ST. LOUIS (PAI) – The unity of the members of Bricklayers Local 1 in St. Louis standing behind their negotiating committee and the unyielding support of all the building trades unions provided the impetus for a total victory that ended the 35-day strike on July 5.
And the victory also ends a contractors’ lawsuit that, had it succeeded, would have endangered all traditional union pension plans in the U.S.
After 13 hours of negotiations over the holiday weekend, Local 1 and the Mason Contractors Association (MCA) signed a new six-year agreement that preserves the union’s pension plan and provides for a $7.10 an hour increase over the life of the agreement in incremental yearly steps, Local 1 President Don Brown announced jubilantly.
“All our members are back at work,” Brown said. “We are pleased that the contractors finally realized our members were determined to protect our pension plan and were willing to make some other compromises so we could end this strike.
“It was clear after our union meeting last week that even after a month on strike, our members were united 100 percent behind their negotiating committee,” he added. “That show of unity I’m sure made all the difference in the world in bringing this strike to an end. I’m proud of our members’ toughness to stay strong,” Brown added.
As part of the settlement, the contractors association agreed to:
- Not appeal their failed lawsuit trying to compel arbitration over the issue of converting the defined pension plan into a 401(k) style plan instead of it being a normal bargaining issue. This potentially could have impacted union pension plans across America.
- To pay their own legal expenses of their ill-fated lawsuit which they tried to foist on the pension plan, creating a situation where the union’s members would have been paying the contractors’ costs to sue them.
- Drop their demand that the union force independent contractors into the MCA by refusing to recognize the contracts the union had already signed with dozens of independent contractors. Throughout the strike, a number of major mason contractors abandoned their MCA membership and signed an independent contract allowing their jobs to continue.
- Drop their demand that independent contractors could not participate in the union’s pension plan, which would have disenfranchised hundreds of Local 1’s members. Local 1 made some concessions on its apprenticeship training program and several language issues.
The new agreement expires June 1, 2021 ensuring six years of labor peace in an industry that has seen three strikes at the conclusion of its last three contracts.
Some 850 Local 1 bricklayers, tuck pointers, and caulkers and cleaners are employed by 95 local companies. Of that total before the strike, 42 companies were covered under a single agreement with the MCA and 53 were independent contractors that have similar basic agreements. Since the strike, a number of additional contractors left the MCA and signed independent agreements. The strike began June 1.
“The fact that the members of all the building trades unions were united behind us made it clear to the contractors that it was time to compromise and bring this strike to an end. A special ‘thank you’ to the St. Louis building trades unions and all their members who stood behind us 100 percent,” Brown said. “And a special ‘thank you’ to the Jeff Aboussie, the Building Trades Council’s executive secretary-treasurer, Jim LaMantia, executive director of the PRIDE organization and federal mediator Max Aud, who were all key to keeping our talks going and ensuring there was a level-headed effort to end this strike.”
Ed Finkelstein is publisher of The St. Louis Labor Tribune.
Photo: President Don Brown addresses members of Bricklayers Local 1, whose unity allowed the union to settle a 35-day strike against the Mason Contractors’ Association protecting pensions and signing a six-year contract. | Labor Tribune