Progress cited in
carpenter labor talks

But Local 745 and the
Employers Council say
key obstacles remain

By Peter Wagner

Positive signs have emerged in ongoing contract talks that could avert a threatened statewide strike by the Hawaii Carpenters Union Local 745.

But negotiators on both sides yesterday cautioned key obstacles remain as the Tuesday strike deadline draws near.

"There was considerable progress," said Claude Matsumoto, negotiator for the Hawaii Employers Council, which represents the 77-member General Contractors Labor Association and 17-member Building Industry Labor Association in the negotiations. "We're meeting again on Saturday and we hope to refine the remaining issues to just a handful of items."

The carpenters are planning a "strategic strike" against undisclosed companies belonging to the two associations if agreement on a new five-year contract isn't reached by Tuesday.

It's a threat that has drawn little support from other unions, notably the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council which represents 15 trade unions and 20,000 workers.

The group yesterday announced it would not join the carpenters in their strike.

"If this really had a legitimate object to it, I think we'd support it," said William "Buzz" Hong, the council's executive director.

Masons, ironworkers, laborers, glaziers, painters, carpet layers, plumbers, and numerous other tradesmen of the council plan to cross the carpenters' picket lines.

The group is concerned about possible language in the proposed agreement that would give carpenters a larger share of worksite jobs.

Carpenters Union spokesman Walter Kupau yesterday brushed off the concern, saying the job classifications in question had been mostly worked out.

"With Labor Day coming up, we're supposed to be talking about unity and solidarity," he said. "I don't think their membership approves of this. If the ironworkers or the laborers went on strike, I'd respect their picket lines. That's what unions are supposed to be."

But Kupau said the council's action won't affect the strike. "Their unions crossed our picket lines in 1980 for four weeks, and in 1984 for 16 weeks, and we still prevailed."

Kupau noted that heavy equipment operators of Operating Engineers Union Local 3 plan to join the strike, which he said would effectively shut down most picketed sites. The carpenters and the Operating Engineers Local 3 have been jointly negotiating for new contracts since mid-July.

Among key issues, the carpenters want contractors to stop farming out work to non-union subcontractors, and to end the importation of pre-fabricated materials from the mainland.

"Scab shops paying $7 or $8 an hour are getting the work while workers in Hawaii are going hungry," said Kupau.

Most residential projects in Hawaii are using prefabricated materials, putting 20 percent of the union's members out of work, he said.

In all, more than half of the Carpenter's Union's 6,800 members are unemployed, reflecting the state's slow construction industry. About a third of the Operating Engineers 3,500 members are also out of work.

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