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August 3, 2009

Employment numbers continue to be a downer

First half of 2009 shows immense drop in construction activity

Much, much better working space set for the A2 Municipal Center

Businesses with house in order 'have nothing to fear' from EFCA

Obama supporting, not yet pushing, Employee Free Choice Act

Solis to unionists: go out to push for Employee Free Choice Act

Scrubbers, SCRs will further clean the air at Detroit Edison's Monroe Power Plant


Employment numbers continue to be a downer

Michigan, once again, leads the nation in total unemployment (15.2 percent) according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released July 17. (No state since West Virginia in 1984 had topped 15 percent unemployment).

That bad news also extends into the construction industry. Many Michigan building trades unions that have been experiencing 50 percent unemployment for the last several months now have plenty of company in the misery index, with nearly every state shedding construction jobs - some at alarmingly high rates.

The BLS provided numbers that are a snapshot of state-by-state unemployment for when the nation's economy was relatively stable (June 2008) to June 2009, when the economy has been anything but steady. Michigan shed 28,200 construction jobs from June 2008 to June 2009 (an 18.4 percent reduction), but six states did as badly or worse during that time: Arizona (25.5 percent reduction in construction jobs); Nevada (22.6 percent); Connecticut (21.7 percent); Tennessee (19.8 percent), and Utah (18.4 percent).

Only in North Dakota (5 percent rise) and Louisiana (4 percent) did construction employment increase from June 2008 to June 2009.

"The Recovery Act will start mitigating job losses in all states for the rest of the year and into 2010," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. "But the worsening state and local fiscal picture, along with continued sluggishness in the private sector, means that nonresidential construction work will keep shrinking."

He added: "Single-family homebuilders appear finally to have touched bottom and should begin hiring on net. However, the multi-family market remains moribund, with weak demand, excessive supply in many states and no credit availability."

Simonson urged Congress to act quickly on transferring money into the federal Highway Trust Fund to avert interruption of payments to highway contractors that would force more layoffs. He also called for prompt enactment of pending authorization bills for highways and transit, aviation and water projects, along with passage of appropriations bills that include federal construction.

"All of these bills will deliver both short- and long-term benefits to the American public, while providing desperately needed jobs for construction workers in every state," he added.


First half of 2009 shows immense drop in construction activity

Overall U.S. construction activity in the 12 months leading up to June 2009 dropped 27 percent compared to the same period through June 2008, according to a July 21 report by McGraw-Hill Construction.

The year-to-date numbers are even worse: through the first six months of 2009, total U.S. construction came in at $195.4 billion, down 36% from the same period a year ago. On a monthly basis, new U.S. construction starts in June dropped 7 percent after a 7 percent rise in May activity.

"The construction start figures appear to be moving more towards an up-and-down pattern," stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "The bad news is that the overall volume of activity remains very weak; the good news is that if an up-and-down pattern is in fact being established, it marks a shift from the steady decline witnessed during the second half of 2008 and into early 2009.

"Just how this pattern for total construction evolves during the second half of 2009 will depend on what's likely to be a varied performance by major construction sectors. Nonresidential building, hampered by the weak economy and tight bank lending, should see further erosion. On the plus side, the boost to public works from the federal stimulus funding has only begun to emerge, with more gains to come. And, single family housing has seen modest strengthening during the spring, suggesting that the bottom for this structure type was reached earlier in 2009."

By region, the twelve months ending June 2009 showed the Midwest and South Central each down 20 percent. The South Atlantic was down 33%, while the West and
Northeast were each down 30%.



Much, much better working space set for the A2 Municipal Center

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - A few things have changed in the law enforcement and justice system since the building now housing the city's police and courts was built in 1963.

Well, maybe more than a few. That's why construction manager Clark Construction and the building trades are in the process of erecting a new police and court building, and then repairing and renovating the 1963 structure that sits next door.

