Strike could delay road and construction work

About 300 members of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers have started a walkout against three companies with quarries and other sites in Northern Illinois.

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James Sweeney, president-business manager of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

James Sweeney, president-business manager of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Sun-Times Media

The union representing operators of heavy equipment began a strike Tuesday against three construction material producers, a job action that could snag road work and other projects in the region.

Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers called the strike against Lehigh Hanson, Vulcan Materials and Lafarge Holcim. The union said the companies collectively operate 35 quarries and other locations in Northern Illinois. They produce sand, gravel and crushed stone essential for asphalt, concrete and other construction material.

Ed Maher, communications director for Local 150, said the strike was called not over pay, but over unilateral changes the companies have implemented on other issues, such as time off procedures for exposure to COVID-19. The union has filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices by the companies.

The strike involves about 300 Local 150 members who operate essential equipment.

The three companies negotiate as members of the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association. The union and a spokesperson for the association declined to speculate on when the strike might affect jobs under way during prime construction season.

“We are proud of our strong relationship with Local 150, evidenced by 55 years without a work stoppage,” the association spokesperson said. “We value our employees and provide them with competitive wages, comprehensive benefits and a safe work environment. We remain committed to moving forward with a new contract and urge cooperation from our Local 150 partners.”

Union leaders said the industry has had decades of labor peace but that the companies have erased any goodwill in recent years.

Local 150 President-Business Manager James Sweeney said, “They have disregarded these workers’ health and safety and appear unwilling to negotiate in good faith.These workers take pride in the tireless work they have done to keep critical construction work going throughout the pandemic and despite their efforts, their employers have taken unilateral steps to treat them more like adversaries than partners.”

Bargaining occurred Tuesday and is scheduled for Wednesday, Maher said.

He said workers have reported that the companies brought in strikebreakers. The companies’ spokesperson denied that and Maher said they also denied the allegation during bargaining. The workers’ prior contract expired at the end of April, Maher said.

Local 150 represents 23,000 people in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

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