Letter: Treat all workers with respect

The Detroit News

Re: Sen. Curtis Hertel's guest column, "Don't blame Michigan's broken roads on fair wages," Aug. 18: Michigan has the best workers in the world, and we need to treat them equally and with respect as they do the dangerous and necessary job of fixing our roads. 

This past week legislative leaders in the House and Senate continued working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to explore proposals to fund additional investment in our roads and bridges. Unfortunately, some of that investment, funded by our tax dollars, may be siphoned away from road repairs and worker paychecks in a new scheme recently devised by the Operating Engineers Local 324.

Michigan workers not receiving all the benefits of their labor should concern everyone, Nesbitt writes.

In their recently implemented collective bargaining agreement, the union now requires that any time a prime contractor subcontracts work (which happens on a super-majority of every road construction project in the state), the subcontractor’s employees must make financial contributions to Operating Engineers Local 324 Fringe Benefit Funds. The problem is this even applies to employees who are not affiliated with or represented by that union and have their own benefit programs.

Every time that situation happens, those Michigan workers see more than $28 per hour taken from their paychecks and watch it go to a union account they can never access and have never participated in. If you are reading this and saying to yourself, “that sounds just plain wrong,” you are absolutely right.

Michigan workers not receiving all the benefits of their labor should concern everyone.  All measures to prevent this from happening on construction projects funded by Michigan tax dollars need to be taken up without delay.

Common sense dictates that the money should go to the workers performing the job, so they can invest in their own health care, retirement, family and livelihood. Unfortunately, under this newly developed union enrichment scheme, workers never see a dime of that more than $28 per hour if they refuse to be affiliated with the union.

Hertel, unfortunately, failed to mention any of those pertinent facts.

In addition to the moral imperative of treating workers fairly and with respect, there is a high economic cost to this attempted scheme. This is because the attempted money-grab diverts dollars that could otherwise be spent to actually fix our roads. I think it goes without saying that now is the worst possible time to artificially escalate the cost of road construction in Michigan.

But that’s exactly what is happening.

Look no further than a Detroit News article from earlier this month, where Rieth-Riley, a prominent unionized contractor who refuses to sign this new agreement, called the provision a "taxpayer extortion fee as part of an effort to pad the union's struggling pension fund.” Michigan Paving and Materials, another large union contractor, is also refusing to sign.

Fortunately, Republicans in the state Legislature are working to ensure that the state will stand with Michigan workers by requiring that workers' pay will go to the workers and the benefit programs in which they participate.

State Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton 

Michigan's 26th Senate District