LYNNWOOD — Sound Transit leaders worry an ongoing strike by concrete truck drivers could delay the opening of light rail in Snohomish County.
The four-station, 8½-mile Lynnwood Link light rail extension is scheduled to open sometime in 2024. An exact date hasn’t been set, but Seattle’s Northgate extension opening was announced about six months prior to service starting last October.
Workers represented by Teamsters Local 174 have been on strike since December. Around 300 of the union’s members are seeking better pay and benefits, said Todd Parker, a driver for concrete supplier Cadman for 25 years.
They know their strike has held up some projects across Puget Sound and resulted in layoffs.
“Somebody’s got to make a stand at some point in time,” Parker said. “We’re fighting for everybody in the trades so we can make sure we can live where we work.”
Sound Transit’s light rail construction between Northgate and Lynnwood needs concrete for the guideway, foundations, garages, retaining walls and stations. It only recently started getting union-supplied concrete again.
“The concrete strike is just something I don’t think any of us could have predicted,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said during Economic Alliance Snohomish County’s online meeting Tuesday.
The agency won’t know if its projects are delayed, and by how much, until the strike is resolved, Rogoff said.
Sound Transit estimated its projects had missed 44,000 cubic yards of concrete as of last week. That would fill enough delivery trucks, carrying 10 cubic yards each, to line up end to end from Lynnwood to SeaTac.
With some work on hold, the agency’s contractors laid off 229 workers across light rail extensions to Bellevue, Federal Way, Lynnwood and Redmond.
The Lynnwood extension has missed the most concrete deliveries, about 39,000 cubic yards, according to Sound Transit. It is needed for the guideway south of the Snohomish County line and the Lynnwood Transit Center garage.
In mid-March, concrete suppliers and the union agreed to return to work at two plants and deliver to some public works projects, such as Sound Transit light rail and Seattle’s West Seattle Bridge. That allowed for a “major” delivery of concrete last week for work at the Lynnwood Transit Center, Rogoff said.
Sound Transit uses project labor agreements with construction trade unions. The deals guarantee conditions and steady work flow in exchange for a no-strike clause, but that doesn’t extend to concrete drivers, Rogoff said.
Staff also include wiggle room in the construction schedules. But it can’t account for this kind of delay, he said.
“Even if the strike were to be solved tomorrow in its fourth month, it would take a while to catch up,” he said.
Parker said drivers know they’ll be behind contractors’ schedules if the union members agree to a contract. But they would have struggled even without the strike because of a driver shortage, and a better deal could attract new workers, he said.
“The better the contract we get, the more leverage they have to get people to work for us,” Parker said.
No negotiations were scheduled between the suppliers and the Teamsters.
But a public option could mitigate future disruptions.
King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed creating a public-owned concrete supplier earlier in March. Parker said he and the Teamsters support that idea, which would start with a feasibility study and require the King County Council’s approval.