Tentative deal may end construction strike

July 20, 2010 9:57:45 AM PDT
Thousands of construction workers began returning to work Tuesday after a tentative deal was reached to end a nearly three-week-long strike.

Construction projects will be resuming around the city and the suburbs Tuesday and Wednesday. Cranes were spotted and the work had started at the Ritz Carlton on Michigan Avenue, the first to resume Tuesday morning, union officials say. The activity is a sigh of relief for hundreds of project managers on deadline all over the city and suburbs.

The Laborers' District Council and the International Union of Engineers Local 150 came to an agreement Monday night with employers.

"You start negotiations at either end of the spectrum -- 0 percent, 5 percent -- you work your way toward the middle. And from the beginning, the unions were looking to keep pace with health care inflation and cover costs. And that's what we were able to do. And the employers sat down and saw that they got a fair deal," said Edward Maher, Local 150.

Besides the thousands of workers ready to get back on the job, school and transportation officials are thrilled to get back on schedule. Union officials say they will do what it takes to meet deadlines, which many agencies will not extend.

"There have been various plans by different school districts to try to catch up? doing longer shifts, doing double shifts, things like that. A lot of times when you're planning a project, there's a little bit of leeway built in for, for example, weather, if it rained for a week straight. So a lot of these projects have a little bit of leeway built in. Many of them, they'll have to, you know, put on another shift," Maher said.

And some projects may still not make deadline. One middle school in Des Plaines may not be finished in time; the district may have to shuffle some students around before the academic year starts.

On the Eisenhower Expy., work could begin as early as Wednesday.

After nine hours of negotiations on Monday, the labor unions in the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association reached a tentative agreement for a 3.25-percent annual pay raise for the next three years. They also reached an agreement on health benefits and retirement plans.

The last time the unions received that low of an increase was ten years ago when they received 3 percent per year, according to a MARBA press release.

The work stopped at hundreds of sites around the city and suburbs July 1. The timetables of many projects were on the line. A spokesperson said negotiations were tough.

"Negotiations were long. They were heated. They were spirited, as all negotiations are. The end result is what we wanted: a good compromise from both sides so we could get back to work," said Lissa Christman, MARBA spokesperson.

The unions still have to officially vote on this tentative agreement. Local 150 members will meet Wednesday for a ratification vote, according to a union press release.


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