Executives at ProBuild can be forgiven if they feel like the 3rd century B.C. king Pyrrhus, who declared after a casualty-heavy victory over the Romans that one more win like that would ruin him. In ProBuild's case, the term "Pyrrhic victory" pretty much describes the LBM giant's standing in the Chicago market following a lengthy strike by a Teamsters union local.
The Teamsters who walked out of two ProBuild yards in Wheaton and Yorkville, Ill., on July 28 started returning to work on Sept. 21 after approving a settlement agreement with ProBuild a few days before. It wasn't a triumphal return, however, because just four days earlier, on Sept. 14, ProBuild announced it would consolidate one of the two yards as well as close a component manufacturing facility in nearby Hampshire, Ill. The closures were slated to take place by Oct. 1 and would leave 40 people without jobs.
The departure means ProBuild, America's second-biggest LBM operation, has just one facility in the entire Chicago market. It also lacks a veteran executive, as the company's area vice president, Doug Jones, left in September to join a market rival, US LBM.
"The changes at our Illinois facilities are a direct result of the struggling Chicago home building market, which is down 82% since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau," ProBuild said in a news release. That statement didn't mention the strike or Jones, but in reply to a question from ProSales, ProBuild marketing director Carolyn Atkinson said neither was a factor.
"This area can no longer support three ProBuild facilities," she said.
As for the Teamsters, the strike was a sign of the times for two reasons. First, one of its main motivators wasn't pay; ProBuild's proposal called for a 5% pay cut. Rather, the Teamsters spoke most about striking to retain eligibility for health insurance as well as to continue to stay on the plan set up for the Teamsters rather than the general ProBuild health coverage plan.
The strike also pitted the Teamsters' desire to retain working conditions they had won against ProBuild's desire to treat the Teamsters like they do their other workers. For intance, the Teamsters didn't want to lose getting paid weekly. They also enjoyed seniority rights and guaranteed hours that non-union ProBuild employees don't get. ProBuild stressed one of its goals was to treat its employees more consistently, while Teamsters officials said they regarded that goal as a sign the yards would descend into mediocrity.