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October 23, 2009

‘I want not only green jobs. I want any job that pays green.’

‘What is the problem? Put us to work!’

Project labor agreements…A form of ‘win-win,’ or the bane of free enterprise?

‘Moderate expansion’ forecast for construction industry

Protective equipment isn’t accepted – until it is

News Brief


‘I want not only green jobs. I want any job that pays green.’

Editor’s note: following are comments made by State Rep. Jeff Mayes (D-Bay City, chairman of the House Energy and Technology Committee)  at the Oct. 6 rally in Lansing sponsored by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

I am pleased to be here to show my continued support for investments in new clean coal power in Michigan to create jobs and secure our energy future.

Almost one year ago a new energy future was signed into law that would require investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and was designed to pave the way for investments in new baseload electricity, like clean coal, to support Michigan and the nation’s growing energy needs. 

These new laws were bipartisan and supported by an unprecedented coalition of labor, business, environmental and other government leaders.

Flash forward to today.  Efforts by companies to get the needed permits and approvals have been manipulated for over two years – and have been sidetracked by special interests that have a tunnel vision about our future.  

And these same interests will often state publicly we need to follow the lead of other states and countries – states like Wisconsin or countries like Germany.  

In both of these places we see great growth in the area of renewable energy and energy efficiency.  But what critics of Michigan’s energy laws fail to say and certainly don’t want anyone to know is both Wisconsin and Germany are building clean coal plants.  

In fact, there are a total of 23 new coal plants under construction in the United States alone and 14 coal plants are scheduled to go online in 2012 in Germany. 

Europe in total could have up to 50 new coal plants in the next few years.  And Wisconsin is completing three large coal plants in that state that many of our state’s building trades, many of you here today, helped to build.  Even President Obama’s Commerce Secretary at an event in Saginaw, Michigan acknowledged that coal has a place in our nation’s future.

In a letter to lawmakers yesterday one of these groups wants to ignore the facts I just mentioned and in this letter they go on to say “If Michigan builds even one new coal plant, the promise of thousands of new jobs from clean energy will be lost forever.”  This is despite the fact that other states and countries leading in renewable investment are also building significant new baseload.

Some here at the capitol will go on to say these aren’t the right jobs for Michigan…they aren’t green or good enough.   As one of the authors of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, I find those comments absurd. 

In a state that has lost over 700,000 jobs in the past nine years with 15% unemployment, I want not only green jobs.  I want any job that pays green. 

The type of green that will help a family pay a mortgage. 

The type of Green that will help provide a family medical insurance and pay medical bills…green that will make sure that families can afford to buy their kids clothes for school…

And the type of green that will help a family buy an automobile made right here in Michigan.

Why do other states, countries and even continents get what some in Michigan don’t… they seem to understand that to insure the success of renewables and the reliability of our energy grid that new baseload power is essential to fuel the new greener economy. 

They know that to protect our security as a nation, to limit our dependence on foreign energy sources and to power the cars of tomorrow, that coal has an important place in our nation’s future. 

I don’t think it is any coincidence that some of the largest companies that desire to build renewables are locating in countries and states that are investing in a balanced view of energy – one that is reliable, greener and includes baseload power. 

These businesses know that a balanced view of energy creates reliable, cost-effective power for ratepayers which is good for both business and families.

These new plants proposed for Michigan will be built cleaner, more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and will create jobs today.  That is why the Department of Environmental Quality needs to act now. 

If they don’t thousands of jobs will go away.  Then we will buy more power from other states, others state will build power plants that our ratepayers will pay for and the outsourcing of Michigan jobs will continue.  And that would be just plain wrong. 

We need the DEQ and other members of the administration to stop standing in the way and playing games with the law and agreements that were made last year. 

If they support a green economy they need to recognize that other world leaders in renewable energy that business, other governments and labor support a balanced view of energy – one that has reliable baseload electric generation backing up green power and green manufacturing. 

This is a winning strategy for our economy, for jobs, for Michigan and our future.

Thank you for making the trip to your state capitol today.  I stand with you.


‘What is the problem? Put us to work!’

