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The Internationalist
July 2021

Pickets Shut Down Job Sites Daily

Portland Painters Gearing Up:
Now’s the Time, Strike to Win!

By Class Struggle Workers – Portland

Getting ready: 70 members of IUPAT Local 10 picketing at Christensen Oil on June 1. (Photo: Facebook)

Since this article was published, a strike against SPCO contractors was scheduled for June 24, but was called off when the union leadership announced a tentative settlement. However, on July 6 the membership voted overwhelmingly (by a 3-to-1 margin) to reject the deal for a $1.75 one-year raise overall. The next day a competing contractors’ group, AWCC, offered a $6.75 increase over three years in wages and benefits. That offer was approved by the membership, although a significant minority voted against, saying that much more could have been won by a full-scale strike. The SPCO has subsequently come up with similar terms. The enthusiastic response of the IUPAT Local 10 membership to pickets that shut down different job sites, for the first time in 30 years, was key to achieving these gains. 

PORTLAND, OR, June 21 – Members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 10 in Portland, Oregon, deemed “essential workers,” kept construction booming as they worked all through the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, their bosses in the Signatory Painting Contractors Organization (SPCO) took in $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program “loans” which they may never have to pay back. Yet even as they are flush with cash, contractors are offering a “raise” so low (25¢/hour, less than 1% for a journeyman painter) that it would amount to pennies a week. This is also supposed to cover increased health insurance costs, and along with the rising cost of living this would amount to a pay cut.

But the painters are not giving in to the SPCO contractors’ bullying tactics. On May 24, ballots of Local 10 members were counted and 95% voted to authorize a strike. It would be the first painters strike in over 40 years in the Portland area. As the results of the vote became official, the Northwest Oregon Labor council unanimously adopted a solidarity resolution brought by IATSE (stage hands) Local 28 in support of a painters strike. And since they may be a little out of practice, painters have been gearing up for the strike with a series of unfair labor practice (ULP) pickets that have successfully shut down or greatly reduced work at several job sites across the metropolitan area.

Dubbed the “summer of chaos,” the pickets kicked off on May 21 at McDaniel High School, followed on May 28 and June 1 at a downtown apartment project, and on June 4 at an office remodeling. Then on June 7, 9, 10 and 11 at Christensen Oil; on June 10 at a remodeling of a house owned by Reed College; on June 14 at a wholesale food warehouse, and on June 18 at Siegner and Co. (one of the biggest contractors in the SPCO) and Christensen Oil. These have been the biggest painters pickets seen in Portland since the 1970s, and other construction trades locals have respected the lines. Northwest Labor Press (2 June) reported that at McDaniel High School, “an estimated 120 members of over a dozen other unions had honored the strike picket line, giving up a day’s wages to show solidarity with the union brothers and sisters….”

When painters from Seigner and Co. who picketed at Christensen Oil Co. were targeted for retaliation after their courageous four-day picket and shutdown at the jobsite, Local 10 put out an “all out” call to Seigner employees, and dozens showed up to picket the contractor. The largest job under that contractor, 50 miles away in Salem, was shut down as all of their employees chose to aid the picket at Seigner. One picketer was struck by the car of a Seigner founder as he bullied his way in to the gate, but the pickets persevered. After discussion, a second picket was sent to Christensen, the job site where the workers had been retaliated against, and again the job was shut down.

Class-struggle militants in Local 10 have called for organizing strike preparation teams at all affected shops, for an elected strike committee to organize and direct strike activities, and for massive picket lines that can effectively shut job sites down. Solidarity across union and trade lines has already been key to shutting down individual jobs and such solidarity must be repeated en masse for the strike to be successful. As the labor adage goes, “An injury to one is an injury to all!” The construction trades in Portland are seeing the truth of this fundamental principle play out before their eyes.

In a previous contract battle, under pressure from the ranks, a binding arbitration clause was eliminated. But for the right to strike to be effective, labor’s power must be used. Painters’ pay has been lagging for years – partly because they haven’t struck for four decades – and the $2.62 raise last year has still left them as one of the lowest-paid of the construction trades. As bargaining continues behind closed doors (the bosses know what’s being negotiated, the workers are kept in the dark), painters should demand a large raiseno less than 15%, and even that would only begin to catch up.

There have now been weeks of preparations. It’s high time to spread the pickets to the bigger job sites (Intel, Nike, airport) and strike all SPCO sites, while elected delegates from the shop teams need to make the strike committee a reality to take their place in leading this battle that will require a full mobilization of the union membership – and effective solidarity action by the construction trades and all of Northwest Oregon/Southwest Washington labor. We need to make those solidarity resolutions count.

Portland is home to some of the largest construction projects in North America today. A solid painters strike here would send a message to corona profit-bloated conglomerates around the country: labor is ready to fight. To win, all jobs under the master area agreement must be shut down. The watchword is: one out, all out – picket lines mean don’t cross, period! We make that stick and we can win. ■