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Strike by Highway Construction Workers Halts Road Work

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Union bulldozers, cranes and other heavy machinery are standing idol at various job sites in Western New York. The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 17, walked off the job against a group of 21 area contractors and subcontractors.

Dozens of workers are walking the picket lines outside Union Concrete Construction on Center Road in West Seneca. Operating Engineers are out on strike against local contractors who are all members of the Association of General Contractors.

Operating Engineers Business Agent Mark Kirsch says workers rejected a three year contract that offered no pay raises.

"They came to the table eight times prior to the contract expiring, yet they have no serious proposals other than zero pay raises for the next three years and no paid holidays," Kirsch said.

Kirsch says the strike currently affects about 300 union workers, but has the potential of involving up to 1,000. And he says it could also put a number of area projects on hold.

"At Union and Walden, Genesee in front of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the runway extension at the Airport, Route 240, Holtz and Genesee, the work is out there and it will be affected," Kirsch said.

Many of these workers say they earn on average about about $31,000 a year and need a pay hike to cover rising health care insurance costs. Jeff Peterson of the Operating Engineers says these are highly skilled workers.

"Crane operators have to be New York State certified and trained to run a crane," Peterson said. "With all the road work and paving equipment and all the new equipment that is out there, you really have to be trained. We have training schools for that that, which is paid for by the members of the union."

WBFO News tried to reach Union Concrete in West Seneca but our call was not returned. We were also unable to reach the CEO of Association of General Contractors -- based in Albany.

The Operating Engineers say they are not sure when they will return to negotiations.