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November 6, 2009

When it comes to employment,the hits just keep on coming

ABC’s business model: Cheap, subservient workforce contributes to our race to the bottom

Saginaw Valley State University’s unique aquathermal system…
Want to save money on heatingcosts? First, you need a pond...

NLRB nominees one step closer to full OK

Trades among hundreds of volunteers who helped build rescue simulator

News Brief

 

When it comes to employment,the hits just keep on coming

Construction employment again declined in large numbers in all but one state this September compared to last year, according to an analysis of new state-by-state employment figures released Oct. 21 by the federal government.

The analysis, conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America, also found that the number of states gaining construction jobs from August to September 2009 declined after increasing during the two previous months.

And overall in the U.S., new U.S. construction starts in September fell 7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $399.1 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Construction.

“While there’s little doubt construction employment would have been worse without the stimulus, there’s no question that the industry continues to shed jobs at an alarming rate,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the association. “The stimulus remains an important measure, but until private-sector demand for construction resumes, there’s little chance the current construction employment decline will turn around or even stop.”

The five biggest percentage losses in construction employment over the year through September occurred in Nevada (27.8 percent, or 31,100 jobs), Arizona (25.3 percent, or 45,900 jobs), Michigan (22.3 percent, or 15,700 jobs), Tennessee (21.5 percent, or 28,400 jobs) and Kentucky (19.5 percent or 16,500 jobs).

Simonson said that 41 states saw double-digit percentage decreases in construction employment for the year. Meanwhile, construction employment only expanded in Louisiana during the past year, with a 2.1 percent increase, totaling 2,800 jobs.

From August to September, Michigan was once again in the wrong top 10 list among the states (tied for 5th worst), shedding 3,400 construction jobs or losing another 2.8 percent of building trades jobs.

“These figures should serve as a sobering reminder that public investments alone are not going to turn around a trillion dollar construction industry,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer. “The three most important issues in Washington ought to be jobs, jobs and jobs….”

The Dodge Index tracking total U.S. construction bottomed out in February, after a steady decline over the previous year, and since then has shown hesitant improvement. “The September decline for construction starts is one more reminder that the very modest upward trend that seemed to take hold during the spring will be uneven and at times halting,” said Robert A. Murray vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. “More of this uneven performance can be expected in coming months, given the divergent behavior from construction’s main sectors.

“On the plus side, the steep decline for single family housing has reached its end, and funding from the stimulus act is beginning to have a broader impact beyond highways and bridges, encompassing more government buildings and more environmental public works. On the negative side, further employment declines and tight bank lending will drag down commercial building well into next year.”

Overall, according to the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, 5.2% of U.S. jobs have been lost since the start of the recession (December 2007). In September, Arizona became the first state to have lost 10% of its total jobs to the recession – something that has only occurred once in the past four recessions (in 1982-82, when Wyoming lost 10% of its jobs).

Michigan, of course, isn’t far behind, having shed 9.8 percent of its jobs since the start of the recession.

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ABC’s business model: Cheap, subservient workforce contributes to our race to the bottom

By Mark Ayers
President
AFL-CIO Building Trades Department

Ever since I assumed the presidency of the Building and Construction Trades Department in October, 2007, I have been very aggressive in trying to get our unions focused on “stepping out of the box” to confront a plethora of challenges – most prominently the need to establish a new brand identity for union construction that is based upon pride, performance and professionalism.

It has been, and will continue to be, my goal to help position our industry in a manner to proactively demonstrate – to construction owners, contractors, public officials and the general public – the value of utilizing the safest, most highly trained and productive workforce in the world.

And we are achieving success.

However, while the Building Trades continue to be among the strongest and most secure sectors of the American labor movement, we are continually faced with the distortions, falsehoods and outright lies being perpetrated by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

The latest public relations blitz from the ABC has to do with President Obama’s Executive Order that would encourage all federal agencies to require Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on federal construction projects in excess of $25 million. This action has sent the ABC into an apoplectic fit of rage.

