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Published: Thursday, 12/14/2006

Skyway firm gives pink slips to 86 workers

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Fru-Con Construction Co., the general contractor building the $220 million Veterans' Glass City Skyway, is laying off about half its work force as winter weather arrives and the project nears its completion.

ODOT and labor union officials were notified yesterday morning that 86 of the 193 Fru-Con-employed workers at the I-280 site would be working their last day.

Mike Gramza, the Ohio Department of Transportation's project manager, said Fru-Con representatives told him that the layoff was seasonal in nature, with some laid-off workers likely to be recalled in the spring.

He also said the contractor has not changed its work plan for the winter and still faces a March 2 deadline to open the bridge to traffic or pay a $20,000 daily penalty.

Transportation department officials hope to meet with Fru-Con officials soon to review the contractor's project completion plan because the layoffs came as a surprise, ODOT spokesman Andrea Voogd said.

Carpenters took the biggest hit, with 33 of the 46 working on the project laid off, while only 17 of 71 ironworkers - the largest trade at the bridge site - got pink slips yesterday.

Dan Morey, the business representative for the Ohio and Vicinity Regional Council of Carpenters, said Fru-Con has reduced manpower during previous winters, but this layoff was bigger and came sooner than expected.

Workers from four United Brotherhood of Carpenters locals were affected, as was the one worker from the UBC-affiliated pile drivers union.

"Originally, [Fru-Con was] telling our members, don't expect any [work] after Dec. 22," Mr. Morey said.

Fru-Con did inquire yesterday about the laid-off workers' potential availability to return to the project in the spring, he said.

Joe Blaze, the business manager for Ironworkers Local 55, said the layoffs came as no surprise at all to him.

The project is "nearing the end, and that's what happens when you're nearing the end," Mr. Blaze said, adding that some ironworkers might be recalled in the spring.

The other layoffs include 16 masons, 10 heavy-equipment operators, and nine laborers.

Fru-Con, based in Ballwin, Mo., referred an interview request back to ODOT.

The new I-280 bridge's main span over the Maumee River is nearly complete.

ODOT officials expect to hoist its last prefabricated concrete deck segments into place by early next week, and two of 20 stay cables remain to be strung. The bridge is expected to be structurally complete by early next month.

But structural completion will not constitute immediate readiness for traffic.

Tasks still to be done, Mr. Gramza said, include erecting lighting equipment in the bridge's main pylon, adding tension to steel tendons that have not already received it, completing parapet walls and railings, and installing signs and lights.

There is also extensive finishing work to be done on the driving surface, including plugging small holes drilled for construction maneuvering, sealing cracks and expansion joints, and grinding the deck to smooth it, the project manager said.

Some of that work is weather-dependent.

While ODOT's project schedule calls for mid-spring completion, the contractor hopes to have the bridge open to traffic sooner than that, Mr. Gramza said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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