Opinion: Labor unions are ready for the Great Lakes tunnel

Geno Alessandrini and Michael Aaron

Over the last 12 months, there’s been heated public debate, court cases, and back and forth at the state Capitol. Everyone’s talking about the plan to get the Line 5 oil pipeline out of the Straits of Mackinac, and to build a cutting-edge concrete tunnel 100 feet below the lakebed.

Through it all, we hope stakeholders won’t lose sight of an incredibly important fact — building the tunnel is a labor issue, too.

Fresh nuts, bolts and fittings are ready to be added to the east leg of the Line 5 pipeline near St. Ignace on June 8, 2017.

We know how important Line 5 is to meeting the state’s energy needs. In many parts of the state — on both sides of the bridge — shutting down the tunnel would mean turning off the heat at home all winter.

As proud union members who works alongside some of the state’s most talented workers, we also know that the tunnel will be built to the highest standards by trained and skilled tradespeople who’ve spent their careers delivering the best results. And yes, it’s important to understand the environmental benefit of the project.

Building the Great Lakes tunnel will protect our greatest resource, the Great Lakes, without disturbing the lakebed, fish or wildlife. An expert study commissioned by the state said the plan would make the risk of a future oil spill “unquantifiably low.”

Additionally, it’s important we understand the impact this project will have on Michigan workers.

The Michigan Laborers consists of seven Local Unions with over 13,000 members. We are united by contracts that guarantee fair wages, high-quality training, safe job sites and good benefits. We build Michigan’s roads, bridges, buildings and energy infrastructure.

Members of the Michigan Laborers have worked over 17 million hours on pipeline projects throughout the State. The gas you pump? You’re able to pump it because of Michigan Laborers. The fuel you use to light and heat your home? Michigan Laborers likely built the pipeline that delivers it. Manufacturers that drive our state’s economy? Without the material that flows through pipelines like Line 5, and through pipelines built by Michigan Laborers, those jobs don’t exist locally.

That’s why our union — and so many others — so passionately support the Great Lakes tunnel.

It’s a project that means safer lakes, reliable energy, and more high-wage jobs.

There’s overwhelming consensus that the right move for Michigan, for the Great Lakes, and for our state’s energy needs is construction of a new tunnel. Democrats support it. Republicans support it. Business groups support it. Labor unions support it. We support it in the U.P. where we rely on the propane moving through Line 5 to heat our homes and job sites. We support it in Detroit and across the Lower Peninsula where the fuel the pipeline provides powers industries that provide nearly 50,000 jobs.

Now the Michigan Court of Claims has spoken, too, validating the law that established the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority which will oversee the construction of the tunnel.

We’ve had the debate, and there’s much more that unites us than divides us. We all want to protect the Great Lakes. We want Michigan residents to be able to affordably heat their homes. We want workers to keep driving Michigan’s economy. The Great Lakes tunnel makes all of that possible.

The time for action is now. Let’s support Michigan workers, stand with labor, end the stall tactics, and build the Great Lakes tunnel.

Geno Alessandrini is business manager of Michigan Laborers District Council. Michael Aaron is business manager of Laborers Local 1191.