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June 10, 2005

Is organized labor headed for Splitsville?

Most building trades leaders allied with Sweeney

What's Next: power on at unique energy center

Carpenters end jurisdiction pacts

Volunteers sought for Habitat blitz

Unique 'Toxecon' project targets mercury emissions

News Briefs


Is organized labor headed for Splitsville?

By Aaron Bernstein

Unless President John J. Sweeney goes, the deepening divisions within the AFL-CIO could see the union movement break into rival federations.

Fifty years after the American Federation of Labor merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the U.S. labor movement may be heading for a breakup. Five unions that want to unseat AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney are considering leaving the federation should he win re-election when his term expires in July, BusinessWeek has learned.

Those unions, which account for roughly 40% of AFL-CIO membership, include the Service Employees, the Teamsters, the Food & Commercial Workers, the Laborers, and UNITE HERE, the needletrades group.

The dissidents had intended to back John W. Wilhelm, No. 2 at UNITE HERE, to run against Sweeney. But after failing to sway other union leaders, they abandoned a plan to announce his candidacy at a Teamsters meeting in Las Vegas the week of May 10. Instead, on May 16, the group released a platform to reform the AFL-CIO in hopes of winning over a few key leaders among the other 53 unions in the federation.

Will the five really leave? As with any negotiations, there's an element of bluff in such threats. Ongoing efforts at compromise - including the search for a new president both sides can agree on - could forestall a showdown in July. Sweeney has held one-on-one discussions with three of his opponents in recent weeks and has asked all five to meet with them as a group. But their leaders may not be able to back down once they fire up their membership against him.

Build something stronger. As the camps lock into opposition, a breakup of the AFL-CIO into two labor federations is more likely, say leaders on both sides. "It's clearly not our desire to leave the AFL-CIO, but it's a subject we feel we need to consider," says UNITE HERE President Bruce S. Raynor.

What's behind the momentum to defect? The five unions have complained for several years that the rebirth Sweeney sought for labor when he took power in 1995 has stalled. Despite early bold moves on his part, union membership has continued to sink and now represents less than 10% of the private-sector workforce. His critics think fresh leadership is needed to prod unions into redoubling recruitment efforts.

While Sweeney agrees with their goals, Wilhelm & Co. want the AFL-CIO to play a larger role in membership drives. "Sweeney tried to change labor but ran up against a lack of political will (among union leaders) and what became his own lack of will to change it," charges Andrew L. Stern, president of Service Employees International, labor's largest and fastest-growing union. "Now we need to build something stronger."

Democrats' loss. A splintered labor movement would be a boon to Corporate America and the GOP. While unions continue to shrink as a share of the U.S. workforce, they still sign up hundreds of thousands of new members every year. Warring camps could undercut those efforts if unions raid each other for members, as officials on both sides threaten to do.

A breakup would also undermine labor's vaunted political machine. Its ability to bring millions of union voters to the polls in recent elections has been one of Sweeney's chief successes. Already the unhappy unions have demanded that the AFL-CIO remove their members from its master list of names, which has been crucial to labor's mammoth get-out-the-vote election drives. Since labor typically swings Democratic, a division of the house would probably weaken opposition to President George W. Bush and other Republicans.

The protesters' move toward a scorched-earth strategy stems from their failure to get a majority of unions behind them. For several months they have tried to win over American Federation of Teachers President Edward J. McElroy, a personal friend of UNITE HERE's Wilhelm. They also hoped to bring aboard United Auto Workers President Ronald A. Gettelfinger, who has long been unhappy with the AFL-CIO. But when both men made it clear in early May that they weren't ready to abandon Sweeney, Wilhelm and his colleagues decided that just announcing his candidacy wouldn't change anyone's mind.

"A naked threat." The problem is that threats to pull out may only prompt Sweeney supporters to dig in more fiercely. While no one thinks that Sweeney has reversed labor's fortunes, his allies back a plan he announced in April to refocus on recruitment. Some labor leaders also remain loyal to Sweeney personally and believe it would be bad for labor as an institution to unseat its chief.

Talk of forming a new federation "is a naked threat; are we going to throw Sweeney over the side to prevent this blackmail?" demands Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees and a key Sweeney ally.

The unhappiness with Sweeney isn't new. Starting last summer, Stern has threatened to go his own way unless the federation undergoes a major overhaul. More recently he has broadened his demands to include Sweeney's departure. Now his fellow rebels are moving in the same direction. In March, UNITE HERE's executive board authorized a review of leaving the AFL-CIO, and its leadership has had follow-up meetings since then to consider the options, Raynor says.

Potential defectors. The Teamsters are also looking into how the union would operate outside the AFL-CIO, insiders say. Many of its officials harbor ill will toward AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka for opposing James P. Hoffa 's election as Teamsters president. Hoffa so far has held off public talk about leaving the AFL-CIO, largely because he worries his executive board wouldn't want to wait until July to get out.

"If Hoffa raised the issue, he'd get run over going out the door," says one Teamsters insider. The United Food & Commercial Workers, too, could leave if Sweeney wins reelection, officials say. Its bargaining strength in major industries is closely linked to the Teamsters, which negotiates with many of the same employers. So if Hoffa pulls out of the AFL-CIO, the UFCW probably would, too.

The Laborers union, which represents many construction workers, is the furthest from backing out. Still, it is deep in debate over whether to quit the AFL-CIO's Building & Construction Trades Dept. because of Sweeney's demand that it expel the International Brotherhood of Carpenters.

The Carpenters have long shared Stern and the others' negative views of Sweeney's leadership and were the first to quit the AFL-CIO over the issue back in 2001. Typically, the carpenters ' union controls construction labor contracts that the Laborers need to get work. If the Laborers withdraw from the Building Trades, there would be less keeping them in the AFL-CIO, officials say.

Hard to back down. The question is whether the dissidents will make good on their threat to start a rival labor federation should they lose at the AFL-CIO's quadrennial convention in July. Some Sweeney backers think a lot of the talk is posturing. But the more the critics threaten to leave, the more difficult it will be for them to change course.

Stern, for one, says he is ready to follow through and walk out if need be. "The worst thing would be for us to huff and puff, and then if Sweeney is reelected with little change, to say, 'Oh well, let's go back to work,'" he says. Unless some middle ground can be found, the AFL-CIO's 50th anniversary may also be its death knell.

(From Business Week Online, May 19, 2005, via the International Labor Communications Association).


Most building trades leaders allied with Sweeney

While a number of union leaders are calling for the head of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, the majority of building trades union leaders want him to stick around for another four-year term.

Twelve of the 15 general presidents of the nation's construction trades unions have signed a declaration to "support the re-election of John J. Sweeney" as president of the AFL-CIO.

"We concur," the statement said, "that to strengthen our federation will require a united effort to increase the effectiveness of both our organizing and political initiatives. We support President Sweeney and his leadership team in their specific efforts to accomplish those goals while preserving the democratic principles upon which our federation was founded."

The statement was signed by AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan, and union president from: the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, Boilermakers, Heat & Frost Insulators, Electrical Workers, Elevator Constructors, Painters and Allied Trades, Operating Engineers, Plasterers & Cement Masons, Plumbers, Pipe Fitters & Sprinkler Fitters, Roofers & Waterproofers, Sheet Metal Workers.

Signatures that were absent from the document: presidents of the Carpenters, Laborers and Teamsters. The reasons can be found in the article above.


What's Next: power on at unique energy center

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

In an era of record-high oil prices, with no nuclear plants being constructed in the U.S. in the last two decades, with fuel-cell powered cars getting more attention, and with a rickety national electrical grid - a compelling question to ask, is: what's going to be the next source of cheap, reliable, clean energy for the world?

NextEnergy might not have the answers - but they do have a unique new building that will allow all kinds of experimentation on the next generation of energy sources. Located on the Wayne State campus, the 45,000-square-foot NextEnergy Center provides the space and equipment to test and validate alternative types of power generation.

"Our goal is to advance the commercialization of alternative energy in Michigan," said Jim Saber, NextEnergy's director of business development. "The infrastructure of this building, which is unique to the United States and to the world, will allow us to do that. We know energy, but we don't know a lot about building. We relied on these guys to make that happen."

"These guys" are the joint venture construction management team of Barton-Malow and Jomar. Along with building trades union members, last month they were nearly complete with the year-long process to build the NextEnergy Center. Hardly your run-of-the-mill office building, it includes:

  • An 18,400 square-foot accelerator laboratory, with seven research and development labs.
  • An 80-seat auditorium.
  • Demonstration and exhibition space.
  • And the highlight: A "micro-grid pavilion," which will provide space for several different types of electrical generation. The pavilion has six bays, where power sources and systems like internal and external combustion, thermal recovery and distribution, hydrogen, natural gas and solar energy can be tested and validated.

The center is capable of creating one megawatt of electricity to power the operations of NextEnergy and its tenants, as well as some nearby buildings on the WSU campus. "If there was a blackout in the area, we wouldn't be affected," Saber said. The system is also tied into DTE Energy's electrical grid.


