Labor talks stalled

Road projects remain idled

MARQUETTE — Gov. Rick Snyder sent representatives of a construction trade group and a union back to their respective corners after a meeting on Tuesday between the two sides and the governor himself netted no foreseeable solution to the dispute that has halted road projects across the state.

“To give you the quick bottom line, we weren’t able to get either a short- or a long-term solution,” Snyder said during a Tuesday press conference. “It was clear the parties were not in agreement, that there is no activity that is going to immediately take place to get the road work going again.”

The weeks-old dispute is between the Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association, or MITA — a statewide construction trade group consisting of nearly 500 Michigan companies — and Operating Engineers Local 324, or OE 324, which represents about 14,000 employees who operate the heavy equipment required to build and repair roadways.

The dispute began with what MITA officials call a “defensive lockout” on Sept 4.

Snyder said he’s still exploring all options, from taking legal action in the matter to calling in the National Guard to finish some of the more time-sensitive or critical projects.

“We are still looking at all the legal options,” he said. “It is not as simple as simply declaring a state of emergency and having them go back to work. In terms of saying, do we have a track record of knowing how the state can intervene when there’s cases of a labor dispute involving parties that we are not (in) contract to involving roads … We are blazing new ground here.”

Soon after the situation unfolded in early September, Michigan Department of Transportation Communications Director Jeff Cranson made a statement underlining the fact that MDOT is not a party to the negotiations between MITA and OE324.

“Our priorities remain the safety of workers and the traveling public and maintaining traffic to alleviate delays as much as possible,” Cranson said.

In a Tuesday email, Michigan Department of Transportation Superior Region Communications Representative Dan Weingarten said three local contractors on seven jobs involving MDOT have filed “notices of intent” informing MDOT that “the contractors plan to submit claims for extra compensation and a request for extension of contract time when those costs and time are known.”

Payne & Dolan filed notices of intent for U.S. 41/M-28 resurfacing project from Westwood Drive easterly to Water Street in Ishpeming and Negaunee; U.S. 41 resurfacing from old U.S. 41 to the Baraga County line in Baraga County; crushing and shaping of Marquette County Road 581; reconstruction of Stoneville Road in Marquette County; and paving Marquette County Road 545 north of the West Branch Township line.

Bacco Construction filed a notice of intent for a resurfacing project on M-94 in Alger, Marquette and Schoolcraft counties, Weingarten said, and Hebert Construction filed a notice of intent for the Croix Street reconstruction project in Negaunee.

“MDOT does not consider costs incurred by contractors during this labor dispute compensable,” Weingarten said. “Based on the information that MDOT currently has, the lockout is an action under the contractors’ control. Therefore, requests for extensions of time could be granted but damages for not being complete on time will still be enforced per the terms of each contract.”

Ishpeming has also received a notice of intent for delays related to the dispute from A. Lindberg and Sons, the company contracted to complete its $10.8 million water infrastructure project.

After receiving a letter from the contractor, the city agreed to extend both the substantial completion date and the final completion date of work on Washington Street, a portion of Marquette Street, Jasper Hill and a portion of Second Street until July 17 and July 31, respectively, according to a Thursday letter from Ishpeming Mayor Joseph Juidici to A. Lindberg and Sons’ Vice President of Engineering Gary Saari.

“Upon review of the provisions within the General Conditions (of the contract documents) the City does not agree with the determination made within the letter that this delay is ‘beyond the control of the contractor,'” the letter states. “However the city faces a practical choice. If paving contractors will not be able to complete work of sections of road in 2018, then City residents would face deteriorated conditions on roads that are dug up and backfilled to gravel.”

The letter is very clear that the city is making an allowance for the contractor, and that the changes allowed will be done “at no additional cost to the city.”

“The city does not dictate that the contractor make any adjustment to their schedule,” the city’s letter states. “The extension of the date above, for practical reasons, does not mean that the city agrees to the basis of any future claim that may be filed.”

Following the meeting with Snyder on Tuesday, MITA Executive Vice President Mike Nystrom, during a phone interview today, said work has continued on many affected projects during the dispute with contractors using laborers and skilled trades other than OE324.

He said MITA is helping members to find temporary workers to operate heavy equipment in order to restart more jobs across the state.

“We are looking at all options to get work going,” Nystrom said. “We recognize the public’s angst at not getting the roads done and we are looking at every available option to get the projects started again.

“From helping contractors find folks from out-of-state, some unionized and some not, to non-union laborers or the National Guard.” Nystrom said.

In a phone interview today, OE 324 spokesman Dan McKernan said that union officials have reached out to Snyder’s office to clarify a request Snyder made during the Tuesday meeting to “stay out of the press.”

“I have no statement at the moment other than to say we are just asking people to look and see how absolutely ridiculous this is,” McKernan said. “You have a Michigan workforce that wants to go back to work, even without a contract. and MITA is going out-of-state to find workers to run heavy equipment.”

During the Tuesday press conference Snyder said while his administration will continue the dialogue and follow up with both sides, the ultimate solution rests with MITA and OE 324 officials.

“We understand the winter is coming so there’s a fairly limited amount of time. And again in a situation like this they can be fluid. Hopefully, either the contractors themselves hear feedback or the union hears feedback because our public is not going to be happy about this. I am not happy.” Snyder said. “This is not a good situation … I will be looking at continued action as we review options and to be open. I am most likely to go to them and let them know, here’s the consequences of failure to make progress.”