Oak Road construction workers join union strike

PLYMOUTH — A strike that began last Thursday in parts of Northern Indiana reached Plymouth Tuesday. Construction workers who are members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, including those working on the Oak Road construction near Wal-Mart, halted work Tuesday morning. They will remain on the picket line “until they can settle,” according to one worker Tuesday afternoon.
The workers held signs saying that they wanted better wages and working conditions, but the focus of the strike according to Local 150 is on keeping up with increasing healthcare costs.
“Wages are not the primary source of disagreement,” said David Fagan, Local 150 Financial Secretary and lead negotiator in Indiana. “The cost of healthcare is running wild, and we are trying to ensure that our members and their families can simply maintain the level of coverage that they currently have.”
Local 150 estimates that healthcare inflation rates have gone up by 10-14 percent each year for the past three years, while employers believe that inflation has gone up only 8 percent.
“Employers have said we are overestimating the price of inflation, but we pay the bills,” said Ed Maher, Local 150 communications director. “They can come by and see what we pay. I wish it was only 8 percent.”
Maher also explained that the union members are not asking for more benefits, just that they keep their current benefits.
“It's not an expansion of benefits, just maintaing benefits in the face of the astronomical inflation of healthcare,” said Maher.
Paul Fallon, president of HRP construction, the company working on the Oak Road construction, said HRP is not a member of the Northwest Indiana Highway Contractors, the organization negotiating with Local 150. As a result, HRP must wait for the situation to be resolved favorably.
“For us to be successful as contractors, and of service to the people in Plymouth…we must perform work,” said Fallon late Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously we have a degree of frustration when we are unable to do so.”
Fallon said that the HRP workers on strike are not being paid by the company, but may be receiving some compensation from the union.
“We pay them when they are on site to work,” said Fallon.
At this time no further action is being taken by HRP, although Fallon stated that may change depending on how long work is stopped.
The strike affects construction projects in Lake, Porter, La Porte, St. Joseph, Elkhart, La Grange, Marshall, Fulton, Kosciusko, Noble, Newton, Jasper, Starke, and Pulaski counties.
The workers participating in the strike on Oak Road declined to be named, but stated that they would be sitting on the corner every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. until an agreement could be made.