The dirt isn't being removed from the boring machine's dig site because there isn't any more room to put it at Terminal 46. So tunneling has stopped. (Image courtesy Bertha Twitter page)

Governor increases pressure in Seattle tunnel union fight

"We need a resolution, we're demanding a resolution, I'm insistent on finding a resolution. We need to move forward on (the Seattle tunnel) project in a timely fashion," said Governor Jay Inslee.

The longshoreman's union pulled down pickets outside the Seattle tunnel project just as Washington's governor walked up to the podium to say enough is enough.

Inslee has had it with the union fight that has forced digging on the Seattle tunnel project to stop. He is angry and on Tuesday morning, he went public with his frustration.

Inslee has been quietly working behind the scenes for a few weeks to try and resolve the labor dispute between the tunnel project and the longshoreman's union.

The governor sat all the parties down in Bellevue on Monday to tell them to get this issue resolved.

The union had been picketing the site saying it was promised four jobs to remove dirt from the tunnel that were given to another union.

The dirt isn't being removed because so long as there are picketers outside the project, there isn't any more room to put it at Terminal 46.

If the picketers are packing up, that may mean Bertha, the tunnel boring machine, could start digging again soon.

"The biggest issue is that we have that massive cutting machine, and it's not cutting," said David Postman in the Governor's Office. "We need to get Bertha moving."

Postman said Inslee is fed up with the lack of progress in settling this issue.

"It's unacceptable to him," Postman said. "It's unacceptable to the people of Washington state. It's stopping progress. It's stopping an important economic driver. It jeopardizes the transportation improvements we are working on."

Postman confirmed that the governor has been working on the labor dispute for weeks, trying to ease the sides together, but he said Inslee believes it's time to go public.

"I believe that the time had come that a billion-dollar project simply could not take further delay and I made it clear to the parties that it was unacceptable both to the state and to the governor," said Inslee at a news conference Tuesday morning. "One way or another, we're going to have a public airing of this."

"There's been some good proposals," Postman said. "There's been some good ideas. There's been days where we thought we were very close, within hours of an agreement to fix this, and it just hasn't happened."

The governor gave all sides until 6 p.m. Monday night to come to an agreement before he made his first public comments on the issue.

"It has proven to be a difficult issue, but he's been on this, continues to be on it and I would say he's escalating it at this point," Postman said.

Repeated requests by KIRO Radio to the longshoreman's union and Seattle Tunnel project managers for comment on the problem have been ignored.

The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a second day of hearings Tuesday to discuss this dispute. The unions that were awarded the dirt removal jobs by the project have sued the longshoremen for preventing access to the job site.

"This is not the end of this dispute," said Inslee. "The parties still maintain their independent positions and that's why we have more work to do to find a solution that's permanent in this situation."

Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio Reporter
Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.
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