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July 20, 2007

'Broken' labor law stays that way; unions need more friends

Crime does pay for union-busters

Trades play their hand in Greektown

No mourning for Fast Track expiration

OSHA seems better at correcting grammar than workplace hazards

Cooley's faulty towers renovated

News Briefs

 

'Broken' labor law stays that way; unions need more friends

By John Sweeney
AFL-CIO President

President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said: "Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join a union of their choice."

Eisenhower was a tough-as-nails general in World War II, a two-term commander-in-chief who presided over one of our nation's most prosperous and vibrant decades. In supporting the freedom for America's working women and men to form unions, Eisenhower understood that booming productivity, robust wages and access to the middle class stemmed from a strong labor movement.

And Eisenhower was a Republican.

So why did Republican lawmakers in the Senate last month nearly unanimously oppose a bill that would have updated our nation's antiquated labor laws and leveled the playing field for U.S. employees to form unions?
With the exception of Sen. Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania, Republican senators blocked a move to bring the Employee Free Choice Act to a floor vote. By a 51-48 majority, all Democrats, both Independents and Specter voted to end debate on the bill, which needed a "super majority" of 60 votes.

In the debate on the Senate floor, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell repeated the blatant lie that the Employee Free Choice Act would have taken away the secret ballot election from workers seeking to form unions. In fact, it would have given workers seeking to join unions more options by adding the majority sign-up (card-check) process. Under Employee Free Choice, workers could choose between the majority sign-up process and the government-run election process.

Specter had it correct when he said the long delays between the time an election is held and the time the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) acts makes the whole process "dysfunctional." Specter went on to say: "The NLRB takes so long to act that the election becomes moot-it no longer matters any more. When you look at what the NLRB does, it is totally ineffective."

More than half of U.S. workers - 60 million - say they would join a union right now if they could. But the labor law system is so broken they can't exercise that right. Last year, more than 31,000 workers had their union rights violated by their employers.

The vitriol expressed by McConnell, Mike Enzi from Wyoming and other Republicans on the Senate floor in opposition to ensuring America's workers have a chance to move into - or remain in - the middle class is breathtaking in its extremism. Rather than express sympathy for America's workers and reach out to them - many of whom are among the nation's 43.6 million without health care coverage and half of whose employers offer no pension plans - these senators made jokes at their expense. Caricaturizing workers as "Joe the leg breaker" and using other demeaning, degrading descriptions, these senators showed they are not made of the same fiber as Eisenhower.

In blocking the Employee Free Choice Act from a final vote, 48 Republican senators voted to perpetuate a system in which private-sector employers illegally fire employees for union activity at least 25 percent of the time they seek to form unions.

In obstructing the Employee Free Choice Act, these Republican senators seek to deny America's employees the chance to raise their wages - union workers earn 30 percent more than nonunion workers - and retire with the knowledge they don't have to keep working full time: 80 percent of union workers are covered by pension plans versus 47 percent of nonunion workers.

And in rejecting the will of the people - 69 percent of Americans say they support the Employee Free Choice Act - these Republicans demonstrated how out of touch they are with America's mainstream, with the millions of employees who seek to improve their lives and those of their families, and with the best traditions of their own party.

America's workers have the majority on their side. Nearly 1,300 lawmakers in 60 state, county and city legislative bodies passed resolutions supporting Employee Free Choice; 16 governors signed on to a letter backing the bill, as did 115 religious leaders. Workers staged nearly 100 actions in the past week in support of Employee Free Choice, and middle-class Americans generated 50,000 phone calls to the Senate, 156,000 faxes and e-mail messages and 220,000 postcards, including 120,000 delivered to the Senate last week.

America's workers moved the Employee Free Choice Act bill farther and faster this year than any pundit imagined. The bill passed the House by a 241-185 vote in March and won a majority in the Senate. Our mandate is clear: We must elect a bigger majority in the Senate who will stand with working families, and a president who will champion the interests of working families and sign the Employee Free Choice Act.

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Crime does pay for union-busters

Union-busting is big business
By Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt

As the percentage of American workers in unions continues its long and severe decline, the U.S. Senate just voted to kill the Employee Free Choice Act. What prompted the now-dormant bill, and what is causing the weakening of the labor movement, is not a decreased need for unions.

According to polls, about half of non-supervisory workers want to join one, but employers are increasingly breaking the law to prevent their workplaces from being unionized.

