(IRON MOUNTAIN, MI.)–A labor dispute involving a contractors association and a road workers union is threatening the flood reconstruction effort in the Keweenaw and other street projects across the Upper Peninsula and dowstate in Michigan. Many of the road projects has essentially ground to a halt because of the dispute. The lockout has slowed down work on some 80 percent of road projects throughout the state. The labor dispute also affects the availability of black top for the roads so local DPW crews cannot get the material needed to fix city roads. Because of the standoff, work projects are already at least two weeks behind and that will only get worse as contractors fall behind on other jobs as well. With less than eight weeks before the construction season ends, the cities may have to make some “bold moves” to get through the winter, such as using concrete to pave roads so they can be plowed in the coming months. On Sept. 4, contractors affiliated with MITA, a contractors association, informed members of Operating Engineers Local 324 (OE324), a road workers union currently working on road construction projects, that they should not report to work indefinitely. After the expiration of a five-year contract in June, the union has refused to bargain a new deal with MITA. Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of MITA, says the contractors association had reached out to OE 324 back in the spring to begin contract negotiations. Instead, the union sent a self-authored contract to the contractors and asked them to sign and return.“The demands in the contract were egregious,” Nystrom says. “They would put an established contractor out of business in short order.” OE324 members wanted to keep working without a contract while the contract dispute got sorted out, but the union contends that MITA has issued involuntary layoffs to strain workers’ wallets and force OE324 to come to the table. But as of today, there has still been no contract discussion between MITA and OE 324. Dan McKernan, a spokesman for OE324, says the layoffs have only galvanized their members against MITA, believing that a relationship with them provides little value to its members. OE324 would prefer to deal with contractors directly. “Our relationship with MITA has run its course,” McKernan says. “It has been damaging to our members and to our industry as a whole.” The only thing keeping workers off of construction sites is individual contractors obeying MITA’s labor lockout. McKernan says there is nothing that prevents the workers from returning to their projects other than the contractors’ hesitance to go against MITA’s wishes. If they call the workers, road construction can continue as usual until some sort of agreement can be reached. But if that doesn’t happen and these projects are still left hanging, the Michigan Department of Transportation can fine contractors for not finishing the work. That’s exactly what the department should do, given what’s at stake. While these factions are sitting on their hands, the traditional November frost date is fast approaching and will soon bring road construction to its annual halt. Given the short time-frame to complete these projects, the parties involved need to figure out a solution immediately.