Union workers call out others for crossing picket line in rare lack of solidarity

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Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
As members of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 union picketed in a strike against Trayer Engineering
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The rat was out on Friday in front of Trayer Engineering in Potrero Hill, where the Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 union was on strike for the fourth straight week.

The rat — a giant inflatable rodent with an evil smile and money bursting from a pocket — is a staple of many picket lines in The City, but this one had a twist: plastered on the rat was the name of another union, whose workers crossed the line to go to work Friday.

That's an uncommon occurrence, and a rare lack of solidarity in union-friendly San Francisco.

“I've never seen anything like it in 40 years,” said Bruce Word, president of the Western States Council of Sheet Metal Workers.

Trayer, a family-owned business that's been in San Francisco for decades, builds medium-voltage electrical switchgear used by utility companies including PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The company employs a few dozen workers from both the sheet-metal union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 for “good, middle-class jobs” that pay between $20 and $35 an hour, according to Rick Werner, business agent for Sheet Metal Workers Local 104.

The sheet-metal workers have been without a contract since July 2013 and went on strike — a work stoppage sanctioned and signed off on by the politically influential San Francisco Labor Council — last month.

But IBEW 1245 is not on strike and has a contract in place. The workers who crossed the line to go to work Friday are from the IBEW.

That was the affront that earned them their name scrawled on a sign affixed to the rat. Derisive shouts and hollers from the men and women on strike followed the IBEW workers, as well as the 20 or so nonunion workers hired from out of state to cover the sheet-metal positions as they crossed the picket line to go to work, all under the watchful eye of police and private security at the gate.

Striking workers suggested that the electrical workers were crossing the line in order to keep their jobs. In other words, if they stood with their union brothers and refused to work, their jobs would be in jeopardy.

It wasn't clear Friday if that was the case. Trayer Engineering executive John Trayer did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Eric Wolfe, communications director for IBEW Local 1245, would not comment on why his members would cross a picket line, saying only that whether or not some decided to cross the picket line to go to work was an individual choice.

“It's up to them,” he said.

Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, declined to comment.

Organized labor's political influence is still strong in California, where public-sector workers have historically played a factor in every election. However, labor union membership on the whole is reportedly on the decline in the United States.

In 2014, 11.1 percent of all American workers were in unions, down from 20.3 percent in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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