Predictably, the ABC is trumpeting their claims that PLAs serve only to drive up the cost of construction projects; discriminate against non-union contractors and disadvantaged businesses; and are nothing more than political payback for our support of President Obama’s election in 2008

Well, there is an old adage that says if you tell a lie often enough, people start to accept it as the truth. And that is what is happening with the outrageous claims being made by the ABC.

Every day, the ABC is taking a page right out of the playbook of their old friends George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (who the ABC vigorously supported) by spreading a plethora of misperceptions and falsehoods about PLAs.

In actuality, what the ABC is doing is engaging in a classic case of diversion. Again, this is right out of the Bush/Cheney playbook. The ABC does not care that the claims they make about PLAs are not true, as long as people are focused on those issues and not on the ABC itself.

This is because their primary purpose is to avoid and deflect any conversation about, or examination of, the “open shop” business model which the ABC so aggressively advocates and defends. They do not want to engage in that discussion because it is a business model that has systematically done grave damage to American construction workers as a whole…as well serving to undermine the socio-economic structures of communities all across this great nation.

It’s high time that America’s building trades unions, along with community leaders and social and economic justice advocates, called out the ABC and forced them to defend the underlying tenets of the open shop’s “unfettered free market” business model…which can only be described as a “race to the bottom” approach that has damaging consequences for workers, families and communities all across this nation.

In the current debate over PLAs, the ABC has frequently utilized a spokesperson from Miller & Long Construction to lambaste the Administration’s policy on PLAs. Well, I think it’s great that they use Miller & Long as a surrogate. Because, frankly, I can’t think of another contractor that better exemplifies the abhorrent business model fiercely defended by the ABC.

So, let’s take a look at how Miller and Long, and by extension the open shop sector, conducts business.

First off, Miller & Long is one of, if not the, largest concrete firms in the nation. According to the summer 2006 issue of Mid-Atlantic Construction (an industry publication), Miller & Long had revenues of $372 million, while second-ranked Oncore Construction took in $58.4 million.

Unfortunately, estimates are that some 90 percent of Miller & Long Concrete Construction’s 3,000 employees may be undocumented workers, judging from a recent New York Times report and police accounts of major arrests of Miller & Long workers.

The story of how Miller & Long achieves success by exploiting a low-wage, low-skill, oftentimes vulnerable and exploitable workforce is emblematic of the “open shop” business model that is fiercely advocated and defended by the Associated Builders and Contractors. And it only gets more sinister and seamier the more one looks into it.

In April 2006, the New York Times offered this assessment of Miller & Long’s VP for Human Resources: “Myles Gladstone is a burly, silver-haired businessman who spends most days in a hard hat, striding through crushed gravel at construction sites, greeting workers and fielding complaints. But on Monday, Mr. Gladstone, 59, who typically spends his free time collecting antique jukeboxes for his home in Potomac, an affluent Maryland suburb, was caught up in the political ferment sweeping the nation as he joined the throngs of immigrants demonstrating here. He said he could not afford to simply stand by.

As the vice president for human resources of Miller & Long, a regional concrete construction company, Mr. Gladstone is responsible for a mainly immigrant work force. Nearly 90 percent of the company’s 3,000 employees are immigrants, mostly from El Salvador, he said. And the tough border security bill passed by the House in December 2005, which would have made illegal immigration a felony, could disrupt his company’s operations if it becomes law. So when he heard about the demonstration to protest the legislation, Mr. Gladstone and other company officials decided to offer employees a day of unpaid leave to attend the rally and push for a bill that would legalize illegal immigrants.

To show additional support, he attended the protest himself. ‘We are indebted to the work ethic they bring us,’ Mr. Gladstone said. ‘Without them, Miller & Long would not be as successful, and I would not be as successful.’ Mr. Gladstone has assured us that he does not know how any of the 2,700 El Salvadorians on his payroll actually got there.

Indeed. But, they are there.

In 2006, Miller & Long was selected as the contractor to add seating to the west end zone of Carter-Finely stadium at North Carolina State University. Unfortunately, the project was halted when immigration and customs enforcement officers executed a raid. According to local press reports, over 50 workers eluded the authorities and fled from the jobsite. The workers had been hired by Miller and Long to renovate the stadium, in a $19 million upgrade by the Wolfpack Club. Authorities discovered the illegal hot spot while tracking three undocumented people who fled from an accident on Interstate 40.

