The giant inflatable rat outside an Algonquin quarry is one sign of the ongoing strike that, municipal public works officials said, could lead to delays in finishing road improvement throughout McHenry County.
The strike by International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 against three construction materials companies – Lehigh Hanson, LafargeHolcim and Vulcan Materials – began June 7 and has halted work at 30 quarries in northern Illinois that produce aggregate material, such as sand, gravel, and stone, impacting road projects throughout the Chicago area.
The delays so far have not been huge, several public works officials in McHenry County said, but a prolonged strike could lead to bigger problems in the coming months.
The strike began over what Local 150 described as unfair labor practices. The union alleges abuses of the collective bargaining agreement and unilateral changes by the company, union spokesman Ed Maher said.
The Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association, which is representing the three companies in negotiations, said in a letter to the Illinois Department of Transportation last week that the companies “struggle to understand the exact purpose of the strike” but have “maintained open lines of communication” with the union and “have been bargaining in good faith.”
The LafargeHolcim gravel quarry, current home to the giant rat and located near the intersection of Main Street and Route 31 in Algonquin, was supplying aggregate to the village of Algonquin for work on the village’s Main Street project until the strike began, Public Works Director Bob Mitchard said. Now, Algonquin brings in materials from an alternate location near Elgin, which has costed the village an addition $20,000 so far.
While the village of Algonquin has enough aggregate material for its road projects, Mitchard said if the strike continued, he wasn’t sure where the village would get asphalt binder, which would be necessary to complete some projects, including along North Main Street.
Village officials have to decide by July 18 whether they can move forward with planned street improvements within the High Hill subdivision, near the Ganek Municipal Center, which involves temporarily taking out portions of sidewalk and curb, Mitchard said. If the village doesn’t have the materials to complete the work, it could make the roadway unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians, he said.
“At this point, we are just hoping the whole issue gets resolved and doesn’t set us behind,” Mitchard said. “It’s very concerning, driving costs up and pushing deadlines back.”
In Crystal Lake, the city halted its resurfacing program because the contractor can’t get asphalt material, Public Works Director Mike Magnuson said.
While Magnuson said the unfinished streets are in safe condition, the strike could impact the city’s North Main Street and Route 176 improvement project. The eastbound lane of Route 176 has been closed off since June 6 as a result of that work.
“We are obviously monitoring where the strike is at,” Magnuson said. “We’re in a good spot right now as long as the strike doesn’t drag out for another 3 to 4 months.”
The strike has caused delays for the city of McHenry’s road resurfacing program as well, Public Works Director Troy Strange said. However, because that project was divided between two contracts, only about a mile left of resurfacing work remains to be completed.
If there is no resolution to the strike, the city of McHenry may wait until 2023 to complete the project, Strange said.
Maher said union officials “understand the frustration” being experienced by public works leaders as they juggle delays and other impacts, but said a resolution requires more negotiation.
“It’s never been our intent to impact other projects or for the strike to drag on,” Maher said. “We know additional projects have been impacted during the past week, but when both sides come to the table, we have had progress.”
Negotiations began again between Local 150 and the three companies on Wednesday morning, according to the Local 150 website. They were still ongoing as of Wednesday afternoon and would occur “around the clock” if necessary, Maher said.
Last Thursday, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman sent a letter to the companies urging both parties to come to a “fair resolution” and warning that IDOT would suspend contracts with them and find alternatives as “the work stoppage could not occur at a worse time.”
“We continue to meet with Local 150 to find common ground on a fair and equitable contract,” a Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association spokesman said Wednesday. “Getting our employees back to work is our number one priority.”