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Local News Summary - September 19, 2018 Edition

Contract dispute halts road projects
Orange barrels continue to line Michigan roadsides, but road workers aren’t among them. Many Michigan road projects were halted after a contractors’ association locked out unionized equipment operators because of delayed labor negotiations. Operating Engineers Local 324 has refused to negotiate a new contract, and the previous contract expired in June.

The lockout is affecting most of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s more than 150 construction projects throughout the state. The Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association has temporarily stopped workers until the union ratifies an agreement. A union representative is calling on the MITA to stop the involuntary layoffs of workers, who have been showing up for work every day.

An MDOT statement addressing the dispute said MDOT is not a party to the contract negotiations, and MDOT’s priorities remain the safety of workers and the traveling public as well as maintaining traffic to alleviate delays as much as possible.

MDOT has contractual specifications that address contractor responsibilities in the event of a labor dispute, and the contractors are obligated to maintain a safe work zone for motorists and are required to do so for the full duration of the project. The contracts call for MDOT to grant extensions because of labor disputes, much like provisions for acts of God. If that happens, contractors could incur costs, which would not be compensated.

“Officials at MDOT take delays very seriously, working hard to alleviate congestion and the inconvenience to drivers. So, of course, we hope the two sides reach agreement, soon,” the statement emphasized.

On Sept. 13, Governor Rick Snyder said he is consulting with the attorney general for guidance on whether the situation can be legally classified as a labor dispute, which would enable Snyder to take additional actions on behalf of Michigan residents. “This is a terrible situation, and the drivers of Michigan need both sides to sit down and resolve their differences, soon, so they can get back to work,” Snyder said in a news release. “This is an unprecedented work stoppage at a time when we are providing historic levels of funding for road and bridge projects in Michigan. I’m sure most Michiganders would agree with me that this makes no sense, and the parties involved need to get serious about resolving their differences.”

The attorney general’s opinion on whether the situation is legally a labor dispute would provide guidance on actions that MDOT might have to enforce contract provisions. Those actions would include activating or denying extensions of time provided for in the contracts and the possible related penalties for late completion. Snyder has also initiated work on other possible options the state could pursue, including legislation, court action or other remedies to require both sides in the road-building dispute to return to work on stalled projects.

One of the projects affected is the 14.2 mile stretch of M-32 from Atlanta west to Meridian Line Road in Vienna Township. The plan is to remove an inch and a half of existing surface and replace it with an overlay of blacktop. Doug Wilson, manager in MDOT’s Alpena office, said the preventative maintenance project also includes using a safety grant to widen a portion of road shoulder.

Contractors can hire non-union workers to finish projects, but Gery Hartmann, senior project manager for Payne and Dolan Inc., the contractor overseeing the local project, said doing so would not be feasible because of the amount of time it would take to hire and train personnel to complete projects up to MDOT standards.

“It’s very difficult to hire people off the street to run specialized equipment,” Hartmann told the Tribune. “The best thing to do is just wait it out. The union hasn’t been willing to sit down and negotiate. It’s very frustrating for all of us.”

Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, has called the work stoppage “simply unacceptable.”

“The negotiation tactics being acted out are hurting Michigan’s progress, and they threaten our state’s future. Both sides sitting at the table need to figure this out as soon as possible and get back to work,” Leonard said in a press release.

According to Leonard, the state legislature put more than a billion dollars in new funding into statewide road repairs, in recent years, and he pushed earlier this year for $175 million of the state’s budget surplus to be spent a year ahead of time so critical road repairs would get underway.

“But, none of that matters if the cement sits around gathering dust. Time is short. Let’s get these potholes filled, now,” Leonard said.

Medicare Savings Program scam alert
The Michigan Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) has been alerted to a statewide scam impacting low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries are receiving letters that appear to be sent by the Social Security Administration informing them they will no longer have their Part B premium paid for by the State of Michigan. The letter then directs them to call a number where they are informed they will need to pay the monthly premium and then are asked for bank routing information.

“It’s important that beneficiaries who receive the letters do not call the number,” said Susan Eagling Bowen, MMAP Regional Coordinator with the Region 9 Area Agency on Aging, a Division of NEMCSA. “For verification, they should call the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or the Social Security Administration (SSA).”

Even if someone is losing the Medicare Savings Program benefit, no monies will ever be taken from his or her account. The monthly premium, which is $134, is deducted from the social security benefit prior to being deposited at a beneficiary’s financial institution. If a beneficiary is not collecting social security benefits, s/he will be billed directly from the Social Security Administration.

“There is never a need for anyone to provide governmental agencies with banking information, such as account and routing numbers,” said Bowen. “If you have provided this information as a result of receiving the letter, you should contact your financial institution immediately and make them aware that your account has been compromised.”

In addition to contacting DHHS or SSA, Medicare beneficiaries can call certified MMAP counselors for free, unbiased information on Medicare issues and/or to report possible fraud. The number to do so is 800-803-7174 or call your local senior citizen center.

The Michigan State Health Insurance Assistance Program (MMAP) is a free service that is funded by grants from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services – the Administration for Community Living, the Michigan Aging and Adult Services Agency, and the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. SHIP/MMAP does not receive funding from, nor is it affiliated with, any insurance companies. SHIP/MMAP services are offered locally through the Region 9 Area Agency on Aging, a Division of the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency, Inc.

Wolverines break Hillman’s winning streak
The winning streak for the Hillman Tigers came to an end with a lashing from the Wolverines from Au Gres-Sims on Sept. 14. It’s the first year for 8-man football for both teams, and both were undefeated going into the game.

The action started with the Tigers in possession. A pass from Kory Henigan to Isaac Morrison earned a first down, but it would one of only six first downs for Hillman throughout the game. The Wolverines, however, were unstoppable. Zander Forton ran a touchdown for the Wolverines and caught the pass for the extra two to leave Hillman down by eight at the end of the first quarter. A couple more scores, one on a Caen Zeien keeper and one on a pass to Isaac Beardsley, boosted the Wolverines to a 20-point lead at the half.

The Wolverines had first possession in the second half, and they took full advantage. They started the drive on their own 40-yard line, and Ryan Schwiderson ran the distance on the first play to leave the Tigers down by 28. Hillman was forced to punt, and the Wolverines forged on with a TD pass to Beardsley and extra to put the Tigers in a running clock situation midway through the third.

Gunner Mellingen picked up three yards for the Tigers, but it was Gage Steinke who broke loose and dashed toward the end zone, where he was stopped 10 yards short. He picked up another six yards on a pass reception, and Henigan kept the ball for the honor of crossing the goal and breaking the silence of the Hillman fans.

The Wolverines set the running clock back in motion with a Zeien keeper, but Steinke broke free, once again, and sped 60 yards to first and goal on the five. Nash Steinke escorted the ball the rest of the way to put the game clock back to normal speed at the start of the final quarter.

Au Gres-Sims showed no mercy, though. Like déjà vu, Schwiderson relived his earlier glory with a 54-yard prance to the end zone on the first play of a Wolverine drive. The extra helped the game to the final score of 50-12, Wolverines. The Tigers travel to Charlton Heston Academy in St. Helen on Sept. 21 and host the Posen Vikings on Sept. 28, Hillman’s homecoming.

Death Notices
Eleanor J. Peter
Johanna J. Wittman
Cynthia A. Arbour
Judith A. Luczak

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