November 23, 2018
BENJAMIN MINNICK / Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce Construction Editor
Doug Peterson retires after 36 years with the
Associated General Contractors of Washington
As director of labor relations, Peterson was best known for handling the sometimes-tense negotiations with unions that supply labor to AGC members. He led nine negotiations over the 23 years he held that position.
“Doug Peterson has been an excellent advocate for our contractor members in his long career with the AGC of Washington,” said Bob Adams, senior vice president of Guy F. Atkinson Construction and 2002 AGC president. “He and I worked together on master labor agreement negotiations since he assumed the role of director of labor relations in 1995.”
One of Peterson’s last — and toughest — negotiations involved Local 302, the operating engineers’ union. He worked over the summer trying to hammer out an agreement with union members, who turned down two contracts recommended by union leadership and ended up on strike for 17 days.
“It was frustrating that we could get to an agreement but not get it ratified,” he said.
That strike ended in September, after 75 percent of the rank-and-file members ratified a third offer.
During the strike some contractors, mostly non-AGC members, signed an independent contract. Peterson said that was a result of several things including the strong economy, and some contractors who were under pressure due to construction fish windows or schools with set opening dates. He said some contractors couldn’t withstand the strike financially.
Peterson said having two contracts creates an unintended consequence: a small number of contractors signed the costlier independent contract, which under a new law prevails on all union jobs.
Peterson also went a few rounds with former 302 business manager Allan Darr in 2006, when concrete plant operators went on strike for 25 days.
Peterson said Darr wanted to get a different organization to negotiate the contract with, but an attorney ultimately forced Darr to negotiate with the AGC. Peterson said even non-AGC members backed the association during those negotiations.
“He did not like the AGC,” Peterson said. “They definitely were after us and we survived.”
Peterson said Darr was asked by the national union to forgo reelection following the 2006 negotiations. Darr retired in 2008 from the union.
“Some of the negotiations have been more contentious than others, but in each case, Doug has effectively utilized volunteers to represent our members’ interests,” Adams said. “This strategy combined with his attention to detail have resulted in positive relationships with organized labor that are among the best in the nation.”
Peterson said those relationships have helped keep local union pensions well funded at a time when many union pensions across the country are in trouble. He said local pensions are funded at about 90 percent versus 60 percent nationally.
Pension trusts are a 50-50 mix of employee and union representatives.
“It’s a partnership between the employers and the unions,” Peterson said. “We have a good relationship with the unions here. We have our disagreements but on the whole, we have a good relationship.”
Peterson said the way contractors interact has changed over the years. When he first arrived, the AGC hosted big social dinners on the first Monday of each month. Now, contractors spend more time with family and only get together for a purpose, such as training. Meetings are more likely to be over breakfast than dinner.
Peterson worked for the Peace Corps for two years after he graduated with a degree in civil engineering from Notre Dame. He worked 10 years for the federal government before joining the AGC.
He said he doesn’t miss the hour it can take these days to drive 3 miles from the AGC Building on South Lake Union to his home on Capitol Hill, where he has lived for 45 years.
Next spring, he plans to visit Stockholm or Florence, Italy. Peterson and his wife rent a place in a 400-year-old building in Florence from a friend on Capitol Hill.
Peterson said what he misses most in retirement is his relationships with contractors.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the contractors,” he said. “This is pretty important stuff.”