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October 9, 2009

Trades protest coal plant obstacles

Rally time: Trades demand permits for clean coal plants

Church’s old joints will be made new again

U.S. construction’s 17.1% jobless rate packs wallop for nonresidential sector

Tradesman wins top award among labor publications

News Brief

 

Trades protest coal plant obstacles

By Patrick Devlin
Secretary Treasurer
& Patrick “Shorty” Gleason
President
Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council

LANSING – The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council this week staged a rally on the steps of the Capitol Building in Lansing.

We don’t hold rallies very often, but in this case, we felt we didn’t have a choice. Decisions are being made by state regulators and lawmakers that will have a profound impact on the job prospects of unionized construction workers across the State of Michigan. We needed to let them know that their decisions will have a real, lasting impact on our lives and livelihoods.

Michigan needs construction jobs. Thousands of them. There are local unions that are experiencing unprecedented unemployment – many have well over 50 percent of their membership sitting on the bench, and frankly, prospects for future work are grim.

As a result, this council and leaders in our affiliated unions have, during the past few years, been closely watching the regulatory progress and shifting political winds that affect the construction of coal-burning power plants in Michigan. This should be a good news story, but it’s turning into a nightmare.

Consumers Energy, which has been a responsible corporate citizen and a true partner with building trades unions and contractors, is proposing to spend $2 billion on a new clean-coal burning unit on the grounds of its Karn-Weadock plant near Bay City.

Yes, the actual construction is a couple years away, but there aren’t many other  companies knocking on Michigan’s door and with a proposal to spend that kind of money here. Except… for the Wolverine Power Cooperative.

Wolverine has a plan to spend $1.2 billion on another clean-coal plant near Rogers City, using union labor. Again, construction on this plant isn’t imminent – but we must look down the road and try to shore up our job prospects whenever possible, and this project would have a huge beneficial economic impact on Northeast Michigan.

Sound good? These are two companies that want to spend money in Michigan and provide thousands of construction jobs and scores of permanent jobs. Both companies plan on using abundant, low-cost coal to power their plants. The latest clean coal technology will be used, so that the plants will vastly limit their pollutants. In the case of  Consumers Energy’s proposed 830-megawatt unit, it will eventually replace older, more polluting production facilities.

Until Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s State of the State speech last February, there were no indications from the state that construction of those plants was anything but a go. Then, in her speech, Granholm announced that by the year 2020, the state would reduce its reliance on fossil fuels for generating electricity by 45 percent. She said that could be achieved through increased use of renewable energy sources, gains in energy efficiency, and “other new technologies.”

 The governor’s edict got our attention, and eventually the attention of state Attorney General Mike Cox. On Feb. 20, Cox issued an opinion that Granholm “exceeded her legal authority” when she issued Executive Directive 2009-2, which attempted to create new legal requirements for the construction of coal-fired power plants in Michigan.

In that Feb. 3, 2009 executive order, Granholm’s directive required the state Department of Environmental Quality to deny air emissions permits under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) for coal-powered plants if it determined there are "feasible and prudent alternatives" to constructing coal-fired electric power plants. The directive also would have required DEQ to make a "determination" if there is a "reasonable electricity generation need" for a proposed coal-fired plant and consider alternative methods of meeting that need before approving a permit.

Cox said the new requirements imposed by the governor are “not found in the (NREPA) or other laws….”

But we were later assured by Lt. Gov. John Cherry that utilities applying for power plant construction permits from state agencies would only be required to submit a “carbon reduction strategy” to the state Department of Environmental Quality and apply for federal grant money, if it become available, to reduce carbon emissions.

Then, last month, the Michigan Public Service Commission weighed in. The MPSC basically said that Wolverine Power “failed to demonstrate” that putting the new power plant on the electrical grid was needed. And the proposed Consumers Energy unit was denied, the MPSC said, because it didn’t balance the new plant with “explicit retirement of existing capacity in its base load generation fleet.”

These rulings have delighted and energized the Green movement in Michigan, many of whom seem to think that windmills, solar power, biofuels, and hydroelectricity alone will be able to power our state into the future. Those technologies have a place, but their construction won’t come close to approaching the jobs provided by building – and later maintaining – baseload power generation plants.

Consumers Energy say that their fleet of baseload power generation plants needs to be upgraded – and that sounds good to us. At an average age of 50 years, their plants are among the oldest fleets in the nation. And Wolverine wants to introduce a new Michigan-made plant, which will keep power production local, jobs local, and taxes local. That sounds good to us, too.

