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August 28, 2009

In health care debate, unions ready to rumble with wavering Dems, and maybe each other

Labor Day, 2009 Parades, picnics planned to celebrate workers’ holiday

‘Long overdue’ – new Mackinac Straits Hospital is taking shape

UA instructors follow IBEW after leading them to AA

Keys to northern work prospects: paper, power and pulp...Paper maker wants the economy to turn the page

Soo region ideal site for new-tech ethanol plant

Hurdles aplenty as Wolverine group seeks more power

News Brief

 

In health care debate, unions ready to rumble with wavering Dems, and maybe each other

WASHINGTON (Compiled from (PAI) – President Obama has seemingly wavered back and forth, and back again in recent weeks in his public support for the public option in the nation’s health care debate.

The public option is a government-run health care alternative designed to create competition with health insurance companies that proponents say would lower costs. Obama backed away from previous statements and said that publicly funded health insurance was “only a sliver,” and not the main focus of his health care reform plan.

His comments – as well as teetering by conservative Democratic lawmakers on the same issue  came on the heels of raucous town hall debates, with some protestors decrying any federal involvement in health care. That backsliding will come at a political price from unions, said Rich Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and the heir apparent to the presidency of the AFL-CIO (the election is next month).

Press Associates reported “In recent interviews with Politico and Huffington Post, the federation’s 60-year-old secretary-treasurer has warned politicians in no uncertain terms not to take labor for granted, especially if pols backtrack on two key issues: Health care and workers’ rights. Trumka said labor would virtually abandon lawmakers who don’t support health care reform that doesn’t include the public option.” 

“We’re also going to keep politicians strong,” Trumka said, “so that they don’t listen to the moneymen and continue to erode away or negotiate away a program” and it “ultimately becomes useless. Right now, without a public option, reform becomes useless. It won’t change the current system.”

Retiring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is urging Obama and Congress to hold fast.  In an Aug. 17 statement, he declared, “A quality public health insurance option is a crucial part of health care reform to keep private insurance companies honest, hold down costs and ensure everybody has a health care choice available…The only way to force real competition on the insurance companies is a strong public plan option.  The usual suspects opposed to reform are trying to hijack the process and attacking the public health insurance plan option because they are afraid of competition and want to keep gouging working families.  Unless we take decisive steps to stop the crippling rise of health costs, we will have squandered this opportunity.”

While the AFL-CIO has supported and actively campaigned for health care reform legislation based on the principles of universality, cost controls, choosing your own doctor and a government-run alternative to the insurance companies, 552 labor bodies – from international unions down to local councils – want to go in a different direction: a government-run “single-payer” Medicare-like system.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council has not acted on the single-payer question, but a fight could be brewing on the convention floor of the labor federation’s national convention next month. No less than 40 resolutions supporting a single-payer system have been submitted for approval by AFL-CIO delegates.

While single-payer backers fight for their cause at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh, and cite opinion polls nationwide showing majority support for such a change, they face obstacles: 

* Congress.  The key Senate Finance Committee, charged with finding $1 trillion needed over 10 years to expand coverage to all, is lukewarm at best to even the “fall-back” public option.  Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., one of several moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats, is dead set against single-payer.

*Anti-health care hysteria whipped up by the insurance companies, the Radical Right and Republicans.  The frenzy has gotten so insane that an effigy of one moderate Democratic congressman from Maryland was hung outside his district office, the district office sign of a second moderate from Georgia was spray-painted with a swastika, and a third moderate Democrat, from North Carolina, received telephoned death threats.

*Obama.  He told a pro-health care reform crowd in New Hampshire on Aug. 11 that single-payer would not pass. Later that week, he backtracked, and then he sought to clarify his backtracking.

“The White House is almost back to Square One,” Politico reported last week, “struggling to break through with a message that has undergone several major course-corrections and on the defensive against wild charges that caught Democrats off-guard.”




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Labor Day, 2009 Parades, picnics planned to celebrate workers’ holiday

That whooshing noise you may have heard was the sound of Summer 2009 rushing past, and now Labor Day is right around the corner.

Celebrations of the American worker are held in various communities in Michigan, and building trades workers and their families are urged to participate in a parade or picnic near you.

Following are worker-related events in various locales in Michigan taking place on Labor Day weekend.

Detroit: For the building trades and Teamsters, a line of march on Monday, Sept. 7 will proceed as usual on Labor Day, east along Michigan Avenue towards Campus Martius downtown. The building trades will line up before the parade, as usual, along Trumbull Avenue south of Michigan Avenue. The parade, under the theme of “Fighting for all workers,” will start at 9 a.m.

Participants will march in the following order this year, with the United Association taking the lead on Trumbull Avenue, closest to Michigan Avenue:

1. United Association of Pipe Trades

2. Sheet Metal Workers

3. Roofers

4. Boilermakers

5.Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers

6.Elevator Constructors

7. IBEW

8. Iron Workers

9. Heat and Frost Insulators

10. Cement Masons

11. Painters

12. Laborers

13. Teamsters

Other unions will march down Woodward from the Cultural Center to Campus Martius.

“This is always a great day for labor in Detroit,” said Saundra Williams, president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. “It’s so much work to put it together, but when we see the faces of thousands and thousands of union members gathered together at one time, it’s really worth it.”

Grand Rapids: New this year is the Grand Rapids Labor Fest, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Labor Day around the “Spirit of Solidarity” monument at Ah-Nab-Awen Park near the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, off of Pearl Street, one block east of U.S. 131.

The event includes free admission to the Grand Rapids Van Andel Public Museum, the Spillman Carousel and all exhibits, including the premiere opening of "Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion."

There will be music in the park, as well as a food vendors and a beverage tent. Various labor unions will have table displays.

Ishpeming: The 20th annual Labor Day festival will be held on Sept. 7, with a parade starting at 11 a.m. The parade starts and ends at the Cliff’s Shaft Museum and goes from Euclid to Main to Division and then comes back to the museum via Lakeshore Drive.

A picnic and rally follows the parade from noon to 4 p.m. The rally will include music by Fast Eddies Blues Band, speeches from elected officials and candidates, along with children’s activities. A picnic lunch will be available.

Monroe: The Monroe/Lenawee County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 5 at the Philip Murray Building, 41 W. Front Street, Monroe, MI 48161 – Michigan’s only labor history museum.

Hours of the event are noon to 10 a.m. Keynote speaker Lt. Gov. John Cherry will speak at 5 p.m. Tours, a moonwalk and ice cream will be available. A neon sign on the building will also be dedicated.

Muskegon: The West Michigan United Labor Day Parade will be held in downtown Muskegon for the first time, with an 11 a.m. start on Sept. 7.  Parking for parade participants will be at Heritage Landing with Pioneer Resource shuttle buses running from 9 a.m. until 10:40 to the staging area which will be on Clay between Terrace and Spring St. The parade will end at Seventh Street and Western Avenue.  Following the parade will be a Solidarity Tent with food and refreshments.

St. Ignace: The annual five-mile walk over the Mackinac Bridge begins at 7 a.m. on Labor Day, led by Gov. Granholm. Walkers are allowed to start until 11 a.m.  The walk starts in St. Ignace, and shuttle buses ($5) are available for the return trip.






 

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‘Long overdue’ – new Mackinac Straits Hospital is taking shape

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ST. IGNACE – A much-needed, modern health care facility is on the way to this city, in the form of the new $37.2 million Mackinac Straits Hospital.

Skanska USA Building is managing construction of the project, which is currently employing about 80 Hardhats on site.

The two-story hospital is being erected on the north side of the city along the I-75 Business Loop on the north side of town near the Mackinac County Airport, on land donated by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The facility, a total of 82,000 square feet with a total of 15 patient beds, will devote 20,000 square feet of medical-clinical space for the use of tribal members.

“It’s going very well,” said Skanska Senior Project Engineer Jayme Couchene. “We’re on schedule, we’re within budget. The tradespeople have been great; they have worked together really well. A lot of these guys know each other, so there’s lots of teamwork.”

Building such a major project in the lightly populated St. Ignace area – the city’s population is only 2,678 –brought about a worker-friendly construction schedule change by Skanska and its subcontractors. Couchene said the building is on a four-tens schedule, which allows tradespeople – many of who come from long distances to work – the opportunity to have a three-day weekend to be with their family. 

Congressman Bart Stupak led the effort to secure federal funds for the new hospital. “This funding will allow for this hospital to be re-built from the bottom up,” Stupak said when federal money was released. “Updates to the Mackinac Straits hospital are long overdue.” Constructed in 1954, the existing hospital serving St. Ignace is in a residential area and could not be cost-effectively renovated or expanded to meet the needs of modern health care providers and expectations of patients.

