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December 18, 2009

Kissed and coddled, corporations, bankers have rewarded us with the mess that we’re in

New building, old style at landmark Wards site

40 years later, plumber honored for valor in Vietnam

Retirement awaits Michigan Building Trades’ Ed Coffey


Kissed and coddled, corporations, bankers have rewarded us with the mess that we’re in

By Mark Ayers
President, AFL-CIO Building Trades Department

I can’t think of anything more heart-wrenching than the idea of trying to celebrate the holiday season when confronted daily with the knowledge that millions of unemployed Americans will not enjoy any semblance of holiday joy; instead, they will be engaged in a day-to-day struggle just to hold on to their homes and put food on the table.

And it is a pain that becomes all the more searing when I think of the children – those innocent boys and girls who should be enjoying the wonders and thrills of a childhood that contains few demands and responsibilities.

At times like this, I think about my own grandchildren… and what their lives would be like if their homes were shattered by the devastating effects of one or both of their parents losing their job(s). Would they have to bear witness to the crumbling self-worth of one or both parents – a condition that can often evolve into ungodly moments of solitude, despair, and even shattering instances of domestic violence? Would my grandchildren, like so many other children in America today, be harvesting a collection of emotional scars that will live with them forever?

But, what truly causes pain and anger is the inequality of it all. For the millions of American workers and their children who are suffering the effects of this brutal recession, this is not fair. What’s happening to them is not fair, because it was not their fault. It’s wasn’t like our current recession is the result of an American workforce that is overpaid and non-productive. American workers are now more productive than any workforce on the planet. In the third quarter of 2009, labor productivity increased by 9.5% annually; the highest increase in productivity since 2003.

Unfortunately, and this is a story that has been told for two decades now, American workers are not being compensated for their increased productivity. Wages, which had held up fairly well at the start of the recession, have started to implode. In the second quarter of 2009, nominal hourly wages of production workers grew at a 0.7% annualized rate, which is only one-sixth of the 3.9% growth rate from December 2007 to December 2008. The collapse in wage growth indicates that even those who have held onto their jobs have been hurt by the

 recession, and threatens to dampen consumption and limit the pace of an economic recovery.

This is partly the fault of an out-of-control American culture that has de-valued the clock-punching working American in exchange for an elevated fascination with wealth, prestige and status; where one is seemingly never judged on how he/she actually achieves such dubious distinctions…no matter how grotesque the means.

This de-valuation of the American worker is also the by-product of an unhealthy mindset of over-the-top risk and greed that pervaded Wall Street (and still does!), and was (and still is!) coupled with a slovenly governmental devotion to the protection and advancement of “unencumbered free markets,” which, according to the theory, would create a rising tide that lifts all boats. This latter mentality has been perpetuated, for all practical purposes, by a political infrastructure that has long ceased having even any pretense of assigning priority status to the interests of blue-collar, clock-punching, working American families.

Author and provocateur Thomas Frank sums it all up in his new book, The Wrecking Crew, which is an excellent chronicle of modern conservative governance that began with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan in 1980. As Frank tells it,

“…the great goal of the conservative movement, as it rose to triumph in the 1980s, was to remove that threat – to keep OSHA, the EPA, and the FTC from choking off entrepreneurship with their infernal meddling in the marketplace. De-funding those agencies was the only way to stop the killer bureaucrats; another was to stuff them full of business-friendly personnel who would go easy on the regulated. This is the philosophy by which conservatives gutted the EPA and the Labor Department, turned over the Interior Department and the FDA to the industries they were supposed to regulate, and let the CEO of Enron advise the Vice President on energy policy… and to generally regard business, not the public, as government’s “customer.”

But it is only now, as we watch the financial system crumble around us, that we can really see the devastating consequences of this folly. It turns out the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which was responsible for regulating investment banks, did a significant part of its job through a voluntary program which firms could participate in or not as they saw fit.

