Strike reaches North Bend gravel pit

For four days there were more dump trucks than usual at the Cadman Inc. Grouse Ridge gravel pit near North Bend. The increase was linked to a union strike and may have contributed to a violation of the company's grading permit.

The company brought about 15 trucks to North Bend from Snohomish County to keep them safe during a worker strike and drove them off the property, located off Interstate 90 at Exit 34, for deliveries shortly before allowed operating hours.

That's at odds with King County's interpretation of the permit. Paul Meyer, county site development specialist, said he interprets the agreement to mean the trucks can't be running before 7 a.m. or line up on the county road leading to the gravel pit before operating hours - both of which happened, according to Meyer and an employee of Cadman Inc., who wished to remain anonymous.

"They were stationed there so they would be out of the fray," said Barry Meade, vice president and general manager of Cadman Inc. "We were in full compliance [with the conditions of the grading permit]."

Meade said his interpretation of the permit conditions was that the trucks may leave before 7 a.m. - the time the permit allows operations to begin - so long as they aren't filled before 7 a.m.

Meyer said he spoke with the pit superintendent, who Meyer said confirmed that trucks were leaving as early as 6:30 a.m. but said that it wouldn't happen again. Other than making a note of the infraction and following up to make sure it isn't a regular occurrence, Meyer said he plans no further action.

"Knowing Cadman, I'm pretty sure they won't start before 7 a.m. again," Meyer said.

The extra activity in North Bend is a symptom of a strike at other Cadman quarries.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 - which represents about 30 operating engineers at four of Cadman's Snohomish County gravel pits - declared a strike June 30 after rejecting the company's offer of a $4.87 phased raise, Meade said.

Charlie Brown, a field representative with the union, said even with the proposed increase, worker wages would still be below the industry standard for the area. As of Monday July 10, negotiations were ongoing.

Picket lines were set up at the Snohomish County gravel pits but the pit in North Bend was ignored until July 6.

At the North Bend facility, the extra trucks - driven by nonunion drivers - were first brought to the site July 3. The Fourth was a holiday so the first day of operation based out of North Bend was July 5.

At the end of the day, the trucks were loaded and parked onsite so they could leave for their daily deliveries in the morning. The drivers operating the gravel trucks are not union members.

A Teamsters Local 174 representative showed up in North Bend July 6 as trucks prepared for the daily runs to urge the nonunion drivers to unionize, said a Teamster member. He asked not to be identified. The 174 represents drivers in the county; if the non-union drivers were operating out of North Bend, they could join the union if they chose, he said.

The company employee said many drivers were interested but there was some tension as a few of the drivers don't support union activity.

Meade said there were rumors that the nonunion truck drivers were pressured by the union members, but that didn't play into the company's decision to get the extra trucks out of North Bend. He said the extra trucks were removed July 6 because of the extra cost of driving the trucks without loads.

"From a practical standpoint, it didn't work the way we hoped," Meade said. "We made a business decision to move them out."

After the trucks left for their daily runs July 6, the drivers were told to bring the rigs back to their usual parking places near the Monroe pit.

The North Bend quarry was the site of controversy long before the current strike. Nonprofit Cascade Gateway Foundation fought the quarry for seven years. The organization wanted gravel trucks to access I-90 at a point further east than Exit 34.

Despite the opposition, King County issued a grading permit to the international mining corporation Cadman Inc., a Redmond-based mining corporation, in 2005. The permit allows mining on the upper site of Grouse Ridge with a conveyor belt to carry the material to a lower site.

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