Several dozen members of a Teamsters Union local--bolstered by a Congressional visit, picket signs, and a giant inflatable rat--have begun their second week striking two ProBuild locations in northern Illinois over health insurance, pay protections, seniority rights, and working conditions.

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., visits Teamsters striking outside a ProBuild yard in Yorkville, Ill.
Rep. Bill Foster's office Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., visits Teamsters striking outside a ProBuild yard in Yorkville, Ill.

ProBuild employees affiliated with Teamsters Local 673 voted July 28 to reject ProBuild's final offer and have since set up a picket line on a state road near ProBuild's facility in Yorkville, Ill, the local's website reported. Teamsters working at ProBuild's Wheaton, Ill., yard also went on strike. Those two yards, plus a truss and components plant in Hampshire, Ill. constitute all of ProBuild's facilities in metropolitan Chicago.

In Denver, ProBuild's headquarters, the company issued a statement late Tuesday declaring it "continues to provide a full range of services to our customers and there has been no interruption to production or deliveries to the customers served by our Yorkville and Wheaton locations."

Even if customers haven't noticed the strike, Rep. Bill Foster did. The Illinois Democrat stopped Saturday at the strikers' headquarters tent on a state road less than a quarter mile from ProBuild's Yorkville yard to chat with workers and have his picture taken with them. The strikers also have generated attention with the giant, inflatable rat they erected near their picket line.

Local 673 secretary-treasurer Roger Kohler told ProSales in a telephone interview today that one of the union's greatest concerns involves the threat of members losing health insurance. Currently, he said, 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 little 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.

Days off is another issue. In an interview with a local labor newspaper, union steward Ryan Kiefel said ProBuild wants to take away four of 10 paid holidays that members have. ProBuild isn't open on four of those holidays and the company "wants us to be unpaid on those four days. Or, they want us to use vacation days," the newspaper quoted Kiefel as saying.

Union officials also said 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 bring back 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.

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.

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.

Regarding the strike, ProBuild's statement said the building material dealer "has proactively worked with IBT [International Brotherhood of Teamsters] Local 673 and a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to present an acceptable solution to our represented employees that reflect the challenges of our industry. Last week, union employees voted down our contract offer. ProBuild remains committed to working with the IBT Local 673 leadership to fashion an amenable resolution."

Replied Kohler in the interview with ProSales: "We have offered to sit down and talk anytime, 24/7. We still haven't had a response."

Kohler said ProBuild officials have told him that the costs they incur at their unionized yards in Wheaton and Yorkville aren't that much different than they incur at non-union facilities. "They just have that ProBuild mentality that everybody, everywhere has to do things the ProBuild way," he said.