Giant rat, protesting union halts work on Algonquin subdivision

ALGONQUIN – A giant inflatable rat has been outside an Algonquin subdivision for more than a week in protest of what one union claims are low wages for employees working on a neighborhood construction project.

The giant rat, typically a symbol meant to shame companies that use nonunion workers, has been on the corner of Huntington Drive and Partridge Court outside the Highland Glen subdivision since Aug. 7.

But according to the construction project manager, the company hired to pave driveways, fix downspouts, and re-asphalt the road is already unionized, and the protesting union is trying to stop work to poach members.

Laborers’ Local 1035 has about six people who are protesting the subdivision’s construction, American Community Management project manager Robert Maggi said. As construction crews drive to asphalt plants and other supply stores, the protesting union members follow them in their cars and pressure the plants to not sell them materials, Maggi said.

The company hired by ACM to do the project, FM&J Asphalt, has not been able to buy asphalt, and the project is at a standstill, Maggi said.

“It’s slowing down progress,” he said. “We can’t continue. For over a week, people haven’t been able to use their driveways.”

The project, which started July 29 and is paid for by the residents’ subdivision association fees, is about 25 percent complete, Maggi said, leaving many residents with ripped-up driveways.

“It’s frustrating for the kids,” said Laura Thiesse, who was told the construction on her driveway would take a week. “We are now at the end of week two. The kids in the neighborhood want to ride their bikes and play in the driveway. They can’t do that now.”

The protesting union members declined to comment on the demonstration and said all the information was on their two lawn signs, which read: “Notice to Public: FM&J Asphalt Paving Inc. pays substandard wages and benefits. Laborers’ Local 1035.”

Jeff Shea is the owner of FM&J Asphalt and said his crew members, who are in Local 711, are paid fairly and have a health and wellness package. None of FM&J’s workers have joined the picketing union, Shea said.

“It’s obnoxious to say the least,” Highland Glen resident and board member Sean Spencer said. “What it boils down to is that the [protesting union] is [upset] they didn’t get the job.”

Spencer, who is the vice president of a local transport workers union, said he typically sides with union causes but believes the protesting union is wrong in its demonstration.

“Where’s the union brotherhood? You don’t prevent your union brothers from working,” he said.

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