By Guy Snyder
Michigan Construction News.Com

Those who oppose new coal fired electrical power plants for Michigan may have been disappointed Oct. 6. Rain had been forecast. Lansing’s morning cloud cover seemed expectant. Yet as the rally for new base load capacity began on our state capitol lawn, the sky cleared. The day grew bright. Umbrellas disappeared, replaced by sunglasses.

The Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council had predicted some 2,000 skilled building trades people would attend the three hour event. From what we could see it appeared the figure was achieved if not exceeded.

It was a well-mannered crowd, full of energy to cheer and chant when called upon. Judging from how its members stood and what was said, they meant business. Few would dismiss the workers as cranks.

“Build These Plants!” Whenever a speaker belted out those words the crowd roared. And while most of the coverage we’ve seen in the general news media was superficial, if not juvenile in some cases. The speakers at the rally imparted information that clearly illustrated the situation’s absurdity.

By now our readers are well aware of the delays that have been thwarting the construction of the over $1 billion coal-fired facility proposed by Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative, a 540- megawatt station for Rogers City, and the over $2 billion project planned by Consumers Energy, the 930-megawatt unit intended for its Karn-Weadock complex in Hampton Township, near Bay City.

Though Michigan’s construction industry is still awaiting final word from the state Department of Environmental Quality on the air quality permits for the plants, the Michigan Public Service Commission has said they are unneeded.

The MPSC used what we’ve called skewed logic. In voicing its objection the commission did not take into account Michigan’s old but still operational coal plants, with their old pollution control systems, that can be retired when these new plants, with their state of the art emission technologies, go on line.

Clearly it’s also not anticipating the rapid growth in electrical demand that will hit when economic recovery gets under way. Such expansion should be well accelerating in five years, when the new plants are ready to generate.

Assuming the state allows them to be built.

But that’s not the whole picture. State Sen. Bruce Patterson, a Republican from the Seventh District and chair of the Michigan Senate Energy Policy Committee, was one of several speakers who pointed out that if Michigan doesn’t build enough base load capacity for its future, rate payers — we bill-paying consumers —could be placed in a bad position.

Our state would not be able to supply sufficient electricity to attract additional commercial and industrial investment. Worse, we’d be forced to make up demand shortfalls by buying electricity in the spot market, where prices can be very expensive.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he emphasized. “This is an issue continually important to us, for our children, our grandchildren, and on out into the future. To make sure that we don’t have a society crumbling around us, we must find a balance. We want to work. And work together for a better Michigan. And we want to be independent in this state. We want to be in a position to sell energy to other states, not rely on those other states to sell us energy.”

Republicans invited to the podium took the opportunity to criticize Governor Jennifer M. Granholm, but even House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Township) was none too happy with her administration.

“I feel betrayed,” he said. “Three years ago I had a dream to have new base load built in this state. After we put up a very tough vote, the bureaucrats stepped up and took it away from us.”

Other speakers, including Shorty Gleason, the Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council president, emphasized hard support for alternative energy technologies, including wind and solar power. But just as we’ve been continuing to point out, though great strides are being made, at present they are not mature enough to directly compete against base load electricity generated by fossil or nuclear fuels.

In addition, observing that solar cell manufacturers in the Bay County area are using large amounts of electricity, Mr. Gleason said that without sufficient base load capacity, it won’t be long before Michigan will be unable to attract such companies.

At present they require massive amounts of base load electricity from conventional fuels to put their alternative technologies together.

What’s really terrible about the situation, he said, is at a time when the need to build the conventional plants is clear, and jobs in Michigan are in such short supply due to the recession, environmental politics within our state government is holding back over $3 billion in private investment. Not economic stimulus funds from the federal government. Private investment.

According to Mr. Gleason, building the Wolverine and Consumers projects would put 5,000 skilled trades workers back on the job. Some 34 million man-hours would be required. It would generate $1 billion in payroll over five years and $100 million in health benefits. State government would receive $44 million in income and $14 million in sales tax revenues. Local governments would get $42 million in property taxes. And when the plants were placed on line, fewer toxics would be vented into Michigan’s atmosphere.

