Some Michigan road projects came to a screeching halt 7 a.m. Tuesday morning after the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA) made good on its statement to lock out unionized road workers because of stalled labor negotiations.
MDOT officials say the lockout is going to affect most of its more than 140 construction projects across Michigan that are in the works or planned for the year.
For the Dexter area, the Mast Road culvert replacement and resurfacing project between North Territorial Rd and Strawberry Lake Rd is the only project halted as a result of the dispute. The project was scheduled to be completed in mid-September but is now delayed.
This work stoppage halts all paving, and some earthwork and underground work done by contractors on county roads. Some bridge work may also be impacted, depending on the contractor.
“It’s really hard to say how long the delays could be or what the impact will be,” said said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of MITA. “Some may shut down immediately and some projects may continue to make progress with other trades handling the work and then there a lot of non-union companies that work on these projects that aren’t impacted.”
With headquarters in Lansing, MITA is a statewide construction trade association that consists of over 500 Michigan companies consisting of such expertise and specialties as road and bridge, sewer and water, utility, railroad, excavation and specialty construction throughout the state of Michigan. MITA also represents its member companies in labor agreements with the Teamsters, Laborers, Carpenters, Cement Masons, and Operating Engineers.
The previous 5-year contract agreement between the association and the union expired at the end of June and negotiations have failed to reach an agreement for a new one.
Neither MDOT nor Washtenaw County Road Commission are a party involved in these negotiations. It’s out of their hands so-to-say. The association and union are quickly digging their heels in for a standoff with each pointing a finger at the other.
In a letter to the Operating Engineers Local 324, MITA said it would be instituting the lockout following months of “disruptive, coercive and oftentimes unlawful conduct” by the union.
Dan McKernan, a spokesman for the engineers, said the union was taken by surprise with the lockout “Our guys have been working all summer on these projects. They are going to come back from Labor Day and be told to go home, not because of anything that they’ve done or we’ve done. We’re at a loss here.”
“It’s a defensive lockout,” says Nystrom. “We had to react to the coercive and indiscriminate and sometimes unlawful actions that the union was taking. This decision was not taken lightly. The contracting community puts the driving public and their employees as their highest priority.”
“Our road builders are dedicated men and women who have given their all to the job, despite having been denied a contract since June,” said Douglas Stockwell, Local 324’s business manager and general vice president, in a statement on the union’s Facebook page. “They’ve shown up, day after day, often in record-breaking heat, because they understand how critical their job is to fix Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and keep drivers safe. There have been no strikes or work stoppages.
MDOT contracts require construction companies to provide and maintain safe work zones for motorists during road construction through completion, even during delays due to labor disputes. Contracts also require MDOT to grant extensions due to labor disputes.
At this point, nobody knows how long the work stoppage will last. We Love Dexter will keep you updated as information becomes available.