Now, before I go on, I want to make it unmistakably clear that legal immigrants are not at issue in this debate…and that the illegal employees of Miller & Long and the multitude of other open shop contractors around the nation are victims. They have been, and continue to be, exploited by unscrupulous contractors in the open shop. America’s building trades unions will do, and are doing, all that it can to help protect them and to expose the unscrupulous contractors who take horrible advantage of them.

Incredibly, the leadership of Miller & Long is unabashed about their hiring philosophy.

The bottom line is this: for anyone who has been actively involved in the construction industry for any length of time, you would be hard-pressed to find a more morally corrupt and unscrupulous contracting company as Miller & Long Concrete Construction and its various identities. And the fact that the ABC utilizes Miller & Long executives as surrogate spokespersons for their campaign to limit PLAs speaks volumes about the ABC and the open shop business model.

What is surprising is that many construction management firms, developers, businesses, elected officials and the media continually turn a blind eye to the despicable actions that comprise the open shop business model. Wouldn’t many employers like to have a cheap, subservient work force that, for all intents and purposes, has no legal rights?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes. And that’s because entities like Miller & Long – who dominate their share of the market – are forcing many once-reputable companies into utilizing the same tactics as them in order to compete. This is the essence of the “race to the bottom” business model espoused by the ABC and defended by their conservative allies in the US House and Congress.

And what has been the result of this “race to the bottom?” The ABC likes to claim that they represent 80% of the construction market today. We would dispute that. But, for argument’s sake, we’ll accept their claims.

Now, let’s examine the result of the open-shop domination of the construction market. For starters, real wages for construction workers were lower in 2006 than they were in 1973! Adjusted for inflation, construction workers in 1973 earned the equivalent of $22.13 an hour in today’s dollars. However, actual average hourly pay for construction workers in 2006 was only $18.29 – 17% below their 1973 earnings, adjusted for inflation.

Additionally, even when contractors are making money, workers are not seeing the gains. According to the federal government’s economic census, contractors’ profits grew between 1977 and 2002. However, workers did not get their fair share of the gain – instead the proportion of construction receipts paid to payroll and benefits actually declined by almost 14% during that same period!

This would be a ludicrous situation if it weren’t for the serious damages that Miller & Long, and by extension the open-shop business model, has done…and continues to do…to working families and communities all across this nation. To put it bluntly, the entire open-shop business model maintains no affinity to its country, the communities in which it works, and its fellow citizens. The Miller & Long/ABC/open shop, “race to the bottom” approach undermines all aspects of a fair marketplace and in so doing they emphatically and proudly thumb their noses at the USA, while simultaneously exploiting the hopes and dreams of poor and desperate illegal immigrants who simply desire to care for their families.

America’s building trades unions will never stop in their quest to expose the ABC and the open-shop for what they truly are…the defenders of an abhorrent business model that is contrary to our American beliefs whereby those that work hard and play by the rules are summarily rewarded with success.

We will do our level best to educate Members of Congress, the media and the general public about the true nature of the ABC and their advocacy of a business model that is nothing more than a cancerous growth upon the construction industry and communities all across this nation.

And we will never, ever, apologize for advocating a business model – epitomized by project labor agreements – that offers so much in the way of economic and social benefits for workers and communities all across this great nation!

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Saginaw Valley State University’s unique aquathermal system...
Want to save money on heatingcosts? First, you need a pond...

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAGINAW – The 2.2 million-gallon north pond on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University provides a home to bluegill, crappie and other aquatic life, but next year, it’s going to do what no other pond has ever done in the State of Michigan.

An “aquathermal” heating and cooling system that’s being installed at SVSU and linked to its new Health and Human Services Facility is expected to use the pond to chill and heat water for the building’s heating and cooling system, providing overall energy savings of 34 percent compared to conventional systems.

