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August 14, 2009

State AFL-CIO chief: ‘We’re losing a helluva lot of members’ – now’s time to push labor’s goals

Devlin, Gleason re-elected to building trades offices

Action starts at Firekeepers Casino

Detroit River terminal seeks to become a hub for Great Lakes cruises

Without compromise, prospects dim in ’09 for EFCA passage

IBEW training program finds a home at U-M

News Briefs


State AFL-CIO chief:‘We’re losing a helluva lot of members’ – now’s time to push labor’s goals

SAULT STE. MARIE – If the nation needs a guide to understanding and fixing the ongoing economic Great Recession, as it’s being called, look to what happened in the years before and after the Great Depression, which began with the stock market collapse on Oct. 29, 1929.

“Over and over, you see similar parallels,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney, to delegates at the 49th convention of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. He suggested that union members in this state and around the nation must forcefully demand that President Barack Obama and the Congress take similar paths to moving the nation out of the moribund economy, similar to what was done by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress in the 1930s.

That is, more government spending focused on putting people back to work, especially in infrastructure jobs, Green jobs, and greater empowerment of workers through passage of the union-friendly Employee Free Choice Act. Today, he said workers should also insist on passage of legislation that provides health care for all Americans.

Gaffney compared the nation’s economic situation before the stock market collapsed in 1929, and before the Great Recession hit last fall:

*During both eras, he said the banking systems had “totally incomprehensible approaches to investing,” with plenty of “risk-taking with other people’s money.”

*Private sector unions then and now represented less than 10 percent of the workforce.

*The balance of income between the rich and poor was wide in both eras. U.S. wages from 2004 to 2007, Gaffney said, rose a grand total of 1 cent when adjusted for the inflation rate.

*Millions of Americans had no means to pay for health care.

And what remedies were applied to both economic disasters? Gaffney again compared what happened in the 1930s with today and said: “I would argue that we’re doing the right things, but without enough force.”

One reason force is necessary: Gaffney said unions are going to emerge from this recession with one-quarter or even a third fewer members as a result of job losses, especially in the auto industry, their suppliers, and associated industries. “We’re losing a helluva lot of members,” he said, “and this is the time we’re going to need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.”

*Obama has taken a mostly hands-off policy, except to pump money into the banks. Roosevelt closed the banks, when necessary, and set the price for gold every day.

*Roosevelt initiated a jobs project in his first 100 days in office, that put to work more than one million Americans on public works projects. Obama guided through a $787 billion stimulus package through Congress, but many argue that not enough is being spent on shovel-ready projects. “Obama’s stimulus program is great,” Gaffney said. “But I agree with you. Where is it?

*It took until 1935 for the Democratic Congress and President Roosevelt to institute The Wagner Act, which set the course for the establishment of modern unions in the U.S. The modern-day Employee Free Choice – widely anticipated to help unions improve their ability to organize nonunion workers – is waiting in the wings of the Democratic-controlled Congress, pushed back by discussion over health care reform.

The EFCA has easily passed the U.S. House. But organized labor is growing impatient with Senate Democrats, mostly in Red states, who fear the retaliatory wrath of big business at election time. Many in the House of Labor are also getting perturbed with Obama for not using his pulpit to nudge those conservative Democrats to pass the EFCA.

*President Obama entered office in January with a Congress controlled by Democrats. In Roosevelt’s first mid-term Congressional election, in 1934, the American voter embraced the New Deal and increased the Democrats’ majority in both houses of Congress. “In 1934, the country lurched to the left, and President Roosevelt realized that he had been too timid,” Gaffney said. “Roosevelt became militant and more progressive, because people wanted him to do more. Let me suggest that that’s what we have to do with President Obama.”

Gaffney then told of the meeting between labor organizer and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph and Roosevelt. Randolph told Roosevelt of the injustices suffered by black railroad porters, and how thousands of them sought improvements through collective bargaining.

Upon hearing his remarks on behalf of the porters and other workers, FDR replied in attributed remarks: “You know, Mr. Randolph, I've heard everything you've said tonight, and I couldn't agree with you more. I agree with everything that you've said, including my capacity to be able to right many of these wrongs and to use my power and the bully pulpit… but I would ask one thing of you, Mr. Randolph, and that is go out and make me do it.”


Devlin, Gleason re-elected to building trades offices

SAULT STE. MARIE – Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin and President Patrick “Shorty” Gleason were both re-elected to four-year terms during the council’s 49th annual convention.

Neither Devlin nor Gleason had opposition.

This marked the first election for the leadership positions at the council since building trades delegates approved the 2005 merger of the Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council and the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council.

