Business, Local News

Local 150 strike causes the slowing of local school construction, public works projects

The Local 150 branch of the International Union of Operating Engineers has been on strike against Lehigh Hanson, Lafarge Holcim and Vulcan Materials since June 7. No asphalt is being moved in Illinois, causing multiple construction and public works projects in the Homewood-Flossmoor area to be delayed. 

Lehigh Hanson and Lafarge Holcim and Vulcan Materials are large, multinational companies that produce gravel, sand and crushed stone. Labor organizer and Local 150 spokesperson Ed Maher said the companies have been delaying negotiations and backtracking on previously made agreements while the striking workers have been ready to come to a deal for weeks.

Drainage pipes are ready to be installed, but equipment is parked as a quarry strike has stopped work on the Berry Lane drainage project in Flossmoor. (Chronicle file photo)

Maher said he’d “love to be able to” know when the strike will be over but it’s “unpredictable.” Once the strike is settled, Local 150 members will be back on the job within a day or two, he said.

“These are materials that are critical to the production of various construction materials like concrete and asphalt,” Maher said. “We went on strike for unfair labor practices that are committed against our members by these three companies. Over the past couple of years, these relationships have just degraded, especially during the pandemic.”

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Maher said that there hasn’t “been a strike in this industry since 1967.” Maher said the union is negotiating for wages, benefits and worker treatment.

The strike has delayed Flossmoor’s Street Rehabilitation Project because asphalt isn’t available. Flossmoor Public Works Director John Brunke said the sub-contractor has another source of stone and concrete, so the sidewalk, curb and gutter replacement has not been affected. 

Brunke said the Berry Lane Drainage Project is stopped at about 33% complete. About 40% of the Street Rehabilitation Project can be completed even if the strike continues.

Homewood is in a similar situation. The street resurfacing projects couldn’t start because of the strike, but the village has been able to get curb work done, according to Public Works Director John Schaefer.

Other projects, like manhole maintenance and sewer frame replacement have also been put on hold. 

“I don’t want to put another hole in the street if I can’t get anything to fill it with that’s going to last,” he said.

The hole is dug, but construction work has stopped for now at Church School in Homewood. A strike affecting asphalt production in the region has slowed or stopped many summer projects. (Eric Crump photos/H-F Chronicle)
The hole is dug, but construction work has stopped for now at Church School in Homewood. A strike affecting asphalt production in the region has slowed or stopped many summer projects. (Eric Crump photos/H-F Chronicle)

Schaefer said the prognosis for resurfacing projects is not certain. Even when the strike is settled and asphalt plants resume production, there will be a bottleneck of orders to be processed and contractor schedules to consider. He’s not certain how long it will take to get projects going.

In the meantime, his crews are using cold patch to repair the worst potholes. That’s not a preferred material and is usually used in the winter to keep streets drivable until better repairs can be made, Schaefer said, but it’s the best crews can do until the asphalt plants are running again.

Doug Boehm, superintendent of parks and planning for Homewood-Flossmoor Park District, said their contractor had to go to Will County to get the material for improvements at Patriots and Indian Trails Parks. Boehm is not sure what the impact will be on the park district’s ongoing work updating the H-F ice arena.

Flossmoor School District 161 reported parking lot and walking path projects at Flossmoor Hills and Heather Hill Schools were delayed.

“Then our asphalt company got their rock from another quarry, so we were able to continue the work,” said Fran LaBella, associate superintendent.

Delays have happened in District 153 where a $9.4 million initiative to update the schools is underway. Superintendent Scott McAlister said for the first time a mobile unit is in place at Willow School. However, the mobile unit was placed on the existing outdoor playground. McAlister said the district would like to lay new asphalt to recreate the playground space, but asphalt is unavailable because of the strike.

At Churchill School, the site has been excavated for a classroom addition, but the foundation work is on hold due to the strike.

Maher said that not only have construction and public works projects been put on hold but workers who depend on these materials have been put out of work.

At the beginning of the strike, Maher said there were approximately 300 workers on strike. But as other workers became affected, Maher estimates the strike probably includes several thousand workers today.

“As material stockpiles have dwindled, we’ve seen employees on asphalt projects, concrete projects and construction projects of all sorts at this point being laid off,” Maher said. “Work can’t be done without these materials.”

On Friday, July 15, Maher said the three companies sent a contract to the striking workers to vote on by Sunday, July 17. When the union looked at the contract, Maher said their additional demands were not met and demands the workers thought the employers already agreed upon weeks before were not in the proposal.

“We’ve made ourselves available at all times and locations – nights, weekends, holidays,” said Maher. “There have been several points in this strike where employers have walked out of negotiations and not called or got in contact at all for as much as eight days at a time.”

Marilyn Thomas, Eric Crump and Carole Sharwarko contributed to this story.

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