Labor dispute halts work on Kent Events Center

Construction stopped Friday on the Kent Events Center, due to a dispute between Roofers Union Local 54 and the roofing subcontractor over the hiring of apprentices.

Construction at the Kent Events Center came to a halt Friday

Construction stopped Friday on the Kent Events Center, due to a dispute between Roofers Union Local 54 and the roofing subcontractor over the hiring of apprentices.

It remained uncertain, as of Friday, how long construction workers might be off the job on the city of Kent’s $78 million arena slated to open in January 2009. The 6,025-seat events center is at West James Street and Fifth Avenue North.

Roofers Union Local 54 of Seattle reportedly set up an informational picket Friday at the arena, claiming that Cobra Roofing of Auburn had failed to hire apprentices after it previously had agreed to hire them for at least 15 percent of labor hours under the bid for the contract. That was the word Friday from Bill Kemble, business manager for Local 54.

Kent Reporter staffers drove by the structure several times that day, but no picketers could be spotted on the premises.

Calls on Friday to officials for lead contractor Mortenson Co., based in Minneapolis, were not returned. Calls to Cobra Roofing officials also were not returned.

Other trade unions at the events center reportedly honored the early-morning picket by the roofers’ union and stayed off the job.

“If they (Cobra) sign up apprentices, the signs go away,” Kemble said. “The ball is in their court to contact our apprenticeship program.”

The Seattle Area Roofers Apprentice Program offers three-to-four-year programs to help train apprentices to become journeyman workers, Kemble said. Those apprentices are supplied to employers through the union.

Mortenson informed city officials late Thursday that work might stop Friday, said Ben Wolters, the city’s economic-development director.

“Mortenson told the city they expect everyone to return to work on Tuesday,” Wolters said Friday. “Mortenson is working with the parties to resolve the issue. The city expects Mortenson to take care of this.”

No talks had been scheduled between Cobra and the union as of noon Friday, Kemble said. The union official added he didn’t expect workers to return to the job Tuesday and said he wasn’t sure if workers would be out longer than two days.

“It was not our intention to shut the job down,” Kemble said. “But we wanted to inform people on the job and the public that Cobra is not using state-registered apprentices.”

Earlier this year, Cobra requested information about participation in the Seattle Area Roofers Apprentice Program, said Greg Gibeau, coordinator of the program. Gibeau said he sent Cobra the information but never heard from the company.

Wolters said it is not unusual for a construction job the size of the events center to see a labor dispute at some stage during the project.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

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