Chesterton Tribune

Contractors say strike is about more than health costs

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Four County Highway Contractors Group—which represents, among others, the general contractor for the Chesterton Downtown utility project, Rieth-Riley—released a statement after deadline on Monday to stake out its own public position on the job action taken last week by Operating Engineers Local 150.

That strike has effectively shut down heavy roadwork in Northwest Indiana—including the re-surfacing of South Calumet Road—after Local 150 began picketing asphalt plants on Monday morning.

According to Four County, initial contract negotiations focused on two “economic” proposals: its own for $0.00 additional pay per hour in Year One and $0.50 in Year Two; Local 150’s for $2.35 in Year One and $2.45 in Year Two. Then, on Saturday, June 4, Four County made its second offer: $1.00 in Year One, $1 in Year Two.

Four County noted that contractors currently pay $61.15 per hour (plus payroll taxes) and time-and-a-half for overtime or $81.75 per hour (plus payroll taxes). That hourly figure is comprised of a base wage (for Class I) of $39.20 per hour and a fringe package of $21.95 per hour, Four County said.

“The contractors have explained to the union that these labor costs, which include health insurance, pension, and vacation savings, are unsustainable if union contractors are to remain competitive,” Four County said. “As contractors have explained, they perform two types of work: private work for which they are no longer competitive, and public work for which taxpayers pay.

Contractors believe that at some point very soon INDOT and other governmental agencies will say ‘Enough is enough’ and begin looking for lower cost providers. An economic package of nearly $66 per hour, as Local 150 proposes, is just too much for the taxpayer and way more than most employees fortunate enough to be working receive.”

On Sunday, June 5, Local 150 rejected the contractors’ offer, while discussions on Monday, June 6, proved unfruitful, Four County said.

On Thursday, June 9, Local 150 began striking building-project jobs and on Monday expanded the strike to picketing asphalt plants.

According to Four County, Local 150’s economic package has seen a net increase of 36 percent over the last six years.

“Local 150 has stated that they want to keep their healthcare coverage and benefits,” Four County said. “The contractors’ offer does just that. The only fringe that is being impacted by inflation is the healthcare fringe. Yet Local 150 is insisting on increases totaling $1.70 for other fringes plus increases to the base wage totaling $0.75 per hour. Local 150 continues to insist on a total economic package of $4.80 per hour over two years, of which they allocate $2.35 per hour for healthcare. The contractors’ offer totals $2.00.”

“The sticking difference between the union’s estimate of healthcare (a total of $2.35 per hour over two years) and the contractors’ estimate of healthcare (a total of $2.00 per hour over two years) is the ‘estimated rate of inflation on healthcare,”” Four County added.

“The union is insisting on a 12-percent increase to healthcare (though no justification has been produced other than ‘we have to have’ this much). The contractors, based on experience in their own business, believe 8 percent is a more accurate number. Based on an existing $10.00 per hour health insurance benefit and using the contractors’ 8 percent, the annual increase for healthcare would be $0.80 per year (the contractors have offered $1.00 per year).”

“Beyond the inflationary issue, the contractors have provided Local 150 with viable options to reduce their healthcare costs that in no way jeopardize the status of their healthcare plan under the new federal healthcare law.” Four County said. “Unlike the majority of businesses and other unions, to date Local 150 has shown no signs of entertaining any of these cost-cutting options.”

Four County also denied Local 150’s statement that numerous contractors are bolting their group and signing a contract under a new independent contractors’ group.

“Rather, it appears that Local 150 has aggressively pursued companies (in some cases smaller firms) who traditionally sign on to the master agreement after negotiations, in order to get them to sign their new agreement. To date, we are only aware of two companies that have signed Local 150’s new agreement.”

“The reality is that the member of the Four County Group represent the vast majority of the projects and man-hours in the heavy and highway market,” Four County concluded. “As such, a work stoppage (when and however it may occur) will have a significant and widespread impact on the vast majority of public and private projects in the region.”

Contractors compare proposals

By KEVIN NEVERS

To combat the rumors common to “negotiating situations,” the Four County Highway Contractors Group has established a website at nwihighwaycontractors.com with information for members of Operating Engineers Local 150, Four County said in a statement released after deadline on Monday.

Posted to that website is a comparison of Four County’s current economic proposal and Local 150’s. Four County is proposing $1.00 additional pay per hour effective May 1, 2011 and $1.00 effective May 1, 2012.

Local 150 is proposing a total package of $2.35 effective May 1, 2011, of which $1.15 is for healthcare: wages $0.35, apprenticeship $0.05, retiree medical savings $0.25, construction research fund $0.05, pension $0.50, and healthcare $1.15. According to Four County, “additional requested over and above health and welfare”: $1.20.

Local 150 is proposing a total package of $2.45 effective May 1. 2012, of which $1.20 is for healthcare: $0.40 wages, $0.05 apprenticeship, $0.25 retiree medical savings, $0.05 construction research fund, pension $0.50, and healthcare $1.20. According to Four County, additional requested over and above health and welfare”: $1.25.

“The contractors believe it is important that this information be shared with all of the contractors’ employees who are affected by the labor negotiations,” Four County said. “In the coming days, we will begin to update this webpage as circumstances warrant.”

“For any union members reading this site, please understand that we are posting these facts for informational purposes,” Four County added. “If you have questions about the negotiations, these should be addressed to Local 150 as your bargaining representative.”

 

Posted 6/14/2011