Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chicago: Union Operators and Laborers to Strike

I awoke this morning to the headline in Crain's Chicago Business and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach: Potential strike could hit I-290, other construction projects.
Construction workers are preparing to strike as soon as Thursday, which would bring road-building projects such as the repaving of the Eisenhower Expressway to a standstill.

Contracts covering 15,000 Chicago-area heavy equipment operators and laborers expired June 1, but the two sides kept working in hopes of reaching a new agreement.

Talks broke down Monday, according to Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the heavy-equipment operators’ union.
All I could think was that I hoped this wouldn't kill progress on my jobsite.  The new construction of the project I'm currently building has been going swimmingly, after all.  But we're digging and pouring grade beams this week, and that's pretty much all Operators and Laborers work in this town.  With steel set to start swinging next week, I could ill afford a strike like this.

As I walked on site, I spoke to the concrete foreman, and sure enough, the strike is on, and sooner than Crain's reported.  Non-federal workers at O'Hare are reportedly out the door today, with highway workers to follow tomorrow.  Operators are set to leave my site today at noon.  Laborers are set to picket asphalt plants today, and redi-mix (concrete) plants tomorrow.

The timing of the strike leaves me with the slim hope that this is a strong-arm "let's wreck the 4th of July weekend" kind of move.  The news from Crain's, however, leaves me with a feeling of mild dread that this may linger for some time.
Companies have offered a 1% increase in overall wages and benefits over the next three years, and workers are seeking 5%, a source familiar with negotiations said.

“We’re not seeking to unrealistically increase wages in this difficult economic climate,” says James Connolly, business manager for the Laborers’ District Council of Chicago. “But what they have come to the table with represents a significant cut to our members and jeopardizes the stability of our fringe benefit funds. And we will not settle for that.”

Tom Nordeen, chairman of the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Assn., which is representing the companies, said, "Despite the economic conditions, the locals of the Chicagoland region are asking for significant raises well in excess of cost-of-living and a continuation of their traditional rich health and retirement plans."
This news follows the recent strike by the Ironworkers and Teamsters in northwest Indiana, which the Crain's article linked also discusses, and the recent vote to strike by the Plumbers in Chicago.  The Plumbers, for all I have been able to tell, have not actually struck (they've kept on coming for my underground work anyway), and, per the PCA website, have continued to negotiate.

My personal thought on the matter is pretty simple.  As Crain's outlines, "Negotiations are playing out during one of the worst recessions ever in the construction industry, with unemployment topping 20% and construction companies reeling financially."  Heaven forbid we all just keep working, guys.  Suck it up.

UPDATE:  WGN reports that the strike vote is to take place tonight, and that picketing taking place today was in advance of the vote.  My excavator's operator left today at noon, along with all the laborers from both the excavation and concrete crews.  WGN says 8,000 out of 15,000 workers are expected to turn out for the vote tonight.  Here's hoping they vote to keep working, instead of making everything worse for everybody.

JWF links.  Thanks!


  1. I agree with you 100%

    Time to call the Waaaaambulance!

    I just saw some guys picketing on Irving Park Road outside Roselle. I wonder, what happens if the companies let the contracts expire and then hire sans-union? There are loads of people out looking for work and it seems the unions believe themselves above the board and should get what they want.

    Supposedly this is a free country. I assume that would mean for businesses to hire as they wish. Then again, the old addage - when you "assume," you make an "ass" of "u" and "me."

  2. I know plety of people who would go to work for half of what they make. Babbies!

  3. If I see these union guys picketing while I'm out and about, I'm going to give all of them a scathing look and try my best to shame them. Unions are the antithesis to free markets!

  4. I hope the scabs you know can spell cause you sure cant the unions are what keep this country going clearly you have no clue

  5. ssimanis, I hope you find a way to get past your 3rd grade level grammar skills and sub-kindergarden level comprehension of economics.

  6. The unions are what keep this country going? I sincerely hope this is a tongue-in-cheek comment, else I weep for your soul. Aside from unemployment being 20%, union participation is down 30%, meaning that 3-in-10 union members are finding non-union work to do to get by. Work goes on, whether the worker is union or not. Don't forget it.

  7. Unions keep other workers wages high, the threat of strikes and union solidarity keep owners and company executives honest and fair when dealing with their workers. If Union strength wanes, companies will reduce wages and reduce benefits to the workers guaranteed. I support the unions that are striking. A 1% increase in wage is a wage REDUCTION, it does not keep up with inflation.

  8. A 1% increase is still an increase. Bear in mind it is only a reduction if inflation outpaces the increase. Many economists currently ponder an oncoming deflationary period. Should we experience deflation, that 1% increase might not look so bad.

  9. Union companies are hired for a reason. They do quality work on time with unmatched saftey records. I am a union laborer that works on natural gas lines and I along with every other employee at the company I work for are very hard workers that deserve the money we make. Do you want some un known company coming in and installing 400psi gas mains in your front yard? The people you "chris" say would work for half of what we make don't deserve the same wage? I'am sure some of them do. But if they don't have a union fighting to give them the pay they deserve why would any company pay out. Union companies are not the problem, non union companies that under pay their employees so they can put more money in their pockets are the problem.

  10. To all of the people that think union workers are over paid. By you not being a union member you are being under paid. How can you support your family these days buy only making $50,000 a year. You can't do it unless you and your mate work. Any body that works should be paid fairly. By not being a Union member they can pay you what they what to. Being a Union member your union fights for you to get what they think you shold be getting paid so you won't have to go out and work 2 or 3 jobs to get by. So one last thing maybe you should either think about joing a union or just stop being jealous. Keek fight Union members and dont let these non union people get to you. they just dont undestand.

  11. CM and Rick make very valid points here. However your arguments, I think, miss the forest for the trees. Your arguments in favor of unions are valid, but not as strong as they were 100 years ago. Still, I do not think many people are outright dismissing the effectiveness, and yes, necessity, of private sector unions. Much of the dissent toward the decision to strike is due to the feeling that these two unions are overstepping their bounds politically in a time of great economic distress. Surely you can understand the point of view that thinks it is ludicrous to anyone not in a union, or worse yet, not even working, for the union to pack up and go home instead of being thankful for the work that is available? Nobody seems to be out to break the unions, just to say, "Come on guys, what the hell?"

  12. Yea they are out to break the unions Paul. I hope you said that tongue in cheek. Klick on any of the links in the blogroll on the right and search for union. There will be no kind words.