FAQ 2018 WWA AGC Contract

Frequently asked questions

Click on the questions below to learn more about the contract negotiation process and how it impacts wages, pension, health, and other worker issues. 


➤ How is the bargaining team selected? What perks do they get?
  • The bargaining team is recommended by the president of each local in the bargaining unit.
  • The only perk is the privilege of serving their fellow members in bargaining. They work hard, meet often, take time off work, plus numerous evening meetings and calls.

➤ Some Brothers and Sisters want us to strike. Won’t a strike get us the best package possible?
  • A strike can be a useful tool when used appropriately. We have gone on strike in this council in the past. However, when a solid wage and benefit package is on the table a strike is not an appropriate option.
  • There is no guarantee that we could gain much more from a strike. Portland’s EIS Carpenters struck for 18 days in 2007 and gained less than $0.10 on the ratified agreement.

➤ Why doesn’t the Union listen to the members?
  • The negotiating committee reviewed 3,000 surveys before crafting its first proposal, where most of the major issues were covered.
  • Members cited “parking” and “pension” as two major factors in voting down the first TA
  • The Committee listened and addressed both issues in TA #2 though they recognize that these are polarizing issues for some members.

➤ Why aren’t members more included in the negotiation process?
  • Members participated in a contract survey. Close to double the number of members participated in the survey this time around. The bargaining committee studies the survey results closely prior to bargaining.
  • The regional council distributed t-shirts to encourage a show of solidarity among the members. #WWAContract
  • The regional council implemented electronic voting and text alerts to involve more members in the voting process. The text alerts are not a perfect system. Since we’ve identified that the texts haven’t reached everyone another postcard will go out to all voting members when the next TA is ready.
  • The bargaining team has more tool-carrying carpenters seated at the table than ever before. Many days, it was 50/50% (and more, some days).
  • Almost twice as many members voted on this contract than our last contract.
  • Reach out to the contracts department. Share your ideas about how to better engage the membership. We want to know.

➤ What goes on behind closed doors? What does the negotiation process look like?

The negotiations process goes something like this:

  • Opening Letters are sent to bargaining parties
  • Bargaining Team members are recommended by the locals (these are tool-wearing carpenters, not staff from the council)
  • Survey of members
  • Review of Survey
    • The survey process asks specific questions and also gives the opportunity for the members to give additional feedback to the bargaining team.
  • At the first meeting, labor and management set ground rules for the negotiating process. 
  • Ground rules usually include:
    • No discussion of what is taking place in negotiations outside of the room.
    • No Press, no social media about specifics prior to a Tentative Agreement (TA). 
      • This allows the parties to keep the bargaining at the table and also for purposes of practicality.  It would be difficult to report back to members after every session, it would disrupt the flow of the bargaining process and get in the way of an efficient bargaining process.  This is why we wait until a TA has been reached and then send out a Cover Letter reviewing the TA for the members.
      • This process is the most efficient and allows for the bargaining parties to feel secure in their dealings at the table which is key to a good negotiations process. 

➤ What happens now that the first two tentative agreements (TA’s) did not pass?
  • Your bargaining team continues negotiating with the AGC.
  • There is currently an extension through July 7 – members working under this contract will continue to work under the terms of the current contract until a new contract is ratified.
  • Wages and benefits will remain the same until a new contract is reached and ratified.

➤ Will we get retro pay?

Hopefully. The bargaining team is advocating for retro pay but the retroactive pay is subject to negotiation for any hours worked after May 31, 2018.

➤ If I don’t vote is that an automatic “yes” vote? 

No. Ratification of a tentative agreement is decided by the members who vote. Not voting doesn’t count.  


