BUTTE — They stood side-by-side exchanging pleasantries as the protest by about 15 Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters (PNRCC) tradesmen and family members proceeded calmly beside them.
Ron “Joel” Worth, union representative, and Gary Warner, foreman of the 12,000 square-foot project and owner of Montana Reclamation, met in the middle to discuss their differences Tuesday in front of the job site on the 400 block of East Galena.
“Our main goal is to get all carpenters a standard rate,” said Worth, who represents 120 local union members. “That’s about $22.50 an hour, plus benefits and retirement.”
Ideally, the union would like to see journeymen earn such a salary after working for lower rates as an apprentice for four years.
“We establish the journeyman rate in the area,” added Worth, who’s held the union rep title for about a year. “Because when companies go with the cheapest labor, then we can’t compete.”
Warner, who contracts with brewery owner Tony Olson of TTT Properties LLC, said he pays all three of his carpenters a minimum $15 per hour. He said they are “treated decently” and that all are Butte residents. In addition, he said, all materials were bought from Butte businesses as a show of support to buy locally.
“I’m proud to be nonunion,” said Warner, who lives in Anaconda. “I used to be union until they ripped us off.” A former member of the Operating Engineers Union and Laborers Unions, he said he joined when he was 15, but jumped ship when his benefits and retirement were adversely affected in the 1980s.
“At least I don’t have people telling me when I have to come to work today,” Warner added.
One of the nonunion carpenters, John Jaeger, said he’s been on the job for about two months.
On the flip side, Worth accused Tony Olson, brewery owner and general contractor, of “working the cheapest way instead of supporting the community.
“It hurts the area when carpenters have to supplement their wages with public assistance, medical assistance and even crime sometimes,” Worth said.
Brewery owner Tony Olson was less forthcoming when asked what he thought of the picket line in front of the huge building that Warner said is slated to open sometime this summer.
“No comment at all,” Olson said. “They do what they have to do.”
Yet it’s currently a balancing act that has both on-site leaders cognizant of maintaining civil negotiations.
“We do want the businesses to succeed in Butte,” said Worth, “but we believe they should pay carpenters area standard so they can afford to live here.”
Worth mentioned that his union carpenters ultimately should be able to afford to buy a microbrew in the new establishment once construction is complete.
“They don’t get hostile with me,” said Warner, walking over to Worth. “They’re all good people. I don’t mind shaking their hand.”