ProBuild reaffirmed today that service levels remain high at two Chicago-area facilities where Teamsters Union members have been on strike since late July and stressed that a good part of the labor dispute involves its efforts to treat the Teamsters more like ProBuild employees nationwide.

"The efforts of management and unrepresented employees at the Yorkville and Wheaton locations has been outstanding and very successful in continuing ProBuild's high standards for customer service," ProBuild said in a written response to questions submitted by ProSales. "Our product availability and volumes remain at pre-strike levels and we continue to meet our customer commitments."

In contrast, members of striking Teamsters Local 673 have estimated ProBuild is delivering goods from the northern Illinois yards at only 10% to 15% of its usual rate.

The strike begun July 28 at ProBuild's Yorkville and Wheaton yards involves roughly 50 to 60 Teamsters, most of them drivers. Officials for ProBuiild and the Teamsters haven't talked since then, but they are schedule to meet with a federal mediator on Aug. 24.

Roger Kohler, secretary-treasurer and principal officer of Teamsters Local 673, has said the strike involves health insurance, pay protections, seniority rights, and working conditions. But the two sides also are at loggerheads over how one of America's biggest LBM operations runs its business, particularly compared to the days when F.E. Wheaton owned the yards. A local labor publication quoted Kohler as saying ProBuild "needs to learn that they can't force the ProBuild model everywhere they go."

In today's written comments, ProBuild indicated that's just what it wants to do. "Since ProBuild was formed four years ago, the company has been unifying business processes across the nation," it said. "Creating consistencies with benefits, payroll calendars, and operational procedures are just some examples of these efforts. This creates a more efficient business model helping customers and employees alike."

For instance, ProBuild confirmed that it wants to move the Teamsters from their own health plan to what it called "the same plan offered to ever non-union ProBuild employee across the country." (Kohler has said he considers that plan inferior to what the Teamsters have now.) ProBuild also tacitly confirmed that it wants to stop paying the Teamsters weekly and pay them on a schedule more consistent with what it does for other workers.

Among other contractual changes that ProBuild seeks:

  • A reduction in the time span in which ProBuild must use seniority in setting the order for calling back laid-off workers. It's currently 12 months, and the union has said ProBuild wants to cut that to six months. ProBuild didn't specify the time span in its comments, but it did say its proposal "would still recognize seniority but reduce the period of time required to call back workers. Doing so will provide the company with flexibility to hire back former employees based on both performance and seniority, rather than one or the other."
  • A different composition of the committees created to handle complaints. Currently, grievances go before a committee consisting of two union people not associated with Local 673 and two managers from other building material companies. ProBuild wants to see its company's managers be the two selected for the committee. "We feel that the resolution of any issues between the company and union regarding the administration of our labor agreement is best resolved by the individuals directly involved in that agreement's negotiation," the Denver-based LBM provider said. "The process of resolving complaints is highly individualized, and deserves that type of attention for effective and efficient resolution."
  • Elimination of a fifth week of vacation after 25 years of service. Currently, there aren't any Teamsters who would be affected by this change, ProBuild noted.

Among other issues, the union has challenged ProBuild's desire to reduce the guaranteed eight-hour workday that drivers get, saying the change could result in members working less than the 32 hours a week required for them to qualify for health care coverage. "Changing this guarantee gives us the flexibility to manage our operations based on market conditions and customer needs, and doesn't impact an employee's ability to work 32 hours per week," it said. "(Example: in cases of inclement weather, where delivery of materials to customers may be hampered, we may have a shorter work day for safety reasons but run a longer schedule on other days to compensate and meet our customer commitments.)"