Construction began last spring on the Ann Arbor Municipal Center, and the entire project is expected to be complete in May2011.

The new building at Huron and Ann Streets is going up on a lot on the west side of the Larcom Building, which houses the existing city hall, police and court operations. The new five-story, 103,000-square-foot structure will house the Ann Arbor Police Department on two floors, and 15th District Court on two other floors.

When construction is complete on the new structure and police and court operations have moved in, the next phase will involve complete remodeling of the old Larcom Building's basement (for police lockers and storage) first floor (for public service areas including an expanded lobby and customer service), as well as necessary renovations to the sixth floor (to accommodate staff relocating from leased space elsewhere).

"We're working in a small area, on a tight site, and we're working on the same footprint of land with a completely occupied building, with a fire station next door," said Clark Project Manager Kyle Jobin. "That's the most challenging part of the job."

There are a number of inadequacies of the current police/court setup. According to city documents justifying the new construction, the current court space, in the Washtenaw County Courthouse, does not separate the public from potentially violent offenders, does not provide adequate security for prisoner transport nor does it allow for sufficient holding space during court proceedings. The courts also have increased space needs over the years due to increased caseloads.

Police services are currently located in an area of the Larcom City Hall that is "badly deteriorating and requires significant infrastructure updates," city documents said. The area has insufficient meeting and interview space, and oftentimes after it rains, the ceiling leaks. There are air quality issues and black mold in many areas of the police facility. The new construction and renovation will bring the people of Ann Arbor much more respectable public space.

"The Ann Arbor Municipal Center construction project is a product of years of debate and exploration into the housing of the 15th Judicial District Court, which under Michigan Law, the City of Ann Arbor is required to fund, as well as addressing inadequate space for Ann Arbor Police Services, which have been housed in the Larcom City Hall building since 1963," said Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser. "The new building…will better serve our citizens by allowing consolidation of all City downtown staff and services into one central location."

Said Jobin: "It's a nice project, it's going well. The trades, the subcontractors, I can't complain about anything at all. They've been great."

THE BUILDING TRADES are erecting a much-needed addition to Ann Arbor's City Hall - and then much of the City Hall building will be renovated.

IRON WORKERS 25's Dave Hawkins installs metal decking on the 103,000-square-foot addition to the Ann Arbor Municipal Center.


Businesses with house in order 'have nothing to fear' from EFCA

By Sean McGarvey
AFL-CIO Building & Construction Trades Department

In a recent edition of Newsweek, a small business owner named Kevin Kelly opined that our nation would, indeed, be better off if we were devoid of any and all labor unions. Mr. Kelly made this point in reference to his contention that the proposed "Employee Free Choice Act" would cripple American small businesses - in his words, "the backbone of the American economy." In both instances, Mr. Kelly is flat wrong.

In his article, Mr. Kelly recounts the story of how his family vacation was interrupted when he got a call from his assistant who told him that an OSHA inspector had shown up at their manufacturing facility. In Mr. Kelly's warped world view, a visit by an OSHA inspector could only mean one thing: a union organizing campaign. Yes, that's right - Mr. Kelly is indicative of a mindset that suggests that an entire federal agency exists at the beck and call of organized labor to solely assist it in organizing businesses such as his.

Maybe…just maybe…that OSHA official stopped by because of the agency's "National Emphasis Program on Amputations" which was reissued in 2006, and is designed and being implemented to identify and reduce workplace machinery and equipment hazards which are causing, or likely to cause, amputations. One of the industries in which OSHA was targeting workplace inspections for amputation hazards was, you guessed it, the bag manufacturing industry. Some of the targeted machinery and equipment identified as possible dangers for amputations include: benders, rollers and shapers, press brakes, casting machinery, conveyor belts - in other words, the types of machinery and equipment found in a bag manufacturing!

