The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 05, 2018

Forced layoff ends, Operators back on road projects

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING — The nearly month-long forced layoff of Operating Engineers Local 324 members by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association contractors came to an end Sept. 27, when both sides agreed to re-start road work and continue negotiations on a new contract during the less-busy winter months.

Gov. Rick Snyder, concerned with lost time as road work season moves into fall, brought the two sides together for the short-term solution.

“Our members are ready to get back on their machines and get these projects done across the state — and look forward to working again as soon as we can,” said Local 324 President Ken Dombrow. “We still have issues to work out and will represent the best interests of our members throughout those negotiations, as we always have. We appreciate Gov. Snyder’s willingness to not take sides and to remain focused on finding a way to get the work done. The operating engineers of Michigan have an important job to do and we’re happy that now they can start doing it again.”

The agreement calls for MITA to end the lockout on all projects; for the Operators to have their workers report to work immediately (although many have moved onto other non-road projects); prioritizing work that can be completed before winter, and then bring in the use of professional mediation to help with negotiations for a new contract. 

“This is great news and I appreciate that both sides were able to see how important the work they do is to the safety and quality of life for all Michiganders,” Snyder said. “The vital work of getting Michigan’s roads repaired should not have stalled, but the important thing now is that projects will be getting back on track. A long-term solution to the contract negotiations still needs to be worked out, but that can and should be done after this construction season is completed.”

The Operators' four-year contract expired June. 1, but members continued to work throughout the summer under the terms of the existing contract. MITA, which has about 40 member contractors, instituted a forced layoff on Sept. 4. 
Among the conditions desired by MITA that Local 324 has found unacceptable are that contractors continue to give jobs for highly trained road builders to less-skilled, less-qualified workers, including those brought in from other states. Local 324 leaders are looking to sidestep MITA and negotiate contracts directly with contractors. 

As the lockout continued into late September, the Michigan Department of Transportation had threatened to bring in the National Guard to run heavy equipment on the stalled road jobs, and MITA threatened to bring in replacement workers.