➤ Why didn’t the bargaining team allocate more money toward the pension plan?
  • The benefit contribution increase in the two tentative agreements would have increased the benefit accrual by 23% over the life of the contract.
  • Because the pension plan is a green-zone plan projected to be fully funded in 2027, the bargaining committee wanted members to get pay raises so some of the financial benefits are on the check as well.
  • Members working under both the AGC Area Master Agreement and the Wall and Ceiling Agreement contribute the same amount to benefits. Until a new contract is signed, members working under the Wall and Ceiling Agreement will see the full rate on their checks. At the time a contract is reached, members working under the Wall and Ceiling contract will have the ratified benefit contributions backed out of their checks and they would not get their anticipated raise the first year of the AGC contract.

➤ Are you going to take the current wage increase to shore up the pension deficit, like before?
  • No. With the move to Sustainable Income Benefits in 2017, the proposed amount in the previous two TA’s is sufficient to keep the plan financially healthy.
  • If projections are met, the plan should be fully funded in 2027.
  • The trustees are bound by federal law to make responsible financial decisions for the fund. Trustees cannot promise to, nor would we want them to, ignore a reallocation of funds if necessary. Keeping the plan properly funded means we keep our promise of a secure retirement to all our members.

➤ I heard we will only receive 80% of our benefits when we retire. 
  • This is not correct. The retirement plan has always paid and will continue to pay 100% of the benefit promise to its retirees.
  • The 80% may be a reference to the current (2017) funding status (81.2%) of the plan. What that number means is if the plan had to meet all of its retirement promises today, it would fall short of that promise. But, of course, no pension plan works that way.
  • With the existing funding surcharge and the move to sustainable income benefits, the funding status is projected to be 100% by 2027
  • Preliminary numbers for 2018 show the funding status already improving.

➤ I got our pension funding notice in the mail in April and it said our pension’s funding status dropped. I’m worried I will not have the benefits I was promised.
  • The plan funding status as of January 2017 was 81.2%.
  • The fund is still absorbing the “smoothing” effects that were adopted to reduce the impact of the 2008 recession on investment returns.
  • The plan funding status lags by one year. We will see the results of the SIB (plan change) start to show in coming years.
  • The plan is currently slated to be 100% funded by 2027.

➤ I just got my benefit statement and it looks like my pension benefits are lower than ever!
  • While SIB accruals start out lower, your SIB is expected to grow during your career and likely outpace what you would have earned under the traditional income benefit. SIBs continue to grow through investment gains during your career and during your retirement years, an advantage unavailable with traditional income benefits.
  • Your 2017 SIB accrual increased by 1.13% on 1/1/2018. Because of a 15.3% investment return in 2017, your 2017 and 2018 SIB accruals will increase by 6.0% on 1/1/2019. Additional 2017 investment earnings will be added to the stabilization reserve which is available to shore up SIBs in years when the plan earns less than 4%.

➤ Why is our pension plan’s funding status lower than other trades?
  • It is not lower. A Spring 2018 Multiemployer Pension Funding Study indicates that pension plans on average achieved an aggregated funding status of 82-83%, the highest since the market collapse in 2008 (when the average was 85%). The 2017 rate of our plan was funded at 81.2%. It is already rising.
  • We are currently on track to be 100% funded by 2027.
  • Some trades have higher funded plans. Most of those plans are putting a lot of money: $8, $10, $12 per hour into non-accrual (funds that are not accruing a direct benefit for plan participants) to raise the funding status.

➤ I’m concerned about our medical benefits. It seems like the benefit amounts proposed isn’t enough to keep up with the costs.
  • We’ve kept up with healthcare costs over the years and made changes to adjust with shifting costs and legislative changes.
  • The trust is always examining ways to be fiscally responsible and provide good benefits to members and their families. Based on varies projections, the trustees believe the current contribution level allows the plan to maintain its current eligibility and benefit structure even with medical inflation.


