Toll Free (844)733-2332

  • Request a Quote

Nonunion Workers Could Restart Michigan Roadwork as Dispute Continues

By Paul Egan There's still no end to a labor dispute that has stalled dozens of Michigan road jobs for three weeks, but a leader of the contractors' association said Tuesday he's looking for union and nonunion replacement workers to restart the projects as soon as possible. Gov. Rick Snyder held a joint meeting Tuesday morning with both sides in the dispute but said the two sides did not reach an agreement. "We weren't able to get either a short-term or a long-term solution," Snyder said. "The parties were not in agreement," but agreed to stay in touch, he said. Mike Nystrom, vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, representing the contractors, said MITA is now seeking temporary workers to operate the heavy equipment and restart the jobs, though he conceded that is no easy task. "We're helping contractors find folks from out of state," some unionized and some not, Nystrom said. He said work has continued on many affected projects during the dispute, using laborers and skilled trades other than Operating Engineers Local 324, whose members operate cranes and other heavy equipment. MITA locked Local 324 members out Sept. 4 after the union refused to negotiate with MITA on a new contract. It's possible some workers who are nonunion or from out-of-state unions started work as early as Tuesday afternoon, Nystrom said. But he cautioned workers with the required skills are difficult to find. "This doesn't mean there's going to be hundreds of people on every job site tomorrow morning," Nystrom said. He also couldn't say which projects would have priority. He said that would depend on the success each individual contractor has in finding workers. A union spokesman said union members remain ready to return to work. "They won't be bringing in unionized operating engineers from out of state," because under the union's own bylaws, "unionized operating engineers can't come into the state without a contract in place," said Dan McKernan, a spokesman for Local 324. In recent days, the Snyder administration has stepped up pressure on both sides in the dispute. On Friday, the Michigan Department of Transportation put the contractors on notice they could be assessed damages for projects that aren't completed on time. A day earlier, Snyder jolted the union when he floated the idea of bringing in the Michigan National Guard to work on crucial projects such as the I-696 reconstruction project in Macomb County or work on I-75, south of Detroit, around the Rouge River bridge. Snyder said he doesn't want to take sides or get involved in the middle of a labor dispute, but with major road projects stalled, he's concerned about "the safety of our citizens and their quality of life." He said he is continuing to assess his options and the option of using trained equipment operators from the National Guard is still on the table. If the National Guard were deployed, it would not be used to take over projects, but to get stalled projects to a stage where the roads could re-open for winter, he said. A similar situation "really hasn't happened before," Snyder said. "We're blazing new ground here." Nystrom said in addition to seeking replacement workers from a variety of sources, talks continue with the National Guard. "We're looking at options to get back to work — all options are on the table," he said. Snyder made his remarks after meeting for less than one hour in his office Tuesday morning with the two sides in the dispute — MITA, representing the contractors, and Local 324. The meeting was announced Friday as a possible breakthrough in the impasse, in which the union was refusing to meet with MITA. The union, which had been working without a contract when the dispute arose, has said it won't negotiate with MITA — citing alleged anti-union rhetoric and actions — but wants to strike deals with contractors individually. On Friday, MDOT notified contractors that, based on current information, it does not recognize the dispute as being beyond the contractors' control, spokesman Jeff Cranson confirmed. "Therefore, requests for extensions of time will be granted but damages for not being complete on time will still be enforced per the terms of each contract," Cranson said. He said he couldn't give any details Tuesday. Most of the affected projects have not reached the scheduled completion date, he said. For the benefit of the traveling public, "MDOT is enforcing the terms of our contracts," Cranson said. "We are not taking sides but exercising due diligence." Nystrom said the contractors remain confident of their interpretation of the dispute as one beyond their control, meaning damages would not apply. The Free Press reported Sept. 13 that the busy eastbound lanes of I-696 remain torn up amid the dispute, and with an estimated two and a half months of work required to complete the project, the Michigan Department of Transportation is increasingly worried the $90-million highway job — along with many other of the more than 100 road projects affected by the dispute — might not be finished before frost sets in and fresh concrete can no longer be poured. Snyder said he asked the two sides not to talk with the media about what was discussed at Tuesday's meeting. McKernan, the spokesman for Local 324, said the union will respect Snyder's request for "radio silence" for now, but said: "We remain willing to go back to work."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *