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Labor Management Education Committee – Lee Graham, Fall 2020

The Operating Engineers 324 Training Center in Detroit recently hosted the graduation for the juniors and seniors from Osborn, Cody & Pershing High Schools in Detroit for the 4th class of the Detroit Workforce of the Future (DWF). The virtual ceremony was kicked off with a greeting from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and was keynoted by Michigan State Senator Adam Hollier who represents the 2nd District and Detroit.

The students completed a 16-week course during the COVID-19 pandemic that included increased safety such as masks, distance (internet) learning and social distancing. The course included 10 weeks of OSHA training, the professional trades industry education and 6 weeks of paid work experience. Construction contractors that assisted with the work experience, included Ajax Paving Industries, Angelo Iafrate Construction, Artisian Tile, Blaze Construction, Cadillac Asphalt/Stoneco, C.A. Hull, Dan’s Excavating, Gayanga Construction, Leidal & Hart and Toebe. Each graduate received a toolbox with the tools being donated by partnering employers and trades. Students also participated in a community cleanup project where they used a variety of the skills learned to clear weeds and brush, build bus stop benches, paint fire hydrants and other tasks. Students were also given the opportunity to participate in work-shadowing days, like concrete paving at Detroit Metro Airport and construction at the FCA Jefferson construction site.

Like all successful talent development programs, DWF depends on the collaboration between education, workforce development and employers. Each year, the number of partners continue to grow. The Detroit Workforce of the Future and Career Readiness Coalition has carved a new pathway for students to go beyond Career Training Education. The coalition includes community groups, labor organizations, employers and associations. Jobs for Michigan Graduates had a primary role in the coalition.

Programs such as DWF are an important part of exposing and preparing high school students to make decisions about their postsecondary education and career choices. The students are able to learn about the importance of safety, teamwork, being drug-free, being engaged and also giving back to the community. Their world has been opened up to resources and opportunities that may be used for future connections in their career development.

The Fenton Area Public School Administrators spent the day with Operating Engineers 324 at our Construction Career Center on August 11th in Howell. During this time, we shared ways to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades as well as giving the administrators hands-on experience as a lift director, as a rigger, as a signals person and as the operator. The event continues to allow Operating Engineers 324 to partner with public schools by being able to give schools a hands-on experience. Administrators will be better prepared to educate on how a career in skilled trades relates to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and what other opportunities are available after high school.

If safety isn’t number one, there is no number two. Operating Engineers 324 is dedicated to doing any and everything in our power to ensure the safest working conditions for our members. This starts as an Apprentice and carries through retirement. We teach safety. Most importantly, we adapt and grow our safety training to meet new challenges every day.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything across the globe since it was first discovered in late 2019. In Michigan, we were particularly hard-hit early and the response was drastic. Some were deemed “essential workers” and could continue working, but many more were sidelined for a period. Now that most business sectors have restarted in some capacity, there are many more requirements around public health.

Because of this and our dedication to worker safety, OE324 customized an existing web application to assist members and contractors learn about COVID-19 and be safe on the jobsite. We also use the application at our three Operating Engineers 324 Career Centers.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Response Training Tool is a multi-level interface where the user learns how to avoid exposure and prevent spread of the virus. Each level comes with multiple resource materials, graphics and best practices. At the end of each level, the user is required to take a quiz on what they have learned and can proceed to the next part, only after they have achieved 100% on the quiz. Upon completion of the  total application, a shareable certificate is presented.

We have customized the application for OE324, including relevant MIOSHA information, and included references to both the Construction and Stationary sides of our membership. We are proud to be partners on this app and to be able to share it with you. It is easily accessible at and we hope that it helps Operating Engineers throughout the state stay healthy and safe.

The Great Lakes Michigan Jobs Coalition has continued to advance the cause of a new Great Lakes Tunnel beneath the Mackinac Straits to house the Line 5 pipeline. OE324 joined the coalition because we know how essential Line 5 is to the work we do every day and to the jobs and livelihood of our members. Now that Jay Dee Construction has been named the contractor for the project, we also know how many good Operating Engineer 324 jobs its construction will create.

The tunnel will be a $500 million, privately funded project, that will create a landmark built to last generations. It will improve the safety of Line 5 by removing it from the water and enclosing it in a safe concrete tunnel well below the lakebed.

Nearly all Michiganders have come to rely on the energy Line 5 delivers. For many families, it supplies the propane that heats their homes. For area refineries, it provides the oil to produce the fuel that keeps Michigan moving. For manufacturers, it provides the raw material to make everything from electronics to clothing to medical equipment.

Line 5 also transports the fuel it takes to run the equipment we use every day in rebuilding Michigan roads and bridges. An interruption of service from Line 5 would have serious economic impact on the cost of fuel in Michigan. It takes fuel to run the dozers, the excavators, the cranes and the trucks necessary to make roads safe for families to drive on. In short, it requires fuel to employ not only Operating Engineers, but tens of thousands of skilled workers throughout the state.

Great Lakes Michigan Jobs is a coalition that brings together labor, business, and government entities to support the pipeline project as it works its way through the permitting and approval process. We have given testimony in Lansing, provided opinion statements in the media and submitted letters of support to the various boards reviewing the permits.

We look forward to help keep the project moving forward and continuing our partnership with Great Lakes Michigan Jobs in making sure our voices are heard.

In closing, I would like to take a moment to recognize and congratulate Dan Boone, Curt Utterback and Zane Hubbard on their retirement. It is well deserved with your many years outstanding service to the Operating Engineers 324. I wish you all a long, healthy and happy retirement!

Lee Graham
Executive Director
Labor-Management Education Committee