Construction workers continue strike in Chicago


CHICAGO - Two area construction unions - the Laborers' District Council of Chicago and Vicinity and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 - have been on strike for weeks over wages and health care benefits.

The strike affects approximately 15,000 workers and has stalled dozens of projects leaving the future of hundreds of road and building plans throughout Chicago at stake.

One project includes a $95 million resurfacing of the Eisenhower Expressway, which runs west from Chicago, and an $87.7 million high school renovation project in the southwest suburb of Naperville. Others involve the Stearns Road Bridge being built in Kane County, a parking lot at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and road resurfacing in Arlington Heights.

Officials say the strike affects about 300 Illinois Department of Transportation projects across the metropolitan region including others in 10 counties.

Union workers are seeking a total wage increase of 15 percent over three years to offset the rising cost of health care, union officials say.

The unions' three-year contracts expired May 31.

Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association, which represents the construction companies, is offering a 3.25 percent hike over three years.

Union officials say they had no choice but to strike. Workers are dealing with hours reduced from an average of 1,600 annually to 1,000 as well as unemployment among laborers and operating engineers. Rising health care costs of 10 percent to 12 percent a year are hurting members, they note.

Local 150 President-Business Manager James M. Sweeney says the companies offer further supports the union's charges against the contractors for unfair labor practices.

"They are simply not attempting to bargain in good faith," Sweeney told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We made ourselves available 24 hours a day. The livelihoods of thousands of working men and women depend on these negotiations, and while we have made ourselves available, the employers are running out the back door or meetings," he said.

MARBA representatives say they are not seeking to reduce wages and are surprised that the workers would strike during the midst of an unstable economy. The construction companies argue that funds are tight because of the economic downturn.

"We are feeding 1,000 families a week with boxes of food," said Sweeney. "We are covering COBRA payments for 1,200 families who have lost health-care coverage. We have spent millions upon millions of dollars to make sure that our members are provided for, so for them to insinuate that we are not aware of the economic conditions is insulting."

Sweeney's union said in a press release they plan to use its reserves to cover the approximate $150 million health care shortfall over the next three years caused by the reduction in hours worked.

"Local 150 members took money out of their pockets to stabilize these funds last year, and now we are using our reserves," said Sweeney. "We have done our part, and we are asking employers to share the burden. These funds are administered jointly by labor and management, so they have a responsibility as we do to ensure that these funds are stable."

Officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation worry that other unions may join the strike including the carpenters, cement masons and technical engineers.

Ed Maher, spokesman for Local 150 told Chicago Public Radio that union members want to get back to work as soon as possible.

"But they don't want to do it at the cost of 30 years worth of bargaining," he said. "No body likes this strike. A strike is never a first option. But we're certainly not going to give up our health care without a fight, and certainly not to an organization that isn't willing to negotiate with us."

Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Maher adds, "They forced our hand. We're simply not going to get jerked around when we're worried about maintaining health care for more than 23,000 members."

Photo: View of Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway during a two-year reconstruction project in April, 2007. (M. Spencer Green/AP)


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  • FYI: Rep. Steven Lynch did NOT vote for health reform.

    Posted by Terrie , 08/01/2010 10:44pm (6 years ago)

  • I'm a Local 265 Sheet Metal Worker and have been for over 10 years. Our trade, like many others, requires years of training, both in the classroom and on the job. But, it doesn't take several years to learn that you lift with your legs and not your back.

    My point is, there are reasons people become laborers. And I'll bet one of them isn't because they couldn't afford med school. They aren't hired to think. They are hired to work. They are the grunts. They are the people who move heavy things from point A to point B. They dig with shovels, they swing the sledge hammers, they sweat their asses off and break their backs. And you know what? They get paid damn well for what they do!

    Hey, everyone is hurting right now. It's not just the unions feeling the pinch. The raise they are asking for is unheard of in a good economy, and the length of the contract they want is also unwise in the economy we're in.

    Still, I don't blame the laborers. The members didn't think this up on their own. I blame the union reps who work so hard to persuade the members to strike by telling them they're getting screwed. This whole situation is making ALL unions look bad. Thanks, jerks!

    Posted by Bill, 07/15/2010 6:35pm (6 years ago)

  • Is the strike worth it for the rank and file? By this I mean if you are seeking a 5% yearly increase in health benefits, what exactly is the in dollar terms? The offer was 3.5% over three years

    If you are foregoing $1,500.00(or whatever the pay is) a week now in current income are you losing money or is the the 5% gain more valuable?

    Basically has anyone crunched the numbers. What is the Present/future Value of the increase what is the present/future value of the loss wages?

    Should be relatively easy to figure out yet I have not met a rank and file that has a clue what the numbers are.