“With all this support,” said Charles Brunner, mayor of Bay City, “what is the problem? Put us to work!”

SUPPORTERS OF CLEAN-COAL plant construction in Michigan gathered at the steps of the State Capitol Building on Oct. 6.

STATE REP. Jeff Mayes (D-Bay City) addresses the building trades rally supporting construction of clean coal plants.


Project labor agreements…A form of ‘win-win,’ or the bane of free enterprise?

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

EAST LANSING – “Understanding PLAs” was the title of the Oct. 12 conference held at Michigan State University, and anyone who walked out of the daylong conference without a greater understanding of project labor agreements wasn’t paying attention.

Sponsored by MSU’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations and the School of Planning, Design and Construction, the conference included local and national experts on project labor agreements, union and nonunion points of view regarding their use, as well as real-world perspectives from people who utilize PLAs on a regular basis.

“This conference,” said Dr. Dale Belman, professor in the MSU School of Industrial and Labor Relations, “is intended to help you make good decisions about how to use PLAs. “The point is to understand the strengths and the weaknesses of PLAs before making decisions about them.”

It’s unlikely anyone’s mind was changed about the use of PLAs: unions love them, nonunion contractors hate them. Among owners in both the public and private sectors, their focus is generally on deciding whether employing such an agreement makes a good business decision.

The 97-person attendee list included representatives from the entire spectrum of construction and related fields: owners, municipalities, contractors, contractor associations (both union and nonunion) lawmakers, lawyers (representing both union and nonunion), and union representatives.

Following is a smattering of facts and commentary on PLAs from the conference:

What are PLAs?

Project labor agreements are usually standardized documents, but can vary widely from job to job. They spell out what’s expected concerning employment conditions for labor unions, contractors and owners. PLAs can define hourly rates, hours worked, when overtime kicks in, safety procedures, and how grievances are handled. Nearly universally, they require no work interruptions by workers and no lockouts by employers, and they require contractors to become signatory on that job to the local appropriate collective bargaining agreement.

Belman’s introduction at the conference pointed out that the debate over the use of PLAs has dated to World War I. They were used as a contracting tool from World War II and then through the early 1990s. Since 1992, PLA have become political football: President George Bush first outlawed their use on taxpayer funded construction projects, President Clinton reinstated PLAs, President George W. Bush outlawed them once again, and this year President Obama’s Executive Order 13502 allows, but doesn’t require, PLAS on public projects.

Who uses them and why?

Steven DiBartolo, vice president of Hill International, a construction consulting firm in New Jersey that has used PLAs, told the conference that “there has to be a cost benefit” if he is to recommend their use to an owner. He said the first type of benefit, “quantifiable,” can save owners money by spelling out hours of shifts and avoiding premiums for overtime. Strategically staggering shifts and working at night in active buildings is an example. Standardizing and coordinating the number of paid holidays among the trades also falls under that money-saving category, as does increasing apprentice ratios.

In the “non-quantifiable” category, DiBartolo said PLAs can require tradespeople to keep working on a project, even if their master contract expires. “PLAs have showed to provide stable and trained workforces,” DiBartolo said. “That’s one thing that has always helped us.” PLAs can require workers to be at their stations at starting time – not in the parking lot – which improves productivity. He said owners might want other public policy elements built into their PLA, such as clauses for the hiring of a certain percentage of disadvantaged, minority or female workers.

As a consulting firm, DiBartolo said “we are not in the business of selling PLAs.” He added: “Not all PLAs are equal. It depends on what is negotiated in or our of the contract, so cost savings will vary.”

Doug Maibach, vice president of corporate affairs for Michigan’s largest general contractor, Barton Malow, said words like “cooperation, stability, economics, efficiency, protection of labor standards… are an important preamble for any PLA.”

He said the economic advantage to employing a PLA is important – “if there isn’t an economic advantage, then why have a PLA?” Maibach asked, adding: “Our industry is very complex…there are 17 basic trades and maybe a multiple of labor agreements. A uniform agreement to show how we’re going to behave together is a major advantage to us” in employing PLAs.

