Workers cross picket line for school construction

July 6, 2010 (NAPERVILLE, Ill.)

The project is a new building at Naperville Central High School. Union officials say a work stoppage would threaten to delay the start of the school year. But the project could still be in jeopardy.

The hard hats were on and it was back to work for about 90 construction workers at Naperville Central High School. The three-story addition is supposed to be open for the senior class members this upcoming school year.

Workers walked off the job site Thursday when more than 15,000 construction workers from different unions went on strike in the Chicago area.

"In good faith, we are letting them go back to work. We don't want any stoppages in the school schedule," said Michael Van Wagner, president of Local 288.

"What is at stake is not what is in the district's interests, but the lives of 3,000 students' impacted, and can we reach an unusual accord to make it go away?" said Terry Fielden, Naperville School Board.

Dozens of other construction projects on buildings and roads have been on hold. Local 288 has about 20 workers on the Naperville project who are striking, but other workers who are not included in the strike had refused to cross the picket line.

Attorneys for Naperville's schools were planning on filing a court action Tuesday to get the workers who are not technically part of the strike to get back to work. That doesn't need to happen for now, but school leaders say they'll go to court if the job stops again.

"We are going back for good faith for the children. But if they walk away from the table we will be back Thursday again. But so far, everybody is going in," said Casey Bobak, vice president, Local 288.

The union's three-year contract expired at the end of May with the Mid-America Regional Bargain Association. MARBA says the unions want a 15-percent increase over three years to cover the rising cost of health benefits. MARBA is offering a little more than a 3-percent increase over three years.

The schedule for the project still hangs in the balance. If they keep working every day, school leaders say everything will finish on time. If workers strike again, the school will have to make other arrangements for senior students.

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