Walking into the Isthmus office Friday morning I stumbled on a story: Two picketers stationed in front of the neighboring Block 89 office project.
Question: What's up, guys?
Answer: Union painters and drywallers are on strike as of the midnight expiration of their old three-year contract.
In a subsequent phone call to John Jorgensen, the business manager for District Council 7 of the Painters & Allied Trades, I learned that construction sites affected by the strike include the Epic Systems campus in Verona, the St. Mary's Hospital's expansion on the south side and various UW-Madison campus projects.Jorgensen told me that some 500 painters and drywall finishers in the greater Madison area are on strike, following the membership rejecting management's contract offer in a Tuesday night vote.
"I don't want to give the contract specifics," Jorgensen said, "but one of the most difficult issues driving negotiations has been the high cost of health insurance."
He said that employers had been paying $4.95 an hour for health insurance coverage, but the new contract, because of rate hikes, would require union members to pay another 90 cents an hour for their coverage.
Brad Statz, vice president of Statz and Harrop, a steel-stud and drywall contractor, told me that that management of 23 firms had offered union members a 4% wage-andbenefit increase over a new three-year contract.
"We thought that was consistent with what other labor unions have received," he said.
Statz said that if health insurance premiums are becoming too costly, the union's health fund has the ability to negotiate news terms with providers, including higher co-pay, that would reduce premiums.
"They could change the terms to make it better for themselves," he argued.