Michigan road construction work stoppage to continue after contract talks break down

Negotiations come to abrupt stop

WARREN, Mich. – Contract talks in the Michigan roadwork stoppage are over, and the sides don't have a deal. The negotiations aiming to restart critical road projects came to an abrupt stop.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder hoped a new round of negotiations would get workers back on the job, but negotiations ended Thursday with union operators leaving the bargaining table, saying officials had reneged on a handshake deal.

Staff members at the governor's office are fuming over the claims.

Snyder is threatening to put National Guard heavy equipment operators behind the wheel to get the construction projects going again.

The union and the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association started talking earlier this week, and there was hope that the two organizations would come to an agreement and restart the projects. But that effort has failed in spectacular fashion.

From China, Snyder directed his staff to get mediation going with MITA and the Operating Engineers 324.

On Monday afternoon, OE 324 thought it had a deal. But as the week went on and the heavy equipment sat unused, and wet from heavy rains, the union's lawyers met repeatedly with the governor's staff until talks finally broke down Thursday afternoon.

"We are deeply disappointed that MITA is now torpedoing our agreement with the Gov. Rick Snoyder administration that would have brought workers and contractors together," OE 324 President Ken Dombrow said in a statement. "The only fair way to resolve this dispute is for OE 324 leaders to meet with the governor immediately so that we can get back to work fixing the roads."

Snyder isn't scheduled to return to the state from China until this weekend.

Meanwhile, MITA, the negotiating group for many of the highway construction contractors, contradicted the engineers' assessment of the situation.

"There was no deal torpedoed," MITA Executive Vice President Mike Nystrom said. "We want to get back to work."

Nystrom said he hadn't heard from the governor's office since Monday.

"Operating Engineers 324 put out a release that is flat-out filled with lies to the public and its membership," Nystrom said.

OE 324 had a lot more to say about the situation.

“Operating Engineers 324 has bent over backwards during this entire process to make sure that critical road projects are completed without pain and inconvenience for Michigan drivers. Our road builders showed up every day to do their job, even without a contract since June,” Dombrow said.

Nystrom said MITA is going to start looking for subcontractors, even out-of-state contractors, to come in and try to get the work finished.

Here is a full statement from Nystrom:

"Today the leaders of OE 324, Doug Stockwell and Ken Dombrow, issued a statement to the media falsely claiming that MITA rejected an agreement Monday negotiated by the Governor’s Office to put OE 324 members back to work. Unfortunately for OE 324 members and motorists who are waiting for the industry to get back to work fixing Michigan’s roads, these supposed leaders have flat out lied and are proving to be as dishonest and no more trustworthy than their predecessor, John Hamilton. The truth is that MITA and OE 324 were asked to meet with the Governor’s Office Monday in an attempt to start some sort of talks. Both parties met separately with the Governor’s team, but no form of an agreement was ever finalized. Discussions continued between the Governor’s Office and OE 324 throughout the week in an effort to set up some form of a mediation session, which was scheduled for Friday, Sept. 21. OE 324 has now walked away and continues to refuse to meet to even start real and productive talks, just as they have all summer long. Instead of coming to the table for talks, Mr. Stockwell and Mr. Dombrow continue to collect their paychecks and enjoy their fringe benefits while their members continue to wait for a new contract while receiving no pay and no benefits, and Michigan motorists continue to drive on some of the worst roads in the nation. MITA member companies are more unified than ever, and I will say it again: This defensive lockout will end as soon as the union ratifies the industry-proposed contract. The industry will work with the Governor’s Office and MDOT in order to make progress on as many road projects as possible with available workers who are qualified to safely operate the equipment needed to complete a quality project."

Here is the latest statement from the governor's office:

"On behalf of the the Governor’s team, I can unequivocally state that the Operating Engineers 324’s claims in its news release are patently untrue. Our team was working on a simple resolution: extend until December a contract that expired in June. That way, the Governor’s top priority — using historic levels of funding to fix Michigan’s roads — could be done this fall as planned. Professional mediation could then be used to help the two sides resolve their differences.

"We even confirmed that one of the mediators who successfully completed the Grand Bargain bankruptcy for Detroit would assist with the mediation. Neither side accepted our numerous offers to help find a resolution.

"This unacceptable work stoppage will put motorists’ safety at risk this winter. Gov. Snyder remains committed to resolving this situation and is looking at what options are available to finish projects as quickly as possible. These options range from withholding payments for contractors to activating the National Guard and using their heavy equipment operators for roadwork.

"Gov. Snyder’s team has been working in good faith to end a standoff that has jeopardized the safety of motorists and workers. This unacceptable work stoppage has resulted in road projects sitting idle at a time when historic levels of road funding should see work accelerating, not slowing down.

"Gov. Snyder also has contacted the National Labor Relations Board to ask it to accelerate the review of unfair labor practice charges that have been filed in this case."

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