Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 4, 2014

Carpenters Union Ineffectively Protests School District

On my way to lunch today, I noticed three people holding up a giant sign in front of the Bellingham School District office saying, “Shame on Bellingham School District!”

Bellingham School District

Bellingham School District

Naturally, I asked the nature of their complaint. They said they were hired by the Carpenters Union, they couldn’t talk about it but they could give me a flyer. The flyer, featuring a rat chewing on a United States flag, detailed a complaint by the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters accusing the school district of considering, not accepting but considering, a bid by Van Beek Drywall for some work on Birchwood Elementary.

After accusing the school district of “Desecration of the American Way of Life,” the flyer elaborates on their complaint. “Van Beek Drywall does not meet area labor standards on all their projects, including providing or fully paying for family health care and pension, for all of their carpenter craft employees on all their jobs.” The flyer urges people to call Assistant Superintendent of Finance Operations, Ron Cowan and, “tell him that you want him to do all he can to see that only area labor standards contractors are used for all Bellingham School District projects.”

Right off the bat, there are three problems with this protest:

  1. It is spring break, therefore the chances of people seeing the protest are pretty slim since no one is in school.
  2. Did I mention that the school employees are on break? That includes Ron Cowan, the person we are supposed to call.
  3. When I called the Carpenters Union to get more information, their phone number lead to an unidentified voicemail. I’ve left two messages, no one has gotten back to me over the last four hours. If you are planning a protest, make sure there is someone near the phone when media gets wind of the story.

To track this down, I called the local office for the Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, located in Mount Vernon. No one picked up the phone and there was no answering machine so I called the regional office down in Oregon and got their Communications Director Ben Basom. He said, “We have been out there since August, obviously not full-time.” I asked how long this would continue, Basom said, “This is part of an ongoing discussion with the community about contractors like Van Beek who wish to undercut the area labor standards.”

I also spoke with the subject of the protest, Van Beek Drywall. Doug Van Beek, owner of Van Beek Drywall, said that yes, they have been protested on and off during the last couple of months. “We are a non-union company, we pay comparable wages and provide a benefits package without them getting a dues check. That’s what they are upset about.” He noted, “I’m not anti-union, they serve a purpose but in this case, they are wrong. We are the only non-union drywall company north of Everett that even provides a benefits package, why they are targeting us, I have no clue.”

No matter the subject of the dispute, I would hope the union would be a little more effective in their communication methods. I’ll publish more details as I get them.

UPDATE: The Bellingham Education Association distanced themselves from this protest on their facebook page

“This protest does not involve Bellingham Public Schools employees or any of our labor groups. It involves a subcontractor working on the Birchwood Elementary School construction project. Bellingham Public Schools is not involved in any labor disputes, regardless of what it says on the sign.
The group holding the sign has been hired by the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters in Kent, WA. They are upset because one of the subcontractors on the Birchwood project is a non-union shop. The subcontractor is not hired by the district. The district does not have a contract with the subcontractor in question. The district only has a contract with the general contractor (Colacurcio Construction in Blaine.)
The Birchwood project is a publicly bid project. This means the district is required by state law to give the work to the lowest responsible bidder, regardless of whether they are union or not.
It is important to know that the Birchwood project is covered by state prevailing wage requirements meaning that all workers on the job, even the non-union workers will be paid at wage rates determined by the state of Washington. The subcontractor does not determine the wage rates for the workers on this project, the wage rates are determined by the state. Further, the district monitors for compliance with this requirement as does the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.”




  1. They have been holding that sign there for a couple months. The BEA commented on the protest on their Facebook page


    • Thank you Carrie! I’m adding their comments to this article.

  2. I wonder what union the sign holders are in and what the wage, benefit package & retirement plan is like?

  3. Maybe you could be their communications guru Riley.

  4. Great report, Riley. I wondered what it was they were protesting. First rule of protesting: make sure people who see you know what the heck it is you’re protesting.

  5. Sounds like the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters doesn’t like to play by fair, market-based rules. Good for Bham Public Schools and Colacurcio for ensuring we taxpayers get the best bang for our buck and not cower to political pressures.

  6. Dear Riley,
    Are you aware that Whatcom County has had a huge labor-organizing victory during the past 12 months? The classified employees (CMA’s, techs, housekeepers, etc) at Peace Health Bellingham have voted to be represented by SEIU 1199, and they are presently negotiating their first contract. Over 400 workers are benefiting from this. A huge kudo to 1199, which has a real organizing culture. This is the biggest organizing advance in our County for a generation.

    I’m not too sure why your debut on labor issues focused not on the Peace Health employees’ huge victory but rather on a small-scale, risible farce conducted by what is obviously not an organizing culture.

    Best wishes,
    Abe Jacobson

  7. Hi Riley,

    This is why I send you a little money every month. Thanks for the information and insight.


  8. Going for the lowest hanging fruit, Riley? If this story didn’t sound rather anti-union it wouldn’t be a story at all.

    I’m with Abe… why haven’t you reported on something as important as Peace Health Bellingham employees voting to join SEIU 1199?

    • I will definitely dig into the SEIU story – this article was not an attempt to report on “the most important labor story”, like I said, I ran into these guys protesting and was amazed at how difficult it was to find out what their complaint was – so that became the story. Just as I write about conservative groups falling on their face, I do the same when groups I agree with fail to achieve their objectives.

  9. If anyone didn’t read all the way to the bottom of Bellingham Education Assn’s Facebook page clip, he or she might not have caught that all contractors and subcontractors on this job and every school district building job, as well as nearly all road construction projects, in Washington State, pay Prevailing Wages to everyone on the job, including prevailing benefits. And contractors have a ton of paperwork and fees to pay to prove it.

    These wages and benefits exactly matched union rates for years, going up every six months whenever union rates went up, because the state stopped bothering to survey for actual prevailing wage rates. So they’re not getting away with anything and they don’t have an unfair advantage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: