With many state highway projects’ schedules being pushed, more and more road workers are seeking out jobs on private projects, says the head of the largest construction-industry union in the state.
Terry McGowan, president and business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, said Thursday that the recent string of road-project delays has given rise to a great deal of uncertainty. That, combined with a patch of bad weather, has many people in the road-building industry looking for work outside of public jobs, he said.
“It’s creating a really ugly situation,” McGowan said.
The latest delay to a long-planned road project came this week with the release of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s advertisement for its September bid letting. A department official confirmed that the work in question was related to the ongoing reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange just west of downtown Milwaukee. According to WisDOT’s master contract schedule, which lists projects likely to be included in future lettings, the Zoo Interchange project in question called for construction and resurfacing work along Interstate 94 and Moorland Road in Waukesha County.
Also excluded from the September letting was a contract to perform emergency bridge-rehabilitation work in Juneau County. Department officials expect to formally advertise that project on Aug. 22.
These delays come after four others projects – all of them related either to the Zoo Interchange or Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Illinois – were deferred in the department’s August letting. Only one of them, a project calling for the reconstruction of I-94’s interchange with Ryan Road, was added back into WisDOT’s immediate plans with the September letting.
WisDOT officials have seen the state’s highway money dwindle in recent weeks as lawmakers struggle to pass a new two-year budget. Wisconsin’s previous spending plan expired on June 30. Without a new budget in place, the state continues to run on a “base-level” of funding that does not include the sort of new bonding that many road projects depend on.
McGowan said the budget struggles are having real consequences for the union members he represents. At a Local 139 meeting in Pewaukee on Wednesday evening, he was told by several people that they had “migrated” from road jobs to working on buildings and underground utilities.
“The road industry has been unreliable,” he said.
McGowan also mentioned that operating engineers are disheartened when they hear that some lawmakers want to repeal what remains of the state’s prevailing-wage laws. Uncertain that they will be able to continue making a decent wage on public jobs, many have decided to try their luck in the private sector.Follow @alexzank