The single story building has a cool lighting scheme in the test bays and in the exhibition area of the building, which will light up and pulse according to the type of fuel that is being used for the building's electrical generation. (For example, natural gas might be green and fuel cells might be blue).

Ken Padgett, project manager for Barton-Malow, said the job consistently employed about 80 construction workers. He said the building was erected on an old surface parking lot - atop the foundations of an old parking structure. "There was a lot of stuff underground," he said. "But overall, things went as planned."

Jomar General Manager Juris Junkulis said a project labor agreement helped create "a well-coordinated job, with good harmony among the owners, contractors and tradespeople on the job."

NextEnergy, a nonprofit organization founded through a grant by the Michigan Economic Development Authority, currently employs eight. Two businesses formalized commitments last month to move into the energy "incubator." As the center of the nation's automotive industry, locating the building in Southeast Michigan was seen as a natural.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has repeatedly pointed out the importance of fuel-cell and alternative energy research as a key to improving Michigan's economy.

"We are doing everything we can to bring alternative energy investment and the good-paying jobs it provides to Michigan," Granholm said. "These significant new investments demonstrate Michigan's growing leadership in alternative energy research, development and manufacturing."

Some NextEnergy tenants may develop their own power production equipment, others will use the infrastructure for improvement, validation and testing.

"The building is set up to provide a real world environment - a living, breathing system," said Saber.

INSIDE THE "MICRO-GRID PAVILION" they installed for NextEnergy are IBEW Local 58 members (l-r) Brian Adkins, Ben Smith, Fred Bertini, Terry Harland, Keith Tarlo, Kirt Crocker, Steve Louzon, and Lance Mathews. The area has six bays to support several types of electrical generating applications, such as fuel cells and internal and external combustion. The electricians were working for Ferndale Electric, a sub for Barton-Malow/Jomar.

CHECKING OUT a pressure-reducing station in the mechanical room at the NextEnergy Center is Todd Gonzalez of Pipe Fitters Local 636.
Photos by Jerry Bielicki


Carpenters end jurisdiction pacts

The "gloves are off in the fight over jurisdiction," the Construction Labor Report said last month, as the International Brotherhood of Carpenters canceled work assignment agreements with the Iron Workers and Sheet Metal Workers International Unions.

Citing the inability of the unions to update jurisdictional agreements, Carpenters President Douglas McCarron, in a letter to Iron Workers President Joe Hunt, ended a 40-year-old agreement between the unions over the installation of conveyors, as well as rigging, window and door installation pacts, which were hammered out in the 1970s.

The Carpenters president said in ending the agreements "our union contractors will be more competitive and the members of both of our organizations will gain market share."

McCarron sent a similar letter to Sheet Metal Workers President Michael Sullivan, canceling an agreement over defining which craft installs suspended metal ceilings with components including grills, diffusers, and air handling slats. Sullivan called it a "bad message to send to owners."

Hunt said in a letter to the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) - which has a huge interest in seeing that job harmony is maintained among trade unions - that the Sheet Metal Workers' agreements with the Carpenters, "while not perfect, have done much to weld our two crafts into a cooperative, efficient team, providing our contractors and customers with a workforce tailored to their needs."

The "last thing" corporate owners need, Hunt said, "is the removal of agreements that provide harmony on the job." He added that the Carpenters' "attempt to grab market share without considering the impact on our customers is inconsistent" with the mission of the labor-owner-committee established by CURT.

The Carpenters, like several other unions, have dropped their affiliation with the AFL-CIO, primarily in a dispute over leadership direction and the spending of dues money on organizing. They have remained aligned with the AFL-CIO's Building Trades Department, but have been warned by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney that they must start paying dues to the labor federation by July or get kicked out of the Building Trades Department.

The Michigan Regional Carpenters Council dropped their affiliation with the Detroit and Michigan Building Trades Councils in 1996.

(Source: Construction Labor Report)


Volunteers sought for Habitat blitz

The week of June 19-24, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn will lead volunteers from around the world in the host cities of Benton Harbor and Detroit to build simple, decent, affordable houses in partnership with people in need through the Jimmy Carter Work Project, Habitat for Humanity's largest annual event.

This year "Blitz Build" volunteers will build 20 houses in Benton Harbor and 30 houses in Detroit - ensuring that more Michigan families have a simple, decent place to live.

A number of building trades workers have volunteered, but more are needed. For more information, go to the Habitat website,

Pipe trades volunteers in the Benton Harbor area - or any other workers who wish to help - can call Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 357, (269) 679-2570.

Detroit are pipe trades volunteers are being coordinated through Molly Forward at the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors of Detroit, (313) 341-7661, ext. 204.

