Seattle electricians walk picket lines, stalling construction

First full strike since 1945 nears six weeks with sticking points on pay and holidays

Seattle Electricians Walk Picket Lines, Stalling Projects
(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty, Wikipedia/Jelson25)

More than 1,000 electricians around Seattle have gone on strike for weeks, pulling the plug on major construction projects such as Microsoft and office buildings. 

The nearly six-week walkout includes “limited energy electricians” with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46 who want paid holidays, higher pay and increased safety measures like radios at all job sites, the Washington State Standard reported.

The strikers’ demands of the National Electrical Contractors Association has resulted in the first strike of the full membership of the union’s limited energy electrician unit since 1945, according to the union. The strike began on April 11.

Limited energy electricians install and repair systems like fire alarms, building security systems and phone and fiber-optic lines. 

The strike won’t just impact new construction sites, but the infrastructure of existing buildings across King County, including hospitals, prisons and schools, according to Megan Kirby, a lead negotiator for IBEW Local 46. 

“You know, what we do isn’t glamorous. But we make sure that everybody’s cellphones work, and emergency responders’ radios are working,” Kirby told the Standard. 

Strikes of over a month with more than 1,000 workers are rare in Washington, where most major strikes end within two weeks. Organizers called the strike a “last resort.” 

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Chelsea Croft, spokeswoman for the National Electrical Contractors Association, told the Standard the trade group “cannot comment on ongoing collective bargaining negotiations.” Other IBEW 46 units are in negotiations, but not on strike. 

Among the biggest sticking points are unpaid holidays, which many consider a “forced day off,” Kirby said. Many union members pick up overtime or do gig work like driving for DoorDash to make ends meet during the holidays.

Nonunion electricians get paid holidays, which makes it hard for the union to retain members. 

While contractors reason that union electricians get better pensions and health care than nonunion workers, that’s not always the case, Kirby said. The limited energy profession as a whole, organizers said, is having recruitment and retention issues because of low pay. 

Contractors have offered a $11 an hour raise over three years, but the union wants $16. At least 30 percent of the pay increase will go directly to maintaining benefits, especially rising health care costs.

Hourly wages under the limited energy electrician contract heading into negotiations range from $17 for entry-level installers to $51.96 for foremen, according to the Standard. Including benefits, the hourly compensation range is $26.06 to $70.52.

— Dana Bartholomew

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