DETROIT (WJBK) - Major road work in Michigan could slow or come to a halt because of contract disputes between the union and the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA).
MITA sent a letter last week to the the Operating Engineers Local 324, saying it would institute a lockout against the union. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the union said that they had been locked out by MITA.
According to Dan McKernan, Local 324 members operate the heavy machinery across the state for major construction projects, like the ones on I-696 and I-75 in Metro Detroit. McKernan said the contract expired at the end of May and the union had been working without one until Tuesday morning.
McKernan said MITA issued a forced, non-voluntary layoff of their projects until a new contract is agreed upon.
According to McKernan, there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of employees locked out across the state. He said members of the Local 324 work on every major road construction project in Michigan.
McKernan told FOX 2 that the union had been willing to work without a contract to finish projects and would like to continue working while discussions continued but the layoff was issued, stopping work.
Diane Cross, a spokesperson for MDOT, confirmed to FOX 2 that construction projects were stopped due to the lock out and issued this statement:
"It is important to understand that MDOT is not a party to these negotiations. Our priorities remain the safety of workers and the traveling public and maintaining traffic to alleviate delays as much as possible.
In the event labor disputes affect active construction projects, MDOT has contractual specifications that address the contractor’s responsibilities. The contractors are obligated to maintain a safe work zone for motorists at all times and are required to do so for the full duration of the project even during delay caused by a labor dispute.
The contracts call for MDOT to grant extensions because of labor disputes, similar to provisions for acts of God. If that happens, the contractors could incur costs. Those would not be compensated.
Officials at MDOT take delays very seriously, working very hard to alleviate congestion and the inconvenience to drivers. So, of course, we hope the two sides reach agreement soon."
Michael Nystrom, executive vice president of MITA said the lockout is a result of "coercive, disruptive and unlawful activities the union has spearheaded against MITA contractors." Nystrom said that the lockout will end when the union ratifies the proposed contract which increases wages and benefits by $8 per hour, or 14.4 percent over five years to $63.67 per hour.
“MITA has done everything within its power to maintain labor peace and stability, however we’ve been forced into taking this action by the union. Getting these employees back to work is a top priority. We look forward to hearing from the union on any interest they may have to ending this lockout."