Striking members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 picket outside of the Lehigh Hanson quarry in McCook earlier in June. The strike has cut off supplies of materials needed to produce concrete for construction projects across northern Illinois. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

Construction of a new Brookfield Avenue bridge over Salt Creek, plagued by delays since it broke ground in May 2021, has run into a new roadblock in the form of a strike by members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which has cut off the supply of concrete to construction sites across the Chicago area.

Local 150 members walked off the job on June 7 at several material producers, including Lehigh Hanson at 9101 47th St. in McCook and Vulcan Materials, which also operates a quarry in McCook; and Lafarge Holcim, which has a site in Summit.

In all the quarries employ 300 members of Local 150, who operate the heavy machinery critical to make, load and transport the materials needed for the production of concrete, asphalt and other construction materials, at about 35 quarries and other facilities in northern Illinois.

The union accuses the companies of “bad faith bargaining and violations of employees’ federally protected rights.” It has also alleged that the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association, which represents the quarries in union negotiations, of busing in replacement workers, something the CAAPA denies.

Both sides continue to negotiate a new contract for union employees. On June 23, Local 150 President/Business Manager Jim Sweeney issued a statement to striking workers that the CAAPA is dragging out the strike needlessly by refusing to commit to a negotiating schedule.

Sweeney repeated the accusation that the CAAPA is using replacement workers since the strike started, and posted pictures on the union’s website on June 21 to support union claims that “Hanson is training replacements on a loader [that] morning at the Thornton Quarry.”

Striking workers have been picketing at the 47th Street entrance to the Lehigh Hanson quarry.

The quarries produce gravel, sand and aggregate needed to make concrete, and with the strike halting production, stockpiles are running out and jobs are being paused.

In Brookfield that’s been bad news for the Brookfield Avenue bridge, where work was beginning to finally move after a water and electric utility rerouting project held up progress for months.

Workers from Lorig Construction, the general contractor hired for the project, were able to drive piles and pour the concrete footing to support the bridge superstructure on the east side of the bridge earlier this month. 

They also have built the wood forms for the bridge’s east pier and have installed rebar, but the concrete shortage has prevented that pier from being poured.

“We were ready to pour early to mid-last week,” said Andrew Stirk, project manager for Lorig Construction. “We’re doing absolutely everything we can do to get to the point where our only option is to pour concrete. As soon as [the concrete] is released, we’re ready to go.”

While waiting for concrete to become available, Lorig intends to drive piles on the west side of the bridge and then build the forms for the concrete footing there.

Paul Gliva, a construction engineer for Ciorba Group Inc., the village’s engineering consultant for the project, confirmed that the preparation work will continue this week, but unless the strike is resolved soon, it’s going to delay work further.

“Right now it’s not causing concern, but it will in a couple of weeks. … Once we’re set up, everything is dependent on the concrete. And there’s no way of getting that stuff right now.”