The new facility will offer expanded outpatient dialysis, oncology/infusion, rehabilitative and radiological services and a mobile MRI. Stupak said the current hospital is badly in need of upgrades, with acute care patients forced to stay in rooms with no air conditioning or air exchange and to use community bathrooms and showers.

“The staff at Mackinac Straits hospital do a tremendous job, but the fact is that the old building impedes their ability to care for their patients,” Stupak said. “The old Mackinac Straits hospital is not even handicapped accessible and the dated infrastructure is falling apart.”

Couchene said the biggest problem so far has been the site itself – more specifically, the tremendous underground boulders that needed tobe reduced to rubble. “They were big old boulders,” Couchene said, broken up by a blasting crew that had to be imported from Indiana.

The new hospital is expected to be complete April 1, 2010.

THE $37.2 MILLION Mackinac Straits Hospital under construction in St. Ignace.


INSTALLING A PIPE hanger in a hallway at Mackinac Straits Hospital is Todd Hoops of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 111, working for Dressler Mechanical.




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UA instructors follow IBEW after leading them to AA

ANN ARBOR – Twenty years ago, the week-long United Association Instructor Training Program was loaded up and moved from Purdue University to Washtenaw Community College.

About 1,200 pipe trades instructors attended classes at WCCC in 1990; this year, that number had grown to more than 1,800 from across the U.S. and Canada. The train-the-trainer program brings UA instructors up to speed on the teaching of a wide variety of pipe trades applications as they’re developed, from medical gas installation, to new methods for fitting pipe, to no-flush toilet installation.

“I am extremely impressed with the rigor required of the professionals who attend the UA Summer Instructor Training Program,” said WCC President Larry Whitworth. “They come in from every state and province in North America and return to their local communities to share the latest knowledge, technology, and techniques with the next generation of plumbers and pipe fitters. This is certainly one of the finest and most comprehensive instructor training and education programs anywhere in the country.”

The annual visit by the United Association instructors Aug. 8-14 to Washtenaw County was preceded by the Aug. 1-7 program sponsored National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee for the electrical industry instructors. As we reported in our last issue, IBEW instructors pulled their program from the union-unfriendly confines of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus, with the expressed purpose of finding a new union-friendly home on the University of Michigan campus. 

“As usual, the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Community College did a wonderful job of welcoming the UA instructors,” said Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190 Business Manager Bryce Mitchell. “It was a great week. The United Association has had the same good reception every year from the community, and now it looks like the IBEW has also found a home here, too.”

In 2003, the United Association teamed with Washtenaw Community College as the site for the Great Lakes Regional Training Center, making UA education a permanent part of the landscape at the school with the opening of a new building dedicated to the union’s needs. The partnership grew to allow UA instructors to receive WCC degree credits for classes taken in-person or online through the distance learning program.

The positive long-term association the UA has had with the Washtenaw Community College helped the IBEW/NJATC make its decision to move – and Washtenaw County is a major beneficiary. Each group pumped about $5 million into the local economy during what is typically a slow few weeks of the year.

“It’s a very good setup they have here,” said UA Local 50 (Toledo) instructor Jim Zywocki.

(Janet Hawkins/WCC contributed)



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Keys to northern work prospects: paper, power and pulp…Paper maker wants the economy to turn the page

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAULT STE. MARIE – Low advertising revenues are forcing newspapers across the nation to go out of business, and magazines and other publications are similarly hard hit by high costs of printing and mailing their product.

It’s not an easy era for print publications, which means it isn’t an easy era for NewPage Paper near Escanaba, which means it isn’t a good era for building trades workers who regularly maintain and upgrade their facilities. The NewPage Paper plant is the largest coated paper mill in North America, a maker of high quality paper used in magazine and magazine inserts.

NewPage Paper Director of Engineering Mike Fornetti was invited to speak to delegates at the 49th convention of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council in Aug. 4. He lauded the paper manufacturer’s ongoing relationship with its partners among the building trades unions, who have worked thousands of man-hours over the years at the NewPage plant, which also produces its own power.

“You guys bring a lot to the table in a tough environment,” Fornetti said. “We call contractors and trades in the middle of the night, 24-7 when we have a problem. You’re always very helpful, your work is high quality and you work safe.” He offered particular praise for the trades’ excellent weld record. Fornetti said the trades have a better performance record than the plant’s own in-house maintenance workers.

