Plumbers’ strike clogs construction

Valerie Maczak

The recent strike by the Plumbers and Steam Fitters Local 219 brought construction near the Student Center to a halt.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Members of the Plumbers and Steam Fitters Union Local 219 resumed work Monday after resolving a two-week strike, said Jim Swenberg, business manager and chairman for the union.

On Saturday, union members passed a vote for a new collective bargaining agreement, Swenberg said.

Swenberg asked that the strike not be made a “big issue” and would not elaborate on strike issues or the collective bargaining agreement, but the strike centered on unfair hiring practices, construction laborers said.

During the strike, workers stopped progress on two campus construction projects and university officials modified schedules for several other sites.

Tom Euclide, director of architecture and engineering, said the strike halted work on a new Bowman Hall Chilled Water Plant and a portion of the main visitors’ parking lot.

Chilled water plants generate air to cool buildings on campus and, prior to the strike, university architects expected Bowman Hall’s chilled water system renovation to leave the building without air conditioning for only two weeks during early June.

However, the work site remained inactive during the strike, leaving employees in affected buildings to work in rising temperatures for an extended period.

Carolyn Brothers and Nancy Myers, department of history administrative secretaries, both work in Bowman Hall and said temperatures reached 93 degrees in the office during the second week of June.

Myers said that during the same week, the history dean allowed employees to leave early with pay because of the heat. The department also provided portable air conditioners to keep the offices cooler, if not comfortable, Brothers said.

Air conditioning was expected to be turned back on by now, but the strike delayed completion of the Chilled Water Plant, so air conditioning isn’t expected to return to Bowman for another two weeks, Euclide said.

Because most of the main visitors’ parking lot was available for daily use during the strike, the work stoppage at the lot did not create as much concern, although it is compromising campus aesthetics.

“There’s a big hole in our lot, and no one is working on it,” said Larry Emling, assistant manager of Parking Services.

Euclide said schedule modifications allowed construction workers to keep other projects on schedule, but university officials planned for an extended strike. Euclide could not estimate costs associated with the strike, but said the university is prepared to mandate overtime work schedules to ensure projects finish on time.

Contact building, grounds and transportation reporter Valerie Maczak at [email protected].