“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
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
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.