“It was a lot of hard work uniting the councils, but the merger has paid off,” Devlin told convention delegates. “It has been an honor serving you and the membership, and I look forward to serving another four years.” Delegates also approved a resolution changing Devlin’s title from CEO to Secretary-Treasurer – as it was before the merger.

Gleason added: “I’d like to thank each of you for your support. Just like the last four years, we’re going to continue to work and do the best we can on behalf of our members.”

When the council was established in 1957, The Building Tradesman reported the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council “came into being at the behest of leaders of the Detroit Building Trades Council and similar organizations throughout the state. These leaders saw a need for a more compact and unified body… the need for central organization, and the need to coordinate the state’s building tradesmen into one unit as a means of presenting a solid front against jurisdictional inroads and organizational drives.”

The 2009 convention was held at the Kewadin Hotel and Casino in the Soo, Delegates also voted to hold the convention every four years, given the economic conditions in the state.

This convention, Devlin said, “comes during an economic period which may be the worst in our lifetimes.”

The few bright spots in the state, he said, are the increasing use of project labor agreements, better construction industry injury and fatality trends reported by MIOSHA, and strong relationships with the state’s utilities – which will help a few years down the road when power plant and other energy-related construction will be a major employer in Michigan.

And, he said, President Barack Obama is “not afraid to use the word union” and has committed to spending more money on infrastructure – although the spending isn’t happening quickly enough.

“Way too many of our people are sitting on the bench waiting for the economy to turn around,” Devlin said. “There are a few local areas and a handful of trades that are actually doing pretty well, but no one here needs to be reminded what a tough situation this economy has put us in.”

TAKING THE OATH of office for new four-year terms at the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council are Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin (left) and President Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, right. Administering the oath is Roofers Local 149 Business Manager and Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Board member Bob Peterson, center.



Action starts at Firekeepers Casino

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

BATTLE CREEK – Michigan’s newest casino is open for business – the new $300 million Firekeepers Casino.

The 230,000 square-foot gaming facility opened to the public on Aug. 9, after a “soft” opening to tribal members and then construction personnel following the weekend of Aug. 1. Up to 300 Hardhats toiled on the casino under the management of Clark Construction, and under the terms of a project labor agreement that received wide praise.

“Everything went smooth,” said Southwest Michigan Building Trades President Hugh Coward. “There were a couple of bumps in the road, but all in all everything worked out very well.”

Said Clark Construction General Supt. Ken Stephenson: “The PLA performed well. We have no complaints. It was great. We would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Built by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi on a cornfield near exit 104 off of I-94, the casino features 2,680 slot machines, 90 table games and 20 poker tables. Adjacent is a 2,500-space parking deck. And the work isn’t over: construction work is continuing at the casino site, with the addition of 24,000 square feet of office/warehouse space.

A hotel on the campus is being considered, but is currently only a “dotted line” on the blueprints, awaiting future income results by the casino.

The casino has five restaurants, including a 70-seat fine dining signature restaurant, a 300-seat buffet, and a 150-seat, 24- hour coffee shop.

“Today marked a new beginning for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi,” said Tribal Chair Laura Spurr before 1,000 tribal members and guests. “The tribe’s goal has remained the same throughout the years. One goal has been to develop a casino to provide the economic development to assure that we can expand and improve health, housing and education services to our elders and youth. Another goal continues to be generating jobs for the Tribe and the region. We couldn’t have reached this historic milestone without the support of our tribal elders, tribal council and tribal members.”

Duane Wixson, senior project manager for Clark Construction, said like any major project, there was give and take on where to cut costs and where to spend money in the budget – but he said “the lighting budget was never compromised.” The casino spent $8 million on lighting, with a combination of LCD, LED, incandescent bulbs and florescent fixtures.

The lighting creates everything from dancing flames, to waves, to water droplets from the floor to the ceiling of the casino. And the lighting can be changed depending on the location, the time of day and the mood the casino wants to create.

“Basically nearly all this lighting is one of a kind, we hadn’t seen it before,” said Tom Sheaffer, electrical superintendent for the joint venture of Swan/Hunt. “It was a real treat working on it. Most of it was designed just for this project. Everybody is just so impressed with the lighting. It just blows your mind what’s in there.”   

About 75 electricians worked on the project, which was designed by Creative Lighting Design.

“It’s a real showpiece for our work,” said IBEW Local 445 Business Manager Steve Claywell. “The PLA worked very well for us. There were a few wrinkles, but it was a real collaborative effort. You can see the results in the quality of the building.”

THE FIREKEEPERS CASINO in Battle Creek, two weeks before it opened to the public. We were not allowed to take photos of the finish work inside the $300 million casino.


