Michigan road construction work stoppage to continue as negotiations break down

Operating engineers will not be placed back on job

Stalled road construction in Michigan. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Talks between the state of Michigan, road construction operating engineers and Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA) have broken down, meaning there is no end in sight to an ongoing work stoppage to road construction projects in the state.

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

Local 4 was told Thursday the parties involved are not talking. The operating engineers will not be back on the job. 

This is an abrupt turn in the other direction from what was being reported Wednesday. Local 4 was told there were encouraging signs that the stalemate can at least move a little by putting engineers back on the job, but that's not the case a day later. 

Contractors locked out union operating engineers after they refused to negotiate with the trade group that's handled contract negotiations for generations. The engineers who run the heavy equipment stored their gear weeks ago, starting a lockout.

The union representing the engineers, Operating Engineers 324, released a statement Thursday saying it requested a meeting with Gov. Rick Snyder to put an end to what it calls MITA's "involuntary layoff of road builders across the state" but was denied that meeting. 

“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,” said Operating Engineers 324 President Ken Dombrow. “We are deeply disappointed that MITA is now torpedoing our agreement with the Gov. Rick Snyder administration that would have brought workers and contractors together. 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.”

On Wednesday, Snyder's office had stepped into the middle of the situation to insist it mediate some kind of settlement to move construction along. There have been individual talks between Snyder's office, MITA and the operating engineers, but there have been no face-to-face talks. 

"The sooner, the better," a driver said. "It never should have happened in the first place, this delay. They should have worked this out ahead of time, before they started this."

Talks were ongoing Wednesday afternoon but had broken down by Thursday, Local 4 learned. 

The governor's office is running the mediation but is not helping to negotiate a new contract. Instead, it is simply trying to figure out a way to get everyone back to work so they can get as much done as possible before winter.

Snyder said the contract negotiations can be dealt with in the winter, which will require MITA and the union to speak with each other directly.

For now, the stoppage continues. 

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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