Union operating engineers rejects new contract after weeks-long strike and road construction delays

About 300 members of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, who first walked out on June 7 against three companies that collectively operate 35 quarries, voted Sunday.

SHARE Union operating engineers rejects new contract after weeks-long strike and road construction delays
Members of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers are on strike at a Lehigh Hanson site in McCook.

Members of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers display picket signs while on strike at a Lehigh Hanson site in McCook.

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Union members on strike against three construction material producers voted against a new contract Sunday that could have ended 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.

The companies didn’t respond to requests for comment Sunday afternoon.

The union voted against a contract that would have increased salaries by 14% over three years, according to a news release Sunday from the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association. It also included 100% coverage of employee health care premiums, plus funding for a benefit pension plan, retirement funds and retiree medical savings plans, a statement from CAAPA said.

Ed Maher, communications director for Local 150, has said the strike has never been about pay but is 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.

“We look forward to some meaningful dialogue this week,” Maher said Sunday.

A strike update on Local 150’s website says the union voted “overwhelmingly” to reject the contract offer.

The companies, who have been negotiating as members of the CAAPA, said they presented a generous offer and have been willing to negotiate with the union.

“We’ve been at the bargaining table 17 times, in addition to many other calls and private meetings,” a statement from the association reads. “We remain committed to servicing our customers and limiting disruptions to infrastructure projects to the best of our ability.”

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 have 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 it was so full of language errors — which we had already agreed to — that we had to spend an additional week just cleaning it 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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