But, let's just accept - for the sake of argument - Mr. Kelly's paranoia that the visit from the OSHA inspector was the result of a fledgling union organizing drive. In his Newsweek op-ed, Mr. Kelly gives an account of how his employees first de-certified a union from his plant then, three years later, his company had to endure another union organizing campaign. In his own words, he says, "Truthfully, we hadn't been prepared for life without a union. We didn't build a human resources department, we failed to craft a wage scale to guarantee timely increases, and we didn't reach out enough to hear employee concerns."

In others words, as Mr. Kelly freely admits, his company was a target for union organization because they did a shabby job of managing their workforce and treating their employees with respect and dignity.

Mr. Kelly then goes further. The prospect of the Employee Free Choice Act actually becoming law has, "inspired some companies to act. One business in my city has started to pay more attention to employee communication, publishing a monthly newsletter and holding meetings with shifts to explain how the company is doing."

Another company, Mr. Kelly explains, "has gone so far to hire a firm to conduct an employee survey so he can idetify and resolve any festering problems."

So, the threat of increased unionization is forcing many employers to actually act like decent bosses? That, my friends, is the beauty of the uniquely American concept known as "checks and balances." The concept of "checks and balances" comes from our Constitution. The different branches of the government "check" each other's power so that no one branch has more power than the other. The same is true in the business world. Labor unions, by definition, offer a check to the far-too-often propensity for business owners and corporations to abuse their workers in pursuit of greater bottom-line profits.

Mr. Kelly even acknowledges this when he concludes that the union organizing drive experienced by his company "certainly woke me up. Almost overnight we quickly overhauled our employee relations. We put a pay scale in place so that raises occurred in a timely manner and not just at the whim of a manager." Good for you, Mr. Kelly. If thousands upon thousands of other business owners and corporations adopted such a management philosophy from the get go…then the prospect of the Employee Free Choice Act would elicit nothing more than a collective yawn.

Unfortunately, that is not the reality. The vast proportion of the business community sees this legislation as some type Armageddon; where its passage will accelerate the decline of businesses all across the nation. Whenever a business owner speaks of the Employee Free Choice Act (or climate change legislation or health care reform, for that matter), he or she inevitably will draw upon the most over-used, enduring lie in American politics: these policies will kill the job-creating machine of American small business.

As Washington Post business writer Steven Pearlstein pointed out recently in relation to the small business community being up in arms over a proposed "employer mandate" provision with regard to health care reform, "…one reason small business created all those jobs in the first place is that they enabled big companies with generous health plans to outsource work to small companies that had lower cost structures because they offered no (health) insurance at all. If simply requiring those small businesses to offer health insurance would wipe out that cost advantage and drive them out of business, then maybe those companies weren't the great engines of innovation and efficiency that they always claimed they were."

I cannot speak for any other industry, but in the U.S. construction industry the employers who are signatory to union contacts are typically enterprises with 10 or less employees. By anyone's measure, these are small businesses. Yet, they manage to not only survive, but thrive, even when offering generous and competitive pay and benefits packages.

How does this happen?

Because our unions and our contractors have a labor-management model that should be copied and embraced by other industries. First, we jointly operate the world's most successful and admired skill craft training infrastructure that ensures a steady supply of highly skilled, highly productive workers.

Secondly, we constantly work with our signatory contractors, as well as construction users, to find new ways to foster greater efficiencies and productivity on the jobsite.

And finally, we have adopted a firm, non-negotiable attitude of professionalism that encourages each of our members and local unions to be wholly accountable not only to their employers, but to themselves and to their brothers and sisters in their union. In our world, the actions of one affect the prospects of many.

So, to Mr. Kelly and the many others in the business community who lie awake at night in great fear of the Employee Free Choice Act, I say this: get your own house in order and you have nothing to fear. And to those business owners who refuse to adapt, and who continue to embrace a business model that is predicated upon squeezing out profits through worker mistreatment and abuse, I can only say that you, and your employees, deserve the union that you get.


