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July 3, 2009

Ingham County PLA rule easily adopted

PLAs: ‘Valuable tools’ that provide value for taxpayers

Trades serving time expanding Washtenaw Co. courts, lockup

Automotive downturn arrives at trades’ doorstep, 10% givebacks set for Chrysler, Ford work 

NMU lobby work brings residence halls together

GM nods: make it in Michigan

News Briefs


Ingham County PLA rule easily adopted

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

MASON – By a 13-2 margin, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners on June 23 adopted a resolution approving the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) on construction work sponsored by the county.

For months the PLA proposal has been a contentious issue in the county, with the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors leading the charge with a postcard mailing to the community, letters to the editor and in television and radio interviews, calling for the commission to reject project labor agreement language.

“We’re very happy, we’re thrilled with the vote,” said IBEW Local 665 President Ray Michaels, while thanking the commissioners who voted for the PLA language. “You could tell by the comments of some of the commissioners that the ABC’s arguments just weren’t credible, that they were making things up.”

The language approved by the Board of Commissioners allows, but doesn’t require, the use of project labor agreements on taxpayer-funded construction work that exceeds $100,000 in labor costs. Michaels, who has been leading the effort to get the PLA language adopted along with Local 665 Business Manager Scott Clark and Assistant Business Manager Tom Eastwood, said “there were some concerns expressed by commissioners about whether the PLA language should apply automatically, or whether commissioners should decide on a project-by-project basis. They went with the project-by-project basis. And we’re fine with that, we think that’s the right way to do it.”

Befitting the construction industry, which varies from one jobsite to another – there is not a one-size-fits-all project labor agreement.  PLAs generally set rules and standards governing worker training, wages, working conditions, and drug and alcohol testing. Basically PLAs give an employer or purchaser of construction services a set of standards for the contractors they hire, and they give the buyer a reasonable assurance of a quality workforce that will add value to their job by doing it on time and on budget – the first time.

In return, workers are generally assured a prevailing wage and contractually approved working conditions, usually with no-strike language.

“PLAs are something I really believe in,” said Ingham County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Debbie DeLeon. “I think the presence of a project labor agreement will save the county money in the long run. We’re going to see better quality work in the end, and we’re going to have workers and contractors who are qualified and meet state and federal regulations.”

The fight to initiate a PLA was initiated in good part by shoddy electrical work performed last year at the Ingham County Fairgrounds. DeLeon said the PLA rule will be employed soon on anticipated construction of a new $2 million to $3 million 911 county call center. 

Groups like the ABC usually howl loudly whenever the subject of a PLA comes up, claiming that they discriminate against nonunion contractors and increase costs. However, they conveniently ignore the benefits to contractors and owners who employ the agreements: PLAs assure a trained, licensed, drug-tested workforce with proven skills and a track record of getting work done on time and on budget.

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners’s vote was along party lines, with all Democrats supporting the issue. “In the end, I don’t think the bulk of the commissioners think the ABC’s argument carried much weight,” DeLeon said.


PLAs: ‘Valuable tools’ that provide value for taxpayers

By Dale Belman
Michigan State University
Associate Director & Professor,
School of Labor & Industrial Relations

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners should approve a proposal requiring county taxpayer-funded construction projects be built using project labor agreements.

For the better part of a century, project labor agreements, or PLAs, have been used to increase safety and productivity on job sites, ensure taxpayers' investments are protected and deliver value to construction owners.

Many of the nation's most famous projects have used PLAs to ensure success, including Hoover Dam, Disney World and Cape Canaveral. Toyota Motor Corp. has used PLAs for all of its production facilities, using more than 40 million craft hours. Locally, major employers like Sparrow Hospital, the Accident Fund and Jackson National Life have all used PLAs to great success.

A PLA is an agreement between an owner, the organization that is paying for the construction and employees establishing conditions under which the work is to be done. It always includes assurances that skilled labor will be available promptly, protects against halts in construction due to labor disputes and sets the wages, benefits and conditions under which the work will be done.

PLAs often include provisions that improve project productivity and safety, provide training and employment opportunities for local residents and provide for better coordination among contractors. PLAs involving public funds provide for fair competition between union and open shop contractors and allow open shop contractors to compete successfully for projects so long as they agree to pay the wages and benefits established by the PLA.

PLAs can be controversial and have been misrepresented by various groups, particularly the Associated Builders and Contractors. For example, ABC claims that PLAs only allow unionized contractors to bid on projects. In fact, some "open shop" contractors –  those who have built their firms on high productivity and high wages - regularly participate on public PLA projects. Other contractors –  those who have built their business on low pay, poor benefits and little training – usually chose not to bid on PLA projects because they cannot pay the required wages benefits and make a profit.

