Unions back plan for new public bridge

By Brent Snavely, Alisa Priddle and Nathan Bomey
Detroit Free Press Business Writers

Unions on both sides of the border support a new publicly owned international bridge and are surprised that UAW President Bob King might not.

“I am shocked,” said Canadian Auto Workers President Ken Lewenza, who was planning to call King on Friday for clarification. “Until I talk to Bob, I won’t believe it.”

Lewenza said the New International Trade Crossing “is the most significant infrastructure project in Canadian history. The CAW supports the bridge.”

Mike Jackson, executive secretary-treasurer of the 14,000-member Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, said Friday the new bridge “seemed like a no-brainer to us” and would put many of its members back to work.

“We believe it’s a game-changer, we really do,” he said.

King was expected to return from South Korea on Friday. But the UAW provided no updates on its stand as of Friday evening.

Lewenza and Jackson are among those who reacted to media reports Friday that the UAW and Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun have discussed a deal that would have the billionaire donate to the Proposal 2 campaign, a labor-sponsored ballot initiative, in exchange for the UAW’s support for Proposal 6, which is designed to scuttle Gov. Rick Snyder’s plans for a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Proposal 6 would require a statewide vote for Michigan to spend money on international crossings. And Proposal 2 would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.

The People Should Decide, the Moroun-backed group pushing Proposal 6, said reports of an alliance were nothing but “rumors and speculation.” The statement from Mickey Blashfield, Moroun’s director of governmental affairs, did not deny the reports.

The UAW has not taken an official position on Proposal 6.

It’s unclear how much money would go into backing the UAW effort, how it would be spent or how effective UAW higher-ups could be in delivering votes for Moroun’s Proposal 6, if a deal was consummated.

Many key labor groups on both sides of the border support the proposed new public bridge because it could create up to 10,000 construction jobs.

The bridge’s labor supporters include the Michigan State AFL-CIO, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, Canadian Auto Workers, Utility Workers Union of America Local 223, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 and Canadian Teamsters Local 879.

Jackson said Friday he had not spoken to King, but said the possibility of a UAW deal with Moroun was perplexing.

One contentious issue for the labor community has been where workers and materials will come from for the massive international project that would span two countries.

Some union activists have grumbled that Snyder approved a waiver allowing the bridge to be built with steel from Canada and the U.S. But Jackson said the carpenters group supports the measure.

“I think it’s fair,” he said. “I mean, Canada is putting up the initial money. I think it’s a little ridiculous to expect Canada to pay for it but not be able to use any Canadian steel.”

On the Canadian side, the CAW and the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, a group of automakers, suppliers, unions, academics and politicians, have said the countries should use domestic content, employees and businesses.

Lewenza said bidding for contracts always creates controversy, but the bounty of work should be shared and balanced.

“The two sides should have a shared opportunity to supply steel and labor as part of the stimulus even though the Canadian government is fronting all the money,” Lewenza said. The Detroit Three automakers along with many major Michigan companies, including Meijer and Kellogg, also back the new bridge because it’s expected to make it easier to ship parts across the border.

Chrysler moves more than 1,300 parts shipments, 2,000 cars and trucks and logs more than 1,600 customs entries daily.

Billed as an enabler of future economic growth, the new bridge would offer direct freeway-to-freeway connections on both sides of the border.

That would eliminate massive traffic jams in Windsor along a stretch of many traffic lights between the Ambassador Bridge and Canada’s 401 highway.

Ford’s strong support of a new border crossing is unchanged, said spokesman Todd Nissen. The automaker opposes Proposal 6 and is neutral on Proposal 2.

“GM supports a New International Trade Crossing spanning the Detroit River,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said in a statement. “This initiative is necessary to ensure the region’s ongoing competitiveness and quick, reliable and cost-effective transportation.