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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  • I understand it would be nice to have the increasing health care costs covered but that is not realistic in this economy. Most people I know are paying more each year in health care premiums and are taking pay cuts; except the union employees. Pay cuts and increasing health care costs are reality - face up to what the rest of us have had to do. The union management is playing political games with peoples livelyhood.

    Another way to look at it is the unions backed the current president who passed health care reform to cover everyone. If he is your man then your health care will be covered?

    Posted by John, 07/13/2010 12:43am (5 years ago)

  • I am a small business contractor. I took the risk to start my company and was Forced to join the union. The wages and benefits my employees recieve are more than far. I am not lining my pockets thru ownership. If I was, I am the one that took the financial risk to start my company. What did the union do to deserve part of my profit. Why should I have to share more with unions!

    To all the men of the Brotherhood..... We are not going to give you 15%. Here is an idea, go back to work. You may still be able to save your house, car and feed your family! What money I did line my pockets with I will re-invest to keep my company going and pay my bills. We will out last the union!!!!!!

    Posted by chris, 07/13/2010 12:02am (5 years ago)

  • son una vola de estupidos...........

    Posted by soso, 07/12/2010 11:50pm (5 years ago)

  • Hey unions, if you could stay on strike until at least the end of August, when Summer traffic starts to slow back down, that would be awesome. I've grown accustomed to having 4 lanes on 290 and don't want that to change anytime soon.

    Posted by v2mica, 07/12/2010 11:43pm (5 years ago)

  • If the union is gona cover the health care who cares about that. How are the members gona make all the other payments if they are not working. There gona lose there house,cars and ecc. So who cares about unions covering the health care and food thats not gona save there house's,car's and everything else. They should take the deal of 1%,1%,and 1.25% over the next 3 years and be happy so we can all go back to work.

    Posted by union member, 07/12/2010 10:48pm (5 years ago)

  • 15% over 3 years to maintain benefit plans should be a good offer to MARBA. Employers should realize that it is estimated that the cost of medical coverage per employee is estimated at $14,000 per year by 2014 (these are BCBSIL statistics). That does not include vision, dental or life expenses. If employers covered the employee's benefits, they would be paying alot more that the requested amount. Don't let MARBA tell you otherwise, just because they don't administer the benefits, doesn't mean they cost any less.

    Posted by union member, 07/12/2010 9:23pm (5 years ago)

  • Aren't contractors worried about being penalized for not meeting the deadlines on public projects? The longer this goes the more it's going to cost in overtime wages paid in order to catch up. And overhead just doesn't disappear during a strike! Fixed expenses can kill a company. I wish we had somebody representing contractors who knew what this is costing everybody.

    Posted by Richard, 07/12/2010 9:05pm (5 years ago)

  • Regardless MARBA should be willing to be meeting at the table to continue negotiations instead of saying that they will not meet again with the unions for another week and a half! Sit at the table and continue talks or we are all fucked. I hope the contractors loose millions because the work isnt completed on time! Remember the companies get bonuses when the worker complete a job on time, and the workers get none of it for their hard work!!!!!!!

    Posted by Katie, 07/12/2010 9:03pm (5 years ago)

  • If construction companies were fair and not trying to line their pockets off the backs of their employees labor than maybe they(union members) wouldn't have a need for a union in the first place. why are ''white collar'' employees the only people allowed to make a fair living wage?

    Posted by WTF, 07/12/2010 7:24pm (5 years ago)

  • what a joke. nobody should be striking right now.

    Posted by crazyhorse, 07/12/2010 6:47pm (5 years ago)

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