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April 27, 2001

Democrats propose inflation-adjusted hikes in jobless $; response: 'hell no!'

Another study weighs in to bolster prevailing wage

Michigan's Hall of Justice takes shape

GARDE Award honors construction industry diversity

Benson Ford Research Center to showcase Henry's stuff

PLAs drive up costs? Bridge project points out myth vs. reality

NEWS BRIEFS

 

 

Democrats propose inflation-adjusted hikes in jobless $; response: 'hell no!'

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

LANSING - With the state's economy starting to slow down, many workers are realizing that Unemployment Insurance ain't what it used to be.

In 1995, Gov. John Engler and the Republican-dominated state legislature permanently capped UI benefits at $300 per week, with no mechanism to adjust for inflation. If that bill had not passed into law, the maximum Unemployment Insurance benefit would now be $414.39 cents a week.

Last month, the Michigan Democratic Caucus announced legislation to increase the Unemployment Insurance tax cuts that state businesses have enjoyed since 1995. House Bill 9188 also restores unemployment benefit levels to where they were at six years ago.

Even with the employer tax cuts, reductions in worker benefits helped the UI Trust Fund to grow to a record $3.067 billion at the end of last year. In 1995, state Democrats argued that taxes could be cut and benefits increased every year by using the Trust Fund - but the fund has gone untapped.

With the cuts having been in place for the last six years, Michigan now ranks 29th in maximum weekly unemployment benefits. If the cuts hadn't been imposed, Michigan today would rank 9th, according to the state Unemployment Agency.

"The Republicans didn't just cut benefits in 1995, they've been cutting benefits for the past six years," said Davison Democrat Rose Bogardus, sponsor of the bill. "The buying power of a $300 unemployment check is less and less each year. Income security must keep pace with the cost of living, or the only security families will have is a false sense of security."

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce works hand-in-hand with state Republicans on any matter that could affect state's business climate. Reportedly, Chamber Vice President for Government Affairs Rich Studley's response to the concept of increasing worker benefits was summed up with the statement, "the short answer to their proposal is 'hell no.'"

With Republicans completely in control in Lansing, probably not much good will come out of this bill except the public attention. The bill is in Rep. Robert Gosselin's committee, and he has proved to be one of the most anti-worker lawmakers in the House.

Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Assistant Ken Fletcher said Republicans may agree to a slight increase of $20 a week in benefits, but they want something in return for their largesse. Studley said the chamber is looking for the imposition of a waiting week for benefits or new restrictions on benefit eligibility, and doing a better job of denying benefits to persons discharged due to misconduct.

If you voted Republican in last November's election, this is how your vote is working for you.

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Another study weighs in to bolster prevailing wage

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Over the last three years, academic scholars have picked apart and analyzed prevailing wage laws in 14 states - and the same conclusions keep popping up time and time again.

Those conclusions: repeal of state prevailing wage laws has brought no significant savings to taxpayers. And, while taxpayers have not saved any money, prevailing wage repeal has been murder on construction workers' income levels. In states where prevailing wage laws have been repealed, significantly lower pay rates went into place, at a time when the construction industry is struggling to retain a sufficient work force with wages that have barely kept up with inflation.

The latest study, dated Feb. 1, 2001, comes from a familiar academic source, Professor Peter Phillips of the University of Utah. Phillips updated his paper on the affect of changing prevailing wage laws in three states, analyzing what happened in Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio.

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council offered the information from the study to the Michigan legislature, which, as we reported in our last issue, has four pieces of anti-prevailing wage legislation before it - two of which would repeal the use of prevailing wage on school and road construction projects.

Phillips' original study on the effects of prevailing wage repeal in Michigan, Kansas and New Mexico was successfully used in March 1999 to convince a majority of Michigan legislators at the time not to go along with repeal efforts.

Many people forget that in 1994, federal Judge Robert Cleland overturned Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act - ruling that it was pre-empted by the federal ERISA law - and it stayed unenforced until an appeals court overruled Cleland and reinstated the law in July 1997.

Phillips studied school construction costs in Michigan during that two-and-a-half year period, and found "there was no statistical difference in costs" to the state when the prevailing wage laws weren't in effect.

