Striking construction workers, employers resume talks

July 7, 2010 7:42:50 PM PDT
Contract talks resumed for striking construction workers in the Chicago area and concluded Wednesday night after seven hours of negotiations.Union employees who work construction on roads, schools and other projects walked off the job last week. Some school districts fear, if the strike continues, construction will not be completed in time for the start of the school year.

Negotiations took place in Des Plaines Wednesday evening between the unions and the organization representing employers. Both sides said they were hopeful some progress would be made.

Representatives for both the Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and the Laborers District Council of Chicago met with the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association for the first time in more than a week Wednesday. Their breakdown in contract negotiations caused thousands of workers to walk off their jobs, shutting down hundreds of construction projects across the city and suburbs.

Although talks were wrapped up for the night, both sides agreed to meet again.

Initially, the union asked for a for a 15-percent increase in wages in three years and the offer was countered with 3.25 percent. Both sides say they want to work out a new contract that that is fair to all parties.

"We want to keep the jobs we have, keep the high wages, $53 dollars an hour, $63 an hour, so nobody gets a cut," said Lissa Christman, MARBA spokesperson.

"We're willing to compromise and bargain in good faith. That's what we're willing to do. We're not looking for wages. Make no mistake. We're proposing no wage increase. All we're looking to do is cover the inflationary cost of health care," said Ed Maher, IUOE Local 150 spokesperson.

Several construction projects have been affected, including the resurfacing of the Eisenhower Expressway, set to be completed in October. Each day of the work stoppage means more time.

Naperville Central High School's renovation project has also been affected. It was halted last week. However, the work resumed Wednesday when some workers crossed picket lines.

The school district is in talks with the unions to work out an agreement to resume work during the strike.

The Woodstock School District is hoping for the same plan. Officials there are appealing to the unions to continue work on upgrades and repairs. Both sides say they hope the public will not be inconvenienced much longer.

"At the end of the day, it is the taxpayers who are suffering because all these public work projects are paid for by the taxpayers," Christman said.

"We're faced with a cut in benefits or cuts in wages. We're fighting to maintain the status quo," said Maher said.


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