Fornetti said the plant formed an agreement to use union labor 15 years ago to do its renovation, maintenance and expansion work, and has never looked back on its decision. But the meltdown in the publishing industry is probably not over yet, and  offshore competition in the paper manufacturing business is extremely keen – “we are competing with some very low-cost, low-wage competitors,” Fornetti said, in particular China, which he said pays its workers in the range of $2 a day.

Despite the down times, Fornetti offered some unspecified good news for the building trades and the plant which is a huge local employer, putting 1,500 people to work.

 “There are some big jobs coming up, which I can’t talk about,” Fornetti said. “But it will be excellent for the building trades.  (And) it will be a union project going forward.”

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Soo region ideal site for new-tech ethanol plant

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAULT STE. MARIE – Construction of corn-fed ethanol plants were all the rage a few years ago in the drive to diversify the nation’s energy producing capabilities.

Now comes cellulosic ethanol, which is created through a process that utilizes enzyme-secreting micro-organisms to convert hardwood pulp material into ethanol. And if all goes according to (an optimistic) plan, Michigan will be the home to the first cellulosic ethanol plant in the nation.

The plan was laid out Aug. 4 at the 49th convention of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. According to Stephen Hicks, president and CEO of J.M. Longyear LLC, a $300 million plant – “the first of its kind” – is proposed to be constructed on an old airbase in the Upper Peninsula’s Kinross Twp., about 15 miles from the Soo. He said Michigan is the fifth largest forested state in the nation, and the proposed plant site would have plenty of potential fuel, as it’s surrounded by 8.3 million acres of timberland.

The land, he said, has access to: rail and highways, a deepwater port, natural gas and power lines, as well as a skilled workforce. “You can’t find that combination in many places in the world,” Hicks told delegates. “It’s a great site.”

Design and engineering on the project are complete, Hicks said. The owner has filed a Department of Environmental Quality permit with the state. The plant, he said, will give off a chocolate smell when it’s under operation. He admitted that the project faces “a challenging capital market” –the owner has talked to 165 banks in an effort to secure credit. In a “best case” scenario, he said, the deal would be finalized next year and construction would start in 2012.

Hicks said the owner is already in talks with local unions about the use of a project labor agreement during the work. Construction would employ about 150, and up to 50 workers would be employed full time at the plant. Perhaps 500 additional spin-off jobs would be created in the logging, transportation and manufacturing sectors.

The plan is being put forth by partners JM Longyear LLC (25 percent) and Mascoma Corp. (75 percent), under the name Frontier Renewable Energies.

How does the technology work? Get out your science textbooks. Theirs is a patented technology called Consolidated Bio-Processing (CPB), which uses natural ethanol fermenting and cellulose-using microbes to rapidly break down components of cellulosic biomass, converting a range of sugars to ethanol.

The process would at first use hardwood, Hicks said, and then later softwood grasses could be used to make the fuel.

Mascoma announced an improvement in the process this spring.

According to information about Mascoma’s process in the May 11 publication CheckBioTech: “This is a true breakthrough that takes us much, much closer to billions of gallons of low cost cellulosic biofuels,” said Michigan State University’s Dr. Bruce Dale, who is also Editor of the journal Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefineries. “Many had thought that CBP was years or even decades away, but the future just arrived. Mascoma has permanently changed the biofuels landscape from here on.”

The publication reported that in February 2009, Mascoma announced that its pilot facility in Rome, NY had begun producing cellulosic ethanol. The plant has the flexibility to run on a variety of feedstock, including wood chips, tall grass and corn stalks. The small scale facility will provide information for the efficient operation of the Kinross plant.

The state of Michigan kicked in $23.5 million last October to help build the plant.

"Michigan is proud to partner with Mascoma as a part of our commitment to lead the nation in alternative energy production," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm. “This company, and their partners, will create jobs in Michigan as they develop the next generation of cellulosic ethanol that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make fuel more affordable for our families."

Said Bruce Jamerson, chairman and CEO of Mascoma Corp.: "This funding will allow us to accelerate commercial production of low cost, low carbon fuel that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy independence.”


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Hurdles aplenty as Wolverine group seeks more power

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAULT STE. MARIE – So, you wanna build a $1.2 billion power plant?

Arranging state permits, getting financing and addressing community concerns during public hearings are just some of the major stepping stones faced by the Wolverine Power Cooperative, as the group goes about the process of building a new clean-coal burning power plant in Rogers City.

Ken Bradstreet, director of community and government affairs for the Wolverine Power Cooperative, laid out the status of the proposed plant to delegates of the 49th convention of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. He said the green energy movement’s campaign against coal-burning plants is a major factor in slowing the process for getting the facility built.