At business’s urging, business was left to its own devices; its own devices turned out to be precisely the things our grandparents set up regulatory agencies to guard against: euphoria that leads to panic; perverse incentives that lead to fraud; and a boom that leads to bust.

As you watch the world crumble, try taking your Armageddon with this sprinkling of irony: Over the last three decades, business has got virtually everything it wanted, and its doomsday scenario from the 1970s has come true because of it. The regulators have indeed killed the regulated – not by intrusive meddling but by doing nothing, by taking a nap while the financial sector puffed up the bubble and blew itself to pieces.”

I believe that is a “fair and balanced” assessment of the last thirty years, don’t you? But here’s the truly scary part: In spite of the economic devastation that this governing philosophy has wrought, nothing is seemingly on track to change!

As American workers suffer in unspeakable ways, both financially and emotionally, the Wall Street cowboys are once again collecting obscene profits. And, once again, American businesses are seeking to take advantage of an economic crisis to not only thwart new regulations, but to wash away what’s left of existing regulations.

Everywhere we look in the construction industry today, we see this happening. The open-shop and its advocates, such as the Associated Builders and Contractors, are mounting aggressive lobbying and public relations campaigns designed to further their destructive business model – which is predicated on rewarding contracts to companies that can best assemble a low-skill, low-wage, and exploitable workforce. Witness their unending and escalating attacks on prevailing wage laws; project labor agreements; and policies that would infringe upon an unscrupulous employer’s ability to abuse various federal visa programs in order to import low-wage (and many times indentured!) skilled workers in order to displace better-paid American skilled craft workers.

The question that we, as a society, must begin asking today is this: At what point did we get so far off the track? When, and why, did we transition away from the American ideal that it was the American worker who made this country the economic envy of the world? When did the ideal of the clock-punching, American blue-collar worker become something to pity; where, more often than not, the idea of pursuing a career as a skilled craft person was actually something to be ridiculed? And at what point did America’s skilled craft professionals find themselves undeserving and bereft of any measure of concern by our nation’s governing and business elite?

Every time I turn on the TV today, I see it in all its glory. The self-appointed, intellectual policy experts and political strategists who are force-fed down our throats in a never-ending parade of “news analysis” and opinion, and who are purported to know so much about how to make our country better, routinely dismiss the concerns and interests of blue collar workers as not deserving of consideration in our nation’s policy debates. It’s now all about the singular interests of individual industries and businesses. End of discussion.

What’s worse, and almost criminally ironic, is the fact that most of these talking head elites were raucous cheerleaders of the two-decade effort that led to the de-regulation of Wall Street. They were the ones who effectively advocated the policies that allowed the speculators and hedge fund cowboys to run loose and, in turn, pilfer and destroy the pension plans and retirement savings of millions and millions of American workers…while bringing us to the edge of the abyss we face today.

It saddens me, and angers me, that our nation has devolved to such a state. But, maybe that’s the solution. Maybe that’s where we, as a nation, need to begin anew.

Just as America’s building trades unions have undertaken a concerted effort to change the internal culture of our unions and the union construction industry, our nation needs a cultural shift from within.

America needs to become re-acquainted with itself, its history and its values. And that process should begin with our governmental leaders receiving a refresher course in “trickle-up” economics. It’s a fairly simple philosophy that worked so well for the better part of the 20th century and was simply centered upon the ideal that when policies are put in place that help average, everyday working Americans thrive, then we will have set in place the fundamentals for sustained economic growth in which all Americans will benefit.

Our nation’s history has shown it to be universally true that when a local workforce is thriving, then the surrounding community and its small businesses will thrive as well. And when those small businesses thrive, it fuels the economic engine that enables medium-sized and large corporations to thrive as well.

It’s time that America gets that equation sequenced in the proper order once again. It is the productivity and pride of the American worker that makes it possible for the privileged in our society to have the wherewithal to shop at their favorite organic food store; to buy a house in the most coveted gated community; to purchase that expensive imported luxury sedan; and to generally acquire the material wealth that provides them with the solace and comfort they somehow need to feel superior to others.