In view of the social costs low-wage employers impose on the community, such as the costs of providing medical care to families when employers do not provide adequate medical coverage, the non-participation of such employers from public projects creates net social benefits.

In 2007, Matthew W. Bodah of the University of Rhode Island, Peter Phillips of the University of Utah, and I published a study examining the effects of project labor agreements. We found that:
  • PLAs do not increase a project's long-term cost.
  • Stakeholders by-and-large have a high level of satisfaction with PLAs.
  • PLAs improve scheduling, safety, training and minority employment.

Our study found that PLAs are "valuable tools for the construction industry because they can be used to create the conditions needed for a superior construction project." The Ingham County Board of Commissioners would be wise to support the use of PLAs for appropriate projects. Wisely used, PLAs will provide value to the county, both through better projects and supporting employers who pay family benefits.

(The above column appeared in the June 18 edition of the Lansing State Journal, and is reprinted here with the author’s permission).


Trades serving time expanding Washtenaw Co. courts, lockup

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

PITTSFIELD TWP. – Washtenaw County is getting more room to deal with those who run afoul of the law.

The county is expanding its jail and courtroom space to address some key deficiencies: on a per capita basis, Washtenaw County has fewer jail beds than any other county in the state. The Washtenaw County Jail has a rated capacity of 332 beds, but on any given day, the jail is overcrowded by 23 inmates.

The jail expansion involves numerous renovations, including upgrades to the infrastructure; expansion of support services such as kitchen, laundry, medical, booking, holding cells and property storage, and adding a minimum of 112 additional beds.  Renovations to District Court 14A include three new courtrooms and their respective support areas.

Combined, the jail and district court renovation – to what is officially the Washtenaw County Service Center – will cost about $34 million.

“We’re plugging along,” said Derrick Sawinski of Clark Construction, which is managing the building process. “We expect to be complete in the fall of 2010.”

Operations at the jail and court are continuing amid the construction. Washtenaw County Commissioner Jeff Irwin, who chaired the commission’s Public Safety and Justice Oversight Committee until last January, said he has heard from county employees on site that the influx of construction workers is a “hassle,” but they’re coping and looking forward to their new work environment.

Located at Hogback and Washtenaw Rds., Irwin said the condition of both the court and jail facilities has steadily deteriorated over the past few years. The jail was built in 1978, and the court has been using space in a former seminary building. The jail’s kitchen is undersized. Roofs leak. Jails are being manually opened with keys rather than operated electronically. Deputies shuttle prisoners across a parking lot between the court building and the jail, rather than in an enclosed transfer arrangement.

All those issues, and more, will be addressed with this renovation.

“The court needed work, the jail needed work,” Irwin said. “They’re really quite bad, and have been neglected for a long time, so we decided to address both at once. From what I’ve heard, it sounds like the project is on target.”

ELECTRICIANS Joel Powers and Larry Fenech of Local 252 install conduit at the Washtenaw County jail expansion project.

PLUMBERS John Burry and Larry Craft of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190 check the elevation of pipes on the addition to the Washtenaw County Jail. They’re employed by Goyette.


Automotive downturn arrives at trades’ doorstep, 10% givebacks set for Chrysler, Ford work

The National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee approved a series of modifications to its industrial maintenance and construction contracts with Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. on June 3, a move that is expected to create hundreds of millions of dollars of savings for each company over the next two years and help boost them back to financial solvency.

Through the NMAPC, International Union leaders agreed to what amounts to a 10 percent cut on union wages on Chrysler and Ford projects. The status quo remains with General Motors, which was not part of the agreement.

In return, the two auto manufacturers agreed to utilize union contractors, working under the terms of the National Maintenance Agreements, on 100 percent of their industrial maintenance and construction projects over the next two years.

NMAPC Impartial Secretary Stephen R. Lindauer said this move is indicative of the group's commitment to building a partnership of safety, productivity, quality and strength.

"Ford and Chrysler understand the National Maintenance Agreements are the best tool they have in getting the job done on time and on budget," Lindauer said. "Similarly, the labor and management partners at the table are committed to the long-term success of their customers, and are willing to make difficult sacrifices to ensure that success."

The National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee negotiates and administers the National Maintenance Agreements, a series of collective bargaining agreements utilized by more than 2,500 industrial contractors who employ members of 14 building trades international unions.

The modifications will affect union workers, and the contractors who employ them, in a total of 54 facilities across ten states -- Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Michigan will see the greatest impact, with 26 facilities affected by the addendum. The modifications will expire as part of a sunset clause on June 3, 2011.


NMU lobby work brings residence halls together

MARQUETTE – With renovations on Northern Michigan University’s four residence halls having been completed in recent years, the school’s task this summer is to bring everything together by modernizing the lobbies that connect the halls.

