July 6, 2007
pro-union EFCA; Labor vows return in friendlier Congress
aside, labor lost - now what's Plan B?
Out with the old blast
furnace, in with the new
in 100 days
Unions laud demise
of immigration bill
Steel's up on
GM test lab
The big 5-0 for
the Mighty Mac
derail pro-union EFCA; Labor vows return in friendlier Congress
WASHINGTON - In the end, the Employee Free Choice Act was
doomed, but it did provide some important information for union
voters in 2008.
The pro-union EFCA - one of the most important pieces of legislation
affecting organized labor - was effectively killed this year
on a 51-48 party line vote in the Democratic-led Senate. Democrats
have a thin majority in the Senate, but needed a total of 60
votes to shut off a Republican filibuster of the bill.
They didn't come close: while Dems voted unanimously in favor
of the measure, the only Republican to vote for it was Pennsylvania's
Arlen Specter. The bill was doomed because President Bush was
ready with his veto pen. The House passed the bill with a 241-185
vote on March 1.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney put a happy face on the outcome
of the vote, although it was a sign of organized labor's political
weakness that only a single Republican senator could be lobbied
to break with corporate America, which has strongly lobbied against
"Today's vote shows a majority of the Senate supports
changing the law to restore working people's freedom to make
their own choice to join a union and bargain
for a better life," Sweeney said. "That is a watershed
achievement - one scarcely imagined just a couple of years ago
- and an important step toward shoring up our nation's struggling
Sweeney vowed workers would remember the vote "when they
go to the ballot boxes in 2008. The vote made clear exactly who
is on the side of working families' dreams and economic opportunity
- and who is siding with corporate America to block those opportunities."
And that sums up organized labor's strategy: to use the vote
to show members that on such a vital piece of legislation, all
Democrats supported unions, while nearly all Republicans did
Among other things, the Employee Free Choice Act would write
"majority signup" - also called card-check recognition
- into labor law. The new rules would simplify the union organizing
process by allowing workers to vote in a union at their workplace
by signing cards, without going through the more formal and longer
secret ballot process.
The EFCA would also raise fines for labor law-breaking to
$20,000 per violation, mandate mediation and arbitration if labor
and management could not agree on a first contract within 90
days and outlaw boss-run "captive audience" anti-union
"Corporations trample on workers with reckless disregard
for the law, and they must be stopped," said Teamsters President
James Hoffa. "Just last week, anti-union FedEx declared
it would illegally fight workers in Wilmington, Massachusetts,
who voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters. Despite the election's
certification by the National Labor Relations Board, FedEx said
it would 'use the only means available to us to get a court review
- refusing to bargain."
In a speech that demonstrates the Republicans and Big Business
position on stopping the Employee free Choice Act, Senate Minority
Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) likened the bill to a Communist
dictatorship that stifles free speech. Both McConnell and Sen.
Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) repeated the Big Business mantra that the
bill would eliminate the secret ballot vote for a union.
The ultra-conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page
said "nearly every business lobby made the vote one of its
main priorities for which Members to support in 2008, suggesting
how dangerous this would be if it ever became law."
"While they're really hoping that they can scare the
hell out of working Americans by implying that this bill will
actually result in them losing rights-if not being dragged outside
and beaten senseless by fictional union thugs-they are, of course,
lying through their capped teeth," said Sen. Sherrod Brown
"The Employee Free Choice Act does not abolish the secret
election process," Brown added. "That would still be
available. The bill simply enables workers to form a union through
majority signup, if they prefer that method." Brown said
the holding of formal elections affords employers time to "come
in and intimidate workers into voting against their own self
Instead, he said "card check" rules would allow
workers to unionize based simply on the majority of them signing
cards declaring their desire to form a union.
"The system today is broken," said Sen. Edward Kennedy
(D-Mass.) who sponsored the EFCA. "Workers know it. Employers
know it. Too many of them (employers) want to keep it that way.
The only way to ensure economic security for the nation's middle
class is to rebuild the nation's unions by leveling the playing
field to allow workers to freely decide whether to join a union."
spin aside, labor lost - now what's Plan B?
By Harry Kelber
'The Labor Educator'
U.S. Senate Republicans were able to block an up-and-down
vote on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), where the measure
had a slim majority of 51 to 48, by using the closure rule that
required the votes of as many as 60 senators before EFCA could
be voted on.
The Senate decision on June 26 effectively negated action
by the House, which had previously approved Employee Free Choice
by 241 to 186.
Even if by some miracle, Congress had approved the pro-union
legislation, President George Bush had promised his corporate
allies that he would veto it. And clearly there were not enough
votes in either the Senate or the House to override his veto.