Fifty years ago, more than 30 percent of private-sector workers were organized. That share today is 8 percent. Globalization and the new, technology-driven economy have contributed to this decline, but advanced economies in Europe survive these same developments with union coverage rates as high as 80 percent. Much of the falloff is actually the result of illegal, anti-union actions by employers.

Our recent analysis of cases brought before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees union-management relations in most of the private sector, shows that employers illegally fire as many as 1 in 5 union organizers.

Actions by the world's largest employer are a case in point. When butchers at Wal-Mart's Jacksonville, Texas, store joined the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Wal-Mart permanently closed its meat-cutting departments, switched to pre-packaged meat, and fired four of the union supporters.

Just picking on Wal-Mart is unfair, as much of the business community also despises unions. Unions fight for increased wages and benefits and for redistributing earnings from employers to workers. Corporate managers, on the other hand, try to maximize profits for shareholders and compensation packages for those at the top. Compelled by the threat of lower profits, many employers will do whatever it takes to avoid a union workplace.

Not infrequently, this means breaking the law. The National Labor Relations Act (NRLB) makes it illegal to intimidate or fire workers for union activity. Yet, according to our study of data from the NLRB, there has been a steep rise in illegal firings of pro-union workers in the last few years. Currently, 1 in 53 is dumped during an election campaign. And employers generally fire the workers who are leading the union organizing drives. If 10 percent of union supporters are actually organizers in their workplace, NLRB data show that about 1 in 5 is fired illegally for their activism.

Interestingly, union membership has actually increased in the public sector. Whereas the private sector - the bulk of the U.S. economy - has seen unionization fall by three-quarters over the last 50 years, public-sector union membership has tripled over the same period to about 36 percent. Persistent, illegal activity by employers in the private sector explains this disparity. Illegal firings exist in the public sector too, of course, but they are less prevalent.

Additional civil service protections ensure that firings are more onerous to the government than they are to a business. Besides, we should expect less union busting in the public sector: There is no profit motive there.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once lambasted union busters, proclaiming, "Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice." The fools today are actually quite rational, practicing the cool calculus of costs and benefits.

In a worst-case scenario, the cost of firing a union supporter isn't that much. It includes legal proceedings and remuneration to the discharged employee. At a maximum, discharged employees will receive missed earnings minus any income they have earned in the meantime. The total award usually amounts to less than $4,000, a small price to pay to avoid sharing profits with employees through a union-negotiated contract.

In its vote, the Senate eliminated the opportunity to increase fines and make other changes to labor law that reduce the incentives for illegal employer aggression. But without those reforms, crime really does pay.

Ben Zipperer is a researcher and John Schmitt is senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. - www.cepr.net
Via MinuteManMedia.org

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Trades play their hand in Greektown

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT - All the action was outside the Greektown Casino last week, as the building trades and the joint venture of Jenkins/Skanska started the process of expanding the existing structure of the gaming hall.

The project has moved into the next major phase, expanding the casino about 70 feet south into what is the median of Lafayette Street. Also ongoing at the site is the construction of the massive parking deck, a hotel, and the renovation of the old St. Mary's school house into casino offices.

Last week Hardhats were drilling caissons to support the new casino space, as well as pouring footings to support a retail area. Project Supt. Larry Zielinski said about 300 construction workers would toil on the job at peak employment.

"We haven't found much during the caisson drilling, only a lot of buried common brick from the 1800s," Zielinski said. "So far, nothing out of the ordinary."

The $475 million project includes a 25,000-square-foot expansion of the gaming hall (increasing the size to 100,000 square-feet), a 1,500-seat entertainment theater, meeting and convention room space, a spa and additional restaurants. The 400-room hotel and garage will connect to the casino via moving and elevated walkways.

A July 12 ceremony marked the start of construction on the expanded casino. "With this groundbreaking, we celebrate more jobs and revenues for Detroit and our state, the start of a magnificent new resort destination in the heart of Detroit, and additional resources to support programs and services for members of the Sault Tribe," said Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, owners of Greektown Casino.

Greektown Casino opened on Nov. 10, 2000. It has nearly 2,400 slot machines and 92 table games in 75,000 square feet of gaming space.


RODBUSTERS SINK re-rod cages for caissons that will support the expansion of the Greektown Casino in Detroit. The casino will be expanded about 70 feet into Lafayette Street, which is about where the the re-rod cages are in the foreground.

