Strike tactics cross line, roofing company owner says

2012-06-10T21:30:00Z 2012-08-09T14:54:14Z Strike tactics cross line, roofing company owner saysBy Bowdeya Tweh bowdeya.tweh@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

It has been more than a week since members of a Merrillville-based union went on strike following an impasse in contract negotiations with local contractors.

But in the work stoppage, the head of a Hammond company says the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 26 isn't doing enough to stop the bully tactics being employed by people sympathetic to the union.

The previous contract expired May 31 and the strike started the next day. Representatives from the union and the Northwest Indiana Roofing Contractors Association say negotiations are at a standstill.

One reason for the delay is because Korellis Roofing President Pete Korellis wants to find out who called in a death threat to his business, flattened his vehicle's tires at work and left feces on the doorstep of his Munster home between May 31 and June 2.

Korellis said there hadn't been any incidents since then, but he also sent a letter to the union threatening legal action if the intimidation didn't stop.

At his Hammond company, Korellis said union workers and company management used to function as an efficient machine. But he said it's disappointing that union officials have placed a wedge between the two parties. Korellis, whose company is among nine with the roofing contractors association, employs the largest share of the more than 300 union members.

“There needs to be accountability,” Korellis said. “Without accountability, nothing gets better. I don't appreciate the gangster tactics that Local 26 is attempting to intimidate me with.”

Don Schwartz, an attorney representing the union, said he is aware of the allegations, but believes the incidents are isolated. He said union members are “100 percent behind the strike.”

“The union is 100 percent in favor of only peaceful, nonviolent picketing,” Schwartz said. “Anything other than that is not sanctioned by the union.”

Union members on a picket line outside of Korellis' Hammond business declined to grant interviews Friday to The Times. Union officials did not return multiple calls last week seeking comment.

With 28 years working at the second-generation family business, Korellis said it is the first time he's faced these issues in his career. He has filed police reports for all three incidents and said he's paid to have additional security equipment installed at his home and business.

Schwartz said Korellis' allegations shouldn't impact bargaining with the union. He said the contractors' unfavorable proposals are stalling negotiations.

“We are ready, willing and able to meet at any time,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said the union believes the contractors are unfairly using the right-to-work law as a reason to offer a lower increase in wage and benefit compensation for workers. If contractors refuse to handle the deductions, then the union would have to handle dues collection from each worker.

Korellis said annual raises have been largely automatic with the union, but he said the economy is driving the level of the wage increase during current negotiations, not right-to-work.

Large strikes from Ironworkers Local 395 in 2010 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 in 2011 helped delay work on many region construction projects.

Despite the circumstances of the past few weeks, Korellis said his confidence in working with unions hasn't been shaken. Korellis said the company has worked with unions its 52-year existence and believes having workers who are union-trained makes his job easier.

“I tell my guys, I came to the dance with union tradesmen, I'm going to leave the dance with union tradesmen,” Korellis said.

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