After the federal government temporarily halted construction on a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline project in North Dakota, disputes continue, pitting protesters against construction crews and unions against each other.
While work is paused on 40 miles of the route around Lake Oahe, protesters continue regular actions on pipeline right-of-way where construction is still underway. Glen Johnson, business manager at Operating Engineers Local 49, West Fargo, N.D., says workers see jobsite protests on an almost daily basis, especially northwest of Lake Oahe. “When they [construction workers] see the protesters coming, they have to evacuate the jobsite,” he says. “People are losing a lot of [work] hours.”
Labor unions are taking differing positions on the pipeline project and the ongoing protests. In a Sept. 3 letter to President Obama, general presidents from the operating engineers, laborers, plumbers, electricians and Teamsters unions reinforced AFL-CIO project support, asking the administration to “approve the easement for the remaining section of the Dakota Access project without delay.”
Four other AFL-CIO unions—Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, National Nurses United and the American Postal Workers Union— recently released statements in support of the protests, opposing the AFL-CIO’s stance.
Building Trades President Sean McGarvey chided the dissenting unions in a letter to AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, claiming that some of the roughly 4,500 AFL-CIO members employed on the project have been attacked and harassed by protesters and that property and equipment have been vandalized. The dissenting unions “should have had the decency to check with the Building Trades or any of its affiliated AFL-CIO unions before once again jumping into a manufactured debate at the 11th hour.”