Snyder to meet with union, contractor group over road building dispute

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Michigan Department of Transportation officials held a press conference Tuesday, June 19, 2018, in Roseville and announced that freshly laid pavement on I-696 near Gratiot had to be removed due to a common equipment issue. (Sarah Rahal / The Detroit News)

Gov. Rick Snyder is slated to meet next week with the union representing state road builders and an association for the industry contractors in hopes of bringing an end to a weeks-long lockout that's halted projects across the state.

A spokesman for the governor on Friday said in "a positive step forward," the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and Operating Engineers Local 324 have agreed to come together with Snyder and "cease the public battle" over the ongoing labor dispute.

"It is our hope that after a short cooling off period and with assistance from the governor, both sides can see through their differences and focus on the vital work that needs to be completed so the motorists of Michigan can have road projects finished and their travel routes restored prior to winter," said Ari Adler, a spokesman for Snyder, in a Friday email. 

MITA imposed the work stoppage on Sept. 4 after the union refused to bargain a new contract with the industry association after its five-year deal expired in June. 

Word of the planned meeting comes after MITA announced earlier Friday that it would begin working with the National Guard to restart road projects and the Michigan Department of Transportation notified contractors they could pay for damages for work that runs past deadlines. 

Letters were sent to contractors saying they won't be automatically granted extensions on road projects based on the labor dispute and pay for work on projects that go beyond the contractual end date due to the lockout of road engineers, state officials said. 

MDOT is enforcing terms of its contract and "not taking sides but exercising due diligence" in the dispute, state transportation spokesman Jeff Cranson said Friday.

Since the lockout, 72 local agency projects and 89 MDOT projects are partially or fullyshutdown

"MDOT has notified contractors that, based on the information that MDOT currently has, the lockout is an action under the contractors’ control," Cranson said. "Therefore, requests for extensions of time will be granted but damages for not being complete on time will still be enforced per the terms of each contract."

Contractors could be on the hook for liquidated damages, an amount of money specified in a contract that MDOT would get if contractors breach their deadline, Cranson said. 

"I do not have any specifics right now as the vast majority of projects have not reached their original completion date yet," he said. "There are variables in each contract."

After a meeting of the governor's office this week, MITA said the association is working with the National Guard about how to jump-start road projects affected by the lockout. 

RELATED REPORT:State considers using National Guard to finish stalled roadwork

"MITA is surveying its members to determine specific operator needs required to temporarily replace all (Local 324 Operating Engineers) members in terms of numbers, qualifications and geographical needs across the state," MITA Executive Vice President Mike Nystrom said in a statement. "Due to the fact that not all operators use the same pieces of equipment, it is important for the safety of the job site and the integrity of the work that each project gets the appropriate operators for the job."

Nystrom said once the surveying is completed, MITA and the National Guard will work with MDOT to "determine how these equipment operators will be integrated into the contractors’ workforce."

In response to the letters being sent to contractors, Nystrom said Friday that MITA anticipated MDOT would be notifying individual contractors based on project deadlines, but "it's not anything that the industry is overreacting to."

MITA said they are willing to meet with union leaders to continue negotiations. 

Dan McKernan, a spokesman for the union, said they've refused to bargain in the past because they feel the relationship with MITA has become "toxic for our members and for the industry." He said they differ on project labor agreements, subcontracting and advocating for union members. 

"...Our workers are waiting to be called back," McKernan said. "The state still hasn’t said whether they are prepared to levy fines and penalties to contractors. We believe that contractors should be held accountable for deadlines they set with the state."

State Rep. Patrick Green, D-Warren, said Friday that the stoppage has exacerbated Macomb County's already crumbling roads and called for a solution. 

"The roads in Warren, Center Line and all of Macomb County are a dangerous mess and we need to finish the repairs we started before I-696 and other roads become even more hazardous," Green said. "Our families drive on these roads. Our children drive on these roads. Michiganders are sick and tired of it — and you know what? So am I. All parties involved need to come together to find a solution, or Gov. Snyder and MDOT officials must hold the contractors responsible for this mess and impose fines and penalties for any unnecessary delays."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_