March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Union workers protest city project contracted out to non-Lansing workers. Mayor says everyone had an opportunity to bid.

Union workers and supporters protest a city construction project they say does not include local union labor. Sam Inglot/City Pulse
Monday, Feb. 25 — Roughly 150 union workers and supporters lined South Street just east of REO Town today to protest a city construction project they say is using out-of-city, non-union workers.

“These guys are going to make a couple thousand dollars working on this project. Where do you want that money spent? In Grand Rapids or Lansing?” asked Corey Hake, 40, a local journeyman structural ironworker.

The $4 million project in question is part of the city’s consolidated garage, which involves rehabbing the city recycling center on South Street near Cedar Street and consolidating three city fleet garages. There is also construction needed for two new buildings at the site, which are needed to house city vehicles. Construction work started in the fall. More on the project scope here.

Hake said most of the jobs at the project site went to non-union workers, which he believes is a “reoccurring” problem in the city.

“There is no reason to employ labor from Grand Rapids when there are plenty of guys here in Lansing looking for work,” he said.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said there was a bidding process for the project and both union and non-union contractors had a shot at contracts.

“Generally, what happens is stuff goes out to bid. Their union leadership knows this,” Bernero said. “We don’t just pick Virg’s friends. … We actually put it out for bid and we give it to lowest bidder.”

The protesters along the street carried signs that read, “Local jobs for local workers” and “Honk for local workers” in front of the city’s recycling garage. Several people held a banner that read: “Shame on the City of Lansing — Local jobs for local workers.”

“Local workers wanted to come down here and ask the city why this happened,” said Glenn Freeman, president of the Greater Lansing Labor Council.

Freeman said “from start to finish” the project could have had 200 to 230 union workers on site. Those are jobs that are now going to out-of-city workers, he said.

“A lot of people in Lansing are losing their cars and their homes and you’ve got jobs being doled out to people in Grand Rapids,” said Marc Crance, a business agent with a local ironworkers union.

Crance said the City Council and Bernero talk a big talk when it comes to “being local,” but projects like this prove otherwise.

Bernero disagrees: “I’m as pro labor as they come. But still, I work for the taxpayer. The union contractors had an opportunity to bid. I’m sorry they’re upset, but I have to get the best value for taxpayers.”