Construction Union Jurisdiction Disputes: Some Liken Them to Sibling Rivalries

Workers represented by the Laborers’ International union of North America had been getting job assignments involving forklifts through the Construction Employers Association. But, Operating Engineers Local 18 sought to get that work. The National Labor Relations Board twice said the Laborers should get the work and ultimately ordered the Operating Engineers – which had been striking, threatening to strike, and pursuing grievances against the contractor group – to stop those tactics.

The board allows such tactics when a union seeks merely to preserve work it has previously done, but the Operating Engineers here were trying to stake a claim on new work.

The contractor group has labor contracts covering the work in question with both the Operating Engineers and the Laborers and had assigned the work mostly to the Laborers for years. But in 2012, the Operating Engineers stepped up its pursuit of the work and picketed one site. The Operating Engineers also filed “pay-in-lieu” grievances against five contractors, demanding the money its members would have earned on the forklifts and skid steers.

The Operating Engineers asked the court to review the board’s order, arguing that this was a situation involving work preservation, not work expansion. But the court disagreed. Operating Engineers members have never done the work “to the exclusion of other unions – and certain not for the five companies involved here,” the court found.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at