Construction projects at standstill

July 1, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The strike brings hundreds of road construction projects to a halt.

The strike had some short-term positive effects for most commuters, as they did not have to worry about active construction zones on the roads.

The sticking points in this strike appear to be wages and health care benefits, but the union is also accusing negotiators of unfair labor practices.

At one of the projects put on hold, the Congress Parkway Bridge leading to the Eisenhower Expressway, no workers could be seen all morning Thursday.

Small groups of laborers picketed this morning. They were spread out throughout the city and near construction projects that were put to a halt at the stroke of midnight.

Scaffolder Daniel Crug says he and other construction workers deserve a higher wage increase than what's being offered now.

"My job is very dangerous and I don't think at all that what our pay that we're asking for is unfair at all," said Crug. "I build scaffolding in the high-rises. You walk planks. You carry frames. It's very dangerous work. "

Around 15,000 workers from different unions have walked off the job around the city and suburbs.

Their three-year contract expired at the end of May and they are negotiating with the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association (MARBA).

MARBA says the unions want a 15 percent wage increase over three years, while MARBA is offering a little over a 3 percent increase over three years.

"MARBA did not walk away from the negotiations. In fact, we have another date set for July 7th," said Lissa Druss Christman of MARBA. "Workers making these type of wages, $58, $63 an hour, there's no reason why they can't continue to work while we are anticipating the next meeting on July 7th."

One worker suspected that contractors might be trying to save money in a tough economic period.

"I think the problem is we're having here now, I think the economy is so bad the contractors are thinking this is a good time now to take away from things they gave us to previous to this," said Dave Wesselhoff of Local 4 Laborers.

The unions claim the strike is due to bad faith bargaining, saying MARBA walked out on talks, but MARBA denies that.

"Why anyone would want to go on strike is beyond us when we have another negotiating date set for July 7th. We don't want to lose these jobs. We don't want future projects to be postponed so those people don't work. We want everyone working," said Lissa Christman, MARBA spokeswoman.

Both sides say they want workers back on the jobs. Wages and healthcare benefits are hot button issues across the country during these tough economic times.

"In a tough economy, they're not pushing for higher wages, but they want to push for something. Health care seems to be the thing that they are trying to lock up," said John Challenger Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

There are some concerns about extensive delays, especially on giant projects like the Eisenhower, but the Illinois Department of Transportation says there will not be serious concerns unless this strike goes on for weeks.

A lot of the projects were going to be put on hold anyway for the Fourth of July weekend.

The union said it wants to clarify the so-called wage increase. According to the union, the increase is intended to cover the increased cost of health benefits.

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