    Posted by jim, 07/15/2010 6:16pm (6 years ago)

  • I think they should all go back to work. They dont realize most of the public has out of pocket cost for health insurance. I pay about $400 month out of my check. What do your members pay? Ummm nothing. 401k out of check NOPE. This is why union work around the country is rapidly dissapearing. I seam to recall what is happening on the residential side. Can you say going non union. Umm think your union needs to think about this long and hard everyone has had to make cut backs. So once again go back to work and be thankful you have the great pay you do because it will be gone....

    Posted by Tracy, 07/15/2010 12:30pm (6 years ago)


    Posted by local150wife, 07/15/2010 12:07am (6 years ago)

  • Guess what union leaders? The whole economy has seen their wages reduced and jobs lost. It's appalling that the unions are asking for wage increases when everyone knows there is no construction going on!! Where is this money supposed to come from?

    So they decide to wait until work starts on the roads so they can hold people hostage. Shameful.

    Unions used to stick up for the little guy, but now it's the opposite. They're the big thug bullying small businesses like the vast majority of contractors and building industry suppliers? Notice how you don't see the unions trying to picket somebody like Home Depot, they pick on the local lumber company who can't afford to have a strike.

    When will the schmucks who head the unions realize that when they make labor too expensive they reduce jobs? And nobody is saying they should all be paid a dollar like the idiot below me says. But should a truck driver get $40? Should a union health care plan cost a company twice as much as plans for their other employees?

    Unions need to get a clue.

    Posted by B-rad, 07/14/2010 5:22pm (6 years ago)

  • to all those anti union writers i guess we all (including you ) could work for a buck an hour w no fringe benefits then we would have near full employment (until someone in another country agreed to work for 50 cents an hour )then they would have work (until someone in another country agreed to work for 25 cents an hour ) and the super rich on wall st would b laughing at all of us all the way to the bank. they r lieing to u my friends the unions r not the cause of the problem but we the union r trying to get a decent standard of living for all americans union or not in solidarity jim

    Posted by , 07/14/2010 3:26pm (6 years ago)

  • I think everyone here who is angered about the “high” union wages need to look deeper at the issue and redirect their anger. Relatively speaking, unions do make higher wages compared to your typical college educated cubical worker. However, does this mean they are overpaid? Certainly not. What it means is that low level white collar workers in this county are getting screwed!!! We shouldn’t be mad at the unions for that. They just happened to work in an industry that’s much more favorable for collect bargaining mainly because their jobs can’t be outsourced. Is that wrong? HELL NO!!! Unions wages are in line with what it takes to live a decent life in America. You will not become rich but you could buy a decent size home, own a car, send the kids to college, and retire at a reasonable age. That’s what everyone in the country should be able to do. Of course that’s not the case. Living costs are rising and productivity is rising but real income is not following. Why? That’s the question you should be asking yourself. Where is the money going? I’ll give you a hint…check out what the increasing rate of millionaires are in this country. Check out how much the CEO of your company makes. That will give you an idea where all the wealth is going this country.

    Unions make what all hard working Americans should make. They do it because their wages are not determined by the free market. If all wages were determined by the free market the middle class would collapse into deep poverty. Does who own the capital (business owners) would thrive and almost everyone else would make just enough to stay alive so they could work another day. Check your history books and read about the lives of the average American before unions and Government regulation were around.

    We need to think hard about what’s going on in our country. Can current college graduates live the life past generations did?

    You need to ask yourself this question: Who really has the power in this county, the businesses or the people? The only way that we the people could have power is through government and unionization.

    If you are not part of the upper 20 percent of the wealthy class and you fear unions and government then you have been fooled. They suckered you in. Big Business has won. Thank you Fox news, Rush and the Republican party.

    Posted by MrC, 07/14/2010 2:48pm (6 years ago)

  • The striking union workers should be ashamed of themselves! The economy is bad enough as it is. They talk about a "living wage". How can anybody who makes $45 to $60 an hour complain they are not getting a living wage? I'm not an owner of a company, but if I was, I'd fire everyone of you greedy people. There are more out of work people who would be more than willing to take your job and I'd be happy to give it to them! You are nothing but economic terrorists. I hope you all lose your homes, your cars and everything you own so you can see how the rest of us in the real world live. My appologies to your families, they are innocent, you are the ones to blame.

    A proud NON-UNION construction worker.

    Posted by Jerry, 07/14/2010 10:42am (6 years ago)

  • It's not just the large companies that are contracted for state roadway jobs. There's quite a bit of small companies that are just trying to survive this recession and a forced increase in worker pay will only hurt them more. The unions are a racket and it seems as though the BA's don't have enough to purchase shiny new vehicles tjust to drive around and hassle work sites with. These workers are currently making 45-65 dollars an hour. Yeah... 6 figures, so WTF? If these unions didn't take so much in dues, the workers could afford insurance without a problem. Maybe the union reps should give back their cars and stop wasting money on inflatable rats.

    Greed, greed and more greed. It's the American way, it will never change, it's ruined the country, and it will never get any better than this.

    Posted by SC, 07/14/2010 3:21am (6 years ago)

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