Will strike by workers who produce gravel derail road construction season?
A strike by the workers who produce gravel and other essential materials for roadwork is raising concerns it could hamstring a crucial construction season.
About 300 members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 hit the picket lines June 7 at 35 Chicago-area facilities owned by Lehigh Hanson, Vulcan Materials Co. and Holcim, union officials said.
The labor action is causing shortages in vital supplies and already impinging on some road projects at what is typically the busiest time of the year, industry experts explained.
The striking workers are heavy equipment operators who, among various duties, break up rocks at quarries to produce sand, crushed stone and gravel that are vital for asphalt and concrete.
The union has filed an unfair-labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Officials with the three companies did not return requests for comment as of Thursday evening.
All sides are expected to meet Friday.
Local 150 officials said they wanted to avoid this scenario but quarry owners' "disregard for their employees' rights caused this strike to occur, and their refusal to schedule negotiations needlessly jeopardizes construction projects across the industry as smaller companies run out of materials," Local 150 President James Sweeney said.
Sweeney is also a board director at the Illinois tollway, which is in the midst of its most ambitious road construction season.
Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said the agency "continues to monitor the situation and evaluate material needs of our projects. We are working closely with our contractors and adapting project schedules on a project-by-project basis to keep construction moving forward as much as possible.
"We are hopeful for a quick resolution; however, in the event that projects need to be shut down, making active work zones safe and secure will be IDOT's top priority," she noted.
Local 150 representatives said a lack of building materials had caused work on a I-90 project near the Jane Byrne Interchange scheduled for Friday to be postponed.
The strike may also have a ripple effect if other construction-related unions honor picket lines.
It's the first Local 150 labor action since 1967 involving quarry workers, Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher said. But a three-week strike by about 15,000 heavy machine operators and related workers in summer 2010 brought construction on 300 IDOT and local projects to a halt temporarily.