Nonunion elevators raise safety concerns at Swedish job site


SEATTLE (May 24, 2016) — Swedish Medical Center is a unionized hospital and typically all of its construction projects are union built, including the two 17-story towers now being built on Swedish’s main First Hill Campus by Sellen Construction. Scheduled for occupation by the end of 2019, this project is creating hundreds of good family-wage jobs and apprenticeship opportunities, utilizing the most skilled men and women in the trades to build a state-of-the-art hospital that promises to be one of the “greenest” in the nation.

However, when Swedish needed some transitional space for its Central Sterilization Facility during the towers’ construction, it decided to get it on the cheap. In doing so, safety concerns are being raised and the project could now face an expensive delay.

Swedish hired RAD Technology, which subbed Blazer Industries of Aumsville, Ore., to construct a 12,000-square-foot 2-story pre-fabricated structure using nonunion workers, with an agreement for Swedish to lease the facility back from RAD during the two-year tower construction project. Of particular concern to the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) Local 19 has been the nonunion installation of three modular elevators, which have not yet been approved for use by the State of Washington.

Unlike conventional elevators, modular elevators are prefabricated and not an inherent part of the building structure, they are attached to it without having to share the foundation. The modular elevator is built in a factory, trucked to site, and lifted by crane and set into place in the elevator pit.

At the Swedish site, Blazer pulled a fast one. As in, against the recommendation of the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), the company constructed, delivered and installed modular elevators in this transitional building for Swedish back in March. L&I had wanted to inspect them at the Phoenix Elevators manufacturing site in Illinois before they were delivered, much less installed.

Sure enough, when L&I finally did get in there to have a look, the installed elevators failed inspection. Specifically, the elevator shaft was “disapproved due to defects in the fire rating with the shaft walls,” said L&I spokesman Matthew Erlich.

As of this writing, L&I is awaiting a written plan from the contractor about how they plan to fix the problem. When that plan is approved and the problems are fixed, L&I will go back and inspect it again to see if it’s safe. Then the City of Seattle will have to inspect the elevators themselves before allowing their use.

“For us, this is a safety issue,” Erlich said. “People are going to be in that elevator and safety is the priority issue for us.”

At IUEC Local 19, safety is always our priority — for the public and for our members. Our experienced elevator constructors are the most talented, best trained experts in the trade. They know how to build and maintain elevators that are safe for the general public, and they know how to stay safe themselves while they do it.


Meanwhile at the Swedish First Hill campus, the hospital is facing a costly elevator upgrade/fix — and potentially, an even more costly delay in the entire project — because it let a nonunion contractor install elevators that failed inspection. The hospital needs to occupy the transitional building in July to stay on schedule, according to John Vhing, Swedish’s Senior Construction Manager, and he confirmed that the red-tagged elevators are “a sticking point on our schedule.”

This week, members of IUEC Local 19 in Seattle will be handbilling at the Swedish construction site to explain what is happening. Our union has heard from other unions on the job site wondering about the nonunion contractor and the potential for a delay.

The bottom line: if Swedish had insisted that this project be unionized wall to wall, none of these problems would exist. Our skilled, experienced elevator constructors are familiar with the rules and regulations of the City of Seattle and the State of Washington. We would have made sure this was done right and on time.

Jim Norris is a Business Representative for Elevator Constructors Local 19 in Seattle.

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