Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Local 150 strike hasn't yet affected Downtown project but rain has

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Operating Engineers Local 150 walked off building-project jobs in the region on Thursday, after the membership voted earlier this week to reject the proposal of the Northwest Indiana Contractor Association (NICA) and authorize a strike.

Still at work, however—as of deadline today—were members employed by the Four County Constructors Group (FCCG) and the Indiana Constructors Association (ICA), which together represent those employers which perform the bulk of road and bridge work in the region.

Rieth-Riley, general contractor for the Downtown utility project, belongs to FCCG, and although the membership similarly voted to reject FCCG’s proposal, Local 150 negotiators want to take one last shot at a meeting of the minds, Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher told the Chesterton Tribune today.

FCCG’s negotiator was out of town this week, Maher said, but should be boots on the ground again today. “We’ll be reaching out soon to try to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. Sometimes you sit down and you can do that. Sometimes you can’t. Where we go remains to be seen.”

At mid-morning today, Rieth-Riley crews were on the job on South Calumet Road, doing concrete-form work in the alley just south of Datagraphic Printing & Copying, Town Engineer Mark O’Dell said. Also at work was a Walsh & Kelly crew, Indiana-American Water Company’s contractor.

The irony of the whole thing is this, though: Rieth-Riley was set to begin asphalting South Calumet Road this morning, but the heavy rain around 5 a.m.—with more heavy rains forecast for later today—put the kibosh on re-surfacing work for the day.

That work shouldn’t take more than two days, O’Dell figures, but whether Rieth-Riley will have a crew to do the work on Monday—or whether the company’s Local 150 members have walked out by then—is anybody’s guess.

“It if weren’t for all the rain we’ve been getting, we’d be done on South Calumet,” O’Dell said. “It’s just bad luck.”

At issue for Local 150 is not wages but “keeping up with rapidly increasing healthcare inflation costs, which actuaries have estimated at approximately 10 to 14 percent per year,” Local 150 said in a statement released on Thursday.

“Our members are not looking for big increases on their paychecks but rather to keep their healthcare coverage and benefits,” Local 150 Financial Secretary David Fagan said. “The type of increase that we proposed is completely in line with what has been agreed to in other contracts we have negotiated in Indiana this year.”

Local 150 did note that several employers, “frustrated” by the “hard-line negotiating strategy” of NICA, FCCG, and ICA, “have walked away” and formed their own association: the Northern Indiana Independent Contractors Group (NIICG), which signed an agreement with Local 150 on Tuesday.

“Employers signed to the NIICG agreement will not be affected by any potential upcoming job actions against employers signs to the heavy and highway agreements,” Local 150 said. “In anticipation of a strike, numerous employers have reached out to Local 150 to sign on to the NIICG agreement.”

Maher told the Tribune that 10 more employers joined NIICG on Thursday alone. “We just reached this agreement on Tuesday and the phone’s been ringing.”

Rieth-Riley is not so far a member of NIICG, Maher added.

Should Local 150 end up striking Rieth-Riley and the other roadwork contractors, Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said, pretty much “everything comes to a standstill,” at least if last summer’s strike by Teamsters Local 142 is any indication, when other unions refused to cross Local 142’s picket line and effectively bottlenecked nearly every public works project in the region. “In Northwest Indiana, everything comes to a stop. Everything that has to do with union work just stops. Our paving projects, everything else, even the delivery of stone for alleys.”

Local 150 represents more than 23,000 men and women in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa in construction, construction material production, concrete pumping, steel mill service, slag production, and public works.

Posted 6/10/2011




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