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C.G. Schmidt, Local 139 break bargaining impasse

Picket lines started coming down at various C.G. Schmidt job sites Tuesday after the general contractor reached a new five-year agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139.

Terry McGowan, Local 139 president and business manager, said he and other union officials came to a final agreement with Milwaukee-based C.G. Schmidt on Tuesday morning. McGowan said he and his fellow union representatives reached essentially the same terms with C.G. Schmidt as they had earlier this year with other general contractors and specialty contractors in southeast Wisconsin.

Most importantly, McGowan said, C.G. Schmidt has agreed to bring on Local 139 members to run various types of heavy equipment for anything outside “incidental” operations, although the general contractor will be able to use direct employees to operate skid steers and telehandlers for relatively short periods. McGowan said the new contract means Local 139 will be treated essentially the same by all union contractors with projects in southeast Wisconsin.

He said the impasse with C.G. Schmidt lasted about four weeks.

“We ironed out a few differences, and we are back to being friends,” McGowan said. “The pickets are all coming down.”

Rick Schmidt, president and chief executive of C.G. Schmidt, declined to discuss the details of his company’s new contract with Local 139, except to say that it is probably similar to the operating engineers’ agreements with other general contractors.

“We believe this agreement is in the best interest of our firm and our clients,” Schmidt said.

McGowan said the negotiating impasse led the operating engineers to set up picket lines at C.G. Schmidt sites in both Milwaukee and Madison. The affected projects included work at the Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin campus west of downtown Milwaukee, the Aurora West Allis Medical Center and Aurora Psychiatric Hospital’s Dewey Center in Wauwatosa.

C.G. Schmidt is also a partner with Gilbane Building Co. in the construction of the 32-story, $450 million headquarters tower and commons building that Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. is building in downtown Milwaukee. That project was protected from any labor shutdowns, though, by a project-labor agreement. PLAs generally direct construction contracts to union companies in return for promises to not strike or take other steps designed to slow a project down.

McGowan said he was impressed by other labor organizations’ show of solidarity with the operating engineers. He said construction workers of all stripes largely honored Local 139’s picket lines.

“For the most part,” he said, “they wouldn’t cross.”

Rick Schmidt described the picketing as being “infrequent” and said he does not think it slowed progress on the company’s projects.

McGowan said that Tuesday’s agreement shows construction unions were not left weakened by Wisconsin lawmakers’ adoption last year of a right-to-work law and a budget provision greatly curtailing prevailing-wage requirements.

“I haven’t seen it in a long time that trades stood so strong for so long together,” McGowan said. “I guess that proves that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

McGowan has said Local 139 struggled to come to terms with C.G. Schmidt after the general contractor terminated the employment of two operating engineers earlier this year. The operating engineers filed a complaint on June 27 with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that C.G. Schmidt officials had said they would no longer “have a bargaining relationship with Local 139 upon expiration of the most recent agreement,” on May 31.

McGowan said the operating engineers are now withdrawing that complaint. He said the contract dispute came down to “just some things we had to muddle through and discuss,” adding that he has always found Rick Schmidt to be “a man of integrity and a man of his word.”

McGowan has said he began to suspect Local 139’s negotiations with C.G. Schmidt would not go smoothly this year when the company broke from its previous practice and chose not to bargain through the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee, a trade group that represents various general contractors in southeast Wisconsin. McGowan said representatives of either the AGC of Greater Milwaukee or the Allied Construction Employers Association — which mostly represents specialty contractors — typically sit across the table from Local 139 when it’s time to negotiate contracts for Milwaukee and surrounding areas.

Tuesday’s agreement will cover employment terms for master builders in Local 139’s Area 1 — which takes in Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties. Local 139 has about 9,000 members throughout Wisconsin, making it likely the largest construction union in the state. Many of its members are employed building roads and helping to lay underground utility lines.

Correction: This article has been corrected to state that the general contractor C.G. Schmidt will be allowed to use direct employees to operate skid steers and telehandlers, not cranes, for short periods of time.

About Dan Shaw, [email protected]

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 414-225-1807.

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