Elm Road Generating Station
By: Erika Duelge
A Powerful Example of Labor and Management Collaboration
It is the largest private construction project in state history – a vitally important endeavor that will literally help power Wisconsin. Yet getting the Elm Road Generating Station expansion underway was no simple feat. As far back as 1998, We Energies and the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council (MBCTC) started lobbying for statutory changes that would help secure the project. This effort became part of a larger endeavor known as “Power the Future” – We Energies’ strategy to meet the growing energy needs of their customers.
A good deal of advance work was needed to help make this project possible, and one important step was the labor and management trust developed by We Energies and MBTC. The trust concept stemmed from Lyle Balistreri, President of the MBTC, who noted a project in California that used a similar trust. Balistreri felt it was an important component to add to the Project Labor Agreement. The results thus far bear out the wisdom of creating this organization.
The trust is managed by two representatives from We Energies and two from labor. The trust is funded by one nickel of every hour worked, and covers administrative costs as well as safety education classes at the Port Washington Power Plant and Elm Road Generating Station, and making local charitable donations. In the last few years, the trust has donated $20,000 to the United Way for BIG STEP – which was matched by Bucyrus International – and another $20,000 to First Choice out of Racine.
When asked about the efforts put forth by the MBTC during the planning and execution of this project, Barry McNulty, We Energies Spokesperson said, “We would not have been successful without the Milwaukee Building Trades and the brothers and sisters in represented labor. This was a true example of partnership between We Energies and all of labor in the area.”
Ready, Set, Build
Once the expansion was approved, We Energies tapped Bechtel to act as the general contractor to manage the $2.2 billion project. “We are proud to be building one of the most efficient, coal-fired power plants in the world,” said Jim Betts, Bechtel’s Site Manager.
A total of 6.5 million cubic yards of dirt was moved to accommodate the expansion, helping to make it one of the largest turnkey projects in the US. Other interesting construction facts about this project:
- Workers dug a nearly two-mile tunnel under Lake Michigan for the water intake
- At one point during construction, there were more than 45 barges floating in the Chicago harbor waiting to deliver project materials
- During the peak of construction, the site employed more than 3,000 construction-related workers, many of whom were Building Advantage members
According to Balistreri, labor and management meet once a month to discuss safety and labor issues, manpower, and worker expectations. The ability for all parties involved to set processes that help the project move forward has been a positive experience. The many challenges at the beginning of this historic project were overcome thanks to continuous communication, unsurpassed work ethics and sound working relationships.
The result is a project that has boosted Wisconsin’s economy, helped thousands of Building Advantage members and their families financially, and has paved the way to a stronger future in the construction industry.