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The Today File

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September 16, 2013 at 4:21 PM

Gov. Inslee steps into tunnel labor dispute

Gov. Jay Inslee spent an hour in Bellevue talking with management and union officials this morning, in an effort to thaw that labor dispute that’s caused a nearly four-week delay in the Highway 99 tunnel project.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is picketing at Terminal 46 on the Seattle waterfront, where excavated muck is supposed to be loaded onto barges and shipped to a quarry near Port Townsend. The Seattle Tunnel Partners group intends to use building-trades members instead of longshoremen to work a conveyor belt, drive a front-end loader, and position the barge at T-46.  Currently, the conveyor belt isn’t moving and tunnel boring machine Bertha isn’t drilling. The back half of the machine has yet to escape the launch pit in Sodo.

Inslee’s staff were gaining confidence in the labor talks a few days ago, but as of noon today, “we haven’t heard anything about an agreement being close,” said his communications director, David Postman. Another session is planned for 6 p.m., Postman said. “You have to get Bertha going. That was the strong position of the governor.”

The governor is likely to make a public statement Tuesday.  “This has proven to be a difficult issue,” Postman said. “We’re dealing with multiple unions, the Seattle Tunnel Partners and Washington State DOT. Union versus union is a difficult place to be.”

Only four to eight work shifts per day are at stake, but the ILWU is feeling pressure at several West Coast ports, raising the stakes here. ILWU argues that the muck loading is longshore work, since it entails moving materials offshore. The building trades and employers say the work is part of the Highway 99 construction labor agreement. In August, the governor intervened through a conference call and by having staff meet with unions, Postman said.

Drilling began July 30, but the machine has advanced only 24 feet. Fiberglass rods got stuck in a conveyor screw, then the labor dispute halted Bertha’s progress.  An earlier news story is here.

Comments | Topics: Highway 99 tunnel; ILWU; Gov. Jay Inslee


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