Why that doesn’t sound good to the Granholm Administration is a mystery. She may be enamored with the environmental promises made by the Green movement, but we’re more enamored with the prospect of thousands of construction jobs.

The Granholm Administration has promised that air permits on both the Consumers Energy and Wolverine plants would be issued by Nov. 1. Undoubtedly, legal action will follow. The rally on Oct. 6 was intended to let Granholm know that we’re watching that deadline, as well as her every move when it comes to coal plant construction.

We also ask this question of her, state lawmakers as well as regulators who might be standing in the way of new clean-coal plant construction: what the hell are you thinking?

Michigan has $6.5 billion queued in coal plant work

The Consumers Energy unit in Bay City and Wolverine Power Cooperative facility near Rogers City plants aren’t the only coal-burning plants in Michigan considered for construction, but they are the farthest along in the state permit process. All told, the construction of more than $6.5 billion in coal-burning power plants are under consideration in Michigan – and all are at risk if the state continues its apparent move toward alternative “green” energy sources.

Proposed plants listed below are in various stages of the application and permit process:

In Midland, the L.S. Power group has proposed a 750-megawatt, $2 billion coal-fired plant. It is waiting on about 15 state or federal permits.

In Marquette, Northern Michigan University is proposing to construct a $55 million high-pressure boiler at their existing Ripley Heating plant that would be capable of burning a mix of fuels, including wood chips, coal and natural gas. The plant would be capable of producing the required university’s thermal and electrical needs.

The Lansing Board of Water and Light is looking to replace its aging Erickson Station powerhouse with a $1 billion, 350-megawatt plant that would burn coal and biomass fuels like waste wood and waste crops or grasses.

In Holland, the James De Young Generation Station Expansion is being proposed by the Board of Public Works. They seeking to expand the existing 11-megawatt plant with a 78-megawatt coal-fired boiler. Cost: about $250 million.

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Rally time: Trades demand permits for clean coal plants

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING – “What part of J-O-B-S don’t you understand?”

That was the question asked at a rally held at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 6 on the lawn in front of the State Capitol Building. Doing the asking was Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council (MBCTC) Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin, who, along with a host of other bi-partisan speakers, called on Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state regulators to stop holding up the permitting process preceding construction of two clean-coal power plants in the state.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 construction workers and supporters from all corners of the state attended the rally, sponsored by the MBCTC. The rally was scheduled out of frustration with the Granholm Administration, which has turned away from the coal plant construction in favor of “green” alternatives like windmills, solar and introducing energy efficiency.

The result: huge construction job creators – a new $1.2 billion plant by the Wolverine Power Cooperative in Rogers City and a proposed $2 billion Consumers Energy plant on the grounds of existing Karn-Weadock facility near Bay City – are on ice. The already slow two-year state permitting process has been extended even longer by the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Granholm Administration, who want to know what power production Consumers intends to remove from the electrical grid, while declaring that the proposed Wolverine Plant near Rogers City isn’t necessary at all.

Four other power plants are also on the drawing board in Michigan.

Michigan Building Trades Council President Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, who MC’d the event, recalled the dark economic days in the early1980s, when residents were exiting the state in such great numbers because of the lousy economy, the question was asked, “will the last one out of Michigan please turn out the lights?” To the rally attendees, he said, “I’d like to tell our state lawmakers, ‘if you don’t get this right, it’s going to be, ‘will the last one in Michigan please blow out the candles,’ because that’s what it’s going to be like without power.”

Numerous speakers expressed frustration at the Granholm Administration for putting the promises of the Green Energy Movement in front of the immediate need for jobs, and the long-term need in Michigan for reliable electrical power. 

“We don’t have to look far for what’s wrong with this state, when you realize that six utilities want to build six power plants in Michigan, with a combined price tag of over six billion dollars,” said IBEW International Representative Jeff Radjewski. “But only in Michigan do our leaders and regulators look at that kind of potential investment and say, ‘Naah, no thank you.’

“Apparently, only in Michigan do the state’s construction workers have to take a day out of their lives to come to the State Capitol, and insist that their lawmakers and regulators open up their eyes and approve projects by utilities and private companies that could literally turn around lives of thousands of lives  here in Michigan.

“You know this state is still a good investment, and I know it is too. Now it’s our job to get the message to the people who work here in Lansing that these utilities are offering us a gift of jobs, jobs, jobs, and shame on us if we don’t take them up on their offer!”

