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I-75, 1-696, Rouge Bridge Projects Grind To Halt Over Labor Dispute

It's bad news for Michigan drivers

September 04, 2018 - 2:30 pm

DETROIT (WWJ) - Some of Michigan's most important road construction projects ground to a halt Tuesday due to a labor dispute. 

A spokesperson for the union for heavy equipment operators  -- bulldozers, backhoes, excavators and cranes -- says members are being kept off their jobs. Affected jobs include the  major work at I-696, I-75 and the Rouge Bridge. 

"A large number of our members have been informed that they are laid off, as of this morning as of 7 o'clock, from the projects they've been working on all summer," said Operating Engineers 3-24 Communications Director Dan McKernan. "What we know right now is some of the pretty large projects -- like 696, 75, M-59 -- these projects will be affected. We don't know exactly what the affect is going to be... some of them, I'm sure, will be shut down all together."

McKernan said an official with the contractors' association, the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, warned last week that the lockout was coming, since the two groups haven't reached agreement on a new contract; Their old deal expired in June.

"For us, the sticking point is simply that we don't want to have a contract with this association. We want to deal directly with contractors. That's what we did over the summer when we came up with a new contract," McKernan said. "Our hope has always been that these contractors would come and work with us without the association getting in the way and messing things up in the middle."

A spokesperson for MITA called the lockout a "defensive move" after the union failed to acknowledge a proposal that includes $8-an-hour in raises over five years.

It's unknown how long the lockout will last, and how it may affect construction timelines.

At the heart of the issue, the union has refused to negotiate anymore with MITA, which it has accused of "anti-labor positions," trying instead to negotiate directly with individual contracting firms. 

"We are trying to get MITA out of being the middleman with the operating engineers," McKernan told

The union's main issue with MITA is reportedly the association's insistence that contractors don't have to pay union-level benefits, such as health care, to nonunion subcontractors.

Local 324 leaders worry policies like that would give contractors too much of a financial incentive to avoid union labor, especially as Michigan is now a right-to-work state.