“Today’s climate is down on coal,” Bradstreet said. When asked about the schedule for construction of the plant, he demurred: “A schedule? All we know is the day after we get our state permits, we will get sued” by opponents of the plant’s construction.

The Wolverine Power Cooperative, which was formed during the 1983 merger of two existing power cooperatives, is proposing to construct a baseload power plant, consisting of two units of 300 megawatts each. The plant would be located on a limestone quarry, which would have a dual benefit. The plant would use limestone as part of its emissions reduction process, and expanded dock access would provide access to lake freighters that could be used to feed coal to the plant.

The plant would be fueled by coal (about 80 percent) and biomass (up to 20 percent, from local timber or agriculture).  The circulating fluidized bed (CFB) technology proposed for the plant would be one of only 12 such plants around the nation, and is appropriate for a smaller baseload plant such as this one. Bradstreet said the CFB system introduces coal in chunks rather than in powder form, which he called a “fast ascending technology.”

Wolverine has spent nearly $20 million on development, engineering, permitting and legal fees. They have obtained a number of state and federal permits already, and the cooperative awaits three more, a state air quality permit and a new Environmental Protection Agency permit that addresses particulate air quality emitted by the plant. In addition, the plant still needs a permit to place residual ash into landfills.

Those hurdles need to be overcome, and now the Obama Administration is further complicating the process by pursuing Cap and Trade rules. They are intended to provide incentives for utilities to limit (or Cap) coal plant emissions and encourage them to Trade energy credits that favor the use of green technologies that don’t emit greenhouse gases.

“The biggest problem (to constructing the plant) is a regulatory culture that says no to coal,” Bradstreet said. “But coal is something we have abundantly – and there is no energy independence without coal.”

Wolverine is also studying wind patterns for the use of windmills near the Rogers City site. The utility cooperative owns nearly 1,600 miles of high-voltage transmission in 35 counties in lower Michigan. It already purchases wind energy from the Harvest Wind Farm in the Thumb area, which can produce electricity to serve 15,000 Michigan homes. But the operative word in the previous sentence was “can.”

“People are always asking us, why don’t you build more windmills?” Bradstreet said. “The short answer is, the wind doesn’t always blow.”

If and when all the regulatory hurdles are overcome, Bradstreet said Wolverine would then make the decision – which hasn’t been made – whether to proceed with construction.

If the green light is given to build the plant, he said construction would average 1,000 personnel in Rogers City during a four-and-a-half year period. With all the regulatory and political factors weighing in, Bradstreet still said he is “optimistic that by late 2010 we’ll be moving dirt” at the Rogers City site.

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News Brief

Trend improves for U.S. construction

The value of new construction starts climbed 8% in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $420.3 billion, it was reported Aug. 18 by McGraw-Hill Construction.

“Nonresidential building strengthened after a very weak June, while residential building continued to edge upward from its depressed performance at the outset of 2009,” the report said.

On an unadjusted basis, total construction during the first seven months of 2009 was reported at $236 billion, down 35% from a year ago. The year-to-date declines, the report said, have become slightly smaller in recent months, and the trend is expected to continue.

“Since March there’s been an up-and-down pattern for construction starts, supporting the belief that a leveling-off process is now under way,” said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. “This follows the steep decline during the latter half of 2008 that carried over into early 2009.”

He added: “Single-family housing, while still at an extremely low volume, has now shown improvement in five out of the past six months. Public works construction is beginning to reveal a faster pace for transportation-related projects, helped by the federal stimulus funding. For nonresidential building, the broad downward trend is still in progress, but occasionally there are upticks, such as the strengthening that occurred in July following the dismal activity in June.”

For construction activity on a regional level for the previous 12 months ending in July, the Midwest fared the best – down “only” 24 percent.

PLA seminar set for Oct. 12 at MSU

The Michigan State University School of Labor and Industrial Relations is sponsoring a conference titled “Building Success: Best Practices in Construction Project Labor Agreements” that may be of interest to union officers.

The conference will be held Monday, Oct. 12 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, Lincoln Room, on the MSU campus.

Agenda items include speakers who will address “What do you want in a PLA,” PLAs in schools and other public owners,” “PLAs and the open shop,”  Dispute resolution under PLAs, and panel discussions addressing “Where to begin?” and “Perspectives on PLAs,” that includes guest Peter Phillips from the University of Utah.

A registration form and further information can be found in this edition on Page 12.


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