The core of labor's campaign for EFCA was that workers were
fearful of exercising their right to join a union, because they
could face intimidation, harassment and loss of their jobs. Labor
leaders, in effect, indicated that their ability to organize
major corporations and institutions depended on Congress enacting
legal restraints on the behavior of anti-union employers. There
is ample evidence that many unions put their organizing plans
on hold, waiting for the supposed advantages of an EFCA law.
We lost EFCA, but labor leaders are claiming victory
In a statement immediately following the Senate defeat of
the Employee Free Choice Act, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney
said, almost jubilantly, "Working people came out of this
vote with growing momentum." He also called it a "watershed
achievement" and "an important step toward shoring
up our nation's struggling middle class."
Anna Burger, Chair of Change to Win (another labor coalition),
was as cheerful as Sweeney in assessing the Senate vote. She
said: "The historic vote is proof that momentum is building
up to win real change for America's workers. Today's vote is
a step toward creating a new American Dream for working people."
In general, union leaders tended to emphasize the positive
aspects of their EFCA campaign, particularly the favorable vote
in the House and the 51-48 majority in the Senate, and they were
full of praise for union members who had sent supporting e-mails
to their representatives in Washington,
But after the face-saving, self-congratulating reaction has
subsided, the grim fact remains: labor lost the EFCA campaign.
The net effect of the Senate's action is to doom the Employee
Free Choice Act for at least until when the next Congress meets
in 2009. And even if the Democrats win the White House, they
face a formidable task in electing a 60-member majority in the
Senate to beat the cloture rule. But what if they fail? What
then? Will that mean the end of large scale organizing campaigns?
What will unions do for working people if they feel helpless
without an EFCA to lean on?
Do the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have a Plan B to move us
forward in case Employee Free Choice is not in the cards? Or
will it be the same "business as usual" that has contributed
to our decline in numbers and bargaining power? We're entitled
the old blast furnace, in with the new
in 100 days
By Marty Mulcahy
DEARBORN - Steel making at the Ford Rouge has continued unabated
since the complex was opened in the 1920s - and with a $300 million
investment to upgrade one of its two blast furnaces, the plant
will continue to show its mettle.
Ford no longer owns the steel making processes at the Rouge
- SeverStal North America bought out the operation several years
ago. But the Russian company has performed several major upgrades
of the steel making process, including the ongoing replacement
work for the C Blast Furnace.
"There have been a number of modifications over the years
to C furnace, but SeverStal decided it's time to replace it,"
said Andy Payne of Metro Industrial Contracting. "The new
furnace is going to have features that didn't exist when this
one was built - a new pump house, new turbo-blowers, and all
the latest technology."
The construction process is being led by contractors Graycor
(the general contractor), Metro Industrial, Power Process Piping,
and Triangle Electric. Approximately 540 Hardhats are currently
working on the project, a number which will soon increase to
about 800, with the workforce toiling 24 hours in two shifts.
Work began on the new blast furnace nine months ago, although
planning for the job has been going on for 18 months.
"We looked at many different options over the last few
years, from minimal repair to completely replacing the C Blast
Furnace," said Dave Morris, manager of engineering for SeverStal.
"We concluded that the best value scenario for us is to
replace the furnace."
The C Furnace, which is about 50 years old, is active today
even as its replacement is being constructed in five major sections
in nearby lay-down areas. But on July 13, the old furnace will
be shut down, cleared of materials inside, cooled with water,
and tested for the presence of gas. After a two-day cool-down
period, the trades expect to start tearing down the furnace and
have it dismantled in less than two weeks.
One hundred days later, SeverStal should have a modern new
blast furnace in place. "It will be one of the most modern
blast furnaces in the nation," Morris said. The new furnace,
he said will increase production by 20 percent and reduce operating
costs with the ability to use pulverized coal instead of costlier
natural gas for fuel. Environmental controls on the new furnace
are also expected to capture 98-100 percent of polluting emissions
during casting operations.
(In the meantime, the site's other blast furnace - "B"
- which dates to 1921, will continue to be in operation).
Performing the heavy lifting on the project are a 300-foot
tower crane (which Payne said is the largest in North America)
and a 340-foot Manitowac 21000. The Manitowac will hoist the
project's five heaviest picks, which will come in at about 450
"One of our concerns going into the job was that we have
the right number of best quality, knowledgeable craftspeople
for the project, and the building trades have done that,"
Morris said. "We have a high level of confidence with the
team we have in place with our contractors and workers. You can
see that they've done a lot of work already, and they've done
an excellent job."