I realize that there are many Americans who are into that quest for money, status and privilege. They truly believe that “He who dies with the most toys…Wins!” And you know what? God bless ‘em! That’s what makes America great. Everyone has a dream, and everyone is afforded the tools and opportunity to pursue that dream. Provided, of course, that the game is not rigged in favor of one group over another.

Because it is not, and never has been, part of the DNA of the United States of America to allow the cancerous growth of a societal and governing culture that permits, and legitimizes, the ability of people and organizations to step all over and abuse others in pursuit of material and monetary objectives.

Now, more than ever, we have a national need to pursue the development of a new culture that does not criticize or stifle the creation of wealth, but rather seeks to persuade those in pursuit of wealth and profit that they will get there a lot quicker if they do right by the men and women who make things, construct things, move things, design things, protect things, and sell things.

Believe it or not, American workers do not ask for much. First and foremost, they desire an opportunity to prove their worth and demonstrate their skill. Secondly, they desire just compensation for their efforts – and at a level that will enable them to purchase a nice home with all the basic comforts for them and their families. And third, they seek a basic level of health care and pension benefits; and the wherewithal to put a little something aside for a vacation now and then…or maybe so they can save up for a vacation home or a boat.

So, as we gather with family and friends this holiday season, let us take a moment to reflect upon, and offer a prayer of support, for those all across this nation who are not as fortunate… who have been victimized by a culture gone awry. And let us also make it our firm resolve to do what we can to create a movement to alter the prevailing mindset of our nation’s leaders in order to lead a shift in our national culture towards one that is premised more on cooperation, tolerance and respect for the American worker.

Such a shift will undoubtedly set the stage for a sustained and remarkable economic comeback for this great nation of ours.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask…nor do I think it’s too difficult to achieve.


New building, old style at landmark Wards site

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DEARBORN – From 1937 until it closed February 2001, the Montgomery Wards store at Michigan Ave. and Schaefer anchored the city’s east-side shopping district.

During this decade, several proposals to redevelop the old department store fell through, and the landmark building came under the ownership of the City of Dearborn and was demolished. City officials waited until the right offer came along, via the development firm Redico.

General contractor The Dailey Co., its subcontractors and the building trades are erecting what amounts to the next chapter for the site: the $71 million, 150,000 square-foot Dearborn Town Center, a mixed-use development that will offer multi-specialty medical care, office space and retail space. Senior housing with 100 to 120 units is planned for the final phase of the project.

“We’ve made pretty good progress and in the next few weeks we’re going to close it in for the winter,” said Ken Till, Redico’s vice president of acquisitions and development.

Work began last spring on the 130,000 square-foot medical office building (which includes about 20,000 square feet of retail. Coinciding with that is the erection of a 500-space parking deck on site. The senior housing associated with the project is another phase and has yet to be designed, Till said.

Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly noted at the groundbreaking the benefits that the new development will deliver: acting as an anchor and magnet for east downtown businesses, preserving 300 jobs and creating 200 new jobs, expanding the city’s tax base and giving a shot in the arm to area property values. “Today marks the start of a new chapter in Dearborn’s continuing success story, and a major step forward in the ongoing revitalization of the east downtown area,” he said on May 1.

The medical office building will be operated by Oakwood Healthcare and will serve as the new home of the Dearborn Midwest Health Center.

The Dailey Co. Senior Project Manager Deborah Anderson and Project Supt. John Gianotta said about 80 Hardhats are currently working on the medical office project and the parking deck. “It’s been a good job, a smooth running job,” Gianotta said.

There was a Wards auto service center at the site, so some oil clean up was necessary. Gianotta said the site at the southeast corner of Michigan and Schaefer is tight, but has just enough room for material lay-down areas.

