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Working without contract: Oakland County road employees union pickets over dangerous conditions

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – The union representing Oakland County Road Commission workers held an informational picket today to raise serious safety concerns and call on Road Commission leaders to address safety concerns in contract negotiations. Road Commission workers have remained on the job without a contract for three years, working through the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation.

“Oakland County Road Commission employees have made countless sacrifices and worked faithfully to keep our roads and bridges safe through four winters and a global pandemic without a contract, said Kevin Besonen, Business Representative, Operating Engineers 324. “Their wages and benefits have been stagnant for four years, their safety protections are significantly lacking, and rather than show appreciation toward the dedication these employees have shown, the Oakland County Road Commission and its negotiators have slowed down the process and refused even basic requests.”

Operating Engineers 324, whom Road Commission of Oakland County employees ratified as their representation in early 2021, asked to meet May 3, 2021, to negotiate a new contract.  They were not offered a single meeting until August 2021.  Then the Commission representatives refused almost every additional date offered by OE324, who even made themselves available on evenings and weekends to encourage a swift negotiation.  It wasn’t until 2022, after OE324 filed an unfair labor practice charge on an unrelated matter, that the Road Commission finally offered 12 dates, which OE324 accepted.

These additional dates have led to minimal progress due to the Road Commission’s bargaining starting point of the old, expired contract which has not been updated since 2019 to reflect evolving conditions, such as inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic, safety concerns and more.

OE324 used today’s informational picket and public demonstration outside the Road Commission of Oakland County Southfield Facility to raise public awareness about the Road Commission’s refusal to negotiate a contract and preserve worker safety.

Since the start of negotiations, the workers have been unable to make progress with the Commissions representatives around a focus on workplace safety, including addressing work on open highways without adequate safety barriers and 16-hour shifts with 5.5 hours off.

OE324 also asked that a new contract include reasonable work schedules, allowances for time off and bereavement and job security provisions. Because no new contract has been ratified since 2019, Oakland County Road Commission employees have worked without a wage increase since 2018. The cumulative rate of inflation between 2018 to 2022 is 14.5 percent. Out-of-pocket health care costs went up 10 percent in 2021 and is expected to increase 9.9 percent every year for the next five years.

“Oakland County spends considerable time, money, and effort toward establishing themselves as a great community to live and work.  You could not prove this by the treatment the Road Commission employees have received at the bargaining table,” said Operating Engineers 324 President Ken Dombrow. “Rather than addressing serious safety concerns and financial hardships, the Commission and it’s representatives have chosen to play games while livelihoods are in the balance.”

“Residents and businesses of Oakland County should have real concerns about the way these road workers – the ones relied on to clear snow and fill potholes – are being treated.  These employees work tirelessly for the residents of Oakland County. They deserve safe conditions and a new contract immediately.”

A new contract would cover approximately 230 Oakland County road workers.