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SIDES REMAIN FAR APART IN CONSTRUCTION STRIKE
FEDERAL MEDIATOR FAILS TO BREAK DEADLOCK

Friction escalated last week in the month-old strike by construction equipment operators, who held a demonstration at a contractor's home.

On Tuesday about 80 members of the Operating Engineers Local 17 picketed the Orchard Park home of C. Howard Holmes, a supervisor at contractor Holmes & Murphy Inc., a union official confirmed.

The residential picketing targeted Holmes' performance of union work on a project in Portville, east of Olean, said Mark Kirsch, business manager of Local 17. The approximately hour-long demonstration outside the house on Freeman Road could be repeated, he said.

"We were there in an orderly way," Kirsch said. Union members distributed leaflets in the neighborhood to explain the protest and seek support, he said.

Holmes and other officials at Holmes & Murphy were unavailable Friday to comment.

The operating engineers struck the Associated General Contractors on April 4 after their three-year contract expired. The 21 contractors in the group employ about 300 of the union's 1,000 members, officials have said.

Major projects such as the Main Street rebuilding in Buffalo have been put on hold by the strike, which will be entering its fifth week on Monday.

The strike has caused the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to postpone runway resurfacing at Buffalo Niagara International Airport for a year.

On Thursday the two sides met in a bargaining session with a federal mediator, but failed to break the deadlock.

"I would say we're making slow progress," said A. J. Castelbuono, negotiator for the employers and president of the contractor group's New York chapter. He refused to discuss details of the negotiations.

"We're way apart," Kirsch said.

Pay, work rules and other factors remain in dispute, he said.

Members of the Hamburg-based union operate bulldozers, backhoes and other equipment. Local 17 represents about 1,000 members who work on projects across a six-county territory.

Negotiations with two other employer groups, representing utility contractors and independent contractors, are making progress and should reach agreement on new contracts shortly, Kirsch said. The union's work continues for contractors not in the associated group. "Lots of jobs are going on right now," he said.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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