Union operating engineers set to vote on a new contract after weeks-long strike

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Members of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers are on strike at a Lehigh Hanson site in McCook.

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Union members on strike against three construction material producers will vote on a new contract Sunday that, if approved, could end a lengthy disruption in Chicago area road projects that has lasted for more than six weeks.

About 300 members of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers first walked out on June 7 against three companies that collectively operate 35 quarries. Those companies – Lehigh Hanson, Vulcan Materials and Lafarge Holcim – produce sand, gravel and crushed stone that is needed for asphalt, concrete and other construction materials.

Ed Maher, communications director for Local 150, confirmed the vote will take place but couldn’t gauge the likelihood it would be approved. Maher said union leaders are not pushing its members in any direction but rather explaining what’s in the new contract and answering any questions that might arise.

“I will say there are certain things that members prioritized that the employers were unwilling to make a move on, but I won’t get into specifics,” Maher said. “The economics of the contract has already been shared with members last week, so there won’t be any surprises there. But we will mostly be voting on language changes in the contract.”

Maher said the strike was never about pay but was over unilateral changes the company made on other issues, such as time off and procedures for exposure to COVID-19. The union has also already filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices by the companies.

The companies, who have been negotiating as members of the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association, said it has presented a generous offer that includes a 14% raise over the three-year contract — with a 6% raise in the first year.

“The offer also includes more than 20 changes the union requested and continues our practice of covering 100% of employee health care premiums and access to a generous pension plan,” a spokesperson for the association said Friday. “We look forward to welcoming our employees back to work soon and resuming important infrastructure work throughout the Chicagoland area.”

The strike forced extended delays to many road resurfacing projects around Chicago and other projects, including the Interstate 55 and Weber Road interchange and the Interstate 80 bridge in Joliet. The work stoppage also potentially suspended new contracts that had already been approved.

Maher said the six-week strike was the fault of the employers and could’ve ended weeks ago if they cared to negotiate in good faith. Instead, those bargaining would walk out of meetings abruptly and wouldn’t make themselves available to speak for days if not weeks, he said.

“Before making this final offer today, they emailed a final offer last week but was so full of language errors — which we had already agreed to — that we had to spend an additional week just cleaning up,” Maher said.

“So when you look back at it, we spend a week fixing their offer, they would disappear from the table and they just kept playing games. It’s simple arrogance and completely inappropriate.”

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July 22, 2022 at 06:03PM

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