➤ Why don’t carpenters make as much as other crafts, like the plumbers or electricians?
  • Trade licensure plays a large role in the ability of specific crafts to demand higher wages. Studies show that any occupation that requires a license will earn a 10-15% premium versus comparable non-licensed work. Licensure presents greater barriers to contractors that don’t use a licensed workforce. Simply put, a guy with a skilsaw and a pickup truck can become a contractor, hire a crew that he calls carpenters, and compete against our contractors at extremely reduced rates.
  • We are not competing with the other trades, we are competing against non-union contractors. 
  • The underground economy plays a big role in wage determination. Square footage rates, nonpayment, no overtime, and premium fraud are a few common examples of wage theft that many of our non-union competitors use to undercut bids and steal market share. The licensed trades are not up against the underground economy to the same extent as carpenters.
  • Making a strong impact on the underground economy is one of our best defenses. The union puts a tremendous amount of resources into the civil and criminal prosecution of criminal contractors to affect that dynamic and create work opportunities for carpenter members. We work with civil attorneys, government agencies, and law enforcement on cases that have resulted in jail and prison time for criminal contractors as well as millions of dollars back in the pockets of workers.
  • Another consideration is sheer numbers. Carpenters are the largest craft in the building trades, including unlicensed crafts like the Ironworkers, who we outnumber, 4 to 1. For the smaller crafts, it is easier to negotiate higher rates that are an overall smaller hit to the contractor and owner bids. The impact of negotiating higher wage packages for carpenters influences the total labor costs more than any other trade, which ties back into our high numbers of unlicensed competition.

➤ Why don’t carpenters get licensed?
  • Licensure is complex, and we have a long road ahead of us to reach that if that becomes a clear goal. A downside to licensure is that we would be stuck in boom times (like now) and struggle to provide a full workforce if members were required to go through licensure first. It’s a complicated issue that we don’t have resolution on yet.
  • Licensure is a long process that frequently requires completion of an apprenticeship program before state certification. 75% of our current Journey level membership has not gone through the apprenticeship and many were brought in during boom times to satisfy labor shortages.

➤ Why are “Seattle” carpenters making $1/hour more than me? That’s not fair.

The intent of zone pay is to assist carpenters who work in certain areas or on certain projects where travel is burdensome. $1/hour additional pay for carpenters working in the downtown Seattle core is intended to offset the costly price of daily parking, leveling the playing field with brothers and sisters who might not need to pay more for the opportunity to work.  

➤ $1/hour is not enough to pay for my parking in downtown Seattle every day. Why can’t we get our parking paid in full? What about Bellevue?
  • While the intent of the $1/hour in pay for carpenters working in the downtown core is to assist those members in paying for costly daily parking, the wage increase is considered “zone pay” like a carpenter working in the San Juan Islands, or other locations where the travel to the job site is burdensome.
  • Every carpenter, regardless if they personally pay for parking, use public transportation, or carpool will be reimbursed the $1/hour zone pay for their work in the downtown core. Zone pay is also computed into overtime hours.
  • Most importantly, the addition of new zone pay provides a starting point to build on in future negotiations. We have been active in negotiating in parking on project labor agreement (PLA) jobs and this is the first time we have a starting point for parking in non-PLA work.

➤ Why can’t the contractors just reimburse for parking?
  • This could create more headache for members and contractors. Requiring members to keep track of parking receipts and fill out additional reimbursement paperwork can be burdensome. Zone pay is an easy way to get paid timely without additional paperwork and bookkeeping.
  • Zone pay also gets factored into overtime and raises the overall wage.
  • Zone pay benefits all Carpenters in the area, even those who carpool, take public transit, have parking provided, or working nights when parking is free on the street

➤ Why don’t our contracts keep up with the cost of living (Consumer Price Index)?

They far exceed them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Seattle /Tacoma area has increased by 13% since 2013 and during that same time, our wages grew by 15.57% which does not include the 2018 4.79% increase. With that additional 4.79% increase that would put us 9.36% ahead of the CPI.

➤ We suffered during the recession. Isn’t it time to make back what we lost in raises during that time?

The entire country suffered because we had a terrible recession and a construction depression. Carpenters didn’t “lose” raises, we kept our jobs and had steady work. Compared to other industries we were hit the hardest but have recovered more strongly than many.

