GUEST COMMENTARY – Michigan road construction layoffs

SUBMITTED BY OPERATING ENGINEERS 324

  1. The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and its affiliated contractors initiated the work stoppage.

Starting at 7am, September 4, 2018, contractors affiliated with the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA) informed members of Operating Engineers 324 working on road construction projects around the state that they were not to report to work indefinitely.

  1. This in an Involuntary Layoff, not a strike or a lockout.

While MITA is contending that the action is a “defensive lockout,” the lack of a contract means the employees are effectively “at-will.” As such, the contractors have no authority to lock workers out. Therefore, this is an involuntary layoff.

  1. This is not a “Labor Dispute”.

As there is no contract in place, and there have not nor will be negotiations between Operating Engineers 324 and MITA, there is nothing in dispute.  Operating Engineers 324 has not threatened action against the contractors, and have taken no aggressive or hostile actions, including strikes or slow-downs.  Since June 1, MITA has repeatedly stated publicly that OE324 would shut down work – that has not happened once.

  1. MITA terminated the previous agreement effective June 1.

MITA and OE324 legally terminated the previous agreement.  When it expired June 1, the relationship between OE324 and MITA was effectively dissolved.  This was MITA’s decision. At this point, OE324 decided not to negotiate with MITA.  This was due to many years of actions taken by MITA detrimental to OE324 members, including giving members’ work away to workers with less training and skills.

  1. Operating Engineer 324 members worked throughout the summer to complete road projects without a contract, and intended to continue to do so.

The state of our crumbling infrastructure has long been cited as the number one concern to Michigan’s residents.  Because of this, as well as to support their families, Operating Engineers 324 members continued to work on every single project around the state without a contract.  It has long been OE324’s contention that the contract would work itself out, but completing the work of rebuilding Michigan’s roads was of the utmost importance and therefore, must continue.

  1. Unionized road work in Michigan has a statewide road agreement in place since July.  The MITA contractors chose not to participate in negotiations.

OE324 invited contractors to take part in the negotiation of a new contract for the state of Michigan.  MITA contractors did not participate, so a road agreement was reached with other contractors and ratified by the

membership.  MITA is now demanding that OE324 vacate that statewide road agreement in favor of their own, self-authored agreement.

  1. The work stoppage is an unnecessary, aggressive move to force the Operating Engineers to contract using workers’ families as pawns.

Without a contract, OE324 is legally unable to accept fringe benefit payments for members.  MITA has dishonestly characterized this as a choice rather than a legal obligation by OE324.  Now, by laying off seasonal employees and threatening to deny their unemployment, MITA hopes to force financial desperation on these workers’ families.

  1. MITA expects the taxpayers of Michigan to pick up the tab for their layoffs.

Projects that overrun their allotted time are often subject to stiff fines and penalties from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). These fines are levied because cost overruns cost the taxpayers more money as additional hours and materials are needed.  MITA has stated that they expect MDOT to waive any penalties these layoffs might trigger, which would pass the cost on to the taxpayers.

  1. MITA has actively encouraged contractors to use unqualified workers to run heavy equipment to keep jobs going.

Operating Engineers run dangerous heavy equipment weighing many tons and requiring years of training.  They often run this equipment just feet from motorists, and around electrical, water and other infrastructure needs.  MITA has encouraged their contractors to keep the machines running with whatever labor is available, a potentially dangerous proposition.

  1. Construction can resume on project around the state immediately.

Since this is a layoff, and OE324 members have been willing to continue working without a contract for the time being, the ball is firmly in the contractors’ court.  All MITA needs to do for work to resume is move out of the way.

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