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Union workers who operate bulldozers, backhoes and other heavy equipment have called a strike against 21 area contractors as the highway construction season begins.

The strike could lead to traffic snarls if picketing continues into the summer at highway work sites, the union said. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17 took a strike vote over the weekend after their contract with the employer group expired March 31, a spokesman said. The Hamburg-based union has about 1,000 members. Local 17 members will begin picketing on Tuesday in West Seneca outside Union Concrete Construction on Center Road, one of the employers. The union previously struck the employer group, the Associated General Contractors/Labor Relations Division, for a week in 2002.

According to a union statement, the offer from the employer group included no raises for three years and cancels all six holidays in the previous contract, including Christmas, New Year's, Labor Day and July Fourth. Local 17 said it viewed the offer as an attempt to break the union. However, the employer group said holiday's weren't an issue.

"The major difference was over non-productive work rules," said A.J. Castelbuono, chairman of the contractors' negotiating committee.

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