Detroit River terminal seeks to become a hub for Great Lakes cruises

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT – The state’s largest city would be a good stop for any cruise ship plying the Great Lakes – but at this time, there aren’t good places along the Detroit River to dock big passenger ships.

That will change early next year, when the new Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Dock and Terminal is complete. The $15 million terminal, being constructed on the riverfront west of the GM Renaissance Center, will allow for the docking and convenient passenger handling for Great Lakes passenger cruise ships.

White-Braun is managing construction of the 21,000 square-foot terminal. On July 14, the Port authority learned they would receive $7 million in additional federal stimulus money to build a 30-foot wharf into the river. The deeper 26 feet of water at the end of the wharf will allow the facility to accommodate the largest Great Lakes cruise ships, as well as tall ships, Naval ships and tourist craft. The water at the seawall is only 10-12 feet deep, so the wharf work is critical to the success of the project.

The port authority currently operates two commercial docks along the Detroit River, in Southwest Detroit and Ecorse – but they’re set up for moving commercial and bulk goods, not people – although they’ve tried. “Putting cruise passengers through those docks is nothing short of a nightmare,” said Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Deputy Director Steven Olinek. “Moving passengers through the facility, with customs and baggage – a commercial dock is just not a viable option.”

Located at Bates and Atwater Streets, the two-story terminal will have ticket counters, a processing area for tourists, a public plaza and will house the authority’s headquarters. The new passenger port terminal sits on a site that had many former uses, including a machine shop and clubhouse. Old coal vaults serving the Detroit Public Lighting Department are also underground. Although site isn’t particularly large, the menagerie of old foundations necessitated the driving of 85 foundation piles to stabilize the building.

“We’re also straddling a 36-inch water line right underneath us that serves the chillers in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center,” said Harold Bundrent of White Construction. “There’s a lot going on under this little site.”

Olinek said he hopes Detroit will be “an embarkation point” for cruise passengers seeking to looking to sail the upper Great Lakes. GreatLakesCruising.com shows its Clelia II vessel making a number of cruises through the Great Lakes, with stops including Toronto, Mackinac Island, Thunder Bay, Houghton  and Duluth. Olinke said typical Great Lakes cruise ships have a passenger capacity of 220 or so.

“Progress on the job so far has been wonderful,” he said. “The whole group has done a really great job.”

MIXING MORTAR outside the new Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Dock and Terminal is James Taite of Laborers Local 1191, working for Dixon Masonry.


Without compromise, prospects dim in ’09 for EFCA passage

While organized labor leaders continue to push for passage this year of the Employee Free Choice Act – which is expected to ease the organizing process for unions and help increase membership rolls – a July 31 Wall Street Journal article said odds of a 2009 vote are “dim.”

The reasons: health care is dominating all the debate in Washington D.C.. Also, two Democratic senators who are needed to make 60 votes and break a Republican filibuster, Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, may be physically unable to attend a floor vote.

And, there has been little headway in massaging language in the bill itself to bring about a compromise with Democratic senators from conservative states whose votes are also needed for passage. Their concerns are brought up daily by the business community – the perception that the EFCA outlaws the secret ballot, and allows the simple signing of a card, when it comes time for workers to vote for or against union representation. 

The other concern of those senators: the lack of headway on the bill’s requirement that mandatory arbitration be used if newly instituted unions can’t reach an agreement on wages, benefits and other issues within 120 days. The business community also hates this mandate.

“Unions had hoped the Obama Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress would act on the bill within the president’s first 100 days, the Journal said, “paving the way for accelerated unionization campaigns to fight eroding membership.” President Obama said he would sign the EFCA, and the measure has easily passed the Democratic-controlled House.

AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff did not rule out a compromise in the Senate to get the EFCA passed. “The important thing is to preserve the essential elements of the Employee Free Choice Act: Restoring the freedom to organize and collectively bargain, and not the details” of how exactly to achieve that goal. “That’s the measure by which any tweaking of the law” will be judged, he told Press Associates.

The AFL-CIO reaffirmed its strong preference for the legislation’s centerpiece: majority sign-up, where once unions get verified union election authorization cards from a majority of workers at a site, they – not the bosses – can choose between automatic immediate recognition of the union or a National Labor Relations Board-run election.

Other alternatives to majority sign-up, including mail-in ballots and quick NLRB-run elections, are not ruled out, Acuff added.  “Both would be dramatically better than what we have now” under labor law, he said.  Present law allows long campaigns with rampant employer intimidation against employees and labor law-breaking. 


IBEW training program finds a home at U-M

ANN ARBOR –The city and the University of Michigan’s hospitality and facilities won rave reviews from the nearly 2,000 electricians from across the nation who participated in the National Training Institute (NTI) program, held Aug. 1-7 on the U-M campus.