Spence Brothers is acting as construction manager on the project, which began in April. The building is expected to open in August 2010. The job currently employs about 80-90 Hardhats, and that’s about peak employment.

Under construction on the north side of campus, the two-story (plus mechanical penthouse) Health and Human Services Facility “has been about the smoothest job I’ve been on in the last 10 years,” said Spence Brothers Project Manager Brian Keeler. “Everything has gone really, really well.”

The 95,000 square-foot building will contain 13 labs, 12 classrooms and office space. The building will have a number of environmentally friendly features, and is expected to get at least a silver LEED certification.

The Health and Human Services building in itself going to be a nice, but unremarkable addition to the SVSU campus. However, the building’s first-of-it’s kind heating and cooling system is creating quite a buzz, and has generated television and newspaper stories across Michigan.

“We’re getting a lot interest and inquiries from schools around Michigan,” said Jerry Stuart, director of construction for Saginaw Valley State University. “But we have the pond, and it’s a resource a lot of other places don’t have.”

What’s so special about the pond? Nothing really. It has 6.75 acres of surface area, has an average depth of 13 feet, and sits 1,025 feet from the new building.

During the project planning, SVSU assistant vice president for campus facilities Steve Hocquard decided to pursue using the pond – which he termed “a very efficient energy absorber” – to supplement the conventional heating and cooling system for the Health and Human Services Building. The aquathermal system can also be expanded to serve other buildings on campus.

Underground between the pond and the Health and Human Services Building run four 10-inch main polypropylene tubes containing some 10,000 gallons of “Dowfrost,” –  donated by Dow Chemical – which is a propylene glycol product. The system involves the sinking of 28 “skids” into the pond, each containing 14 heat exchange coils. The system works to heat and cool the building by transferring heat through an underground loop to the coils submerged in the pond.

In the summer, the loop transfers the building’s heat, which is absorbed by the pond. In the winter, the loop draws upon the latent warmth of the water to return heat.

Variable speed circulating pumps vary the flow of the glycol according to the building’s needs. The system eliminates the need for individual heat pumps assigned to every room in the building. And, the heat pump system will provide chilled water to the building’s air handling unit and under-floor heating system to maximize comfort in the building.

The heating and cooling system work is being performed by UA Local 85 members working for Remer and their sub, S & J Heating and Cooling. The university says the system will have no effect on the aquatic life in the pond.

Wayne Kerbelis, of Peter Basso Associates, which engineered the aquathermal system, said a software program measures the amount of heating and cooling that’s needed, as well as the size and depth of the pond, to determine the hardware required for the system.

He said the cooling costs of the aquathermal system would normally be “a wash” compared to conventional methods, but the real savings come on the heating end. The heat pump system can save 50 percent in building heating energy costs, compared to a conventional boiler heating system.

A website which performs experiments in renewable technologies, Richard Collins.net, said the efficiency of water source heat pumps usually win “hands down” when compared to air or ground-based heat pumps. The reason – “most of the time the water at depth has a consistent temperature and hardly varies at all throughout the year.”

It said the reason more people don’t use ponds in their heat pump systems is simple: they don’t have access to a pond.


HEAT EXCHANGER GRIDS await placement at the bottom of Saginaw Valley State University’s north pond. The pond itself was created a few years ago when road builders needed fill dirt for nearby Bay Road, and scooped it out from an open field – with the college’s permission – on the north side of the campus. Photo courtesy Saginaw Valley State University



FITTERS FROM Local 85 and S & J Heating and Insulation prepare two-inch supply/return lines for heat exchanger grids. Photo courtesy Saginaw Valley State University


PIPES THAT ARE PART of Saginaw Valley State University’s aquathermal system, consisting here of six-inch to eight-inch carbon steel, are ready for a weld by Richard Los of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85, working for Remer.

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‘NLRB nominees one step closer to full OK

WASHINGTON (PAI) – President Barack Obama’s three nominees –  two Democrats and one Republican – to fill vacant seats on the National Labor Relations Board are one step closer to sitting in those chairs.

