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UPDATE: Construction workers on strike

road, bridge projects put on hold

June 14, 2011|Dustin Grove, WSBT News

Hundreds of heavy equipment operators are walking off the job and onto the picket line in northern Indiana.

They’re not fighting for higher wages, but more health insurance benefits.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 expanded the strike Monday to include 12 asphalt plants, too.

"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," said David Fagan, Local 150 Financial Secretary and Lead Negotiator for Indiana.

A spokesperson for the union said the strike affects building, road, bridge, and other types of projects in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, St. Joseph, Elkhart, LaGrange, Marshall, Fulton, Kosciusko, Noble, Newton, Jasper, Starke, and Pulaski Counties.

The strike put at least seven state transportation projects at a standstill in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte County on Monday, according to INDOT.

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One group that represents contracting companies said the proposal did include an increase for benefits, but added health care has become a “convenient excuse” in contract negotiations.

“While the rest of the world has taken responsible steps to curb health care costs, Local 150 has made no immediate meaningful changes to their health care plan," according to a statement by the Four County Highway Contractor’s Group (FCHCG.)

“Beyond the inflationary issue, (FCHCG) have provided Local 150 with viable options to reduce their health care costs that in no way jeopardize the status of their health care plan under the new federal health care law.  Unlike the majority of businesses and other unions, to date, Local 150 has shown no signs of entertaining any of these cost cutting options,” the statement continued.

The union said industry experts have estimated a 10 to 14-percent increase in healthcare inflation.

FCHCG said it believes 8 percent is a more accurate number.

Local 150 representatives said, as of midday Monday, no further negotiations had been scheduled.

UPDATE

Road projects across the area remained at a stand-still again Tuesday while construction workers are on strike

Local 150 says it is fighting for higher health insurance benefits to keep up with the cost of inflation. But employers say it is clearly about more than that.

On Tuesday the group representing those employers said the union's two-year proposal insists on a pay increase which is more than double the healthcare costs.

The union disagrees with the figures, but wouldn't elaborate — saying it doesn't want to negotiate in the press.

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