A coalition of labor, utilities, Republicans, Democrats and the state Chamber of Commerce and other business groups worked for four years to change the state’s regulatory environment, in order to allow the construction of the clean-coal plants. The new legislation was adopted a year ago. Four months later, Granholm pulled the rug on the work of the coalition, and started putting up roadblocks for permitting the coal-fired plants.

“You cannot run factories on pixie dust,” said state Republican Rep. Ken Horn, whose district includes the power-hungry Hemlock Semiconductor Plant in Midland. “This coalition is a partnership between the trades, the manufacturers, the chamber and both parties. You more than anyone else knows this is about jobs. There’s one person who needs to hear this: the governor.”

Numerous speakers urged attendees at the rally to contact their state legislators, and urge them to get the clean-coal plants back on track.

 Said Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon (D): “I feel betrayed. We agreed to change the rules, with bipartisan support. Then the bureaucrats stepped in” and halted the plants’ permit applications. “Keep the heat on them,” Dillon urged.

MICHIGAN BUILDING and Construction Trades Council President Patrick “Shorty” Gleason told a Lansing rally supporting clean-coal construction that “you need to talk to your legislators about how important this is – this is your livelihood.” We’ll have more coverage in our next edition.



MICHIGAN Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer
Patrick Devlin at the Oct. 6 rally.

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Church’s old joints will be made new again

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT – St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Cathedral got 42 years of life out of the original, all-important butyl caulk that seals joints between the exterior limestone fascia panels.

Not a bad lifespan – but as all things must pass, so too does sealant. The failing caulk is why Chezcore and a small crew of masons have literally been all over the exterior of the cathedral on Outer Drive in Detroit, removing the old butyl and replacing it with fresh beads of Dow Corning silicone.

“The old caulk was shot, replacing it was way overdue,” said Chezcore Foreman Darryl Green of BAC Local 1. “The old stuff is coming out fairly easily. We’re replacing 100 percent of the joints on the building.”

The 70-foot-tall church has had some leaks that have stained some interior plaster, so getting the work done before another frost and thaw cycle is important. In recent years, work had been done to seal the some roof and flashing areas. The small crew of three masons began work in August and will be complete by mid-November. In all, 13,000 lineal feet of caulking will be removed and replaced.

St. Lazarus Church project liaison Chris Nickson said over the years some caulk had been replaced, but it was time to get it all done. “It’s estimated that 65-70 percent of the caulk had to be replaced, and sooner or later, we’d have to do the whole building, so it’s time,” he said.

The 153,000-square-foot church was consecrated in 1967. Nickson said at the time, it was one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the U.S. A history of the church written by the building’s architect, Harold H. Fisher Associates, said St. Lazarus “was designed primarily as a monument to the timeless qualities of the Serbian Orthodox religion and to the noteworthy cultural contributions of its people’s ancestry.

“It reflects the achievements of Serbian church builders during the time preceding the fourteenth century - during which period their religious reverence, devotion, and fervor prompted them to build a great number of churches in the small part of Europe called Yugoslavia now, then Serbia, churches with many distinctive and remarkable architectural, engineering, and artistic features and characteristics.”

Nickson said he is “very happy” with Green and the small Chezcore crew. “I hope when they’re done, that’s going to be the end of the work for a while on the outside of the building for us,” he said.

A BEAD OF CAULK is placed around the limestone joints of a window of St. Lazarus Servian Orthodox Cathedral in Detroit by Dave Schore of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 1 and Chezcore.

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U.S. construction’s 17.1% jobless rate packs wallop for nonresidential sector

The national unemployment rate for the construction industry rose to 17.1 percent as another 64,000 construction workers lost their jobs in September, according to an analysis of new employment data released Oct. 2. With 80 percent of layoffs occurring in nonresidential construction, Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said the decline in nonresidential construction has eclipsed housing’s problems.

“The housing industry may be stabilizing, but the broader construction crisis is only getting worse,” Simonson said. “While the stimulus is helping slow the decline, it’s clearly far from enough to reverse sweeping industry-wide layoffs on its own.”

The new September employment data assembled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 50,800 layoffs in the nonresidential construction sector this September, while there were 13,300 fewer workers in the residential construction sector during the same period. He added that over the last year, 649,800 nonresidential construction workers were laid off while 443,000 residential workers lost their jobs.

