Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Talk Friday between contractors and Local 150 ends in stalemate

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By KEVIN NEVERS

A five-hour talk on Friday between Operating Engineers Local 150 and the Four County Highway Contractors Group ended without an agreement.

Both parties agree on that.

They differ, however, on the reasons for the stalemate.

In a statement released on Saturday, Four County said that it had offered Local 150 a new three-year economic package—“in a good-faith attempt to get members of all crafts back to work”—which represents an improvement over its previous offer of an additional $1.00 per hour in the first year and $1.00 more in the second.

The new offer, Four County said: an additional $1.30 in the first year, $1.50 in the second, $1.55 in the third.

But “Local 150 rejected the contractors’ offer and refused to reduce their previous $2.35/$2.45 two-year proposal by even a penny,” Four County said. “Consequently, it is abundantly clear that the focus of the dispute is not rising health insurance costs but much more. The effect of the union’s refusal to accept the contractors’ offer will be to cause the other crafts, the contractors, the traveling public, the taxpayers, and even their own members continued disruption to their everyday lives.”

Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher, for his part, acknowledged that Four County made a counterproposal but said that “with that counterproposal came significant changes in language: various contract language, work language, various other things.”

Maher declined to specify what sorts of changes in language Four County was pushing but did say that, as a result, “the counterproposal was not acceptable.”

More to the point, Maher said, Four County has put Local 150 in a take-it-or-leave-it position. “Four County indicated that the offer would be their best and final one, so that our proposing a counteroffer would be of no use. We were presented with a proposal and told ‘This is it.’ So there’d be no use in presenting a counterproposal.”

So where does this leave Local 150?

“According to (Four County), with no end in sight,” Maher said. “But we’re committed to sitting down and talking back and forth, getting everybody in the room together. We’re glad we were able to sit down and have some conversation (on Friday). We hope that we can get into some fuller negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Four County is warning Local 150 of the possible effect of its strike—which began on June 9—on this summer’s legislative study of Right to Work legislation.

Currently 22 states have enacted Right to Work legislation, which prohibits contracts between unions and management requiring union membership or union dues-paying as a condition of employment.

“Local 150 appears to have no desire to do what is best for the long-term viability of the union contractors and their union employees,” Four County said. “Rather, they seem focused on doing whatever it is they think they can get away with in the short term. This short-term ‘what’s in it for me now’ approach is the kind of thing that helps fuel the Right to Work debate and Common Wage legislation and most likely is helping to grow the rapid success of non-union contractors in the region.”

“(A)ctions like those of Local 150 are pushing growth and economic development to other regions at a time when Northwest Indiana needs it most,” Four County added. “The result is the loss of good-paying jobs. All the while, more and more of what work is available is now going to non-union contractors, many of whom are out of state and who are becoming the low-cost quality producer. While other unions have negotiated in good faith and have already accepted much lower increases, the members of (Local 150) continue to sit home without a paycheck. They certainly have to be asking ‘Why?’”

But Maher rejected Four County’s Right to Work warning as a “red herring” and said that “it came out of left field.”

Maher then cited a recent instance in Elkhart County where a union contractor out-bid a non-union one paying wages around half those paid by the union contractor. “Four County says wages are keeping union contractors from being competitive,” he said. “But wages are often less than 10 percent of the total construction costs.”

 

Posted 6/20/2011

 

 

 

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