Strike threatens supplies needed for summer suburban roadworks
A strike against Chicago-area companies that supply key ingredients for road building materials such as concrete and asphalt has some southern and southwestern suburban officials worried about the completion of planned repairs on the streets this summer.
The strike began June 7 against three companies operating throughout the Chicago area that produce aggregates such as sand, gravel and crushed stone, with 300 members of the International Union of Industrial Engineers Local 150 farm setting up picket lines at 35 locations.
The last bargaining session was on Monday and no further talks are expected, according to Countryside-based Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher.
The strike comes as Chicago-area communities prepare to undertake annual road repair and resurfacing projects, but supplies of the necessary materials are becoming scarce, some public works managers said Thursday.
“Talk about the worst time for all of this to happen,” said Bill Meyer, who oversees Oak Lawn’s public works department. “I definitely worry.”
The Local 150 strike is against major materials producers LafargeHolcim and Lehigh Hanson, which operates a huge quarry in Thornton, and Vulcan Materials.
The stone they mine and process is turned into ready-mixed concrete and fresh asphalt, and some asphalt plants have had to shut down due to a lack of aggregate, Meyer and other plant managers said. public works.
At a village board committee meeting on Monday at Orland Park, Joel Van Essen, director of public works, said the village was able to do some preliminary work before repaving streets, such as the removal of existing borders.
If a street is not completely rebuilt from the bottom up, but rather resurfaced, the top layer of asphalt is crushed and asphalt companies will use it to produce recycled asphalt, and a new layer will be laid over the top and smoothed.
Van Essen and other public works officials said that unless there is a fresh supply of new asphalt to lay, grinding that top layer and leaving the base exposed can cause problems. , especially if it is raining. He said that, for now, asphalt supplies appear to be the most directly affected by the strike.
“You don’t want to leave it open to the weather any longer than necessary,” he told village officials.
In Flossmoor, where $2 million is expected to be spent to rehabilitate streets, the village is delaying grinding or milling that top layer due to uncertainty over asphalt supplies, said public works director John Brunke.
“You don’t want to grind off the surface layer of a street and leave it too long because that layer thickness is part of the overall strength of the pavement, so when it’s removed the pavement is weaker until new surface be installed,” he said.
Brunke said the village will wait to mill streets slated for new asphalt until the strike is over and production is back up and running.
The strike has also halted work on a $3 million drainage improvement project along Berry Lane because the contractor cannot get the stone needed to backfill a new storm sewer pipe, it said. -he declares.
In Oak Lawn, street resurfacing work is scheduled to begin after the July 4 holiday, but Meyer said the village engineer is already warning village officials to expect delays, mainly due to supply. in limited asphalt.
Like Van Essen and Brunke, Meyer said the village does not want to start grinding or milling streets slated for new asphalt until a guaranteed supply of fresh bitumen is available.
Meyer said delays in starting street projects may mean extended work in colder fall temperatures and the possibility of asphalt plants closing for the winter before some streets are completed.
“You only have this very narrow window,” he said. “Hopefully they can come to an agreement and come to an agreement.”
Even to fix the potholes, the village is having supply problems and Oak Lawn is looking for alternatives.
For example, Gallagher Asphalt, based in Thornton next to the Lehigh Hanson quarry, has asphalt plants still in operation in Bourbonnais and Joliet, but that distance increases the cost of transporting asphalt, Meyer said.
Gallagher is not directly hit by Local 150, and a message left with the company Thursday seeking comment on the fallout effect of the strike on its operations was not immediately returned. Public works directors interviewed said the company’s plant in Thornton was not working.
For hot patching potholes, Meyer said he is considering the Bourbonnais and Joliet sites that Gallagher continues to operate as possible alternatives.
With the price of diesel being a factor in venturing further for asphalt, product temperature is also a consideration, Meyer said.
“The hotter the asphalt, the better,” he said, noting that a temperature above 300 degrees helps in pouring and rolling smoothly. “You lose heat for every mile you drive.”
Maher of Local 150 said other aggregate plant workers, including management, are being furloughed to continue operating, and the three companies are bringing in workers from other plants around the ‘company.
A message left Thursday seeking comment regarding the strike with Irving, Texas-based Lehigh Hanson was not immediately returned. In addition to the Thornton Quarry, the Company also operates stone quarrying and crushing operations in McCook.
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The three companies bargain collectively with the union through an organization called the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association.
Maher noted that the strike’s impact is beginning to be felt by other suppliers of building materials, including ready-mix concrete and asphalt, and is “unnecessarily delaying projects” in the Chicago area. .
He said the union and the producers’ association had, since mid-May, held nine bargaining sessions and had yet to start discussions on financial issues, such as wages.
“Even if we don’t reach a resolution on day one, this dialogue is important,” Maher said of the union’s desire to continue negotiations.
Prior to calling the strike, Local 150 had filed unfair labor practice charges against the three companies with the National Labor Relations Board.
Maher said the allegations include company bosses unlawfully questioning union members about union activities and threatening union members if they take part in a work stoppage, Maher said.