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September 25, 2009

More roadblocks for power plant work

Guardian Building’s remodel will keep office space viable

Obama to AFL-CIO: ‘When organized labor succeeds, the middle class succeeds’

New AFL-CIO chief Trumka pledges to lead labor in fight to rebuild middle class

Passage of Employee Free Choice Act is about details,and more details

News Brief


More roadblocks for power plant work
Michigan Public Service Commission finds two new ways to halt coal-burners

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

The Michigan Public Service Commission dropped a bombshell report on the state utilities, contractors and the building trades Sept. 8, by releasing its findings during the application process that said the construction of two power plants in Michigan representing billions of dollars in work is unnecessary.

The pending work has long been regarded as Michigan’s own long-term stimulus program, representing at least $3 billion in construction activity. The construction or modification of other smaller coal-fired plants that are also in the works could make the economic impact exceed $6 billion.

But environmental groups concerned with the plants’ use of coal as fuel have apparently won the argument with Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state regulators, although a Consumers Energy spokesman said there still remains a path for constructing a new plant.

The MPSC – an agency within the Granholm Administration’s Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth – didn’t necessarily use the green argument as justification for coming to their conclusion. But construction of the plants and their economic impact were denied just the same.

“We’re outraged,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary Treasurer Patrick Devlin. “Given the economy of this state, it’s beyond me how anyone who wants to move Michigan’s economy forward and create good-paying jobs could possibly shoot down billions of dollars in construction work.

“The utilities say we need these plants. They’re ready to fund them. We have people ready to build them tomorrow, if needed. And now this. It’s an infuriating decision.”

Consumers Energy has before the state an application to build a $2 billion, 830-megawatt coal-burning unit at its Karn Weadock facility near Bay City. The MPSC report said concerning that application, “Consumers Energy's long-term capacity need is unjustified without the explicit retirement of existing capacity in its base load generation fleet.”

Regarding Wolverine Power Cooperative’s application for a proposed $1.2 billion coal-fired plant near Rogers City, the MPSC report said: “Wolverine failed to demonstrate the need for the proposed facility to meet its projected capacity.”

Building trades union leaders met with Granholm after a portion of her state-of-the-state message on Feb. 3 took the building trades and the state’s utilities by surprise.

In that speech, Granholm basically removed her support for construction of coal-fired plants in Michigan, in favor of environmentally friendly alternatives. “So here’s our next aggressive goal,” Granholm said. “By the year 2020, Michigan will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for generating electricity by 45 percent. We will do it through increased renewable energy, gains in energy efficiency and other new technologies. You heard me right: a 45 percent reduction by 2020.”

The Granholm Administration appeared to soften her stance and open the door for coal-plant construction just before the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Conference started in Lansing on April 1.

Lt. Gov. John Cherry told building trades delegates that utilities applying for new plant permit applications would only be asked to submit a “carbon reduction strategy” to the state Department of Environmental Quality, and to apply, presumably from the federal government, for pollution controlling carbon reduction technology grant money if it becomes available.

“If they (the utilities) apply for a permit, they will get a permit. It’s that simple,” Cherry added.

Well, maybe not so fast.

“Now with the Michigan Public Service Commission report,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council President Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, “the governor has flipped, flopped, and flipped again on this issue.”

Consumers Energy spokesman Jeff Holyfield said while the utility was “disappointed with the conclusion of the report, and the coal critics called it a death blow, we think the report still provides a path for us to build a new clean coal plant.”

Holyfield said the report isn’t the final word on the matter. And he said Consumers Energy feels it can move forward toward building a plant within the language of the report.  For instance, the report called for the utility to outline a retirement plan for part of its existing fleet of power plants, which average 50 years of age. “That just becomes a question of timing,” Holyfield said.

He said Consumers will continue to keep up with permit requirements by various state agencies in an effort to keep the construction timeline moving forward. Because of the added state permit requirements, the timeline for the start of construction – if shovels ever hit the dirt – would be later than previously planned, in 2013. About 1,800 Hardhats would be on the job at peak employment.

The Michigan Public Service Commission’s argument against the proposed Wolverine Plant is more to the point. They think the new generation provided by the plant is unnecessary.

A statement by Wolvering said the report “ignores the facts of Wolverine’s power supply situation and the realities of today’s wholesale electric marketplace and is potentially devastating for Northeastern Michigan’s economy.”

Wolverine said  the MPSC report did not identify a lower cost alternative to the Rogers City plant  for generating power.