He added that since December 2007, residential and nonresidential construction employment shrank by 1.5 million. In other words, one out of every five people working in construction in 2007 has lost their job.

“When you’ve got skilled carpenters using their hard hats to panhandle on the streets of Reno, something’s not working,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer, who met with contractors and construction workers in the Nevada city last week to release a new industry recovery plan. “It’s time to put in place commonsense, pro-growth policies that will get workers back to hammering nails instead of collecting quarters.”

Sandherr said the association is calling for a series of tax credits, incentives and deductions designed to boost demand for private-sector construction activity that represents the bulk of the construction market. The plan also calls for programmatic new investments in infrastructure and policy revisions designed to jump start needed work on highways and transit systems, water systems, federal building and new sources of renewable energy.

Simonson said looking ahead, “there remains little relief in sight for the nation’s commercial construction industry.” But McGraw-Hill Construction Vice President for Economic Affairs Robert Murray took a slightly more positive view, saying “the volume of construction starts remains quite weak, but since March there’s been growing evidence that activity has at least leveled off, and may now be gradually trending upward.”

Murray said: “public works construction has seen the early signs of support from the federal stimulus funding, with more strengthening expected in coming months. Single family housing apparently reached bottom in early 2009, and has now moved upward in six out of the past seven months.

“For nonresidential building, the positive development is that the rate of descent has eased from the severe declines witnessed in late 2008 and early 2009. At the same time, nonresidential building still faces considerable constraints, such as mounting vacancies, tight bank lending standards, and eroding state fiscal health.”




Tradesman wins top award among labor publications

The Building Tradesman took first place in the General Excellence category in the 2009 International Labor Communications Association’s (ILCA) annual media contest.

The awards were handed out Sept. 12 in Pittsburgh at the ILCA Convention, held just before the AFL-CIO Convention. The Tradesman was judged against other union publications across the U.S. and Canada, and took the top award in the category of publications of more than 20,000.

According to the judges’ comments: “Outstanding publication; reads like a general interest paper with very comprehensive information about all the affiliated unions.  The writing is also very good, and the stories are important.”

The general excellence category requires the submission two consecutive editions of a publication during a calendar year, in this case, 2008. The category’s second place award went to the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, North Country Carpenter; and the third award went to the New York State United Teachers, The New York Teacher.

“It’s quite an honor, and really, a thrill, to have our publication chosen tops in general excellence,” said Building Tradesman Managing Editor Marty Mulcahy. “There are many, many terrific union publications around the country, and it’s nice to get affirmation that we’re doing something right.”

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News Brief

More jobless $ hits Senate snag

WASHINGTON (PAI) – By a 331-83 margin, the House voted on Sept. 22 to extend jobless benefits to millions of unemployed people in at least 28 states, plus D.C., who were facing the end of their unemployment checks. 

With joblessness at 9.8% and rising – analysts say it will climb above 10% next year – Democrats voted overwhelmingly (227-17) for financially strapped workers and families, while Republicans backed the extension by a smaller margin (104-66).

The bill would extend unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks for over 300,000 workers who reside in high-unemployment states, like Michigan, and who were projected to run out of compensation by the end of September.  It would also aid more than 1 million workers whose benefits would be exhausted by the end of 2009.

The longer benefits would go to workers in 28 states, plus D.C., with jobless rates of 8.5% or more.  The bill went to the Senate, where, predictably, lawmakers in states with lower unemployment held up the legislation because they felt they were getting a raw deal. At press time, no deal had been reached.


Job-wise, lots of catching up to do

On Oct. 2 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment situation report for September – and the news is not good.

According to the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, September marked the 21st month of consecutive job loss, making this the longest streak in 70 years. While losses have moderated since the huge drops early this year, they remain substantial – 263,000 jobs were shed in September and the unemployment rate rose to 9.8%.

The only factor that kept unemployment from rising higher, the EPI said, was that 571,000 workers dropped out of the labor force.

Between the 7.2 million jobs lost since the start of the downturn in December 2007, and the 2.7 million jobs (about 127,000 per month) that should have added to keep up with population growth, the gap in the labor market has now reached approximately 9.9 million jobs.

To close this gap and return the labor market to pre-recession conditions by September of 2011, employment would have to increase by an average of 538,000 jobs every month between now and then.

The EPI’s Heidi Shierholz said job losses “are moderating. But the hole in the labor market is now so huge that it will require enormous, sustained levels of growth to fill it any time soon.”

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