About 35 carpenter union locals in the Pacific Northwest have closed in the past three years to join larger locals. Earlier this month, Juneau’s Carpenter Union Local 2247 fell to the same fate and its members have been absorbed by Anchorage’s Carpenter Union Local 1281.
The carpenters’ umbrella union – the Pacific Northwest Region Council – says Southeast has not been forgotten. Officials met with members in Ketchikan last night and have scheduled a Juneau meeting tomorrow.
May 1st is the unofficial Labor Day in the U.S., a day for unions and locals to celebrate their unity and strength. For about 150 Southeast carpenters, who were members of Local 2247, it was the day they found out their hall had been shut down.
“I actually saw on Facebook. I follow the Pacific Northwest Regional Council page and there was an announcement that two halls in Alaska had been closed so I clicked it to see what it was and it was our local,” says Juneau carpenter Chris Dimond. Dimond has been a member of Local 2247 for ten years.
Dimond currently works for Juneau-based North Pacific Erectors and has never used his union local to find work, but he’s been a loyal member, attending monthly meetings, and taking part in union events.
“For me, personally, that was kind of a kick, when we’re supposed to have this brotherhood and this tight-knit community amongst ourselves and then to have that taken away without any forewarning or any real clear explanation of why it was being done.”
Local 2247 has been around since 1939. It was part of the Alaska Regional Council of Carpenters until this past February when the state council was dissolved and absorbed into the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents 26,000 members in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and now Alaska.
Ben Basom is communications director for Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters. He says shutting down Juneau Carpenter Local 2247 and moving its membership to Local 1281 in Anchorage is part of a nationwide effort by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters to streamline operations, run more efficiently, and save costs. Basom claims savings have even been passed down to members.
“The immediate benefit to the membership was a reduction in over-the-counter dues. I know, for example, in my old local I think I was paying $33 a month over-the-counter and all dues went down to $20, so right there out-of-pocket dues were reduced,” Basom says.
Basom says dues may go down for 1281 members, but it’s too early to say for sure.
Southeast carpenters are struggling with potential changes that may come about due to the closure of Juneau Local 2247. Juneau carpenter Mike VanderJack says it initially caused a lot of confusion.
“About exactly what that would mean for us. If they were taking over our retirement – we just had no idea what that meant because they had not discussed that with us previously. Maybe if we had had a few months to prepare ourselves and to understand what that meant for us, it would’ve been something different, but instead it was just upsetting, confusing,” VanderJack says.
Without a local union hall, members also fear losing their voice. They once met in Juneau, now monthly union meetings are in Anchorage. There’s concern Southeast-based carpenters will have to share Southeast jobs with their Anchorage counterparts. The concerns were great enough earlier this month that Juneau Senator Dennis Egan’s office heard complaints.
“Right now it just feels like we don’t get a say in what’s going on and that’s really upsetting and that goes against everything we’ve learned about what a union is,” VanderJack says.
Basom is hoping the Pacific Northwest Council can make the transition as smooth as possible. He wants to assure Southeast carpenters the council’s intent is not to abandon Juneau.
“Transitions sometimes can be frightening and I completely understand that. But as far as the standard order of business such as finding jobs and having contractors and dispatching members to work, it is not going to change. It’s going to be business as usual,” Basom says.
The carpenters may be settling into the idea that Anchorage Carpenter Union 1281 is now their local. A union election is underway and one member from Southeast is on the ballot. The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters is also opening an office in Juneau and is currently looking for someone to work as a Southeast representative.