Rally time: To protest the decision of the Michigan Public Service Commission – as well as the  anti-coal plant construction attitude of the Granholm Administration – a building trades rally will be held at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 6 on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Lansing. Wear your hard hat, colors, and bring a friend.


Guardian Building’s remodel will keep office space viable

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT – The 40-story Guardian Building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places calls it “one of the most exuberant Art Deco skyscrapers built in America.”

Built with its own orange “Guardian Brick,” bands of pink granite, Mankato stone, terra cotta and green tan and red-brown glazed tile – the building’s exterior is unlike any other. Then you walk in the public lobby and mezzanine levels on the first floor – with it’s vaulted ceilings and incredible tile work – and you get the idea that the original architect, Wirt Rowland, was out to impress the public when the building opened along Griswold Street in 1929 for the Union Trust Company.

Indeed, he was out to make an impression, because he was under orders to build a headquarters for the bank that would be a “cathedral of finance” which would be a warm, inviting, grand space for the bank’s customers. Eighty years later, the building trades are back at the Guardian, but their skills are focused on turning the building’s less-ornate upper floors into modern office space for employees of Wayne County.

“We have about 250 tradespeople out here right now, but by early October it’s going to be full steam ahead,” said Chuck Hundley, senior project manager for construction manager Tooles-Sachse. “We’ll have about 450 to 500 out here when we’re at peak. The tradespeople out here have been excellent. They know they’re in an environment where they’re working around a lot of suit-and-tie people, and they’ve been very professional.”

Wayne County purchased the Guardian Building and is moving to get out of what county officials say is an expensive lease deal in their existing headquarters in the Wayne County Building a few blocks away. The total cost to renovate the Guardian Building: about $57 million – an amount that was significantly (and controversially) increased by the county, which wanted to renovate more space in the Guardian and add technology upgrades.

Hundley said the project involves the renovation of 16 of the building’s office floors. Some of the other floors have existing tenants, who aren’t moving. While the building has been renovated in the past, Hundley said most of its utilities are original, and plenty of old cast iron and steel pipe is in the building. The new plan involves the installation of new electrical, plumbing and duct work, and conduit for phones and technology. A sprinkler system will also be added. Much of the new work will go behind drop ceilings on each of the floors.

A temporary freight elevator installed on the northeast side of the building is proving to be a major help in the project, since the narrow building’s interior elevators are inadequate for large pieces of material, like drywall over eight feet long. “That’s really the biggest challenge in a project like this, moving materials in and out,” Hundley said. The county is scheduled to move in Dec. 18.

Rebecca Binno-Savage, vice president of the Detroit Area Art Deco Society, who included the Guardian Building in a book on the use of Art Deco in the Detroit area, said at the time it was built, “the Guardian building was built by Michigan’s largest bank with almost unlimited funds. It was during an era when there was much more focus on architectural detail. Labor was relatively cheap at the time, so there was more money available for materials.”

The National Register listing said the Guardian “is a part of the progression of the history of American skyscrapers. It is one of the most ebullient examples of the use of Arts and Crafts tiles covering a steel skeleton. This warm, colorful building was the most effective symbol of the cordial, friendly image that Union Trust wanted to portray to the public.”

Binno-Savage said the building has “national significance in terms of its use of Art Deco. It’ use of style and use of color make it so unique. With its level of craftsmanship and detail, we will probably never see this type of building built again.”

INSTALLING CONDUIT in the ceiling of the 30th floor of the Guardian Building are (l-r) Gary Grab and Jim Levering of IBEW Local 58, working for Motor City Electric.

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, architectural ornamentation on the 40-story Guardian Building in Detroit makes it one of the most unique Art Deco high-rises in the nation. Many of the interior upper floors are under renovation.


Obama to AFL-CIO: ‘When organized labor succeeds, the middle class succeeds’

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH (PAI) –Amid a tumultuous welcome that could have raised the roof of Pittsburgh’s convention center – had that been do-able – President Barack Obama drew repeated roars and cheers from the AFL-CIO convention on Sept. 15 as he linked labor’s goals with his own.

The opening ovation for the chief executive, elected last November with strong labor support, went on so long and was so fervent that Obama tried to calm the 3,000-plus person crowd down by saying “You guys are going to make me blush.”

It didn’t work. And no sooner had everyone quieted down than they jumped on their feet again when he declared that “the White House is pretty nice, but there’s nothing like being back in the House of Labor.”