NEW FOOTINGS ARE installed behind the Greektown Casino, in an area fronted by Monroe Street, where retail shops will be located.


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No mourning for Fast Track expiration

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Union leaders and lawmakers cheered the end of President George W. Bush's "trade promotion authority," also known as "fast track," at midnight on June 30.

Fast track trade legislation allows the president to negotiate trade deals that Congress must approve in an up or down vote without making changes. Over the past five years fast track has been in place, organized labor has complained that the U.S. should require its national trading partners to have worker standards for issues like child labor and sweatshops. Congress cannot make such trade requirements under fast track - but it can now that the rule has expired.

But that doesn't not mean unionists still don't face fights on trade.

That's because Bush got four trade pacts signed before the deadline with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Lawmakers must still vote on legislation to implement those pacts under the old fast track rules.

Priorities for the new Democratic-run Congress "do not include the renewal of fast track," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders said in a joint statement. "Before that debate can even begin, we must extend benefits of globalization to all Americans."

Pelosi said Dems would strongly oppose the South Korean and Colombian free trade pacts, which still come under the fast track rules. That statement drew praise from United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, whose union is leading the opposition to the Colombian trade pact.

USW helped survivors of murdered Colombian unionists sue for damages against U.S.-based multi-nationals - who were allegedly complicit in the murders - in U.S. courts.

"Business-as-usual trade agreements that have resulted in rising trade deficits, stagnating incomes, millions of lost jobs and shuttered factories should be a thing of the past," Gerard stated. "Agreements with Korea and Colombia do not merit congressional support in their current form. In Colombia, thousands of trade unionists have been killed and the government has not even begun to really address the problem. Concrete and lasting progress on the ground must be achieved before any discussion of expanded trade relations can be considered."

Speaking for Republicans who support Fast Track, House Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said "Congress should send a clear message to our international trading partners that America will resist protectionism and remain fully engaged in the global economy and we should start by renewing TPA."

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney praised Democratic leaders for forcing Bush to insert workers' rights - the International Labour Organization standards - into the texts of the Peru and Panama pacts. But he called that only "a first step down the long road towards deep reform of U.S. trade policy," and warned "Democratic leaders must remain vigilant to ensure Bush will aggressively and consistently enforce these new provisions."

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OSHA seems better at correcting grammar than workplace hazards

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Union leaders and lawmakers cheered the end of President George W. Bush's "trade promotion authority," also known as "fast track," at midnight on June 30.

Fast track trade legislation allows the president to negotiate trade deals that Congress must approve in an up or down vote without making changes. Over the past five years fast track has been in place, organized labor has complained that the U.S. should require its national trading partners to have worker standards for issues like child labor and sweatshops. Congress cannot make such trade requirements under fast track - but it can now that the rule has expired.

But that doesn't not mean unionists still don't face fights on trade.

That's because Bush got four trade pacts signed before the deadline with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Lawmakers must still vote on legislation to implement those pacts under the old fast track rules.

Priorities for the new Democratic-run Congress "do not include the renewal of fast track," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders said in a joint statement. "Before that debate can even begin, we must extend benefits of globalization to all Americans."

Pelosi said Dems would strongly oppose the South Korean and Colombian free trade pacts, which still come under the fast track rules. That statement drew praise from United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, whose union is leading the opposition to the Colombian trade pact.

USW helped survivors of murdered Colombian unionists sue for damages against U.S.-based multi-nationals - who were allegedly complicit in the murders - in U.S. courts.

"Business-as-usual trade agreements that have resulted in rising trade deficits, stagnating incomes, millions of lost jobs and shuttered factories should be a thing of the past," Gerard stated. "Agreements with Korea and Colombia do not merit congressional support in their current form. In Colombia, thousands of trade unionists have been killed and the government has not even begun to really address the problem. Concrete and lasting progress on the ground must be achieved before any discussion of expanded trade relations can be considered."

Speaking for Republicans who support Fast Track, House Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said "Congress should send a clear message to our international trading partners that America will resist protectionism and remain fully engaged in the global economy and we should start by renewing TPA."

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney praised Democratic leaders for forcing Bush to insert workers' rights - the International Labour Organization standards - into the texts of the Peru and Panama pacts. But he called that only "a first step down the long road towards deep reform of U.S. trade policy," and warned "Democratic leaders must remain vigilant to ensure Bush will aggressively and consistently enforce these new provisions."

