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Workers strike at Chicago Heights sewage treatment plant

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Updated: April 23, 2013 2:27PM



After more than two years without a new contract, 13 workers at the Thorn Creek Basin Sanitary District in Chicago Heights have gone on strike.

Sewage for more than 100,000 residents of Homewood, Chicago Heights, Park Forest, South Chicago Heights, Steger and Crete is treated at the 20-acre site, 700 West End Ave. But Thorn Creek Basin executive director Jennifer A. Hindel said operations were not affected.

“We by no means are having difficulty functioning,” Hindel said. “That’s not happening.”

Half of the plant’s 26 workers are members of Teamsters Local 705. They went on strike March 11 after the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Department of Labor.

The union’s former four-year contract expired in 2010, and union workers at the plant are striking for the first time since the plant opened in 1928.

Union members picketed at both ends of the plant, setting up a giant inflatable rat near the north entrance and a fire pit and portable bathroom near the south entrance.

Neil Messino, Teamsters Local 705 contract administrator, said health care premiums are the main sticking point in negotiations. Management is asking union members to pay 20 percent of the cost of their insurance premiums, Messino said. They do not currently contribute anything.

Hindel said the premium increases are packaged with an 8.6 percent pay increase that would offset the premium increases plus leave all union workers with an average raise of 2 percent.

While Messino praised the raises as “a very good wage package,” he called the insurance premiums proposal “semantics with numbers.”

“Some of these people are going to be taking a severe hit because what she’s doing is an overall average,” Messino said. “That’s fine if she wants to do it that way and pad the numbers.”

Messino said the union offered to contribute 10 percent of the premium costs, but management rejected it.

Neither Messino nor Hindel knew when the next bargaining session would be.

Mike Rieky, of Park Forest, working as a night operator before going on strike, said he normally would oversee the treatment of 4 million to 20 million gallons of sewage every night.

“It’s not a pretty job (but) we will do it,” said Rieky, who has done it for 23 years. “It’s not like we’re working with wood chips, that’s for sure.”

Teamsters Local 705 business agent Rick Rohe said the labor the union workers perform is skilled.

“You can’t just walk in here and do these jobs,” Rohe said.

The district seems to believe otherwise: It is advertising job openings for temporary skilled maintenance workers on its website at thorncreekbasin.org.



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