An ongoing labor dispute between King County, Wash., concrete suppliers and delivery drivers represented by Teamsters Local 174 that has reduced or halted concrete deliveries now is affecting some major transportation projects in the Seattle area.

Multiple Sound Transit light rail extensions already are seeing delays, while $45 million in emergency repairs to the West Seattle Bridge are about to. The State Route 520 project may also see delays in the near future. 

The strike, which began in November, had already slowed work on projects in the region back in January. Contractors have attempted to stagger concrete deliveries to minimize the impact, but ss the strike continues, delays are mounting at major transportation projects—and others in the region such as the Washington State Convention Center addition. Federal strike mediation between the concrete suppliers and drivers was set to begin Feb. 24, but there has been no sign of a resolution emerging. 

Arguably the most pressing project affected is the now-closed West Seattle Bridge. Cracks in the concrete led to its closure in March 2020, and the Seattle Dept. of Transportation is working with contractor Kraemer North America on the final phase of the $45-million fix that includes carbon-fiber reinforcements, epoxy injections and fresh concrete.

The team had hoped to have the job completed by June 30 but that deadline is now uncertain.

"We are just 245 yards—fewer than 30 truckloads—from the finish line," wrote Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold in a letter. "I call on concrete suppliers to reach agreement with Teamsters Local 174 as soon as possible to ensure completion of the West Seattle Bridge repair is as scheduled."

A  city DOT spokesperson says Kraemer sequenced work activity on the bridge to respond to the strike, pushing the need for concrete into early February. The agency adapted the approach to reduce the number of concrete deliveries to the bridge and accommodate concrete work beginning as late as Feb. 20. But with no resolution yet to the strike, the bridge project has not yet received its concrete.

Work is ongoing on other aspects of the bridge repairs, such as injecting epoxy into cracks and installing the carbon-fiber wrapping, but the length of the schedule delay will ultimately depend on how long the strike continues. The DOT says it is still revising contingency plans with the ongoing goal of reopening the bridge as close to mid-2022 as possible.

Kristen Simpson, agency interim director, said in a statement that it supports a fair resolution among the parties and her office will work to minimize  completion delays across all projects while knowing concrete is a core component of the city's transportation infrastructure. "We remain hopeful a resolution is near," she said.

 The DOT isn't the only transportation agency hoping for a resolution.

The Washington State Dept. of Transportation, which leads the State Route 520 project, issued a statement this week saying the strike's impact includes layoffs of contractor employees and the potential for increased taxpayer costs. The agency says it is working closely with King County, the City of Seattle, the Port of Seattle, Sound Transit and the Washington State Convention Center to urge for a negotiated resolution of the dispute.

Jamie Fleming, director of communications and research for Teamsters Local 174, says the union is hopeful the mediation "helps to break something loose on the negotiation front, contending that the longer projects are delayed, the longer the backlog once the strike ends. "The more pressure on the employers, the more hopeful we are that we can get this resolved and get everyone back to work," he says.

For the SR 520 project, the ongoing strike has caused cancelation of planned weekend ramp and highway closures and will likely delay the Montlake lid construction.

Sound Transit already saw delays in four light rail extension projects in King County—the Lynnwood, Federal Way, East Link and downtown Redmond extensions—in December. Work impacted includes guideways, retaining walls, stations and garages. John Gallagher, its public information officer, says that since Dec. 3, the agency has missed out on more than 28,500 cu yd of concrete, equating to a 19-mile-long queue if the truckloads were lined up bumper-to-bumper. So far, 266 workers have been laid off. Sound Transit has been able to secure a small amount of concrete from Pierce County providers and a non-union supplier.

Local 174 went on strike with 34 workers at Gary Merlino Construction on Nov. 19, but that soon expanded to include Stoneway Concrete, Cadman, CalPortland/Glacier, Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel and Lehigh Cement. The workers are all local members and are on strike to protest the companies' "refusal to bargain in good faith" after a contract expired on July 31, 2021.

Gery Merlino Construction did not respond to requests for comment. 

Founded in 1909, Teamsters Local 174 represents 8,600 workers in the Seattle area. Rick Hicks, secretary-treasurer, says the Teamsters remain willing to negotiate in good faith and asks for a fair deal that "treats our members with the same respect already shown to other construction trades when negotiating their contracts earlier this year."