Monday, July 12, 2010

Chicago Union Operators & Laborers Strike Continues

On June 30th, the Chicago area's Union Operators and Laborers went on strike, after working for a month without a contract in place.  Those of us in the business of managing projects staffed by union companies found ourselves in a "hurry up and wait" situation.  Progress on active projects all over the city has stopped, with few notable exceptions.  The expansion at Children's Memorial Hospital continues, as the hospital has agreed to pay the workers what they are asking for, in order to keep the project moving.  Other projects continue as well, notably Ogden School on the City's north side.  Such projects are either fully or in part funded by federal monies, which precludes them from be affected by the local strike.

When the strike began on June 30th, I opined that
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.
News shortly after the strike began was that the unions and the negotiating entity for contractors, the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association, or MARBA, would be going back to the negotiating table on July 7th, with additional meetings scheduled, if necessary, for the 9th and the 12th.  This strengthened my hope that the differences would be resolved shortly.
The negotiating days of the 7th, 9th and 12th have come and gone, with both parties still at stalemate.  News on the negotiations is slim, with updates available at the Operators Union website, Local 150.  Local 150 is, in fact, controlling the narrative of these negotiations, while MARBA remains silent.  After negotiations have gone on with no resolution, James M. Sweeney, President-Business Manager for Local 150, released the following statement
“The Unions and employers did not reach an agreement tonight, and we are tremendously disappointed at the employers’ lack of urgency, refusing to meet with us until Monday, July 19th. Once again, we made ourselves available around the clock, and the employers are stalling. They do not seem to understand that there are workers and contractors whose survival hinges upon these negotiations.

“It is becoming more apparent that MARBA’s intent is likely not only to starve out our members, but also to starve out the smaller contractors within their own ranks. Many of the contractors who have assigned their bargaining rights to MARBA are very small businesses, and delaying negotiations for another week puts those contractors’ survival in jeopardy.

“Local 150 will continue to provide for our members during this strike. Local 150’s Food Bank provides boxes of food for 1,000 families a week and we have subsidized COBRA payments for 1,200 families who have lost their healthcare coverage. Our International Union has pledged its financial backing to support striking members and their families. If the employers think they are going to starve out Local 150, they are sorely mistaken. We will continue to provide for our members as we always have until the employers.
“We are not negotiating for wages, but to protect our healthcare and benefits. Despite the fact that benefit actuaries gave employer representatives the very same cost figures that we have for our funds last Friday, the employers’ latest proposal still would not cover costs, and would require significant reductions in wages or benefits. MARBA says that they are not looking to make cuts, but that is exactly what their proposal would do.
“Local 150 has committed $150 million of our own money to make up the gap in our funds caused by a nearly 40 percent reduction in hours worked. We are asking the employers to share the burden with us. All of these funds are jointly administered by labor and management, so the employers have a responsibility to maintain the health of these funds as well.

“Local 150 and other area Unions have reached contract settlements over the past few weeks for significantly more than what Local 150 is asking for here, and far more than what is being offered by employers, often with little or nothing going to wages. MARBA claims that our proposals are not realistic, but these types of packages have very recently been agreed upon in, Peoria, the Quad Cities, Northwest Indiana and throughout the construction industry in Northern Illinois.

“If the employers do not believe that we understand the current economy, we invite them to come hand out boxes of food to our members one night. Our members have been hit as hard as anyone by this recession, but we will not give away everything we have bargained for because the employers don’t want to negotiate with us.”

Further, according to People's World Blog, Local 150 is controlling the narrative with both talk radio and the newspapers in Chicago.
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."
MARBA, on the other hand, appears entirely oblivious of the existence of any form of media.  They have not had spokespeople on the radio, or interviewing with newspapers.  The only correspondence I've come across from them is again at People's World Blog:
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.
After significant initial public bafflement and outrage at this strike, MARBA is beginning to lose ground in the court of public opinion.  The two parties don't appear to be significantly far off from reaching an agreement, but if MARBA continues to allow Local 150 to control 100% of the public narrative, it seems as if MARBA will lose more than just a bit of the bargaining position this current economy has afforded them.


  1. I have less than zero sympathy for the union and its objectives. I hope the Local 150 goes dead broke.

  2. You are an idiot Robert, and I hope you go dead broke!

  3. What about Laborer's family -we are starving. Where do we go for food?

  4. The Unions have ruined our economy and have ruined more small business than any other entity including the IRS. This socialistic entity polluted with corruption, political favoritism, and extortion must come to an end in our country. It is time for small business to rise and regain a system of rewarding hard workers on efficiencies and dedication rather than dead wood because of political connection.

  5. Political connections are absurd. Union Trades Persons are SKILLED workers and labor hard in difficult enviornments for their wages and benefits. If you would like untrained scabs building our infrastructures in Chicago, then keep your opinion. But when roads, bridges and buildings collapse it will be the strong arming of corporate interests and greed that have damaged this country once again.

  6. I currently am waiting on two projects to be completed, i've hired a union paving company and a union crane company to perform a parking lot expansion and an air compressor installation. They have the deposits to start and now I'm stuck with no one doing the work. When you aren't working how do you expect to make any money. I suggest the unions work while negotiating.

  7. It's unbelievable how many people are anti-union. We live in a union. The state of Illinois could not survive on it's own as a nation. Unions were created for a reason. Why should we dissolve our unions? We shouldn't. We need our labor unions for the same reason that we need our 50 state union. Solidarity and strength in numbers. A union is only as strong as it's members.