Twin Cities sprinkler fitters vote to strike

Members of Sprinkler Fitters Local 417 have voted to strike, overwhelmingly rejecting a proposed three-year contract offered by a contractors group. “They gave us their ‘last, final and best offer’ and the members voted it down quite substantially — 262 to reject, 2 to accept" on Monday, reported Jeff Motschenbacher, Local 417 business manager.

Local 417’s three-year contract with about 30 local contractors who are members of the National Fire Sprinkler Association expired May 31 at midnight.

“We don’t work without a contract,” Motschenbacher said. “It’s a long tradition of Local 417… We just feel it’s not in the best interests of the local.”

Motschenbacher said about 380 workers are covered by the contract.

Local 417 is not picketing worksites at this time, Motschenbacher said. He added that Local 417 members will remain on the job at some of the region’s larger construction projects, like the Vikings football stadium, where project labor agreements are in place which prohibit strikes and lock-outs.

Motschenbacher said contract language and wages were key concerns for Local 417 members.

The contractors’ proposal would have created a new non-union job category of “residential helper,” paying a lower wage and not including Local 417’s benefit package. “The members felt… you’re just training them to work non-union,” Motschenbacher said.

With the economy improving, members also felt wages increases offered by the contractors fell short. The proposed agreement offered an additional $2 per hour per year. “We were looking for $2.50,” Motschenbacher said. Members had been working under an expiring three-year agreement which included first a wage freeze and then only modest increases. “I think they were expecting a better offer,” Motschenbacher said.

Motschenbacher said no new negotiations with the contractor group had been scheduled. The contractors would be meeting Wednesday. “I’ll expect a call from them after that,” Motschenbacher said.

Local 417 members install fire sprinkler systems and the local covers the Twin Cities metropolitan area, including Anoka County, Dakota County, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Scott County and Washington County.