A bitter three-week strike that has thrown awry mega and minor road repairs along with multiple school improvements appears to be over.
Construction workers and employers reached a tentative agreement on outstanding wages and benefits issues Monday night after more than nine hours of negotiations.
Members of the Laborers' District Council of Chicago and Vicinity went on strike June 29 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 followed suit July 1.
The labor action has affected about 300 Illinois Department of Transportation projects, including the Eisenhower Expressway repair, and myriad local improvements ranging from Naperville Central High School to Batavia High School.
The negotiations had been testy with the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association accusing union members of asking for too much given the weak economy. Local 150 officials countered that the employers are trying to "starve out" workers and contended their main concern is controlling health care costs.
Under the tentative deal, which the unions will be asked to ratify this weekend, workers would receive a compromise 3.25 percent increase annually for three years. Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association officials said it included concessions such as overtime reductions and flexible start times.
The deal comes the same day Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig wrote the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association saying the state may try to invoke no-strike requirements in the future, could possibly rebid contracts and would not extend deadlines for financial incentives.
The hourly wage now for construction laborers is $35.20 - including benefits, that's $53.37. Benefits involve health care, a prescription drug program and a retirement plan.
For operating engineers, who include heavy-equipment operators, hourly wages are $43.30 to $45.10. With benefits, the package ranges from $66.38 to $68.18.
Union officials pointed out the average hours members work a year are about 1,000. Many are unemployed or underemployed, Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher said. "There's a lot of people who wish they could average 1,000 hours a year," he said. "There's a lot of members who haven't worked in a year or more."
How do these hourly wages compare with other Illinoisans? Here's a look at some other salaries, according to an Illinois Department of Employment Security list of median hourly wages for 2009:
• A child-care worker makes $9.94.
• An actor makes $13.90.
• A physician or surgeon earns $76.17.
• A barber makes $11.94.
• An insurance sales agent makes $21.05.
• An attorney earns $61.86.
• A chief executive makes $72.66.
• A farmer or rancher earns $20.97.
Local 150 already reached deals with three other employers' representatives: the Will and Grundy Contractors Association, the Illinois Valley Contractors Association, and the Chicago Area Independent Contractors' Association.
Those agreements also allowed for increases of 3.25 percent annually or 9.75 percent over a three-year contract.
In July 12 negotiations with the bargaining association, the unions' latest offer was 13.5 percent over three years, which they want dedicated to offsetting health benefit increases. The employers offered 4.25 percent over three years.
Although the Illinois tollway has a no-strike clause with the unions, picketing at materials and asphalt yards disrupted work, and the agency had warned it might have to suspend work on major programs such as the Edens Expressway Spur resurfacing and I-355 repairs on Thursday.