Obama supporting, not yet pushing, Employee Free Choice Act

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

(PAI) - Top union leaders, headed by AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney and Change To Win Chair Anna Burger, discussed health care and the Employee Free Choice Act in a 45-minute closed-door meeting with Democratic President Barack Obama on July 13.

And while Obama reiterated his support for the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's top legislative priority, he did not give specific promises on what he would do to help push it past the planned GOP filibuster in the Senate, aides to one of the union leaders, CWA President Larry Cohen, said.

Obama, did, however, say "he would do everything he could" on both issues, the CWA aide added.
The White House called the meeting "a productive conversation about shared priorities like creating jobs, health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act." And that's all it said.

The unionists, members of the National Labor Coordinating Committee - a group of leaders established April 7 as a first step towards fostering labor movement unity - were more expansive. So was Cohen, the AFL-CIO Legislative Committee Chair, in a statement on his union's website and in a verbal duel with Chamber of Commerce vice president for labor affairs Randel Johnson on The Newshour With Jim Lehrer.

"We spoke with a unified voice today to the president as we discussed progress on issues that are so important to working families, including the 16 million working Americans in our unions," the group said after the meeting. Health care topped the chart. Another participant, AFT President Randi Weingarten, said later the overall economy and pensions also came up. She referred questioners to the joint statement.

"We are working hard with Congress and the president to win health care for every American. We support a robust quality public plan option that will lower costs and ensure that Americans without coverage can get it. We believe all employers should participate in a universal plan," the unionists' statement continued.

"We also believe we can create universal coverage without taxing the benefits of workers. The last thing working people can stand as they struggle with health costs is new taxes on their benefits - especially during these times of economic hardship.

"We also talked about the Employee Free Choice Act, which will restore the middle class by giving workers the choice to bargain, not borrow, their way to a better life. We look forward to its passage, giving workers a proven path to fairer wages, benefits, and a secure retirement," they declared.

After praising the $787 billion economic stimulus law - and telling Obama it "should be substantially reinforced with more stimulus, creating millions of good jobs that cannot be outsourced," the unionists added they agree with Obama "that unions are a key part of the solution to fixing this economic mess."

Obama, however, is cool to a second stimulus, as are many congressional Democrats. He says the first one needs time to work and show its results.

"Obama was elected because Americans want an economy that works for every-one again. We look forward to working with him to make that happen," the group said.

Cohen added some details. ""In every other industrial democracy, working people have the full right to voice and a seat at the table. Restoring that right to American workers through the Employee Free Choice Act will help rebuild the middle class and move our economy forward. In the same way, real health care reform that addresses our current flawed system will boost our economy," he said. "All unions of the National Labor Coordinating Committee are united on these critical issues."
In the TV debate with Johnson, Cohen also said unions "support a process" for workplace recognition "where they (workers) could be deciding on the" union election authorization "card, or they could even mail it in."
"The workers themselves get the choice" between majority signup and an NLRB-run election, Cohen said on the program. After reiterating his seat-at-the-table point, Cohen said doing that means "labor and management can get together to get the economy back on track" - a statement the hostile Johnson did not even reply to.

Asked why business was so violently against majority signup - the key "card check" provision - Johnson admitted majority signup would work. "It makes it much easier to organize, and that's what the employees want," he said.

Besides Obama, Sweeney, Burger, Cohen and Weingarten, other participants were Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen, Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, IBEW President Ed Hill, American Rights at Work Chair David Bonior, AFSCME President Gerry McEntee, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and SEIU President Andy Stern.


Solis to unionists: go out to push for Employee Free Choice Act

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is telling unionists they will have to go out and push for the Employee Free Choice Act, but with a promise of verbal support from the Obama administration.

And unionists didn't even wait for that message, which she delivered near the end of a July 15 speech in Washington to more than 2,000 teachers and school paraprofessionals attending the American Federation of Teachers Quest Conference.

