WARREN, Mich. – An ongoing labor dispute is about to take a nasty turn as construction on many state projects is about to come to a screeching halt, including work along I-696.
The Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association represents about 40 companies and has negotiated contracts with the operating engineers for decades. This summer, the union didn't want to negotiate with MITA, instead looking for individual contracts with contractors.
Now, each side is telling the other to take their contract or leave it.
Michigan drivers hoping for better roads are left hanging, as many construction sites, such as the one on eastbound I-696, will sit idle or largely die without the union employees who run the heavy equipment.
"Step out of the way," operating engineers spokesman Dan McKernah said of MITA. "It's the contractors who are bidding the project and workers doing the work. Let us get to a solution together. We have a contract in place. We opened the door to negotiate, and they chose not to."
MITA sent letters Thursday to the 2,000 operating engineers who are locked out.
Kecia Harper said she expected to work until the snow arrived in Michigan. She said a lockout wasn't on her financial radar.
"We are seasonal workers," Harper said. "We're expecting to get paid now, not later. We have to bank our money now, and if we're not making money now, we don't have anything banked for the winter."
MITA's executive vice president, Mmike Nystrom, sent a statement telling Local 4 that MITA is offering a $2-per-hour raise over five years, putting the engineers up to nearly $64 an hour total with wages and benefits.
"After refusing to hold a single meeting to discuss a new contract, which expired June 1, MITA has decided to hold a defensive lockout of operating engineers, Local 324," Nystrom said in a statement. "This is a result of the coercive, disruptive and unlawful activities the union has spearheaded against MITA contractors. The lockout will end when the union ratifies the industry proposed contract."
Each side is claiming the other is imposing a contract.