Northern California Bricklayers/Stonemasons on Strike

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On July 18, 2005, the Northern California Bricklayers/Stonemasons went on strike. Events leading up to the strike began when contract negotiations broke down last week. The Northern California Masonry Contractors Association sent a letter to the Bricklayers/Stonemasons and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) Local 3 Union announcing they are cutting off contract negotiations.

On July 18, 2005 the Northern California Bricklayers/Stonemasons went on strike. Events leading up to the strike began when contract negotiations broke down last week. The Northern California Masonry Contractors Association sent a letter to the Bricklayers/Stonemasons and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) Local 3 Union announcing they are cutting off contract negotiations.

BAC decided to call a strike against members of the contractors' association in an effort to get them to return to negotiations. The major points of contention focus around health care, retiree subsidy, pension funding, and travel compensation. Since June 2002, wages have only increased $0.80 (80 cents) per hour; that’s an average increase of $0.26 (26 cents) per year!

BAC Local 3 Bricklayers/Stonemasons of Northern California have been working without a contract since July 1, 2005. In July 2004, the Bricklayers/Stonemasons took a $1.50 per hour pay cut to fund their health care benefit. Bricklayers/Stonemasons are asking for a raise to recover the July 2004 pay cut and to cover increases in health care that are scheduled for January 2006. Currently, the Bricklayers/Stonemasons pay $7.25 per hour for health care. That is more than people earn for minimum wage. Further, the contractors blocked the funding of the Bricklayers/Stonemasons retiree’s health care subsidy.

The Bricklayers/Stonemasons are also seeking an increase to cover the cost of living increases, such as gas and housing. Since last year, gasoline in California has increased over 40% while the Bricklayers/Stonemasons wage decreased by an average of 3%. A bricklayer’s job is never in the same place month after month as it might be for someone who works in an office in one location. Due to the few qualified bricklayers/stonemasons in California, the large geographic area of the Northern 46 counties, and variable job locations, an employer may require a bricklayers/stonemason to travel over 200 miles a day. This is common in such specialty crafts as masonry.

The average bricklayer earns less than $37,000 per year due to the seasonality of the occupation. According to the California Budget Project report “How much does it cost to raise a Family in California” (2003), a bricklayer’s family is not making ends meet. Many Bricklayers/Stonemasons and their families are having difficulty making rent or mortgage payments coupled with the cost of childcare, food, gasoline, and automotive expenses.

Economic, labor, and work projections all indicate robust growth for the construction and bricklayer industry. The Bricklayers/Stonemasons are reasonable and willing to discuss all options with the contractors. The bricklayer’s membership overwhelmingly voted to reject the contractor’s latest offer and believe they can solve the differences through further negotiation. The Bricklayers/Stonemasons came to bargain in good faith and as of today, the contractors association has not made a logical argument for their refusal to grant the Bricklayers/Stonemasons the requested increase in compensation.

Bricklayers/Stonemasons and Allied Craftworkers represent approximately 3,000 Bricklayers/Stonemasons, Tile Layers and Finishers, Pointer Cleaner Caulkers, Marble Setters and Finishers, Terrazzo Mechanics and Finishers, and Refractory Bricklayers/Stonemasons who work various aspects of the industry in the Northern 46 counties of California.

“We are some of the hardest workers society has to offer. Due to the skyrocketing cost of health care, housing, childcare, and gas, we are becoming part of the working poor. We deserve better for this ancient and honorable craft,” says James C. Bresnahan, President BAC Local 3.

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James Bresnahan
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