Instead, union members and their allies are staging mass rallies and marches for the act, labor's #1 legislative priority, even in hostile areas: 1,500 people turned out for a recent march for EFCA in Little Rock, Ark., a "red state" represented by two Democratic senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, who are on the fence, at best, about the law.

Proclaiming the proposed law "the civil rights cause" of the new century, the unionists started their march at historic Little Rock Central High School, scene of a famous integration battle in the 1950s, and wound their way downtown to the state capitol. Their objective was to convince Lincoln and Pryor to vote to shut down a planned GOP filibuster against the measure.

Solis wants the teachers and their fellow unionists to be out on the streets nationwide for the measure, which would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing drives and in bargaining first contracts.

"We're supportive of what you do and we honor you," she told the unionists at the end of a well-received speech closing the conference. "We're proud to work with you on the Employee Free Choice Act, on education reform, on health care reform."

But those remarks came after Solis told the teachers to go out and campaign for the legislation.

"The president is very much behind the effort to get people back into the middle class," Solis said of her boss, Democrat Barack Obama. "Part of that is passing the Employee Free Choice Act and strengthening the right to bargain collectively. But to make sure it passes, you need to keep the pressure on in the states and congressional districts. You're the best salespersons to do that," she declared.

Backers of the legislation need 60 Senate votes to shut off the planned GOP-run talkathon against the measure. While the Democrats hold 60 seats, some - like the Arkansans - are shaky. Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, still says he will vote for the filibuster. And two sure supporters of the legislation, Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., are ill.


Scrubbers, SCRs will further clean the air at Detroit Edison's Monroe Power Plant

MONROE - Detroit Edison has reached a milestone in a decade-long project to install state-of-the-art emissions control equipment at its Monroe Power Plant. The first of two flue-gas desulfurization systems - commonly known as scrubbers - recently was put into service. The second scrubber is scheduled to go into operation in October.

"The startup of the first scrubber is a significant achievement in an emissions control construction program that began 10 years ago and cost $1.7 billion," said Steve Kurmas, president, Detroit Edison. "This investment will make a significant improvement to air quality in the region, support the long-term operation of the Monroe Power Plant and benefit the community with 40 new, full-time jobs to operate and maintain the scrubbers."

In addition to construction of the two scrubbers, the plant's emissions control program also included construction of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems on three of the plant's four generating units. The scrubbers will reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from each generating unit by about 97 percent. The SCRs provide 90 percent nitrogen oxide (NOx) reduction per unit.

On the two units where both SCRs and scrubbers will be operating, mercury emissions will be reduced by 80 to 90 percent due to the interaction of both systems. The Monroe Power Plant is the first in Michigan with both SCRs and scrubbers.

The systems will help the Monroe Power Plant meet current and expected reductions in federal and state emissions limits. "Even though we don't know exactly what emissions limits we will be required to meet, we felt it was in the best interest of our company, our customers and the environment to build these emissions control systems over the last 10 years so that they are in place and operational today," said Skiles Boyd, DTE Energy vice president, environmental management and resources. "And because we expect ever-stricter controls in the future, we are planning now how best to reduce emissions even further."

Kurmas said engineering work is under way for construction of the third and fourth scrubbers and the fourth SCR. Some site work for those systems is expected to begin next year.

Monroe Power Plant Director, Frank Wszelaki, said that the construction of the scrubber has changed appearance of the landmark plant. To support scrubber operation, a new 580-foot tall chimney was constructed. "Not only does that add a third chimney to the plant's profile, the scrubber system also produces a constant white cloud of water vapor from that chimney," he said, adding that the original 800-foot chimneys were designed for a "dry" exhaust that was barely visible.

While there is no timetable established, both of the plant's original chimneys will be removed.

POLLUTION-CONTROLLING flue-gas desulfurization systems are being installed at Detroit Edison's Monroe Power Plant.
Photo courtesy DTE Energy


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