And when they do take their places, the board, under a legal cloud for almost two years about whether it could decide anything – whom unions can represent, who wins representation elections and more – will be at its top level back in business. 

Two of Obama’s NLRB nominees, pro-worker Democratic labor lawyer Mark Pearce of New York, and Republican Brian Hayes of Massachusetts, were unanimously approved by the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee on Oct. 21, following a hearing that morning. 

But the third, Harold Becker of Illinois – the other Democrat and a counsel for two unions – drew GOP flak and won panel approval by a 15-8 vote, with eight Republicans voting “no.”  The committee’s top Republican, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, said he had “some questions about Becker’s previous writings,” without being specific.

The nominees now go before the full Senate for approval.

Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, praised all three nominees and also spoke about how the board – when run by a Bush-named GOP majority – veered away from its mission of enforcing labor law’s workers’ rights provisions. 

Harkin also rebutted the GOP arguments against Becker, saying Becker “pushed the envelope” in analyzing labor law in scholarly articles while in private practice, but promised he would impartially follow the law as written when he joins the NLRB.

“The NLRB is a small agency, but its mission is a large one – to 'encourage the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and…protect the exercise by workers of full freedom of association,’” Harkin, son of an Iowa coal miner, explained.

“In today’s challenging economy, when workers are vulnerable and worried about the future, it is critically important to have strong leadership at the board to guide the agency in its core mission. 

"Unfortunately, in recent years the Board seems to have strayed off course.  The agency doesn’t seem to be doing all it can to inform workers of their rights, or to appropriately punish repeat violators of our labor laws.

“I am also concerned about the excessive delays – justice delayed is justice denied, and all too often these delays mean there is no real penalty for violating workers’ rights.   It will be a serious challenge to restore the core mission of this agency, but I think today’s nominees are up to the task,” Harkin concluded.

Approval of Becker, Pearce and Hayes by the full Senate, which has not been scheduled yet, is important, because a federal court ruling earlier this year threw the board’s powers into legal limbo.   That’s because since late Dec. 2007, the NLRB had only two members out of its authorized five, Democrat Wilma Liebman and Republican Peter Schaumber.  Obama has designated Liebman to chair the board.

Those two, relying on a legal interpretation from the Bush administration, have decided almost 400 cases – most of them deemed relatively noncontroversial – by 2-0 votes, with a third “phantom” member, who would always presumably vote “no,” providing a quorum – thus letting the board issue final rulings.  Many federal appeals courts agreed with that interpretation.

But the top federal appellate court in D.C. threw it out earlier this year.  The court said the board needed a real quorum, of three people, to decide anything.  It also ruled the 2-0 cases might have to be decided all over again. The D.C. court handles most of the NLRB’s cases.  Liebman and Schaumber asked the Obama administration to appeal that “real quorum” decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which it did.

That hasn’t stopped Liebman and Schaumber from issuing more 2-0 rulings.  But Liebman said, when they announced they were taking the case to the High Court, that her board’s two members still look forward to getting a full board.



Trades among hundreds of volunteers who helped build rescue simulator

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor


SOUTHFIELD – Someday, maybe the efforts of people who helped build the city Fire Department’s new rescue simulator will help save the life of a fellow construction worker in need of rescue.

The new simulator, built on Lahser south of 10 Mile Road, got off the ground – or in this case into and above the ground – with the commitment of time and effort by of the apprentices at the Iron Workers Local 25 Training Center, as well as personnel from the Cement Masons and the Carpenters. They were part of a group of no less than 400 individuals and 86 vendors who gave their time, talents, money or material to build the simulator, which is about 85 percent complete, according to Southfield Fire Captain Joe Dell, who conceived of the project after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Over the last few months, it came together in a hurry,” Dell said. “It has really been a humbling thing to watch all the tradespeople and contractors come together to get this done.”

Located on donated land near Southfield Fire Station No. 5, the simulator will allow first responders to train in a number of disaster response areas, including confined space, rubble pile rescue, building collapse, and vehicle extraction. Dell said rescue training will be made available to about 170 firefighters spanning 13 Oakland County communities who are linked by a mutual aid agreement.