Carpenters Total Package Rates & Percentage Increases 2012–2017


  • $57.18
  • 3.01%


  • $55.51
  • 2.76%


  • $54.02
  • 3.25%


  • $52.32
  • 2.95%


  • $50.82
  • 2.52%


  • $49.57
  • 2.27%

➤ I’m worth more. I’m making over-scale, so the contractors can obviously afford to pay us all more.
  • The contract wage is a collectively bargained minimum wage. Contractors can pay over scale if they decide to. Not all members are paid overscale and overscale payments tend to rise in frequency and amount during booming economies when contractors are scrambling for a workforce.
  • The current economy in Washington state is excellent. Not knowing what the future holds, we need to be able to bargain for good times and bad. We, as well as other trades, gave back wages in the past. We would prefer not to give back wages.
  • Large contractors can sometimes afford over-scale pay when many smaller contractors with tighter margins cannot. We bargain these agreements with all 600 contractors in this agreement. 


➤ Can I trust the union to do right by me?
  • The union is bound by duty, integrity, and federal law to represent our members.
  • The bargaining committee is made up of 14 rank and file members (recommended by their locals) and regional council representatives that participated in the process.
  • The union’s interest is your interest; to bargain as strong a contract as possible for the membership.
  • Most of our staff are UBC members, and many have been members far longer than they have been on staff.
  • This is the best contract we’ve had on the table in years for wages and benefits increases.
    • 6/1/2017
    • 6/1/2016
    • 6/1/2015
    • 6/1/2014
    • 6/1/2013
    • 6/1/2012

➤ How did you come up with the 5% / 4% / 3.25%? (12.25%) TA from May 17th? Why didn’t we bargain for more?
  • This is the highest percentage increase we’ve negotiated on record. Your bargaining team worked to get the best increase possible for that TA.
  • With zone pay factored in, the downtown Seattle total package increase is 15.18% over the life of the contract.
  • Several trades have ratified similar, and lower increases over the past months
    • Laborers ratified 5% 4% 3% plus parking
    • Cement Finishers ratified 5% 4% 3% minus parking
    • The membership didn’t ratify the last TA, so the committee is back at the table to try to get an agreement that members will agree to.

➤ How will the W/CWA AGC Agreement affect different crafts or contracts?
  • Wall and Ceiling (EIS)
  • The benefits negotiated in the AGC master agreement are binding to the Wall and Ceiling Agreement. The Wall and Ceiling Agreement is up for bargaining next year. Fringe benefits (pension and healthcare) will be taken off the raises that the Wall and Ceiling carpenters just received on June 1st.  Note: Only H&W and Pension Increases not Training (already figured)
  • The Wall and Ceiling Agreement is not subject to any part of the AGC master agreement aside from benefits.
  • MEA (Millwright Employers Association) is based on fringe benefits and percentage of the pay scale in the W/CWA AGC Agreement
  • The Hanford Site Stabilization Agreement reflects the Wages and a portion of the benefits for the Millwright Classification
  • The Eastern Washington Northern Idaho Area Master Agreement reflects the Wages and a portion of the benefits for the Millwright Classification
  • Scaffold Agreement is based on fringe benefits and percentage of the pay scale in the W/CWA AGC Agreement
  • Floorlayer Master Agreement is based on wages and fringe benefits. 
  • All PLA’s & CWA’s in Western Washington that keep current or Prevailing Wages updated annually in September & March are based on wages and fringe benefits negotiated in the W/CWA AGC Agreement.
  • Oregon Diver’s Addendum for Divers & Tenders is based on 90% of the hourly rate in the W/CWA AGC Agreement 
  • Public Sector groups which use Maintenance Carpenter wage rates such as Tacoma School District, Shoreline School District, Washington Athletic Club, Washington State Convention Center, Port of Seattle, and Woodland Park Zoo, Union Square One are all derived from a percentage of the W&CWA AGC Master Agreement. 

