REGIONAL — A project to construct 100 wind turbines near Ivanhoe has provoked outrage among construction unions representing workers in and around southwest Minnesota, who say the project is largely being done by employees outsourced from out-of-state
Like many union leaders before him, Will Thomssen, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 agent, wanted to see for himself. He traveled to Lincoln County to scour the license plates of workers’ cars and saw plenty of California, Texas, Oregon and Nebraska, but not much Minnesota blue.
It was a surprising sight for the former operating engineer, who got his start in construction in 1999, running a crane for some of Minnesota’s first wind turbine construction projects near Lake Benton.
“We have the expertise to do these wind projects,” Thomssen said. “We built the first wind farms in the state, so we have a lot of workers who know what they’re doing and would love to do this project.”
Project director EDF Renewable Energy selected Indiana contractor IEA to erect the turbines, rather than a local union contractor that has hired locally in the past, such as M.A. Mortenson.
Nobody knows for sure how many local employees are on the project. Jinnie Hall, community relations manager for EDF, said the company does not have exact numbers yet, but estimated the number of local workers employed was somewhere in excess of 100. EDF has stated the project, dubbed Red Pine Wind, would employ somewhere around 350 employees total, giving it a ratio of about one local worker for every three.
Even with that ratio, union leaders are highly skeptical the number is that high.