General contractor Gundlach Champion, United Plumbing, J & N Electrical and the building trades are in the process of doing just that. A pair of lobbies dating to 1966 and 1967 that connect Magers and Meyland halls, and Van Antwerp and Hunt halls, are being updated to provide “healthier, more attractive, welcoming comfortable environments,” according to NMU.

Work began on the $1.2 million project on May 5. The lobby renovations were originally expected to be complete Aug. 3, but that deadline is being stretched by a few weeks because the job went out to bid a little later than expected, said NMU Project Representative Brandon Sager. “We’re a little behind schedule, but it’s not bad,” he said. Sager said work is proceeding on both lobbies at the same time.

Each pair of the residence halls are connected by the lobby areas, which will provide space for students to conduct some housing-related business, as well as room to interact with each other. The lobbies will include a service desk, storage, mail distribution, reception/lounge space and public restrooms. A total of 18,430 square feet will be renovated, with better lighting, more natural light, and ventilation.

Last year, 65,000-square-foot Hunt Hall was gutted and renovated. Previously, major summertime renovations at NMU took place in Van Antwerp Hall (2007), Meyland Hall (2006) and Magers Hall (2005). The halls are similar in size and were each built in the 1960s.

Working at the Northern Michigan University residence hall lobby renovation is Greg Dupras of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 111. He’s employed by United Plumbing.

MASONRY WORK ON THE exterior of the NMU residence halls.
Photos by Jack Deo/Superior View Photography


GM nods: make it in Michigan

Congressman Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and a host of UAW autoworkers on June 23 delivered 20,000 online signatures to General Motors' Renaissance Center headquarters, imploring the automaker to build a subcompact car at its Orion Twp. assembly plant in Oakland County, rather than in Tennessee or Wisconsin.

The photo op may or may not have had any effect - but two days later, GM announced that it had in fact chosen the Orion Twp. plant to build the car. The decision preserves about 1,200 jobs. The plant currently manufactures the Pontiac G6 and the Chevrolet Malibu, but with the Pontiac brand being phased out, the plant will have the room for another vehicle.

The signatures were presented to Beth Lowrey, GM's vice president for environment, engineering and safety, in the automaker's Renaissance Center headquarters.

"It's important for GM to know that there is overwhelming community support for them to make it in Michigan," Peters said. The Orion Twp. plant currently employs about 3,400 workers. Adding the subcompact car line at the plant would help offset the closing of seven scheduled GM plant closings in Michigan.

Lowrey thanked the group for presenting the signatures, but at the time offered no guarantees. "We will make our decision based on facts and business reasons," she said. Business reasons indeed: with some sweet tax abatements, GM could end up saving as much as $100 million over 25 years in state and local taxes, according to published reports.

Said  UAW member Robert Patton, who works at the Orion plant:"They say it will be a business decision. Well, it will have a very important impact on the community, restaurants, stores, everybody,   It's very important that we get this car manufactured here."

One automotive analyst suggested that GM's decision might have taken care of a little political "business" as well. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was an outspoken opponent of bailout money for Detroit automakers earlier this year - despite the presence of GM's Saturn operations in his home state. Turns out Spring Hill, Tennessee was one of the two losers in GM's decision.


News Briefs

Michigan AFL-CIO’s Garrison is mourned

Frank Garrison, the president of the Michigan AFL-CIO from 1986-1999, died June 17, 2009. He was 74.

“The Michigan AFL-CIO has lost one of its most passionate and active leaders,” said current state AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. “Our thoughts and our hearts are with his family during this difficult time.”

Franklin Delano Garrison became “president emeritus” of the state AFL-CIO after his retirement in 1999. Mr. Garrison became a member of UAW Local 699 at the Saginaw Steering Gear Plant, and then served for two years in the U.S. Army. In 1955, he became active in the union, and was eventually appointed UAW International Representative for Region 1-D in 1972.

In July 1976, he became Legislative Director for the UAW in Lansing. Garrison was appointed Executive Director of the Michigan UAW-CAP in 1982, a position he held for four years until he was elected president of the Michigan State AFL-CIO in 1986.

The diminutive labor leader “was just a terrific advocate for working men and women in this state,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council CEO Patrick Devlin. “He was very involved in so many facets of the labor movement, from politics to health care. Frank was a tremendous person and labor leader, and he will be missed.”

Mr. Garrison is survived by his wife, Dora, and three daughters.

Lower hike for ’09 construction wages

Construction industry contract settlements in 2009 through June 1 showed that the average first-year wage hike was 2.8 percent, compared to 3.5 during the same period in 2008.

In the manufacturing sector, the average increase in 2009 during that five month period was the same as in 2008: a flat 2.1 percent average.

The information comes via the Construction Labor Report.

The historically modest wage hikes helped workers keep ahead of the inflation rate, which actually fell 1.3 percent through the year ending May 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.


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