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Milwaukee sheet metal association locks out union workers

By Paul Snyder

A Milwaukee contractors association representing 80 employers began a lockout Monday after contract negotiations with a local sheet metal workers’ union failed.

Jeffrey Remsik, spokesman for the Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ Association of Milwaukee, said the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local Union 18 wants increased wages and benefits, and the association will not grant the request.

Seventy-five union workers went on strike Friday, said Patrick Landgraf, Local 18 president and business manager. In response, the association locked out 1,800 union members Monday, he said.

The two sides have been negotiating since April, Remsik said.

“With the construction industry in the worst times we’ve seen since the 1930s, we feel we need to cut and lower costs,” he said. “We want to make ourselves more competitive so we can get more work.”

Landgraf said the issues go beyond wages and benefits. He said the union also is concerned about contractual language and issues such as travel pay. He declined to offer specifics of what the union wants.

“I don’t want to negotiate through the media,” he said. “I’ll say that, right now, we’re apart on issues.”

The contractors’ association also would not provide specifics of what it is willing to offer the union. But, Remsik said, the current wage and benefits rate for journeymen is $51.39 per hour, and apprentice wages range from $26.50 to $43.72 per hour. The union, he said, wants more.

Marc Norberg, assistant to Michael Sullivan, general president of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, said he spoke with Local 18 representatives about the negotiation breakdown.

“This is an isolated incident,” Norberg said. “We’re not seeing lockouts in other places, and there are no other strikes that I know of right now.”

Remsik said he does not know how long the association’s lockout will last. He said the group is waiting for the union to return with a new proposal.

“We hope it’s as short as possible,” Remsik said of the lockout.

Until there is a resolution, the association’s 80 members will stop their sheet metal work. The lockout likely will have the biggest effect on new construction projects, Remsik said, because sheet metal workers typically finish their work before other trades come in to do jobs such as drywall and electric work.

He said he does not know how many projects will be affected.

“A lot of work is also scheduled maintenance,” he said. “That can’t happen now.”

Representatives from association members Langer Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc., Milwaukee, and Brenner Corp., Milwaukee, referred questions about the lockout to the contractors association.

Landgraf said the union is willing to return to the negotiating table. He did not say when that might be.

“I think we’re in a cooling-off period with both entities,” Landgraf said. “Whether the phone call is our initiative or theirs, we’ll see.”

But if employers have to give union workers higher wages, Remsik said, work for those contractors might stop anyway.

“Then as an owner,” he said, “the option is: You go to contractors that are nonunion and have a more competitive wage structure.”

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