Maibach said the added costs of union wages, and loss of flexibility for contractors is weighed against providing workforce uniformity – PLAs usually trump collective bargaining agreements – and continuation of work through no-strike clauses, as well as some union flexibility concessions on things like overtime.

He said not every job makes sense for a PLA –they’re usually more appropriate for larger, longer-term projects. He stressed that PLAs do not have to be complicated, and that there are many template agreements with only a few pages that will work fine.

PLAs, Maibach said, offers “a good clean scope” of work, with wage and benefits defined, “good dispute resolution and the outline of jurisdiction, drug and alcohol testing and safety procedures.

“I’m in the risk management business,” Maibach said. “I believe in PLAs as a vehicle to manage risk.”

What about the open shop and PLAs?

It’s simple: the nonunion sector almost universally has no use for PLAs

“You’re either pro-union or pro-competitive, there is no middle ground,” said David Masud, managing partner at a law office that represents firms associated with the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors in mid-Michigan. He called PLAs “bad public policy, and “a tool, a tool to be used against nonunion contractors.”

Open shop contractors in mid-Michigan, he said, “will not sign a PLA.” He said they force union membership and union dues on nonunion employees and can require employers to ignore hiring their own employees in favor of union hiring halls.

Worse, Masud said, is that nonunion employers are often forced to pay benefits twice on PLA projects. Not only are they paying premiums on their own employees’ health and retirement plans, they are also forced to pay into union benefit funds, and neither they nor their employees receive a benefit for those payments.

Still, MSU Professor Belman said there are some avenues open to nonunion contractors who want to bid on project labor agreement jobs. Among them, getting the job itself and making a profit, if the nonunion contractor can submit a winning bid. Opportunities for nonunion contractors are more open on public projects, where minority or disadvantaged participation is sought. Sometimes the owner desires nonunion participation. And in some areas, there might be a lack of union trades to man the work.

Ben Brubeck, director of labor and state affairs for the national Associated Builders and Contractors, said he has “big concerns about government encouraging the use of PLAs,” adding, “the ABC is all about free enterprise.” He said that the mid-Michigan ABC’s anti-PLA attitude is shared nationally. “There are some nonunion contractors working on PLA projects, but the vast majority of them don’t,” Brubeck said.

PLAs: where do you start?

Mike Haller, executive vice president for Walbridge, Michigan’s second-largest general contractor, said much homework needs to be done before a go or no-go decision is made on using a PLA.

“You start with fact gathering, and you find out what issues does the customer have,” Haller said.

Specifically, Haller said he looks at cost, timing, location and type of the project, the community, quality of workers, safety issues, the union vs. nonunion environment, investors, collective bargaining agreements, the potential for project stability, and the history of PLA use in the area.

“Will the owner play a role; will the owner care?” Haller said. “There are safety, substance abuse, parking issues. I have to know what I want, what is important in this PLA – then write the PLA. With PLAs, one size doesn’t fit all.”

Jack Mumma, construction contract administrator for Michigan State University, said people far down the chain of command in an organizations should leave the decision about using a PLA for the top decision-makers. “From an owners perspective, there are few agnostics on this issue,” he said.

MSU Trustees last year adopted a “responsible contractor” policy, and began the framework for a PLA policy to govern construction contracting on campus. Mumma said ultimately, “a PLA should be an example of both of us saying we got something out of this and it was good for all of us.”

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council attorney John Canzano said while there theoretically could be a single page project labor agreement, the best documents work that “put all your cards on the table. “Both sides don’t like surprises,” he said. “Be specific about what’s included and about the scope of the work.”

The next frontier for PLAs?

Canzano said there are a number of creative ways to write PLAs. Unions can add value to projects, for example, by agreeing to add a penny per hour to a charitable fund set up by a hospital sponsoring a PLA. A similar setup could provide scholarship money during a university project. Canzano said such money check-offs can be “a great social investment tool,” and that it’s a great way to unions to become “linked with an owner.”

Peter Phillips, a University of Utah economist has extensively studied PLAs and prevailing wage laws and found that neither create added costs for taxpayers.

