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Labor leaders want share of ATC utility work

By Paul Snyder
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Wisconsin’s union managers want to know if their laborers will get a piece of the $200 million in construction work American Transmission Co. LLC contracted out to two out-of-state firms.

“We’d much rather have seen local contractors given the chance,” said Scott Vaughn, executive director of the Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin. “We’d like to see our cement masons out there doing the foundations for the towers and our ironworkers erecting them.”

If Wisconsin workers are to have a chance at the ATC work, they’ll have to pin their hopes to M.J. Electric LLC, Iron Mountain, Mich., and Henkels & McCoy Inc., Blue Bell, Pa. The two firms won the four-year contracts with Waukesha-based ATC to build transmission lines and substations.

The contract agreements, announced Tuesday, are ATC’s first step toward completing its nearly $2.5 billion, 10-year upgrade of transmission systems in Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

ATC’s choice of M. J. and Henkels came after a lengthy vetting process that focused on each company’s records on safety, environmental work and cost-effectiveness, said ATC spokeswoman Jackie Olson. She said nine companies submitted proposals for the contracts, though she refused to give the names of those companies.

Michels Power, a division of Neenah-based Michels Corp., has worked with ATC on previous projects and will continue to work with ATC, said Chris Deschane, Michels’ business development manager. He would not say if the company lost a shot at the ATC contracts, but he said there is enough other work going on to keep Michels busy.

One way or another, Wisconsin workers will get jobs on the ATC projects, said Forrest Ceel, business manager and financial secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2150.

VIEW A LIST OF FUTURE ATC PROJECTS IN WISCONSIN

“We’ve worked with both contractors before,” he said of M.J. and Henkels. “We’ll work with companies whether they’re coming from an office right down the street or a couple states over.”

Mike Bellcock, IBEW Local 2150’s business manager, said M. J. and Henkels have worked in Wisconsin and have hired Wisconsin laborers. He said he expects that to continue.

“Both are signatory to our labor agreement,” Bellcock said. “It behooves them to take advantage of local workers.”

Representatives from M.J. and Henkels were unavailable to comment before deadline Wednesday on project plans or the number of jobs that could be available for Wisconsin workers.

But even if IBEW workers get a crack at the transmission projects, there are no guarantees other Wisconsin unions will get work, said Vaughn of the trades council. That’s particularly difficult to accept, he said, considering one of ATC’s projects, the 345-kilovolt Rockdale to West Middleton line, is practically in the trades council’s backyard. The project is expected to start in 2011.

“It’s very frustrating to potentially not have any access to that,” Vaughn said. “We’re focusing on any job we can get in this region right now, and that’s a big one.”

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