Before that was a study released in 1998 by State University at New York Professor Mark Prus, who examined how the law, or lack of a law in six East Coast states, affected school construction costs

"I compared costs for schools built under prevailing wage laws to those not covered, and controlled for differences in building materials, school size, school type and cost of living," Prus said. "I concluded that prevailing wage laws had no impact and that cost variances were caused by other factors, such as size and cost of materials."

After repeal in Kansas, contributions by construction contractors to pensions and health insurance fell by 17 percent. And, last year a study by Harvard and Stanford universities revealed that in nine states that repealed their prevailing wage law from 1979-1988, wages for trade union workers "fell sharply."

Researchers found that union construction members earned 20 percent more than their nonunion counterparts before prevailing wage repeal. But five years after repeal, the union income advantage dropped to about 10 percent over nonunion workers.

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Michigan's Hall of Justice takes shape

LANSING - Michigan's top justices will finally have a hall to call their own.

The building trades and general contractor The Christman Co., are in the process of erecting a building to house the Michigan Supreme Court, the state Court of Appeals (Lansing office) and the State Court Administrative Office in our state's capital, These entities now occupy leased space in several downtown Lansing locations.

The six-story building will include, in approximately 280,000 square feet, two courtrooms, centralized administrative offices and a first-floor public education center. The project will also include a 460-space parking structure.

Ground was broken on the $87 million project at Ottawa and Butler, west of the Capitol Building, in October 1999. The state Supreme Court has never had its own building; it relinquished its space in the Capitol Building in 1970 for space in what is now the G. Mennen Williams Building.

Completion of the new Hall of Justice is anticipated in the fall of 2002.

THE MICHIGAN SUPREME Court and other offices will be consolidated into the new Hall of Justice building under construction in Lansing.

LIMESTONE around a window of the second floor of the Hall of Justice gets a look from a tradesman.


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GARDE Award honors construction industry diversity

Seven finalists have been placed in competition for the Sixth Annual Gender and Race Diversification Excellence (GARDE) Awards sponsored by the Great Lakes Construction Alliance.

The GARDE Award recognizes individuals and organizations who have done the most to promote racial and gender diversity in the construction workforce. The award will be presented May 1 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit with the ceremony starting at 4:30 p.m. followed by a reception.

Nominees were judged on their success in increasing the numbers of minorities and women in the organized construction labor workforce. To be considered for the award, nominees must have achieved and sufficiently documented a significant, proven success while promoting good construction practices.

The seven finalists include:

  • Alberici University, with their free training class series. Held monthly at the Michigan offices of Alberici, the classes provide minority and women-owned business enterprises with inside knowledge of a major prime contractors' operations.
  • Detroit Water Constructor, an 11-member joint venture team at Water Works Park II that encourages young people to pursue careers in the water and construction industries.
  • Ford Motor Co. Construction, Utilities and Building Services (CUBS Council), part of the automaker's efforts to achieve higher levels of outsourcing to minority and women-owned businesses.
  • Pace Mechanical Services, for pursuing an aggressive policy to recruit and promote minorities and women to key posts in its management. The firm has also worked hard to diversify its workforce through the development of a strategic subcontractor base.
  • Don Shalibo, senior vice president, Barton Malow Co. has championed opportunities for minority youth, women and minority companies, and has served as a board member on committees too numerous to mention.
  • Shorebank's Contractor Equity Program, launched in January 2000, is the bank's traditional acquisition and rehabilitation program. It targets minority contractors to enable them to develop properties for resale in an area on the east side of Detroit.
  • Youthbuild Detroit is a program of Young Detroit Builders and is a GED and construction training program for 18-24-year-old Detroiters.

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Benson Ford Research Center to showcase Henry's stuff

Henry Ford referred to written history as being "more or less bunk," but today's scholars still have tremendous interest in the 20th Century's greatest industrialist.

Ford researchers will have a centralized location to study 50 years of Ford's history with the construction of the 66,000-square-foot Benson Ford Research Center on the grounds of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

Scheduled to open early next year, the $17 million research center will house some of the Henry Ford Museum's most environmentally sensitive and precious collections. Included will be the vast correspondence files of Henry himself, thousands of boxes of papers recording the first 50 years of Ford Motor Company, 10,000 clothing items, 4,000 textiles and rugs, and 8,300 toys and other childhood artifacts, myriad trade catalogs and advertising items.

The new center will house changing gallery space, environmentally controlled shelving areas, and offices for curators, catalogers, and reference staff. The project also includes 25,000 square-feet of renovated space.

