Work slowed: Labor dispute halts flood repairs

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Work on a replacement bridge over the M-203, Swedetown Creek bridge is one of the many projects that could be halted as a labor dispute disrupts local and MDOT projects.

HOUGHTON — A state-level labor dispute has put many local flood recovery projects on hold for an unclear length of time.

The dispute revolves around the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA), a contractor’s association and Operating Engineers, Local 324 (OE) a builders union. MITA initiated the lockout of OE early Tuesday after what MITA describes as a refusal to negotiate following the June 1, expiration of their previous contract.

“We have not heard from the operating engineers. We have reached out to them all summer long asking them to sit down at the negotiations table and they have refused,” said MITA Executive Vice President Mike Nystrom.

He estimates the lockout involves some of the largest road builders in the state, which perform at least 80 percent of road work.

While many projects were already halted Tuesday with more to join as sites are made safe, there are some projects that will not be impacted. Non-union road builders, companies and other trades will not be impacted by the dust-up.

MITA also accused the union of “coercive and disruptive activities,” that they say were impacting contractors job sites.

OE did not respond to request for comment as of Tuesday but issued an update on Facebook referring to the move by MITA as an involuntary layoff in the last stretch of the construction season.

“MITA is framing this as a ‘labor dispute,’ but we have no dispute with, nor have taken actions against MITA,” one post stated.

Locally, the dispute could spell problems for flood recovery projects if not quickly resolved.

As of Tuesday afternoon, known lockouts on area MDOT projects included resurfacing on US-41, M-26 and M-203 in Keweenaw County, US-41 resurfacing in Baraga County and the M-28 bridge replacement over Jackson Creek in Gogebic County.

MDOT and local municipalities are not a part in negotiations, reiterated Dan Weingarten MDOT Superior Region communications representative out of Ishpeming.

For the city of Hancock, one project, the small urban paving project schedule has been explicitly impacted. Unrelated to flooding, the project was bid out in spring. The flood projects have yet to be bid out, but lack of resolution likely will cause problems there as well.

“It certainly has the potential to delay projects this fall in the event that they don’t come to terms quickly,” said City Manager Glenn Anderson. “…We’re monitoring it, we’re watching it very carefully because it could impact both current awarded projects and in flood-related future projects.”

He hopes the situation will be resolved quickly.

The lockout could ultimately impact hundreds of projects around the state and thousands of employees.

“We’re hopeful that this will end quickly. No one wins in a labor dispute. The employers are impacted, the employees are impacted and the driving public, in this instance, is impacted. So there’s no winners. We’re hoping we can get this resolved quickly,” Nystrom said.