Crane operators may strike Thursday, halting $10 billion worth of construction

June 27, 2011 08:32AM

Ten billion dollars worth of construction may grind to a halt this week if unionized crane-operating engineers decide to strike over wages and licensing exams, according to Crain’s.

As the Thursday contract deadline approaches, contractors and developers who hire the engineers have been aggressively campaigning to eliminate “no-work” mechanics and oilers, who, they said, get compensated highly — around $700,000 per year — but do little graft. By eliminating the positions entirely, $67 million could be saved at the World Trade Center site over three years, they said.

Managers and owners have also been urging the city to begin national licensing exams for operators to increase safety standards. Labor leaders, however, see the exam proposals as a means to leverage concessions from unions.

The industry has zeroed in on Locals 14 and 15, which did not sign on to cost-saving agreements to aid construction after the financial crisis and have little incentive to compromise. Crain’s said.

“They control the work site; they control the movement of men and materials,” said Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers Association. “That’s what’s given them their power over the years.”

Jeffrey Grebelsky, director of the Construction Industry Program at Cornell University ILR School, said the allegations that crane operators are overpaid is unfair.

“Walk around the city and watch those operating engineers work. They are incredibly skilled, well-trained workers, and they’re operating with very small margins,” he said. [Crain’s]