Operating engineers strike for ‘fair treatment’ by construction company

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    Operating engineers working for Indiana-based Rieth-Riley Construction Co. are on strike, calling for “fair treatment.” They have been working without a new contract since June 2018.

    Rieth-Riley operates several construction crews in Michigan and 13 facilities that produce asphalt. Union members operate heavy machinery for the company.

    Rieth-Riley said in a press release that this could delay road and bridge projects in the state.

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    “Our workers have negotiated in good faith and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has offered Reith-Riley a settlement to avoid a trial over unfair labor practice charges,” said Business Manager Douglas Stockwell of Operating Engineers Local 324. 

    “Through it all, Rieth-Riley has refused to act in the best interests of its employees, and in light of the hardships Reith-Riley has placed on our workers and their families, we are left with no other recourse than a strike to protect our hardworking men and women.”

    The company said in a press release that the union forced employees “to strike against their will” and “simply refused to negotiate with the highway construction industry.”

    “We have gone back to the table time and time again and have offered up excellent employee compensation plans and the Union has refused to attempt to negotiate a fair deal,” said Keith Rose, president of Rieth-Riley Construction Co. Inc.

    Workers have faced activities alleged to be unlawful since June 2018. It could result in the company paying more than $1.8 million in back pay.

    Union officials pointed to a lockout after Labor Day 2018 that stalled construction projects across Michigan. The union said the NLRB investigated and alleges that Rieth-Riley committed an unfair labor practice. They also said Rieth-Riley docked workers’ pay, which is the subject of an NLRB hearing in October before an administrative law judge.

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    Labor officials said Rieth-Riley denied locked-out workers unemployment benefits and the state of Michigan ruled in workers’ favor allowing them to receive benefits for the period of the lockout.

    “A strike is always a last resort,” said Ken Dombrow, Operating Engineers Local 324 president.  “Unfortunately, Rieth-Riley – despite calling themselves a ‘family company’ – treats its workers unfairly and with malice. These workers have decided to make their voices heard in the only manner left available. Reith-Riley should do the right thing and give these hard-working professionals a new contract and a resolution to these unfair labor practices.”

    The company said the claims are “merely accusations and have not been decided upon” by the NLRB. In a press release, the company said that because the first NLRB hearing is scheduled in October, “this strike is premature at best.”

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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