Including the new furnace, SeverStal has several ongoing or
planned construction projects through 2009 that will result in
the total expenditure of $750 million to enhance its steelmaking
When all is said and done, SeverStal will look to enjoy a
20-year "campaign" of service for the new furnace.
"I visited a blast furnace in Canada that will be similar
to this one," Payne said. "It was clean, quiet, the
emissions were very low, and they were producing more steel."
Added Scott Glasgow, field superintendent for Power Process
Piping: "We have a short amount of time to work with, 100
days, but we're going to get it done. We work together here and
there's a lot f teamwork."
The blast furnace, which operates at about 2,300 degrees,
is the first step in producing steel from iron ore. Pig iron
that is produced in a blast furnace is taken to a basic oxygen
furnace, and then refined into a higher grade of steel. SeverStal
final product is flat-rolled steel, sold mostly to the automotive
Construction challenges ahead, Payne said, include the "ambitious"
schedule and the "enormous" lifts.
"The B Furnace will be in operation, and that isn't going
to bother us, but we'll be working within the tight quarters
at this site," Payne said. "We've had 18 months to
plan and think through the process, and we have skilled people
and good contractors in place who know what they're doing. The
major parts of the new furnace are here, it's just a matter of
coordinating the people and the pieces."
THE "C" BLAST FURNACE, part of SeverStal
steelmaking operation at the Rouge Plant in Dearborn, dominates
the right side of the photo. Much of the C Furnace dates to the
late 1940s, but the building trades will start dismantling the
structure beginning next week. In its place: a new, cleaner,
more environmentally-friendly blast furnacethat will work more
efficiently and produce more iron.
PUTTING A GRINDER to a six-inch, schedule
8 high-pressure nitrogen pipe is Rich Mitchell of Pipe Fitters
Local 636. At the other end of the pipe is 636er Steve Klein.
Both were working for Power Process Piping at the SeverStal "C"
Blast Furnace site in Dearborn.
laud demise of immigration bill
Any chance for comprehensive reform of the nation's immigration
laws finally came to an end June 28, when the U.S. Senate voted
failed to get enough votes (46-53) to end debate on the matter.
The bill had a strange bedfellows mix of supporters and detractors.
Both Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and President Bush supported
the bill, but the hotly contested matter ultimately didn't have
enough support among either Democrats or Republicans. Most of
organized labor didn't like it, either, even though the alternative
is the status quo, which no one seems to think is working.
"While we continue to believe we need comprehensive immigration
reform, it must be done in a way that upholds workers' most basic
rights and removes economic incentives for exploitation. The
does neither," AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer
Richard Trumka said.
Still, he added: "The current system is unworkable. It
has become a blueprint for exploitation of all workers, both
U.S. and foreign-born."
Supporters of the bill maintained that it would offer a path
to legal status for some 12 million immigrants, help secure the
borders and benefit employers and immigrants through a guest-worker
Detractors argued that it would unfairly confer amnesty on
illegal aliens and do too little to make the borders safer. They
also argued against the feasibility of requiring current illegal
immigrants to go back to their home nation as part of the "touchback"
The bill would have created a 200,000-person annual 'guest
worker' program, to "provide greedy employers with a steady
stream of vulnerable, indentured workers they exploit for commercial
gain," Trumka said. "Because workers are wholly dependent
on host employers for both their livelihoods and temporary legal
status, it is virtually impossible for them to exercise what
few rights they have.
"Employers play on this vulnerability to downgrade wages
and working conditions for guest workers while lowering standards
for all other workers."
The building trades and service and hospitality industries
are frequently cited as the major workplace sectors that are
most affected by illegal immigrants. The AFL-CIO Building Trades
Department said it was glad to see the bill go down.
"We are not against immigration reform," said Edward
Sullivan, president of the department. "We simply desire
a process that places the interests of American workers at the
center of the debate. And this particular effort failed miserably
on that score."
The Building Trades Department said that construction work
is estimated to be the third largest employment sector for undocumented
workers, with roughly 14 percent of all construction workers
in the U.S. being illegal.
Sheet Metal Workers President Michael Sullivan said in a column:
"The serf-like conditions" for guest workers "will
further harm working conditions in a construction industry that
has seen wages depressed by as much as 30% since the 1980s."
The often-ridiculously low wages earned by those undocumented
workers act as an anchor for all industry wages. Moreover, building
trades unions face a never-ending battle to uphold prevailing
wage laws for unionized workers on both state and national levels.
