Governor Rick Snyder's office may ask the National Guard to finish roadwork that's been halted since the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association locked out members of the operating engineers union in early September.
MITA advised their contractors to initiate the work stoppage after the union refused to negotiate with the trade group that's handled contract negotiations for generations. After the previous contract expired in June, Operating Engineers Local 324 decided they wanted to negotiate with contractors directly rather than going through MITA.
Dan McKernan is a spokesperson for the union. He says the union made the decision to break from MITA because they felt like the association was increasingly hiring less-skilled or out-of-state workers to do OE 324 jobs for less wages or benefits.
Snyder’s office met with both MITA and the union early this week in an effort to help the groups come to a solution. McKernan says OE 324 representatives left the meeting feeling they’d reached an agreement to get the workers back to in on their projects immediately. The deal also involved the union sitting down with a state mediator to work directly with the contractors.
However, McKernan says the agreement was significantly altered after Snyder’s office met with MITA, and he felt the union could no longer agree to it.
But in a statement released Thursday, MITA’s executive vice president Mike Nystrom disputed McKernan’s account of the events.
“The truth is that MITA and OE 324 were asked to meet with the Governor’s Office Monday in an attempt to start some sort of talks,” Nystrom’s statement reads. “Both parties met separately with the Governor’s team, but no form of an agreement was ever finalized… OE 324 has now walked away and continues to refuse to meet to even start real and productive talks, just as they have all summer long.”
Ari Adler is a spokesman for the Governor. He says Snyder’s priority is getting road work to resume as soon as possible -- and he hopes that means getting union members back to work.
But Adler says they’re talking about calling in the National Guard because there needs to be a Plan B if the union and MITA can’t reach an agreement. He says finishing the roadwork before winter is a matter of public safety.
“The Governor and the Governor's office would not normally be involved in a disagreement like this but we are facing a situation here where there's a public safety concern, and the governor found the entire situation unacceptable.”
McKernan says the idea of calling in the National Guard is unprecedented. He wants to state to fine MITA for the stoppage instead of using taxpayer money to mobilize the National Guard.
“This isn't a strike, this isn't a walkout,” he said. “Our members are waiting by the phones to be called back to work… and the fact that they're not is impacting their families, the tax payers, and the drivers of Michigan.”
MITA says OE 324 members can come back to work when a new contract is signed. But the union maintains that it will not renew their contract.
The stoppage has affected several major projects throughout metro Detroit, including the I-696 Moving Macomb project.