By Devin Rose
A giant inflatable rat looked out onto Lake Street from Memorial Parkway in River Forest late last week, drawing attention to a dispute between a landscape contractor hired by the park district and a union objecting to some aspect of the contractor's practices.
The River Forest Park District hired the union contractor, Plainfield-based Fuerte Systems Landscaping, Inc., to work on a bocce ball court in Memorial Parkway, said Executive Director Mike Sletten. Fuerte Systems installs paving surfaces for both public and private customers. In recent years it has also worked for the Park District of Oak Park at Cheney Mansion, Euclid Square and Rehm Park.
But the firm has encountered resistance from local labor unions which have held a series of job actions against the company at projects including in Rolling Meadows and Hoffman Estates, according to a union spokesperson.
Rafael Hurtado, the owner of Fuerte Systems, said the unions "can't stop us from working because we are a full union company."
Because of the varying geographic boundaries covered by union locals it is unclear which local erected the inflatable rat last week at the Lake Street work site. Calls to various locals, including Local 25 in Westchester and Local 118 in Arlington Heights, did not provide a definitive claim of responsibility for the rat.
Now, according to Hurtado, Fuerte's lawyers are discussing the dispute with the Chicago Laborers Pension and Welfare Funds, which provides benefits to participants covered by collective bargaining agreements between the union and contributing employers. A lawyer representing the union organization declined to comment.
Sletten said the dispute had no impact on the project. He said the rat was put up on Thursday or Friday, but as of Monday afternoon, it was gone. The work on the bocce ball project continues.
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