He told the audience he wanted to “bend your perspective” and shift the focus of PLAs away from owners, to unions. Similar to what Canzano described above, PLAs, he said, are evolving “into a new form of collective bargaining that brings a new partner” into the mix. That new partner, he said, would be an owner’s representative dealing directly with the union. “It’s a new way to discover win-win,” Phillips said.

As an example, he cited the construction of 31 power plants in California from 1998 to 2002. The work proceeded, Phillips said, because the building trades linked not with their contractors but with the owners of the plants and the Sierra Club, who were demanding clean burning power plants. Enough political force was exerted to get the plants moving when the Sierra Club’s environmental concerns were addressed by the building trades, who said they would not sign a PLA to build those plants unless the latest emissions technologies were used.

The result: sufficient political muscle by the building trades, the owners and the green lobby got the plants built.

“I’m befuddled as to why PLAs are controversial,” Phillips said. “They’re agreements that allow new forms of exploration towards win-win and they’re extraordinarily creative.”

Dr. Dale Belman, professor in the MSU School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told the conference audience that “the reluctance to participate” in bidding project labor agreement work limits opportunities for open shop contractors.

One of the panels at the “Understanding PLAs” conference at Michigan State University included (l-r) Walbridge Executive Vice President Mike Haller, Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council attorney John Canzano, and MSU Construction Contract Administrator Jack Mumma.


‘Moderate expansion’ forecast for construction industry

WASHINGTON, DC – How ‘bout a little good news for a change?

Industry trend watcher McGraw Hill Construction issued its 2010 Construction Outlook on Oct. 16, and predicted that the level of starts in the U.S. building industry would rise 11 percent to $466.2 billion next year.

The hike follows a predicted 25 percent decline for the industry in 2009.

“The U.S. construction market in 2010 will be helped by growth for several sectors, following three straight years of decline that brought total construction activity down 39% from its mid-decade peak,” said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction, addressing more than 300 construction executives and professionals at the 71st annual Outlook 2010 Executive Conference in Washington. “The benefits from the stimulus act will broaden in scope, lifting not just highway construction but also environmental public works and several institutional structure types. With continued improvement expected for single-family housing, after reaching bottom earlier this year, the overall level of construction activity should see moderate expansion in 2010.”

For building trades union members, the forecast is tempered by the numbers as they’re broken down by sector. Leading the way out of the industry’s black hole will be the overwhelmingly nonunion residential sector:

Following are highlights of the 2010 Construction Outlook:

  • Single family housing for 2010 will advance 32% in dollars, corresponding to a 30% increase in the number of units to 560,000.
  • Multi-family housing will improve 16% in dollars and 14% in units, after steep reductions in 2008 and 2009.
  • Commercial buildings will drop 4% in dollars, following a steep 43% drop in 2009. The weak employment picture will further depress occupancies, making it even more difficult to justify new construction.
  • Institutional buildings will begin to stabilize after losing momentum in 2009. Square footage will retreat another 2% after sliding 23% this year. The dollar amount of construction for this sector will edge up 1%, helped by a growing amount of energy-efficiency upgrades to federal buildings and continued strength for military buildings.
  • Manufacturing buildings will drop 14% in dollars and 3% in square feet, hampered by the substantial amount of slack manufacturing capacity.
  • Public works construction is expected to rise 14%, given more wide-ranging strength across all project types.
Electric utility construction will slip 3%, continuing to settle back after a record high in 2008.

Protective equipment isn’t accepted – until it is

By Steve Clark

Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America

In the span of a few days in July, two major leaguers were hit in the head by pitched balls, and a pitcher was struck in the head by a batted ball.

Coincidentally, Rawlings – a sporting goods manufacturer – had a new, stronger batting helmet, the S100, ready to introduce. Suddenly, the PPE controversy hit the sports pages and radio talk shows.

More than a few construction Laborers took note. No doubt, older Laborers had heard it all before.

One side invoked baseball tradition, personal liberty and each player's sense of style. The other side talked safety and the fact that current baseball helmets are protective against pitches only up to 70 mph (70 is a change up in the Majors). Most major league pitchers consistently throw over 90; the S100 will protect at 100 mph.