The scene during his speech was repeated over and over again, especially when he reiterated his commitment to one of labor’s biggest causes, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.  

“If a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union,” Obama declared.  The law, designed to level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining, faces a planned GOP Senate filibuster – but Obama did not say what he’d do about that.

Obama spent much of his speech discussing health care and the economy, while also pointing out the key role, both historically and in the present, which organized labor has played in past economic progress.

“It isn’t just organized labor, it’s the middle class.  When organized labor succeeds, the middle class succeeds.  And when the middle class succeeds, America succeeds,” he said. Other high points of Obama’s address included:

*“One of the fundamental reasons I ran for president was to stand up for hardworking families, to ease their struggles, lift their hopes and make possible the dreams of middle-class Americans.  Your stories are what drive me each and every day.”

* The stimulus law that he pushed through and labor strongly supported stopped prior economic bleeding.  But U.S. faces “a fundamental test” of whether it will become a nation of “the very rich and the very poor, of the haves and the have-nots” or a nation where “the success of all of us is built on the success of each of us.”

To create – or re-create – the latter nation, the president said he shares the AFL-CIO’s goals of universal, affordable health care, investment in infrastructure, workers’ rights, quality education, “creating jobs for the future” in “green” industries and “laying down tough rules of the road” for Wall Street “to ensure we never experience another crisis again” like the financial chaos that greeted him in office on Jan. 20.

*Reforming health care is a key to that turnaround.   Obama praised unionists for “making phone calls, knocking on doors and showing up at rallies” for that cause. 

“This isn’t just about the millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance, but it’s about the hundreds of millions more who do – Americans who worry that they’ll lose their insurance if they lose their job, who fear their coverage will be denied because of a pre-existing condition, who know that one accident or illness could mean financial ruin,” he pointed out.

Taking dead aim at the insurance companies, he declared: “When are we going to stop this?  When are we going to say enough is enough? Now is the time to deliver on health insurance reform…Because in the United States of America, nobody should go broke because they got sick.”  That last line drew another of the many ovations.

But Obama reminded the crowd that health care reform – he’s switched to “health insurance reform” –  faces a rocky road on Capitol Hill, including questions about its cost.  The tax-writing Senate Finance Committee will begin work the week of Sept. 21 on a 10-year $900 billion health care financing bill – omitting many of the provisions Obama and labor back, notably a “public option” to compete with the insurers.

He answered the cost question, somewhat, by noting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost more – as did the tax cuts for the rich pushed through by “the previous administration” of GOP President George W. Bush. 

He vowed that “we will not make that mistake again” of adding to the federal deficit – in his case for health care.

And he defended the public option, which draws heavy fire from conservative Democrats and the insurance industry. “Let me be clear: It would just be an option.  No one would be forced to choose it. No one with insurance would be affected by it.  But what it would do is offer Americans more choices, promote real competition and put

pressure on private insurers to make their policies more affordable and to treat their customers better,” the president stated.

The AFL-CIO strongly agrees with that, too.  In a convention resolution passed just after Obama’s address, delegates committed the federation to campaigning for the public option.  But in another resolution, they also said the fed backs an alternative: Government-run single-payer health care.

Union leaders, like the delegates, were enthusiastic about Obama’s address.  Appropriating some Obama 2008 campaign rhetoric, federation Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said of the crowd that “they are fired up and ready to go – solidly with us on health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act.”

“We know President Obama gets the connection between our broken health care system and our failing economy.  That is why he is as committed to achieving comprehensive health care reform this year.  We will be his strongest ally in this fight,” added AFSCME President Gerald McEntee.


New AFL-CIO chief Trumka pledges to lead labor in fight to rebuild middle class

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH (PAI) – Promising what visually and verbally seems to be an image of muscular leadership of organized labor, former coal miner Richard L. Trumka took office Sept. 16 as the AFL-CIO’s new president.

After nomination and election by acclamation at the federation’s convention in Pittsburgh, the 60-year-old native of nearby Nemacolin approached the podium to a song whose refrain was “Stand me up at the gates of hell – and I won’t back down.”

Once there, the former linebacker who refused, a bio film said, to miss games even with a broken arm, vowed to lead crusades to re-create the U.S. middle class and to enact the Employee Free Choice Act.

“I swear to you that come hell or high water, we will win that act and bring unionism to every worker in the U.S.,” Trumka declared, to thundering cheers.