“What a great week,” said host IBEW Local 252 Business Manager Greg Stephens. “The participants were welcomed and warmly received, and I heard them constantly raving about how well they were treated and how friendly everybody was. They felt welcomed, they did their work, and it seems everybody had a good time.”

In April 2008, The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee for the Electrical Industry (NJATC) announced that they were cutting their association with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where the week-long, train-the-trainers education program for union electricians in the U.S. and Canada had been held for 19 years.

Their new annual destination for the training program: the University of Michigan campus, which is currently sponsoring $1.3 billion in construction activity, and where projects are built 100 percent union. The same couldn’t be said of the Knoxville campus, where they didn’t exactly extend a hand of friendship to the IBEW sparkies: less than 10 percent of the electrical work done at their facilities is performed union.

“Beyond the construction contracts on campus, the City of Knoxville just refused to even acknowledge we were in town,” said NJATC Assistant Executive Director Rick Hecklinger. So the NJATC moved its 2,000 participants and estimated $5 million in local economic impact from Tennessee to Michigan.

“They wanted to come to a place where they felt welcome,” said Stephens. “That’s why they’re here.”

Hecklinger said the beautiful weather was a major factor for the group’s initial visit to Ann Arbor but everything else was positive, too. “I don’t think it could have possibly gone any better,” he said. “I heard compliment after compliment. Even other diners in restaurants who read that we were coming to town would see our people and welcome them to the area. I think the word is, we were ‘wowed.’ ”

He added: “We were in Knoxville for 19 years, and it really took a monstrous effort to move this program. They gave us their word in Ann Arbor that they would help us, and they really stood behind it.”

University of Michigan Director of Community Relations Jim Kosteva said participants in the National Training Institute courses would have a “campus experience” during their stay, with classes only a few minutes apart from each other and restaurants, shops and lodging blending in with the campus. Getting that slice of campus life was an important factor for the NJATC, Hecklinger said.

The Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau saw the opportunity in making a good first impression on people who wanted to come to Michigan, and helped throw out the welcome mat. Signs, banners and lapel pins welcomed the guests. Local restaurants and hotels got in on the act, with food specials offered during the week. A block party in downtown Ann Arbor was held Aug. 5 for the electricians, with music, motorcycles and plenty of eating options.        

Gwen Brown of the convention and visitors bureau estimated that the visit by the electrical industry trainers created a $5 million impact on the community.

“I think they felt very welcome here, and I hope that they found a home,” said Brown. She pointed out that the IBEW educators took up a collection and donated $10,800 to Food Gatherers, a local food bank. “They gave back in a big way,” she said. “That was incredible; it was completely unexpected.”


News Brief

Make plans to celebrate Labor Day

With summer winding down, it’s time once again to start thinking about Labor Day.

Celebrations of the American worker are held in various sites in Michigan on Monday, Sept. 7.

In Detroit, the annual Labor Day parade along Michigan Avenue for the building trades and Teamsters will take place Monday morning, Sept. 7 at 9 a.m. Paraders will line up as usual along Trumbull Avenue.

The Grand Rapids Labor Fest 2009 will be held at the Spirit of Solidarity monument at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, near the Gerald Ford Museum. Events will take place from noon to 4 p.m.

To participate in the Muskegon parade, participants should meet at Heritage Landing on Labor Day at 9 am, to catch the Pioneer Resources Shuttle buses to the staging area, which will be at the end of Clay Avenue. 

In Ishpeming, the 20th annual Labor Day Festival will be held starting with a parade line-up at 9 a.m., and the start of the parade at 11 a.m. A picnic lunch will follow the parade. Busses will shuttle parade-goers from Marquette and other areas.

More ugly numbers for construction jobs

Labor Department numbers revealed on Aug. 7 showed that the U.S. economy shed 247,000 jobs in July. “That’s the bad news,” said the Center for American Progress. “The good news is the number of jobs lost was the fewest in 11 months, and the unemployment rate fell slightly – the first decline in 15 months – providing workers with some needed, relatively good news.”

The U.S. jobless rate fell to 9.4 percent in July, down from 9.5 percent in June.

The numbers show the federal stimulus program “is beginning to have a positive impact,” said the Labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, while adding the jobs numbers show “the economy is still in very bad shape.”

Indeed, the U.S. construction industry remains a basket case, the Associated General Contractors said on Aug. 7.

“The last 12 months have seen 1,053,000 construction workers lose their jobs, emphasizing the negative impact the current economy is having on the construction industry in particular,” said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America.  The construction jobless rate is 18.2 percent.

“It is crucial,” he added, “that the stimulus money quickly finds its way into the industry, or thousands more construction workers will lose their jobs.”


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