3/10/08

Carpenters in ugly 'shame-on' picketing

Bob Winston has picketers outside his business, but his employees aren't the ones with the beef against him. Neither are his customers. And he doesn't have organizers pressuring him to unionize his mortgage business. Instead, he's being picketed because he chose Kirtley-Cole Associates of Everett to construct a new building for his business.

Since 2006, the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, a labor union, has been publicly unhappy with Kirtley-Cole over the pay and benefits its employees get. Instead of directly picketing Kirtley-Cole, however, the union has sent people to hold banners and distribute fliers at the offices of Kirtley-Cole's clients.

"Bob Winston Financial Hurts our community," the sign reads, adding "labor dispute" on the side. It's being held up outside Winston's business office on Everett Mall Way, far from where his new building is going up.

Winston says the tactic is unfair, especially because the banner in front of his office has his name on it, but doesn't even mention the union's real target. Winston said he would understand if picketers hung around the site of his new building, just east of I-5 near the 128th Street SE exit, but not at the building he shares with other businesses.

"They're barking up the wrong tree in this process," Winston said.

He's not the only one feeling heat from the union. Its representatives also have been picketing outside the new home of Trinity Lutheran College .

Mark Lewinski, Kirtley-Cole's president and chief operating officer, said the tactic is unfair to the company's customers.

"Since the time Kirtley-Cole's been in business, over 35 years, we've never seen the client base attacked like this, when the client is not the subject of the dispute," he said. "This is really unfair to our clients."

The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters claims Kirtley-Cole does not give its workers the same pay and benefits as other contracting companies. Eric Franklin, communications director for the carpenters union, said the "public information campaign" simply educates people about their stance.

"The crux of it is they are a non-area-standards contractor. They don't pay what the area standard is," Franklin said, adding that gives Kirtley-Cole a price advantage over competitors when it bids for construction projects. "When you're bidding on the backs of workers, we have an issue."

Lewinski said his company's pay is "competitive, if not in some cases, higher than the union wage rates." He and Linda Browning, who heads Kirtley-Cole's human resources department, said they also offer a full range of medical insurance and other benefits to the company's roughly 60 employees.

In regard to the picketing, Franklin said those holding the union's banners -- union workers, spouses and relatives, and hired workers -- aren't doing anything wrong.

"As long as you don't slander someone or make false accusations, we can exercise our free speech rights," Franklin said.

But Winston argues that being compared to a rat in fliers being handed out by the union seems to be "bordering on slander."

"I've got employees here who are being hassled by these guys," Winston said.

John Stamm, president of Trinity Lutheran College, can sympathize. Ever since Kirtley-Cole began remodeling the Port Gardner building in downtown Everett, picketers with a banner denouncing Trinity have shown up most days.

"It's not the type of thing we usually get embroiled in," Stamm said. He's trying to get out word that the college has no dispute directly with anyone, as the banner doesn't make that clear.

"These assertions are wrong, misleading and deceptive," Stamm said.

As at Winston's business, Stamm said picketers have passed out fliers targeting him and including his phone number. Two people holding the union's banner outside the Port Gardner building last week declined to comment on their presence, referring questions to the union's office.

The picketing at Trinity's future home -- the college plans to move in by mid-August -- is now the subject of a National Labor Relations Board complaint. An attorney for Kirtley-Cole filed the complaint last week against the carpenters union, alleging unlawful threats and unlawful picketing by the union.

"We feel strongly about those charges," Kirtley-Cole's Lewinski said.

(heraldnet.com)

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