holiday season have been manning the picket lines 24 hours per day, seven days per week, at 12 separate locations, the release noted.

Seattle’s construction employment, which plunged during the four-week shutdown in March 2020, has already surpassed its pre-COVID levels, according to a report by The Seattle Times. The construction industry rebounded much faster this time compared to during the Great Recession, which slowed down the pace for Seattle-area construction workers for years. 

Now, many builders can’t keep up with the demand for apartments, offices, warehouses and other structures. However, as the strike demonstrates, builders are navigating a unique set of obstacles. The construction boom has also been notably uneven, with the Eastside seeing an explosion of new construction sites and projects, while downtown Seattle has a surplus of extra space. 

In addition, builders are paying more for everything from materials to kitchen appliances and HVAC systems. For example, plywood costs 66% more than it did in 2019, while the cost for copper pipe has risen 78% and lumber prices are up 89%, according to The Seattle Times report. 

Despite the higher costs, many developers and investors are moving forward with construction projects. Nearly 26,400 Seattle-area apartment units were under construction in late 2021. “Because hiring stayed strong during the pandemic, rents, lease rates and sales prices rose fast enough to outpace rising costs and keep builders confident that completed buildings can still be profitably leased or flipped,” according to a representative from Kidder Mathews, a commercial real estate agency.

Rent for a two-bedroom Seattle-area apartment was $1,944 in late 2021, up 9.2% from early 2020, while vacancies dropped from 5.6% to 4.6%, the report stated. 

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