The two hit batters offered contrasting perspectives. Jeff Francoueur, a New York Mets outfielder, said, "I'm not wearing it. We're going to look like a bunch of clowns out there."

Second baseman Edgar Gonzales of the San Diego Padres, who was hospitalized for two days following his beaning by a 93-mph pitch, took the opposite stance. "After this happened to me, I would wear anything. I don't care how goofy it is, as long as it could help protect me."

Similar attitudes about personal protective equipment are heard on construction work sites though, in recent years, more about other kinds of PPE than head protection. For instance, it was only within the last ten years that Laborers committed to wearing shirts and sunscreen in the summer to protect against skin cancer. "We all wanted that season-long sun tan," recalls one, who ended up with skin cancer. And some workers still resist hearing protection because, they say, it is uncomfortable; as a result, many retired Laborers suffer with hearing loss.

In sports, it is often the owners who fight to require protection. Compared to the multi-million-dollar salaries they pay, the cost of protective gear is small potatoes if it keeps a star athlete on the field. In other settings, employers are the last to come around. For instance, as concerns built recently about H1N1 (swine) flu, unions with health care members – including LIUNA - were adamant that hospitals stock up on NIOSH-approved N95 respirators, but some hospitals dragged their feet, claiming that patients are intimidated by nurses in masks.

Whether slowed by employers or employees, the introduction of PPE usually involves some kind of prolonged cultural battle to establish a protective ethic, followed eventually by an authoritative edict. After seat belts were invented, another decade passed before installation in cars was required; it was another decade before states started ticketing.

Sports fans with a taste for history know that some NFL players did not wear helmets until the National Football League mandated their use in 1943. When hockey goalie Jacques Plante started wearing a mask after getting hit in the face in 1959, he was roundly criticized, even by his own coaches. Today, masks still are not required, but every NHL goalie wears one.

Construction hardhats took a long time to arrive as well. The first commercially-available hardhats were manufactured in 1919 by the San Francisco-based Bullard company, makers of mine equipment. They were modeled on the steel helmets worn by soldiers in World War I. More than 15 years later, the Golden Gate Bridge was the first project to require hardhat use.

It is the same story in sport after sport, in workplace after workplace. Yet, nowhere did the introduction of PPE ever actually cut athletic excitement or curb on-the job production. All it ever did was make work safer.


News Brief

Unions oppose Senate’s health bill

WASHINGTON (PAI) – A wide range of unions announced their vigorous opposition to a key Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill. 

In full-page ads in 30 newspapers nationwide and in mobilizations that began Oct. 14 by numerous unions, including several from the building trades, the unionists said the legislation “is deeply flawed.”  The AFL-CIO and 26 unions signed the ad.

The ad demands “real health care reform -- nothing less.”  It declares that “unless the bill that goes to the floor of the Senate makes substantial progress to address the concerns of working men and women, we will oppose it.”

The Senate panel’s bill dumps a key cause for unionists in health care reform: Creating a “public option,” a government-run competitor to the insurance companies and their high deductibles, high co-pays and denial of care.

The legislation passed 14-9 with one Republican, Maine’s Olympia Snowe, joining all the Democrats.  It also taxes many workers’ health insurance plans. With no public option and with taxing individuals’ health insurance, the bill is unacceptable, the AFL-CIO and the other unions said.

“A public health insurance option is essential to reform,” their ad said.  The public option would “lower premiums for everybody and reduce the cost of health reform by $100 billion.”  The Finance panel wrestled with how to pay the 10-year $1-trillion cost of health reform.

“Nothing less than a public option sets up competition to break the stranglehold of a handful of big insurance companies that have made 96% of metropolitan areas uncompetitive” in health insurance, the unions’ ad said.

California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro called the Finance Committee bill “a stunning, massive bailout” for the health insurers, even after that lobby issued a suspect study on Oct.12 criticizing the legislation.

“Lawmakers should stop coddling a useless industry whose sole function is to make enormous profits from the pain and suffering of patients while providing little in return," she added.


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