Even though they don't like the current immigration system
- with the rampant employment of illegal drywallers and cement
crews working for a fraction of the pay of American workers -
union leaders fear that immigration reform without some kind
of wage standards for immigrants will continue to drag down construction
For the past several weeks, the Building Trades Department
said it had mounted an all-out grassroots lobbying effort to
defeat the bill. "Our members have been as engaged on this
issue as any I have seen in my lifetime," Sullivan said.
"They knew right away this approach to immigration reform
completely ignored their circumstances and interests, and that
made them extremely angry."
Most political observers now say the immigration issue won't
be revisited until after President Bush leaves office.
up on GM test lab
PONTIAC - An expansion of the General Motors Engine Dynamometer
Test Facility reached a milestone June 15, with GM, their contractors
and the building trades celebrating the topping out of the structure.
Brent Irrer, project manager for Bristol Steel, the fabricator
for the building's iron skeleton, said some 4,200 tons of steel
have gone into the building. "It's been a real good job
from start to finish," he said.
GM hosted a luncheon for all the construction workers on the
project, and a number of dignitaries had nice things to say about
the job's quality, safety and progress.
General foreman Dan Foco of Iron Workers Local 25 said the
steel began going up Jan. 2 in a project that employed about
20 iron workers at peak. Some of them will be around for another
four months. "It's been a real smooth job," Foco said.
IRON WORKERS from Local 25 and Bristol Steel
top out the GM Dynamometer Test Facility.
big 5-0 for the Mighty Mac
ST. IGNACE - Michigan is throwing a 50th anniversary party
for the Mackinac Bridge - and we're all invited.
The world's 10th longest suspension bridge, the five-mile-long
Mighty Mac was opened to vehicular traffic on Nov. 1, 1957.
Now 50 years later, since the weather at that time of year
probably won't be ideal for celebrants to watch a parade and
fireworks and listen to outdoor speeches, the State of Michigan
wisely decided to hold the event in the summer of 2007.
The 50th anniversary events will start with a ceremony honoring
the bridge's designer and chief engineer, David Steinman at 10
a.m. on Thursday, July 26 and culminate with a fireworks display
over the Straits of Mackinac on Saturday evening, July 28. In
between there are classic cars, a parade, a birthday cake, speeches,
the unveiling of a statue, and various iron worker demonstrations.
ABC spins out 'victory' for workers
All of a sudden, the Associated Builders and Contractors is interested
in the welfare of workers?
The anti-union contractor group ABC, which opposed enhanced
ergonomic standards to protect workers, which opposes any prevailing
wage law at any level to uphold worker wage standards, which
has notoriously lousy training programs, and has fought just
about every pro-worker pay and safety regulation that has ever
come up in its existence - wants the world to know it is interested
in protecting workers' privacy.
Time to look under the hood at this one.
Responding to what it called "victory" for American
workers after the Employee Free Choice Act went down to defeat
(see article at right) ABC president and CEO Kirk Pickerel said
in a press release "there is no justification in supporting
this legislation in light of the tremendous negative impact it
would have on the millions of workers stripped of their right
to privacy in the workplace." He added the bill was "a
slap in the face of democracy."
So in a transparent, jaw-dropping spin on the situation, the
ABC sounds like they're bearing the cross of workers. But that
would be a first. What they're doing is re-directing attention
away from the fact that they didn't want this bill because it
would make it easier for unions to organize their contractors.
Of course, Pickerel ignored the plight of employees who testified
before Congress how pro-union workers are harangued, threatened
and coerced by management - often during captive audience sessions
- in the days leading up to union representation elections. He
also conveniently ignored the fact that employees would have
the option to have a simple card-signing arrangement to vote
in a union, although they could also have a secret ballot election
if they chose.
Rep George Miller, who sponsored the EFCA, laid out the true
pro-worker position on the subject.
"Under the Employee Free Choice Act, if a majority of
workers in a workplace sign cards authorizing a union, then the
workers would get a union. By contrast, under current law, even
when a majority of workers ask for union representation, their
employers can force them to undergo an election process administered
by the National Labor Relations Board.
"In NLRB elections, the deck is stacked heavily against
pro-union workers. For example, while the employer can discuss
the union with its employees anytime - on company property, and
even in one-on-one meetings - union advocates are severely restricted
in their ability to communicate with workers. Moreover, these
elections are wide open to abuse by employers."
The Center for Economic and Policy Research recently estimated
that employers fire one in five workers who actively advocate
for a union. A December 2005 study by American Rights at Work
found that 49 percent of employers studied had threatened to
close or relocate all or part of the business if workers elected
to form a union.
And Human Rights Watch has said, "freedom of association
is a right under severe, often buckling pressure, when workers
in the United States try to exercise it."
That's a slap in the face of democracy, too, but don't look
for an ABC press release on that subject.