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Cooley's faulty towers renovated

DETROIT - The city's collection of high schools offers an under-appreciated stock of buildings built pre-Depression, that are often islands of architectural class in some areas that have seen better days.

Cooley High School is a great example. Built in 1927, the building's exterior is clad in ornate brick and terra cotta the likes of which are rarely seen in new construction. But when it comes time to fix the old work - and that's the case this summer at Cooley - union masons are making sure the architectural features at the top of the school appear and perform like they did 80 years ago.

Masonry renovation contractor Chezcore and Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 masons are on the job at Cooley, repairing and replacing exterior terra cotta and brick on the school's two signature towers. The towers have been leaking, letting rainwater drain into stairwells at the school. Work started in March and is expected to continue into the fall.

"The towers have been neglected for years," said Chezcore Foreman Darryl Green of BAC Local 1. "We're removing and replacing the terra cotta and brick as needed, installing new flashing, and putting everything back into place so that it work and look like it did originally. The new terra cotta won't match perfectly - it's very difficult to get a good match. But it will look fine."

Terra cotta is a hard, fired-clay building material used in ornamental architecture.

John Williams, an engineer at the school, said there was debate on the Detroit Board of Education whether to simply demolish the leaky towers instead of spending the half-million dollars to perform the repairs. "They talked about it, but a lot of what's on the roof is art work, and it's historic, and they decided it's worth saving," he said.

Chezcore is repairing the two towers and the masonry on the parapet wall between them on the front of the building. Green said the incursion of water resulted serious deterioration of support timbers inside the towers, and they will be replaced. The copper that tops the domes will also be repaired and replaced as needed. The masonry around a clock in front of the school will also be tuck-pointed and repaired.

The towers don't have any function besides being ornamental - which makes saving them an agreeable option in our budget-cutting era. "I figured there would be a bell or something inside, but there's nothing (except pigeons)," Green said. "But they look nice, it's great that they decided to keep them. The cost of building these today would be astronomical."

TUCKPOINTING brick in one of the Cooley High School towers is Foreman Darryl Green of BAC Local 1 and Chezcore.

THE TERRA COTTA used on the exterior of Cooley High School is rarely used in construction today because of the high cost. The towers on the front of building, which was built in 1927, have no purpose other than being ornamental.


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News Briefs

Nice uptick for construction pacts
Collectively bargained construction wage rates in the U.S. construction industry in 2006 saw an average 3.9 percent increase in the first year of contracts - compared to 3.0 percent a year ago. The median increase for all construction crafts this year was 3.6 percent.

That news came from information released last month by the Construction Labor Report. For collectively bargained contracts across all job sectors, wages increased 3.6 percent in the first year of contracts.

'Dirty Jobs' to air Mac episode Aug. 7
Mike Rowe, from the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs," visited the Mackinac Bridge in late May to film an episode showcasing the work that bridge maintenance crews perform each year on the "Mighty Mac."

The hour-long Mackinac Bridge episode, entitled "Bridge Painter," is scheduled to air on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 9 p.m., on the Discovery Channel. The episode is airing in conjunction with the bridge's 50-year anniversary, reports the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Casino project wins in appeals court
A July 3rd decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has struck down the last challenge blocking the construction of the $270 million Firekeepers Casino in Emmett Township, near Battle Creek.

To rise on a 78-acre site, the facility is to be built by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians on property located near I-94 and 11 Mile Road. The tribe says it expects to break ground on the project this coming fall. Completion is being expected within 12 months.

Full House Resorts, Las Vegas, Nevada, has said it will be handling the facility's design and construction. The project has been opposed by a group known as the Citizens Exposing Truth About Casinos for about eight years. (From MichiganConstructionNews.com)

More schools get 'responsible'
Six more school districts in Michigan have adopted "responsible contracting" rules for hiring construction companies.

That brings the total to 35 in Michigan, in an effort that was started only two years ago by West Michigan Construction Alliance and its consultant, Ed Haynor. It's basically an effort to weed out "irresponsible" contractors, and hopefully help union contractors.

Responsible contracting suggests that before school boards and municipal authorities enter into any construction-related agreements, bidding contractors should meet several standards. They include:

*Documentation that contractors' training programs meet federal standards; an alcohol- and drug-free workplace policy; a local hiring policy, if applicable; documentation of any civil suits, arbitrations, or criminal convictions, and documentation of safety policies and experience.

*An explanation of the contractor's experience in the field.

*Ratings for worker's compensation insurance.


 

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