In Mississippi, a dying project is being given new life as developers turn to union halls for help.
Mississippi Power’s new 582-Megawatt project in Kemper County faced serious logistical struggles when non-union contractors fell behind on the $4 billion utility build. In order to meet the original deadline of December 2013, Mississippi Power affiliate Southern Co. Services turned to union pipefitters, welders, ironworkers, electricians and millwrights. Burns & Roe, monitors of the project for the Mississippi Public Utilities, still doubts the project can be completed on time because of how deep a hole the non-union contractors dug:
Burns & Roe “is very concerned that the project cannot find the appropriate number of craft,” the consultant said in its most recent report. It said Mississippi Power and SCS initially underestimated by half the 10.6 million man-hours of skilled labor needed to build the project and that the pace of monthly progress through March had been only three-fifths what is needed to finish the job on time.
Pipefitting—the “No. 1 concern,” the consultant said—is falling “further and further behind the project schedule.” SCS has added three new piping fabricators, asked the local union pipefitters to provide up to 300 welders and boosted craft pay, Burns & Roe said.
SCS also has received a union commitment of 300 electricians, if needed, the consultant said.
The biggest hurdle facing the new workers is a lack of room to work:
The multiple schedule items that continue to be delayed … will cause a tremendous ‘stacking of trades’ effect.” Even though the site is “large and spread out, the area work spaces are limited, making it difficult to perform work tasks effectively.”Currently, 600 union workers are on the job site with unions pledging to provide more men and women when needed. Anti-union advocates are wielding public relations mojo to deflect blame for the failure of the project:
I don’t think Southern turned to union labor to get the project back on track,” says C.J. “Buddy” Edens, president and CEO of the Mississippi chapter of the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC). Edens says the project has suffered from poor planning, not poor performance by non-union contractors or workers.Mr. Edens and his ABC-affiliated workers can call it what they want. They just won’t be able to use the house phone on the Kemper County power project job site anymore.