Ongoing strike disrupts construction of Jane Byrne Interchange and other roadwork – NBC Chicago
A strike, which has now lasted nearly a month, against three building materials producers is blocking road projects in the Chicago area and could force some to be canceled.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 has been on strike since June 7 against companies the union says operate 35 quarries and other sites in northern Illinois.
Lehigh Hanson, Vulcan Materials and Lafarge Holcim produce sand, gravel and crushed stone needed for asphalt and concrete. About 300 workers are involved in the walkout.
Local 150 communications director Ed Maher said asphalt had become nearly impossible to obtain for road crews and concrete supply problems were increasing. He said the companies had not accepted any talks since a brief session on Wednesday.
“We made ourselves available every day,” Maher said. “We recognize the impact of this strike on the construction industry, and that’s why we want to negotiate and resolve this issue.”
The companies trade as members of the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association. A spokesperson for the group could not be reached.
Omer Osman, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, urged the three companies in a letter Thursday to settle the strike.
Osman said the strike extends projects such as the Jane Byrne Interchange downtown, the Interstate 55 and Weber Road interchange, and the Interstate 80 bridge in Joliet. Many resurfacing projects in the Chicago area are also affected, he said.
“The work stoppage couldn’t come at a worse time, at the height of construction season and during peak driving season with an eager public ready to travel after two years of the pandemic,” Osman wrote.
He said contracts approved in June may have to be put on hold and those scheduled for July may be postponed.
Maria Castaneda, spokeswoman for IDOT, said some road crews had gotten by changing schedules and working on inventory, but the problems were getting worse. Castaneda said most of the agency’s roadwork is affected, though some projects in northern Illinois use materials from Indiana and Wisconsin.
Erica Schroeder of the City of Chicago Department of Transportation said the agency “has been able to work on inventory, but each day the strike is getting more damaging.”
Local 150 member Jamal Chester said his employer at McCook, Vulcan, used supervisors to try to manage some equipment and the other two companies tried scabs. He said the companies have been slow to negotiate.
“I guess they really didn’t think we would keep our word,” Chester said.
Maher said contentious issues that need to be resolved include wages, benefits and grievance procedures. The union has filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the companies of unfair labor practices.
He said Local 150 leaders were frustrated that corporate negotiators apparently lacked decision-making power. Two of the three companies are based overseas, according to their websites.
Maher said the union is grateful that U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, voiced support for the strike on Friday.
“These billion dollar companies have seen their profits skyrocket,” Sanders tweeted. “YES – they can afford to treat workers with respect and bargain in good faith.”