Trumka takes office, as he pointed out, at a time when organized labor is politically resurgent – having been a strong factor in Democratic President Barack Obama’s election –  but also under attack from multi-national corporate interests worldwide.  “Brothers and sisters, the corporate agenda does not end at the water’s edge, and neither can ours,” he said.

The centerpieces of that labor agenda are helping to restore the U.S. middle class through key causes: Comprehensive health care reform, passage of EFCA and re-creation of U.S. industrial might, this time in well-paying jobs in “green” industries.

He termed health care in particular “a moral crusade.”

“We heard from the man who, to my way of thinking, is proving to be the most pro-worker president in our time, and he called on us to join the great moral crusade of our time.  He asked us to mobilize our members, their families and working people all across this nation to join him.

“Well, today our answer to President Obama is: ’Yes, we can…and Yes, we will!’”

“Like you we know the way to make it happen is to build” a health care “system that offers care Americans need at a price Americans can afford,” he declared.  But in a warning even to labor’s friend in the White House, Trumka said that health care system must include a public option to compete with the insurers, slow the rising costs of health care and provide a home for all whom the insurers refuse to cover. 

If Obama walks away from the public option, labor will walk away from health care reform.  “Mr. President, so long as you stand for that public option we are going to stand with you….There’s a difference between declaring a victory and winning one” in the health care crusade,’ Trumka said.  “We intend to win victory, not claim it.”

Without the public option, Trumka concluded, health care “may be a lot of things, but it sure as hell isn’t reform.”

Trumka also had muscular words for the business community, including the insurance companies, complete with “death panels” that have “a stranglehold” over the health care system and over people’s lives.  He called insurers “fundamentally immoral.”

As for the rest of business, he said that “you may own the iron, you may own the coal, you may own the banks, and the newspapers and even the politicians.  But you don’t own me, you don’t own my family, you don’t own my union and you never, ever, ever, ever, ever will!”

But Trumka also had strong words for his fellow unionists. Repeating phrases from earlier speeches, he said unions must change their cultures – including the organizing methods and emphases – to listen to younger workers and respond to their demands, not the other way around. 

He’s assigned that task to his successor as Secretary-Treasurer, IBEW official Elizabeth Shuler, 39, and also chosen by acclamation for the AFL-CIO’s #2 post.  Trumka said the fed would convene a youth summit in spring 2010 to listen to those voices. 

“And we need to finally come to terms with the act that union halls that should have been meeting grounds for understanding have often been breeding grounds for bigotry,” said Trumka.  He gained national notice last year for a blunt speech at the Steelworkers convention, telling the white working class – Obama’s weakest group –  why they should vote for the African-American Democrat. It swung many votes.

“Millions of people of color and millions of women paid a staggering price” for past bigotry, Trumka told AFL-CIO delegates. “We have a moral responsibility to take benefits of union representation to those whom the labor movement has walked past.”

And while Trumka declared that missing unions should rejoin the AFL-CIO and reunite the House of Labor, he warned that 1,000 organizers would be sent to help any union that is being raided by another.  That’s a direct shot at both the Carpenters and the Service Employees, both of whom have been blasted for raiding. 

Arlene Holt Baker was also elected by acclamation to her first full term in the AFL-CIO’s #3 post of executive vice president.

Passage of Employee Free Choice Act is about details,and more details

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH (PAI) – Union leaders and staffers at the AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh are confident Congress will pass the Employee Free Choice Act, but there are great differences on what its details will be and when that will happen.

The law, to level the field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining, is one of labor’s two top legislative priorities – along with health care reform – for labor-backed President Barack Obama and the Democratic-run 111th Congress.

But while incoming AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel and others are all predicting would pass by the end of this year, there are obstacles in the way.

Obama is not one of them.  He brought the house down at the convention on Sept. 15 when more than 3,000 people stood and cheered as he declared its passage is one key to restoring the U.S. middle class.  It was one of many ovations Obama got.

“That’s why I stand behind the Employee Free Choice Act –  because if a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union,” he said.  But that’s all he said.

Asked after Obama’s speech what, in private talks, the president promised he would do to get the law through a balky Senate, Trumka said Obama “uses the ‘everything’ word.”  Trumka added that “if it (the bill) is stuck, it’ll be on the details.”

The Employee Free Choice Act, as originally written, would give workers – not bosses – the choice of how to recognize unions in the workplace, after a verified majority of workers signs union election authorization cards.  They could choose immediate recognition through “majority signup” or an NLRB-run election.

