EAST CHICAGO | While most members of a local roofing union are on strike, area roofing contractors said Thursday they're using an all-hands-on-deck approach to help a Hammond-based firm finish one of its important projects.
However, an attorney for the union said contractors have escalated the tense labor situation by continuing to do project work with personnel not in the bargaining unit.
Negotiations between the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 26 and the Northwest Indiana Roofing Contractors Association have been at a standstill since a recent contract expired May 31.
Union members have been on strike since June 1 and have organized consistent pickets of contractors' offices and job sites. Job sites where the union has signed project labor agreements are not affected by the strike.
To avoid a project delay on the 56-unit Northtown Village Senior Apartments, Korellis Roofing President and Co-owner Pete Korellis said he reached out to supervisory personnel of competitors E.C. Babilla Inc. of Gary and Gluth Brothers Roofing Co. Inc. of Hammond to help.
Korellis said the partnership is rare in the area and shows the solidarity contractors have with one another. A small crew from the companies and Korellis' wife and business co-owner Susan Korellis, started work Wednesday on the project, which is part of the city's North Harbor revitalization plan.
Pete Korellis said by Friday, enough work can be done to allow inside work on the building to continue.
The construction timeline calls for work to be done by Sept. 30. The Community Builders Inc. is the project developer.
"Basically we help one another out when you're in need and heck, when Pete made the call and said hey, 'I need some help'; we're here and more than willing to give him any help that we can give him," said Russell Gluth, of Gluth Brothers Roofing.
Don Schwartz, a partner at Chicago-based law firm Arnold & Kadjan retained as counsel for the union, said it's rare for supervisory personnel to take this adversarial approach in collective bargaining.
"We believe it is an escalation of the tensions as opposed to an effort to reach an amicable labor agreement," Schwartz said.
Union personnel reached at the East Chicago project site declined to comment Thursday. A message left at the union's Merrillville office was not returned.
Union picketing is expected to continue until an agreement is reached. The union previously went on strike in 2004 and the labor stoppage lasted for less than a month.
The amount of the increase in wage and benefit compensation for workers and contract language on the state's new right-to-work law remain at issue between the two parties.
With Indiana's now being a right-to-work state, workers cannot be required to pay dues or other fees to a labor union as a condition of employment. Schwartz said contractors have handled dues collections for union workers for decades with little administrative cost and a certainty of collection. He said it is similar to the federal government's taking money out of each person's paycheck for income taxes, rather than sending a large bill at the end of the year.
Contractors have concerns about potential liability if members decide they don't want to pay dues.
"There's a lot of eyes on us right now," said Fred Kauffmann, project manager at E.C. Babilla. "We're not trying to set a precedent. We're just trying to tell them that the economy is, I don't want to say it's down in the toilet, (but) it's tough right now."