Officials for ProBuiild and Teamsters Union Local 673 will meet with a federal mediator on Aug. 24 in the first major development since Teamsters went on strike July 28 at two of ProBuild's Chicago area lumberyards, both sides said today.

ProBuild facilities in Yorkville and Hampshire, Ill., are affected. Those two yards, plus a non-union truss and components plant in Hampshire, Ill. constitute all of ProBuild's facilities in metropolitan Chicago.

This giant rat was set up by a group of Teamsters striking a ProBuild facility in Yorkville, Ill.
Fox Valley Labor News This giant rat was set up by a group of Teamsters striking a ProBuild facility in Yorkville, Ill.

"ProBuild will be meeting with the union on August 24th to clarify existing points contained in our last, best and final offer," the Denver-based company said in a statement. "ProBuild continues to deliver products to customers at pre-strike levels. In addition, ProBuild customers have not experienced any decline in product availability or service levels since the strike began." In contrast, striking Teamsters estimate ProBuild is delivering goods from the yards at only 10% to 15% of its usual rate.

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 appear to be 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.

"F.E. Wheaton was known as a quality company--that's why ProBuild bought it," Kohler told ProSales in an interview this afternoon. "Now they've gone cheaper. They're cutting corners on quality." Similarly, in a recent story, Fox Valley Labor News quoted one 10-year employee as saying: "When we were F.E. Wheaton, quality--quality materials and quality workmanship--was emphasized. When ProBuild took over, everything changed. They stopped using 100% hardwoods and started using a lot of MDF [medium density fiberboard]--the cheapest product available. And instead of quality, the name of the game became increased production and saving money--cutting costs. Quality doesn't matter here anymore."

"I've been with this company for five years. I've watched what this company's become," the labor newspaper quoted delivery driver Jason May as saying. "[Quality] has gone downhill since ProBuild came in,. We get on-site with a delivery and the carpenters are screaming at us about material quality and we can't do anything about it. MDF is a cheaper way to go. I wouldn't say it's worse [than hardwood], but we end up replacing a lot of it. If a solid wood door jamb gets wet, sand it down and paint it. It's still good. If an MDF jamb gets wet, it's ruined."

As for employment issues, Kohler has talked first about health insurance. He said ProBuild wants to move Teamsters from an insurance plan into a more general ProBuild plan that Kohler described as much worse than the Teamsters one. In addition, he said, the Teamsters are concerned about how a change in the guaranteed work day will affect them. ProBuild covers employees who work at least 32 hours a week. Because the Teamsters have a guaranteed eight-hour day, if they get called in as few as four days a week they still will qualify for health coverage. Kohler said ProBuild wants to guarantee fewer hours per day, raising the possibility that a person could be scheduled to work Monday through Friday but still not rack up enough hours to get health care.

Union officials also say ProBuild is threatening seniority rights. At present, if ProBuild lays off union members and then decides to call them back within 12 months of the layoff date, it must recall the union members in order based on their seniority. The Teamsters said ProBuild wants to use that system only within six months of the original layoff date, thus raising the possibility that a senior person laid off, say, seven months ago might not get called back when a job comes up and that job instead would go to a younger worker.

As for grievances, the union is protesting a change in the way ProBuild wants handling 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. The union said ProBuild wants to see its company's managers be the two selected for the committee.

Kohler said ProBuild also wants to change the Teamsters' weekly pay schedule to a biweekly one, as well as eliminate some holidays--a change that he says doesn't make sense given that ProBuild isn't even open for some of the days it wants to take away, such as the Friday after Thanksgiving.