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Union workers continue to strike against Rieth Riley

NOW: Union workers continue to strike against Rieth Riley

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- Nearly 200 workers in the state of Michigan who operate heavy equipment and asphalt plants are in the second week of a strike against contractor Rieth-Riley for alleged unfair labor practices.

Members of Operating Engineers 324 who work for Rieth-Riley construction are on strike for “fair treatment.”

Several members continue to picket outside the company’s Benton Harbor location.

OE324 officials say the workers have been without a contract for 14 months and are owed back pay.

The union says the unfair labor practices include an illegal lockout after Labor Day of last year, which halted construction projects throughout Michigan.

Officials add Rieth-Riley was the only contractor that did not sign a new contract with the union.

A statement  from the union says that Rieth-Riley denied workers unemployment benefits during the lockout and engaged in “bait-and-switch with wages”  when Rieth-Riley docked workers’ pay to take back money it had given to the workers in 2018.

“They’re mad and understandably so. They’re frustrated, they’re hurt,” said Dan McKernan Communication Director for OE324.

“It hit a point where the works said enough is enough, a strike is the only thing we have left,” he said.

Jim Teague is a construction worker; he says he relates to what the workers are going through.

“If they feel that’s how they’re being treated by their employer is unfair then that’s their right, and it’s their only recourse to strike,” Teague said. “Those guys go out and work out there every day. They put their lives on the line. It’s hard work, drivers don’t pay attention.”

The union says that will likely impact road projects across the state of Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Transportation says that half a dozen projects could be affected in Southwest Michigan, Including three in Berrien County along I-94 and M-51.

But, the union says  tax payers shouldn’t worry about additional dollars being taken out of their pocket books  as companies are responsible to complete projects at an agreed upon price.

“As these projects are slowed down, if the timelines have to change if anything the company will end up owing tax payers money back for going over the allotted amount of time,” said McKernan.

ABC57 reached out to Rieth-Riley for comment but did not receive a response.

The union has taken the process to the National Labor Relations Board. There is a trial set for October.

Officials say the end of the strike is unknown.

The union said negotiations continued into this week, but broke off.  Another negotiation date has not been set.

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