Michigan road workers remain at impasse with contractor

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Workers who resurface and replace Michigan roadways continue to strike over contract issues and say they have not yet set a new date to continue negotiations.

The workers, part of Operating Engineers 324, began striking last week at 13 asphalt plants across Michigan, directing their action at Indiana-based Rieth-Riley Construction.

“Some projects are stopped on freeways and some local projects in other areas while trying to find new sources of asphalt,” said union spokesman Dan McKernan.

Road workers, part of Operating Engineers 324 union, began striking last week at 13 asphalt plants across Michigan, directing their action at Indiana-based Rieth-Riley Construction.

Union members met Monday with Rieth-Riley, but negotiations ended without settling anything. Rieth-Riley, according to McKernan, is the only contractor among dozens that had not signed a contract with the union.

“Yes, this is a strike or a work-stoppage — the two are interchangeable,” McKernann said Tuesday. It impacts about 200 workers who resurface and replace state roadways.

“They walked out because they’ve been working 14 months without a new contract and have suffered from egregious treatment.”

The union ratified a five-year agreement in April with many of the state’s contractors. They require subcontractors to pay into a union trust fund for fringe benefits, even if they do not use union laborers.

The contracts were reached months after a three-week lockout of the union engineers in September by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, impacting dozens of projects around the state. MITA locked the workers out after the union declared it wanted to bargain with individual contractors instead of the association.

Chad Loney, a regional vice president for Rieth-Riley, emailed The Detroit News a bulleted release with 13 points, pointing the finger at OE324. Each point was then refuted by McKernan.

One point says Local 324 refused to meet in the same room with the company and would only shuttle messages through a federal mediator.

“Not true,” responded McKernan. “They told us ahead of time they didn’t want to meet with us directly so we knew that going in.”

Another point said the local refused to counter Rieth-Riley’s last proposal from the last negotiation session held July 29.

"I don’t want this to sound like pointing fingers, but we did offer changes," McKernan said. "Anything they offered was just changing verbiage without any points being changed.”

But the most controversial point made by Rieth-Riley was the local indicated it did not care about Rieth-Riley’s local 324 employees, and it did not care if the local loses all of those employees from the union, even if that means a decertification of the union by the employees.

McKernan countered, “Of course, that is not true. That is ridiculous. This is the second time they’ve said this. We have been standing side by side with the members on the picket lines. Nothing could be less true than that.”

The company has said the National Labor Relations Board has not decided on unfair labor practice complaints filed by both sides.

Loney said “negotiations are ongoing. There have been some temporary delays on projects, but we are working hard to get all the projects back and running on track.”

McKernan added, “Members are resolute. They will remain striking until the company recognizes the unfair treatment the workers are subjected to and they get a new contract in place.”