"The new research center will enhance our ability to serve the needs of enthusiasts and researchers around the world," said Steven K. Hamp, president of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. "This building represents a major new opportunity for direct interaction between visitors and collections as well as an ongoing commitment to improve access to and care for our collections."

TOPPING OUT THE Benson Ford Research Center at Greenfield Village in Dearborn are (l-r) oiler Ken Miller, iron worker Kurt Kroczaleski, i.w. Wade Oliver, i.w. Steve Miller, i.w. foreman Jim Townsend, 222 Manitowac operator Alfie Grass, i.w. Aaron Patcho, i.w. Mark Presley, i.w. Jay Proux, i.w. general foreman Jerry Foco, and down in front, i.w. Brad Martin. Whaley Steel Corp. performed the steel erection.

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PLAs drive up costs? Bridge project points out myth vs. reality

The Wilson Bridge in Maryland has yet to be built - but already it is a symbol of some wrong-headed thinking about union-only project labor agreements (PLAs).

The proposed 12-lane, $2.2 billion bridge would replace an aging span over the Potomac River that's part of the "Beltway" road around Washington D.C. President George W. Bush removed any hope that a union-only PLA would be assigned to the construction of the bridge: soon after he took office, Bush outlawed PLAs on federally funded projects.

In making the argument against PLAs, the Bush Administration listened to one of its biggest campaign contributors, the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, which argued that union-only PLAs "ignore the economic common sense of fair and open competition" and "have been shown to drive construction costs up 20 percent or more."

That's the typical anti-union rhetoric, but it's usually fiction. In this case, when the bids came in on the foundation contract, a nonunion contracting consortium, Tidewater/Kiewit/Clark, was lowest, coming in at $125.4 million. According to Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan, that bid was only 2.5 percent less than the next lowest bidder, a union contractor.

"This is in stark contrast with what the critics of union construction predicted in regard to the cost of union construction," Sullivan said in a letter to Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening. "When you factor in our increased skill level, productivity, safety training and the proven ability to bring the project in on-time and on-budget, as was done on the first dredging contract awarded on the Wilson Bridge, there is no doubt that Maryland will save much more money than the small difference in these bids."

As further proof of the value of PLAs, we reported in our last issue that no less than 33 Republican House lawmakers signed a March 12 letter to President Bush expressing disappointment with his anti-PLA stand. Such agreements, they said, "increase productivity and keep complex projects on schedule."

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NEWS BRIEFS

Standard tightened for union recognition
WASHINGTON (PAI) - By a 4-0 vote, the National Labor Relations Board set a new and higher standard for when an employer can legally withdraw union recognition.

"An employer may unilaterally withdraw recognition from an incumbent union only where the union has actually lost the support of the majority of the bargaining unit employees," the NLRB said, rather than withdrawing union recognition based on "a good faith doubt" the union has a majority.

NLRB Chairman John Truesdale and the other board members overturned a 50-year-old ruling after the Supreme Court ordered NLRB to clarify its standards for withdrawal of recognition.

After President Bush gets around to stocking the NLRB with pro-business members, pro-worker rulings like this one are sure to become a thing of the past.

.Bush gives PLAs a slight reprieve
President Bush loosened the noose around union-only project agreements, but only slightly.

On Feb. 17, Bush issued an Executive Order prohibiting union-only labor agreements on federally funded construction projects. Earlier this month, after lobbying from building trades unions, a "grandfather clause" was permitted that allow their use on future contracts in projects where PLAs were in effect prior to Bush's order.

"This is a step in the right direction, but it in no way reverses the unbelievable harm done to workers, contractors and taxpayers by the original order," said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan.

Hunter safety program scheduled
Make plans to attend the fifth annual hunter safety program, hosted by state Sen. John Cherry and the Flint Area Building Trades.

The free Michigan Department of Natural Resources-certified program includes two classroom sessions and a shooting range lesson. The classroom sessions will place Tuesday, May 8 and Thursday, May 10 from 6-9:30 p.m. at Kearsley High School Auditorium. The shooting range lesson will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Grand Blanc Huntsman's Club. Refreshments follow the range lesson.

To register, call (800) 551-1636 or (810) 606-0737. All supplies and safety equipment will be provided. Gifts will be provided for all program graduates.

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