Chesterton Tribune

Strike over health care costs stops work on nearly completed Chesterton street project

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“We sit and wait.”

That’s how Chesterton Town Engineer Mark O’Dell put it today, as a strike begun last week by Operating Engineers Local 150 finally hit the Downtown utility project this morning.

Members of Local 150 employed by the Northwest Indiana Contractors Association on building-projects initially walked off the job on Thursday, but there was still some hope on Friday that heavy highway workers—employed by the Four County Contractors Group and the Indiana Constructors Association—might yet reach an agreement.

They didn’t, Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher told the Chesterton Tribune today. In fact, there was no sit-down at all with the Four County Contractors Group, of which the general contractor for the Downtown project, Rieth-Riley, is a member.

The result: Local 150 expanded its strike today to include about a dozen asphalt plants in the region. “Asphalt is not being delivered,” Maher said.

Which—for Downtown businesses and Duneland motorists—is too bad, because pretty much the last bit of work remaining on the project is re-surfacing.

“We’re three or four days away—at most—from finishing the project,” O’Dell said.

And by all rights the project should have been done by June 4, the original contract deadline. But rain days in May forced the Town of Chesterton to extend the deadline to June 13—today—which Rieth-Riley still conceivably could have made, had not a torrential downpour early Thursday morning once again thrown a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans.

“Ultimately it goes back to the weather,” O’Dell said. “Now we just have to bear with the strike. It’s out of our control. We really appreciate folks’ understanding and patience.”

“The expanded strike now affects several employers operating asphalt plants and various heavy equipment, several of which are signatory to the Four County Constructors Group and the Indiana Constructor Association,” Local 150 said in a statement released today. “Together, these two associations represent employers performing the majority of the road and bridge work across Northern Indiana. The strike against the Northwest Indiana Contractors Association continues, impacting building-projects in Northwest Indiana.”

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 added.

“Wages are not the primary source of disagreement,” Local 150 Financial Secretary David Fagan said. “The cost of healthcare is running wild, and we are trying to ensure that our members and their families can simply maintain the level of coverage that they currently have. We cannot have a situation where members working under one agreement for a contractor are subsidizing the cost of insurance for members working for another contractor.”

Maher noted this morning that the number of employers bolting from the Four County Contractors Group and the Indiana Constructors Association to join the new Northern Indiana Independent Contractors Group (NIICG)—which does have an agreement with the heavy highway workers—continues to grow. “We’re seeing increasing interest in the independent agreement,” Maher said.

Rieth-Riley, however, is not to this point a member of NIICG.

O’Dell did say today that the town’s contract with Rieth-Riley does not have penalty provisions for failure to meet deadline due to job action.

Local 150’s contracts with the three employer associations expired on May 31 and “all three associations’ latest proposals were overwhelmingly rejected by Local 150 members on Sunday, June 5.”

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



Posted 6/13/2011