The new building, Till said, is similar to the architectural style of the old Wards building, which was built in the Georgian Style. The Dearborn Town Center, he said, will also compliment the appearance of Dearborn City Hall, which is across the street from the new building.

Mayor O’Reilly said at the groundbreaking that the City of Dearborn carefully

examines its involvement with real estate development and only stepped in at the

former Ward’s site in 2005 when it appeared that earlier private investors would

not be able to deliver “a significant project” at the important downtown corner. Looks like they’re getting one.

“From an aesthetic perspective, the design of the new building will definitely offer an historic tip of the cap to the old Montgomery Wards building,” Till said.

THE DEARBORN TOWN CENTER is ready to get enclosed for the winter.

WORKING ON a lift on the Schaefer Street side of the Dearborn Town Center are Wesley Stel and Kevin Dreher of Glaziers and Glassworkers Local 357, working for Modern Mirror.

A RENDERING of the completed Dearborn Town Center.


40 years later, plumber honored for valor in Vietnam

By Doug Allen
Battle Creek Shopper News
(Reprinted with permission)

Robert Dewey Wolford, 62, of Battle Creek recently retired as a plumber and pipefitter with Local 333 after 38 years.

He also visited Ft. Custer National Cemetery to witness the Veterans Day ceremonies last week and walked away with a Bronze Star (and two Oak Leaf Clusters as well). Both the Bronze Star and one of the Oak Leaf clusters is for valor and heroism while another Oak Leaf is for meritorious service.

Col. Frank Walker, Michigan Air National Guard, introduced Wolford to the Veterans Day crowd and described the action that deemed him worthy of receiving the medal.

“For heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force, Spec. Wolford distinguished himself by actions on Jan. 31, 1968,” said Walker. “C Troop, Third Squadron, First Cavalry in the Republic of Vietnam, was moving to aid a friendly force when they come upon heavy enemy fire. Spec. Wolford, a machine gunner on an armored personnel carrier immediately placed suppressive fire on the hostile positions.”

Walker continued by describing how Wolford, ‘with complete disregard for his own personal safety’ then carried wounded comrades through a bullet swept area to a ‘dust off’ zone where helicopters removed the wounded.
Later in the battle Walker described how a re-supply helicopter landed near the ongoing action with badly needed ammunition. Wolford again moved through intense enemy fire bringing ammunition to his comrades.

“His valorous actions contributed immensely to the success of the mission and the defeat of the enemy force,” said Walker. “Spec. Wolford’s personal bravery, aggressiveness, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”

Walker added that Wolford reflects “great credit” on himself, his unit, the 25th Infantry Division and the United States Army.

“It was the very first day of the Tet Offensive,” said Wolford later. “We could tell something was different by the volume of incoming fire we were taking (he was assigned to the Than Son Nut airbase outside Saigon at the time). The night before I saw tracers going out, but in the morning the tracers were coming in, and when you see personnel carriers on fire burning into a puddle of aluminum you know something different is going on.”
He described the enemy that day as being ‘hard core’ North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars and was amazed at their numbers as they tried to breach the perimeter of the airbase.

He could tell something extraordinary was happening by the amount of wounded and killed American soldiers that kept streaming into the evacuation area.

“We kept throwing hand grenades over the concertina wire and the NVA kept coming,” he said. “I’d been in Vietnam for only a couple months, but you could tell we were facing a huge change from the enemy.”

The Tet Offensive lasted 77 days and was a major offensive launched by North Vietnam against numerous American and South Vietnamese installations, according to About.com.  Approximately 1,500 Americans and 45,000 North Vietnamese were killed during Tet.

“A lot of guys did some amazing things that day,” he said. “Some of them didn’t make it back. There’s no time to think about it when it’s happening. You do what you need to do to stay alive and help your buddies.”
Col. Rodger Seidel, Michigan Air National Guard, commander 110 Fighter Wing, and keynote speaker for the event then pinned the medal on Wolford’s leather jacket.

