Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Connecticut carpenters and contractors agree to new contract

By Rob Varnon

A labor dispute that idled some construction sites last week has ended as Connecticut carpenters are expected to vote on a new contract Thursday.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, locals 24, 210 and 43 returned to work Monday as a good faith gesture while talks between their union and a statewide contractors' association, the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, resumed after a weeklong work stoppage.

"Everything is back to normal. Peace and cooperation reign," said Mark Erlich, executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, after negotiations concluded Monday.

Erlich said the work stoppage came about in a "strange" way.

The contract with the CCIA expired on April 30 and the union offered a one-week extension as negotiations continued. But the CCIA, which has been described as a collective bargaining group for contractors, rejected the offer, leaving the union without a contract. The CCIA then called an emergency meeting to vote on a temporary extension, but the vote failed.

Votes on the new contract will be held Thursday at the union halls, and Erlich said he was glad "cooler heads prevailed."

The CCIA negotiates the labor contracts on behalf of some of its members. It has more than 352 members, but not all use carpenters. In Fairfield County and parts of New Haven County, there were 37 CCIA members listed on the group's website.

"Given the overall economic conditions, it's an interesting time to picket," said Ward Thrasher, assistant dean and director of the MBA program at the University of Bridgeport's School of Business.

According to the state departments of Labor and Economic and Community Development's monthly publication, the Connecticut Economic Digest, construction contract activity in the state is the lowest it has been since 2002.

The U.S. Department of Labor said 51,000 people were employed in construction in March, up 1,400 from the same month a year ago, but down about 17,600 from the peak of 2008.

Unions have been under pressure to accept health care benefits on par with nonunion workers and to switch from pension retirement plans to 401(k) retirement plans.

Accepting these concessions could reduce union membership, Thrasher said. If union benefits start to look like the ones nonunion workers get, members will question the value of being represented, he said. "That's one of the problems the unions are facing nationally," he said.

1 comment:

I would ask that if you would like to leave a comment that you think of Local 157 Blogspot as your online meeting hall and that you wouldn’t say anything on this site that you wouldn’t, say at a union meeting. Constructive criticism is welcome, as we all benefit from such advice. Obnoxious comments are not welcome.