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Originally published September 16, 2013 at 5:49 PM | Page modified September 17, 2013 at 9:08 AM

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Inslee weighs in on labor dispute holding up Hwy. 99 tunnel project

The ILWU is picketing at Terminal 46 on the Seattle waterfront, where excavated muck is supposed to be loaded onto barges. The Seattle Tunnel Partners group intends to use building-trades members instead of longshoremen at the terminal.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Gov. Jay Inslee spent an hour in Bellevue talking with management and union officials Monday in an effort to resolve the labor dispute that’s caused a nearly four-week delay in the Highway 99 tunnel project.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is picketing at Terminal 46 on the Seattle waterfront, where excavated muck is supposed to be loaded onto barges and shipped to a quarry near Port Townsend. The Seattle Tunnel Partners group intends to use building-trades members instead of longshoremen to work a conveyor belt, drive a front-end loader and position the barge at the terminal.

The conveyor belt now isn’t moving and tunnel-boring machine Bertha isn’t drilling. The back half of the machine has yet to escape the launch pit in Sodo.

Inslee’s staff was gaining confidence in the labor talks a few days ago, but as of noon Monday, “we haven’t heard anything about an agreement being close,” said his communications director, David Postman.

Another session was planned for 6 p.m., Postman said. “You have to get Bertha going. That was the strong position of the governor.”

The governor is likely to make a public statement Tuesday.

“This has proven to be a difficult issue,” Postman said. “We’re dealing with multiple unions, the Seattle Tunnel Partners and Washington State DOT (Department of Transportation). Union versus union is a difficult place to be.”

ILWU argues that the muck loading is longshore work, since it entails moving materials offshore. The building trades and employers say the work is part of the Highway 99 construction labor agreement. In August, the governor intervened through a conference call and by having staff meet with the unions, Postman said.

Drilling began July 30, but the machine has advanced only 24 feet. Fiberglass rods used to strengthen a concrete wall in the launch pit got stuck in a conveyor screw, and then the labor dispute halted Bertha’s progress.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom

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