No end in sight for construction strike

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Road Closed Ahead Sign

Jessie Cohen

Roads are closed due to stalled construction in Mason.

Illegal lockouts, denied unemployment benefits and wage theft. Sounds like a bad dream, but these are the circumstances that construction workers were dealing with that led to the ongoing construction worker strike in 13 locations across Michigan, including Mason.

Construction work has been stalled since the strike began in late July when Indiana-based paving company Rieth-Riley refused to sign a new contract with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324. Nearly 200 Michigan construction companies have already agreed to the contract.

“The construction has been stalled for quite a while,” said Mason resident Thomas Wibble, who lives in a construction zone.

His wife, Vicky, said they are enjoying how quiet their street is for the time being, but are looking forward to the construction being completed.

Construction Equipment

Jessie Cohen

Construction equipment sits unused on Elm Street.

It doesn’t look like the construction will be done any time soon. On Sept. 25, Local 324 Operating Engineers met with Rieth-Riley to discuss the terms of ending the strike. However, executives from Rieth-Riley refused to even go in the same room as Local 324 representatives.

“Not much came out of the meeting,” said Dan McKernan, communication director of Local 324. “They didn’t bring the documents they were asked to provide and refused to enter negotiations. Rieth-Riley isn’t willing to budge. They want the state to meet their needs instead of the other way around.”

(Editor’s note: Company officials did not respond to several phone calls for comment. After this story was published, the company sent an email saying that the union’s view of the facts are “blurry.”)

Mason residents are, overall, unaffected by the strike, according to City Administrator Deborah Stuart.

Some also support the workers’ decision to strike. “It’s fine with me that they’re striking,” said Thomas. “I think the workers should get what they’re asking for.”

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