Workers' strike could affect road projects

June 29, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Some projects have already been affected.

Motorists anxious for progress in the Eisenhower Expressway construction project may see roadwork come to a halt because construction workers fixing the roads are prepared to strike.

Leaders of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and the Laborers District Council of Chicago say have been trying to negotiate new contracts but the talks broke down Monday. The sticking point is paying for health care.

"We are not looking for wage increases. We actually proposed a wage freeze over the next three years and covering our health care and our funds that we have to maintain," said Jim Sweeney International Union, Operating Engineers Local 150.

"The decision is rough but at the end of the day we need money to in our funds in order to cover the rising cost of health care," said James Connolly, Laborers District Council of Chicago.

In an unprecedented move, the unions have joined forces bringing together 15,000 members participating in negotiations with the Mid America Regional Bargaining Association (MARBA) . Both unions have been working for a month without contracts and members of the Laborers District Council already went on strike Tuesday. The union hall in Countryside will be filled Wednesday with heavy equipment operators who are prepared to authorize a strike.

"Any work stoppage would mean not only a reduction in pay for those who are going on strike - we don't want to see that happen - but also would inconvenience Chicagoans across the area," said Lissa Christman, MARBA spokesperson.

Christman says negotiations are happening during tough economic times for the construction industry and that the unions are asking for increases that contractors cannot afford.

In preparation for the strike, the Illinois Department of Transportation says it is taking some precautions to make sure that the roads are safe for drivers. For instance, workers are filling patches and they are also reopening any temporary closures.

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