➤ Why can’t our contractors compete? They are making tons of money right now. 
  • Union contractors face a lot of pressure in bidding for jobs. The bidding process is competitive, and developers and clients are often looking for the cheapest bid, not necessarily the best quality product.  
  • Because of the competitive bidding process, the biggest threat union contractors face is the underground economy. This means that cheating contractors, who are not signed with the union, undercut carpenters’ wages by hiring workers at cheaper rates, paying them unfair wages, and misclassifying them as “independent” workers rather than employees so they don’t have to pay out benefits to those workers. This puts our contractors at a serious competitive disadvantage when trying to win bids.
  • The Union fights these criminals civilly and criminally. The council has prevailed in these cases for millions of dollars and criminal contractors have been sent to jail and prison for their crimes.
  • Across the nation, the union construction industry currently holds about 14–18% market share. That’s a slim margin in a competitive market where cheaters are winning bids. We can price ourselves out of the market if union contractors can’t get bids because we are demanding wages and benefits that they simply can’t pay and still compete with cheating contractors.   
  • Right now, it’s very competitive, but when the economy slows down (and they will) that’s when more cheating competitors come out of the woodwork and the disparity will get a lot bigger a lot quicker. Criminal contractors cheat on prevailing wages, overtime, and fringe benefits to beat out union contractors.
  • The Seattle Core is not our only market in this contract. We have numerous contractors who consistently employ 10–30 carpenters year-round in smaller markets where non-union competition is high.

➤ I’m tired of hearing about the contractors’ problems. The union should work for the members.
  • The union works hard for the members, to get the best contract that the market can hold.
  • Part of the job in negotiations is to push hard for the best increases for carpenters but also understand the market. If we get high increases that satisfy our members in the short term but reduce work opportunities in the future, that’s not a win for our members.

➤ I don’t believe that we can get priced out of the market. Aren’t you always saying that we are the best carpenters out there?
  • We are the best. We excel in safety, skill, and dedication to training. But time and time again contractors are getting severely undercut by non-union competition and that is a reality that we must contend with in bargaining so that we don’t erase jobs.
  • The greater ownership of the market means carpenters can demand a stronger wage. Union contractors must compete with low wages to win bids. With lower market share, carpenters are frequently undercut.
  • 14–18% of construction performed in the United States is union. That means that 82-86% of the time we are priced out of the market. Until carpenters own the market these considerations play a large role in determining wages.
  • In Seattle, we have a strong market share. This agreement covers a wider area that offers portability with a consistent wage for carpenters working in outlying areas of this contract as well. From Bellingham to Aberdeen, we have a long way to go on achieving more union density. This ensures that our brothers and sisters in the outlying areas can also be assured of that higher wage that is not just Seattle market-specific.
  • For many years New York was considered to have an extremely strong market, with high wages. Recently, New York had to take a huge cut in pay and create a whole local at a lower rate to try to get back work that they’ve lost. We are seeing this in many areas of the country.

➤ How can I be part of the solution to make our union stronger?
  • Ask union leadership for help to understand important issues around contract time and pension/healthcare issues. Social media can be useful for discussion but is not always a reliable information source if not verified.
  • Participate in Carpenters in Action and Sisters in the Brotherhood committees
  • Become active in your local and advocate to be involved in the next contract
  • Assist the Organizing Department in combatting low wage competition
  • Become a Union Steward and support your brothers and sisters on the job site
  • The energy around this contract has been great! Let’s figure out together how to harness this energy year-round in between contracts and improve our industry. When we fight as one, the fight is won.

Did You Know?

UBC started on job sites across the country.

Our founding president, Peter J. McGuire worked tirelessly on the job sites across the country with his fellow Carpenters to organize the union. In 1881, he organized a Chicago convention to form a union. Representatives from 11 cities joined him and they produced a constitution and structure. Learn More


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