CHICAGO
07/01/2010 12:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Road Workers Strike, Halting Construction And Easing Commutes

For the first time in months, commuters on the Eisenhower Expressway Thursday morning might have felt a little wind in their hair.

The construction projects that have snarled traffic on the Ike and other major roadways across Chicago were ghost towns today, as road workers from the Laborers' District Council of Chicago and Vicinity went on strike. The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, also joined in the strike.

And while commuters might have breathed a bit easier this morning, neither side in the labor dispute was particularly pleased with the situation.

For the workers' part, Ed Maher, spokesman for the Local 150, said they were only seeking an increase in their health benefits package to cover costs. Unions have asked for a 15 percent increase in health benefits over the next three years, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Companies came back with an offer of 3 percent. That standoff, and what Maher describes as the companies' unwillingness to come to the negotiating table, led to today's strike.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Transportation is concerned about the fate of its construction projects if the strike adds more unions and lasts longer.

From the Chicago Tribune:

The strike over wage issues by some members of the Laborers' District Council of Chicago caused relatively minor disruptions to the $95 million Eisenhower resurfacing project, Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said Wednesday.

But she said the situation would quickly worsen if other unions joined the strike...

Other unions that could follow include carpenters, cement masons and technical engineers.

"We are in OK shape right now on the Eisenhower and we will be OK if the strike lasts a couple of days,'' Kollias said Wednesday. "But if this goes on for a couple of weeks or a month, the project will be seriously delayed.''

Along with the Eisenhower resurfacing project, the reconstruction of Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago has also been interrupted by the strike.