Michigan contractors replace locked-out union engineers with private operators
- The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association told The Detroit Press that its member contractors have turned to the private sector for operating engineers in the wake of an extended lockout of union workers, which began on Sept. 4.
- Mike Nystrom, executive vice president at the association, said its contractors "are looking at all options" in their quest to resume construction on their projects, and that includes possibly using private, non-union heavy equipment operators from Michigan and other states. The decision comes after unsuccessful talks between Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the association and Operating Engineers Local 324. The union wants to negotiate directly with contractors, while the association is insisting that the union agree to its new labor contract on behalf of its members.
- Meanwhile, Snyder said he is considering sending the Michigan National Guard in to make unfinished roads safe for winter travel. In addition, the Michigan DOT said it will grant extensions to state contractors that have fallen behind because of the lockout but will pursue damages against them for delays to the extent permitted by contract because the lockout is something that is in their control. Nystrom said association contractors should not be held responsible for delays due to a "labor dispute industry-wide" and suggested that case law would back up that position.
Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 in Seattle were on strike for 17 days before they reached an acceptable agreement with the Associated General Contractors of Washington. During that time, union officials began to strike their own labor deals with individual contractors in Western Washington. According to Local 302, they had signed up about 30 contractors to its Master Labor Agreement of Western Washington before agreeing to the AGCW's offer.
The agreement is still tentative at this point as members still must cast their ballots.
The stalemate in Michigan and the fact that some contractors feel free to turn to non-union contractors underscores what some have noted as a weakening of union influence, even in organized labor strongholds like Detroit and New York City.
That doesn't mean unions are done, however. According to Gallup polls, 62% of Americans approve of unions, up 6% from two years ago, and almost 40% believe unions should have more influence. And while union membership is down considerably from its peak in the 1950s, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveal that 2017 union membership in the private construction industry increased to 14.7%, up almost a full percentage point from 13.9% in 2016.
- The Detroit News After talks fail, road builders turn to non-union engineers
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