While receiving a rousing round of applause from the audience Wolford grinned and waved and Walker said, ‘well deserved Specialist Wolford.’

Wolford is a 1965 graduate of Battle Creek Central and was busily engaged in a plumbing and pipefitting apprenticeship program when the Army came knocking with their draft notice.  “I wasn’t too happy about that,” he said. “But, what do you do? I went to Vietnam.”

He’s been married to Sheila for seven years and while they don’t have any children he’s got three step grandchildren.

His dad, Donald, passed away in 2001 and his mom Lucille still lives in the area. His brother Terry lives in Battle Creek while his brother Donald Jr. lives in Tennessee.

While shaking hands with plenty of well-wishers after the ceremony, Wolford talked about the Bronze Star and how it’s more than 40 years overdue.

“The mention of the awards and description of that day were on my discharge papers,” said Wolford. “But, somehow it just slipped through, no one ever brought it up, and that was ok by me. I was young. I thought they’d get around to it eventually. But at the same time, it was the Army, the Vietnam War. I just wanted to get away from all that so I never really pursued it.”

Wolford said he returned ‘stateside’ and served another seven months at Ft. Benning in Georgia.
Every once in awhile, he said, there would be an award ceremony.

“I was thinking it won’t be so bad not having to put on the dress greens and stand up in front of a bunch of people,” said Wolford. “Being young it didn’t bother me all that much, but it would have been easier back then. What I mean is, I would have been on stage with a whole bunch of other guys getting their medals. Now, I’m the only one, I wasn’t quite sure where to sit, and there were a lot of people out there today.”

He said it would have been easier to do this medal thing a long time ago. “It was nice though,” he said with a little bit of a grin tugging at the side of his face.

Wolford said that during recent trips to the VA Medical Center in Battle Creek for some medical assistance, personnel there started the process of honoring him when his war record was reviewed.
He’s also proud of receiving the Bronze Star.

“This is a bigger deal than I was planning on,” he said. “It was nice seeing all the people out there and to know so many come out here every year to honor veterans. We should honor them for their service to our country.

A BRONZE STAR is pinned on UA Local 333 retiree Robert Wolford by Air National Guard Col. Rodger Seidal.
Photo by Doug Allen Battle Creek Shopper News


Retirement awaits Michigan Building Trades’ Ed Coffey

Edward M.  Coffey, Jr., a fixture as a business representative at the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council and the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council for the last 15 years, is retiring effective Dec. 31, 2009.

“It’s time,” said Coffey, 61. “It has been an honor and a pleasure to represent all of the building trades crafts for all workers for all these years.”

Coffey, a Plumbers Local 98 member since 1966, was elected business agent in that local in 1988. He joined the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council as a business representative in 1994. At the council, he ran pre-job meetings with contractors and business agents for most major construction projects in Southeast Michigan, and presided over the council’s Political Action Committee meetings. He also negotiated contracts for building trades workers employed by the Detroit Board of Education and Wayne County.

“Ed has a valuable, institutional knowledge in a variety of areas – the political stuff, contractual language, job assignments and who’s who on various construction projects,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasure Patrick Devlin. “He has also been our go-to guy on nuts and bolts stuff that we deal in, like project labor agreements, the National Maintenance Agreement and drug and alcohol testing. Ed is going to be difficult to replace, and we wish him the best.”

The Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano and the entire Wayne County Commission honored Coffey on Nov. 19, surprising him with a plaque expressing their appreciation for his work.

“Our workforce is the envy of the world,” Ficano said, “and Ed has represented some fine craftsmen. He’s been a great representative for labor.”

Coffey said he will stay in Michigan and has no immediate plans after he retires.

“It’s been a good run,” Coffey said. “I appreciate all the help I have received over the years.”

WAYNE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS honored Ed Coffey with a plaque recognizing his years of service in working with the county on behalf of the building trades.

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