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Operating engineers protest against contractor that cheated workers

Operating engineers protest against contractor that cheated workers

Indiana company faces charges of unfair labor practices

HOWELL, Mich. – Observing recommended COVID-19 precautions and practicing social distancing, Operating Engineer 324 members have resumed picketing a construction company that faces charges of mistreating its workers, and demanded Rieth-Riley Construction resume negotiating a contract. The heavy machinery operators have been without a contract since June 1, 2018.

Based in Goshen, Ind., Rieth-Riley is also accused of locking out its workers in September 2018 and engaging in other activities intended to intimidate workers, resulting in charges from the National Labor Relations Board.  Members went on strike against Rieth-Riley in July of 2019 because of these charges.

“These hardworking operating engineers who have been treated unfairly and whose livelihoods have been affected deserve to have their voices heard,” said Douglas Stockwell, Operating Engineers 324 Business Manager. “While we await the decision of the National Labor Relations Board, operating engineers are asking Rieth-Riley to resolve the unfair labor practices, return to the bargaining table, and negotiate a contract in good faith so operating engineers can get back to work and Rieth-Riley can continue benefiting from the best-skilled workers around.”

Most recently, Operating Engineers picketed in Owosso and Battle Creek at Rieth-Riley job sites on June 17-19. With the coronavirus pandemic still affecting Michigan and the nation, the protesting workers wore face masks and kept 6 feet apart from each other to reduce COVID-19 transmissions.

“Operating Engineers have poured their hearts and souls into helping make Rieth-Riley a successful construction company and Rieth-Riley should hear them and make amends for the unfair labor practices they committed,” said Ken Dombrow, OE324 president. “These heavy machine operators who are striking and speaking up and doing it safely should be recognized for their bravery and their strength because they are also asking for hardworking men and women all across Michigan to be treated with respect and dignity.”

The OE324 members have faced several aggressive activities from the company since June 2018 alleged to be unlawful by the NLRB that could result in the company paying more than $1.8 million in back pay. They include:

  • A controversial lockout on Sept. 4, 2018, that stalled construction projects across Michigan. Workers who traveled to worksites with company vehicles were stranded at locations throughout Michigan, sometimes hundreds of miles from home. The NLRB investigated and alleges that Rieth-Riley committed an unfair labor practice because the lockout violated the National Labor Relations Act. The lockout ended only after Michigan’s governor at the time intervened.
  • Engaging in what appears to be a bait-and-switch with wages when Rieth-Riley docked workers’ pay – to take back money it had given to the workers in 2018. The practice of taking away pay to offset money paid to workers in an earlier period is alleged to violate the National Labor Relations Act.

Dan McKernan, OE324 communications director, said: “Rieth-Riley used shady, strong-arm tactics to intimidate and harass its own workers. This out-of-state company claims to be employee-owned, yet for two years, it has silenced its own workers, stolen from them and thrown them under the bus. Rieth-Riley is not acting in good faith and Michigan workers will not stand for it.”