The law would also impose triple damages for each instance of labor law-breaking – such as illegally firing a worker for advocating unionization – and would order binding arbitration between bosses and unions if the two sides can’t agree on a first contract within 120 days of starting negotiations.

The Senate is the obstacle to passing the law, with the Democrats negotiating with themselves on provisions needed to get the 60 votes to overcome the planned GOP filibuster.  Cohen said GOP leaders told him that “It’s a Democratic caucus issue.  We won’t even discuss it.”

“It’s sad Senate Republicans won’t even discus workers’ rights,” Cohen added.

The problem is the Democrats don’t have those 60 votes, at least right now.  A “gang of six” is discussing proposals to change the law, said one of them, Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.  A second problem is that another Democratic seat, that of the late labor champion Edward M. Kennedy, is vacant and right now can only be filled by a special election – scheduled for January. 

Specter, Senate EFCA sponsor Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Tom Carper, D-Del., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are, in discussions with union leaders, trying to write a bill that will get 60 votes.  Some options include:

* Unions file cards representing a majority of workers, a quick NLRB election is scheduled, and if the employer breaks the law between those two events, the majority signup automatically kicks in and the union is recognized.  AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel confirmed the week before that sequence is one scenario being discussed. 

Specter told the convention he supports labor law reform, including eliminating employer abuses.  He sang another tune to the press afterwards: “If you want to eliminate the secret ballot, you won’t come close to 60 votes.”  He added “a specific time has not been designated” between the card-filing and vote.  NLRB-run election campaigns feature frequent and intimidating employer labor law-breaking and abuses.

“Majority sign-up is not thrown out.  It’s a question of when it comes into play,” the Communication Workers’ Cohen said.  Added Specter: “If an employer broke the law” between the card-filing and the election, the employer “could be prosecuted.” Prosecutions can often take years.

“The principle of getting (a firm) organized without employer interference is what we’ll have in the bill.  The details need to be worked out,” Cohen said.

* Changing binding arbitration, to arbitration based on each side’s “last, best offer.”  The arbitrator must choose one or the other, “issue by issue” in the contract, Cohen said.  That’s “OK if it’s done the right way,” to push both sides towards narrowing differences.  But the Senate bargainers still haven’t set a timetable for when arbitration would kick in.

* “If an employer has a captive-audience meeting, the union should have equal time in the workplace,” Specter said.  Labor law now allows bosses’ captive-audience meetings – and lets bosses penalize workers who differ or don’t show up. 

That still leaves labor with the responsibility to go out and campaign for EFCA, so Obama waits in the wings to sign whatever version reaches his desk.  Cohen, chair of the federation’s Organizing Committee, isn’t fazed.

“He’s focused on health care,” Cohen said of Obama, referring to the issue that is taking all congressional time right now and for months.  “We’re focused on both.  They’re not incompatible.”


News Brief

Trades mourn death of Ray Glowski

Ray Glowski, retired secretary-treasurer of the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council, passed away Sept. 4, 2009. He was 80 years old.

Mr. Glowski became a Painters Local 675 member in 1947, and transferred into Local 213 a year later. He served as Business Representative of Local 213 and later became President of Painters District Council 22 starting in the early 1960s.

He served in that position until he joined the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council as a business representative under the Council’s long-time Secretary-Treasurer Jack Wood. 

When Mr. Wood retired in 1985, Ray Glowski was promoted to the Secretary Treasurer position by the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council’s Executive Board, a position he held until he retired in 1992.

“You couldn’t have asked to know a nicer guy,” said current Painters District Council 22 Business Manager Tom McVicar. “He did a great job here at the painters and running the Detroit Building Trades Council. He will be missed.”

Mr. Glowski is survived by wife Shirley, two sons and a daughter. He lived in Lincoln, Michigan.

“I must have known Ray for 35 years,” said Robert Kennedy, who retired in February as Business Manager of the Painters District Council 22. “He was a big help to me, and he was dedicated to his work. And he was a lot of fun to be with. It’s sad to see him go.”

PLA seminar set for

Oct. 12 at MSU

The Michigan State University School of Labor and Industrial Relations is sponsoring a conference titled “Building Success: Best Practices in Construction Project Labor Agreements” that may be of interest to union officers.

The conference will be held Monday, Oct. 12 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, Lincoln Room, on the MSU campus.

Agenda items include speakers who will address “What do you want in a PLA,” “PLAs in schools and other public owners,” and “PLAs and the open shop.” 

A registration form and further information can be found on the web at www.lir.msu.edu/jump/conferences.php. Or call 517-355-1801.



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