The construction industry has zeroed in on Locals 14 and 15 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, sensing that a down economy is just the time to extract givebacks from a group widely seen in the building world as less willing than other tradesmen to compromise.
In the run-up to Thursday's contract deadline, contractors who hire the operating engineers and developers who pay them have campaigned aggressively to eliminate highly compensated positions that they contend involve little work. Managers and owners have also pushed for the city to adopt a national licensing exam for crane operators, maintaining that it would increase safety. But labor leaders depict the call as an attempt to leverage concessions from the unions, which have a stranglehold on the current testing process.
But by week's end, unionized operating engineers could be hoisting picket signs rather than steel girders and slabs of concrete—and forcing $10 billion worth of building activity in New York City to a halt.
(More on New York operating engineers contract . . . )