With plans for the site he “wrote on the back of a napkin,” Dell said Barton Malow, which volunteered to manage the job, “gave us a jumpstart” on the project, and it has moved quickly over the past several months. Barton Malow’s Kara Prince along with onsite “boss” carpenter Joann Rowland used their industry contacts, Dell said, to help line up donated materials and volunteer personnel where possible. He estimated that the site would cost about $1.6 million.

“We thought it would be a perfect training opportunity for our apprentices,” said Mike Relyin, training coordinator for the Iron Workers Local 25 Training Center, who said about 10 apprentices, tying reinforcing rod for the trench simulator, worked on the job over a two-week period.

“We’re always glad to help where we can,” Relyin said, “especially when it comes to firefighters, who do so much good for the community.”

The building trades and firefighters in Michigan and other areas have developed  relationships over the course of this decade, spawned by the example of cooperation after the collapse of the World Trade Center. The building trades’ expertise in the use of cutting materials and lifting heavy objects are particularly useful in many catastrophic situations.

Dell said firefighters would be cooperating with MUSAR – the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue Training Foundation, which trains out of the Operating Engineers Local 324 Training Center in Howell.

MUSAR works in cooperation with fire service, local emergency management, State Police and private sector agencies to provide a statewide capability for specialized response to structural collapse emergencies and search and rescue.

“My goal is to interact with MUSAR and coordinate our training,” Dell said. “With municipal finances the way they are, we want to provide the most cost-effective training that we can, for as many firefighters as possible. Already, we’ve seen the value of the firefighters working together with the building trades on this project. It’s been really cool and great to see how they work together.”

And someday, he said, that training and interaction will pay off. The Southfield project is about 85 percent complete, and Dell said he like to have it close to complete when he retires at the end of the year. “Someday, we’re going to need your guys to set things up for us, and we’ll work together to save a life,” Dell said.

The Southfield trench rescue simulator under construction.

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News Brief

Public health option revived, for now

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Labor’s strong campaign for comprehensive universal affordable health care racked up a preliminary win on Oct. 26 as congressional leaders inserted the “public option” – the government-run plan to compete with the insurance companies – into health care bills headed for lawmakers’ full debate.

The key victory came in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Oct. 26 overrode the conservative Senate Finance Committee’s bill and inserted a public option plan into the legislation he and other leaders are drafting behind closed doors.  The version he included, designed to appeal to some possible swing-vote Republicans, would let states opt out of the national public option plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., unveiled her chamber’s bill on Oct. 29, also with a public option. 

“The best way to restrain health care costs is to have the public option,” AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka declared.  “If you don’t have it, you guarantee the insurance companies 40 million new customers” – because most of the bills would order everyone to get health insurance –  “at their rates,” not the lower rates the government-run public option could command.

“The more potent the public option is, the more you create competition” with the insurers, he added.

The public option, thought dead after Right-Wing-organized disruptions against it during the August congressional recess, has revived – for now.  Unions launched a counter-campaign for it, non-partisan congressional auditors reported it would produce the most savings from rising health care costs and the insurers released a slanted study opposing it.  The insurance industry lost credibility in Congress and the country.

The Finance Committee bill tackled the problem of how to pay the $900 billion 10-year cost of making health care virtually universal, covering everyone except undocumented workers.  That legislation proposes taxing health insurance policies worth more than $8,000 yearly to individuals and $21,000 yearly to families. The idea of taxing workers’ benefits is still alive and that’s still a key cause – and potential deal breaker – for unions and their members.

And that’s hardly the only potential deal breaker. While an easy majority of the House supports the public option, in the Senate, there may be enough Democrats to pass the 50-vote majority threshold, but there are not enough to get to the filibuster-proof 60 votes. So far every Republican senator has disavowed the public option, and moderate Democrats are hardly on board with the concept. In fact, last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman, (D-Conn.) threatened to lead the filibuster effort if a public option is included.

“I can't see a way in which I can vote for cloture on any bill that contained a creation of a government-operated and run insurance company," the Connecticut senator said. "It's just asking for trouble.”

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