Strike ‘killing’

The building industry is being
hit hard by a lack of concrete
during the prolonged dispute

Oahu businesses dependent on concrete say they have taken big financial hits from strikes at the state's largest concrete providers.

And they do not expect it to get better any time soon, with the next talks between Hawaiian Cement and the company's 67 unionized workers set for Monday.

"We're trying to keep our head above water," said Jeff Chang, operations manager at American Standard Concrete Pumping Hawaii Inc. "I'm trying to keep everybody busy. ... It's killing me."

Chang's business, which acts as a "modern-day wheelbarrow" at construction sites, is one of a number of companies within the island's building industry that depend on a steady supply of concrete.

Miyake Concrete Accessories Inc., which sells rebar and other goods needed to lay concrete, is another.

"Right now, I do have a backlog," said Annie Kuhlmann, the company's manager. "If my customers slow down, I end up slowing down."

Negotiations between Hawaiian Cement and Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996 broke off last Friday, with both sides reporting little progress.

Negotiations are set to resume Monday, but officials had not scheduled a time last night for the parties to meet.

Some 144 concrete workers at Ameron Hawaii are also on strike.

The company's management announced last week that it would lay off half of its 50 nonunion employees until the strike is resolved.

No new talks are scheduled between Ameron and the Teamsters, which represents concrete workers for both companies.

Teamsters attorney Mike Chambrella said yesterday some striking concrete workers from Hawaiian Cement and Ameron are looking for jobs off the picket lines.

At American Standard Concrete Pumping, business dropped by about 85 percent when workers at Hawaiian Cement and Ameron went on strike.

Chang said yesterday that each pumping job brings in between $1,500 and $1,600. The company is down to a couple of jobs per day, compared with dozens before the strikes began.

"The only thing I'd like to see is the strike get over," Chang said, adding that he is trying his hardest not to lay off any of his 30 employees.

Kuhlmann said she has seen a 50 percent drop in business and has already had to lay off one employee since Hawaiian Cement workers began walking picket lines Feb. 6.

Ameron Hawaii workers followed the next day.

"There is a drastic slowdown," Kuhlmann said. "We deal with the small builders as well as the bigger contractors. I have a lot of orders on hold."

With the strikes now in their second week and layoffs of construction workers increasing, construction unions are concerned about their members' welfare.

Ron Taketa, financial secretary and business representative with the Hawaii Carpenters Union, said about 100 of his members have been laid off so far because of the strikes. He expects to see "massive layoffs," with as many as 1,000 carpenters losing their jobs, beginning next week.

"Construction is a cyclical industry," he said. "If we lose work opportunities when times are good, there's not an opportunity to make up when time's are bad."

At the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 293, Business Manager and Financial Secretary Harold Bradshaw said about 200 of his members could feel the effects of a lag once the strikes are resolved and construction starts up again.

"We will definitely feel it later ... if we're not scheduled to go in" because contractors will be catching up with other components of a project, he said.

Companies that finish off homes, including roofing and window businesses, have similar worries.

"We're busy right now because of the winter rain and wind," said RSI-Roofing & Building Supply President Ritchie Mudd.

But, he said, in a week the strikes are "going to affect us a lot." That is because about 25 percent to 30 percent of Mudd's business comes from new home construction, much of which has been stalled during the strikes.

Cecilio Soliven, a senior estimator and project manager at Alii Glass, which serves many of the island's large contractors, said he will be in the same bind within a month.

The strikes "will start affecting us when we complete all of our installations," he said.


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