Following is other contact information for others willing to volunteer. In Oakland County, call Steve Campbell, (248) 338-1843. In Macomb County, call Daniel Wiiki, (586) 263-1540.

Some preliminary work is being performed before June 19.


Unique 'Toxecon' project targets mercury emissions

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

pollution controls being installed at the Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette will demonstrate the first example of what may be the nation's next-generation process for removing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Called the "TOXECON" process, the $52.9 million pollution control system is expected to capture 80 percent of mercury emissions at the plant, as well as reduce particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The project is being funded nearly 50-50 by a joint venture of the plant's owner, We Energies, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

"If successful," said a DOE statement, "Toxecon may be the primary mercury control choice for users of western coals, and the only choice for units burning any coal type with hot-side electrostatic precipitators - markets totaling 68 gigawatts of electric power production, which is approximately 22 percent of the nation's coal-based generation."

In other words, the technology has the potential to significantly reduce coal burning plants' mercury emissions.

Under the agreement, We Energies will design, install, operate and evaluate the Toxecon process. The project will be partially funded ($24.8 million) by the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Rod Miller, the principal representative on the project for We Energies, said the utility won a competitive process to have the new technology installed at the Presque Isle plant. "It's really a great opportunity for us," he said. "This technology has worked in small-scale applications, but has never been used on a utility-sized boiler."

In the Toxecon process, "sorbents" are injected into the power plant's gas stream to absorb the pollutants so they can be captured by the baghouse section of the Toxecon, preventing their release into the atmosphere.

The Presque Isle Toxecon project began with foundation work last fall. New baghouse equipment that contains vacuum bag-like structures and related ductwork are being built near the existing fine particle control systems. After this work is complete in December 2005, final connections between the new and existing equipment will be made during a planned shut down at the plant. When it's brought online, the new Toxecon process will be extensively tested and evaluated before it can be used for future applications elsewhere.

The Presque Isle plant, which came on line in 1956, has nine boilers, and is rated at a total of 617 megawatts. The Toxecon system will treat the gas stream from the plant's three most efficient boilers, 7, 8 and 9. Two other non-Toxecon-designed baghouses are also currently being installed on Units 5 and 6 at Presque Isle. A baghouse was installed at Units 1-4 in 1999.

The Toxecon is expected to capture about 80 pounds or mercury per year. It is also expected to capture 1,145 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (a 30 percent reduction) and 428 tons per year of nitrogen oxides (70 percent reduction), beyond what Presque Isle's pollution controls currently remove.

An additional feature allows the company to reuse captured fly ash. Instead of paying to have the ash hauled to a landfill, the ash can be sold for use in concrete applications.

Earth Sciences, Inc. and its subsidiary, ADA Environmental Solutions, are providing the technology. Contractors on the project include Wheelabrator, Boldt and Jamar. About 160 construction workers are on site, said Dick Johnson, We Energies' principal engineer/air quality.

"The craft workers are working out well," he said. "We have an accelerated schedule, but we're right about where we want to be."

INSTALLING SLIDE plates on a baghouse duct at the We Energies Toxecon project are Bill Nelson of Boilermakers Local 169 and and Darren Lewis of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 506. They were working for Boldt.

THIS IS the Toxecon baghouse superstructure, with Local 8 iron worker Tim Wolf walking a beam at the top.


News Briefs
ENR ranks nation's top contractors

Three Michigan-based construction contractors are among the top 100 (in terms of revenue) in an annual survey released last month by the Engineering News Record.

Michigan's two perennial giants in general contracting experienced little change in their ranking from 2004 to 2005. Detroit-based Walbridge-Aldinger moved from #37 to #34, while Barton-Malow (Southfield) was unchanged at #35.

Balfour-Beatty, a British construction firm that has U.S. offices in Novi, dropped from #66 to #68.

"For large general contractors," the ENR report said, "2004 was a solid year for business. After three years of sluggish markets and uncertainty, activity picked up in most market sectors and in most regions. The turnaround wasn't spectacular, just strong enough to keep construction firms optimistic, but not idealistic, about the next few years."

Following are Michigan construction contractors that made the top-400 ENR list in 2005: Angelo Iafrate of Warren (#137); Christman of Lansing (#151); Rockford of Belmont (#208); J.M. Olson of St. Clair Shores (#254); Roncelli of Sterling Heights (#278); Granger of Lansing (#281); George Auch of Pontiac (#289); Clark Construction of Lansing (#342); Pioneer General Contracting of Grand Rapids (#344) and Demaria Building Co. of Detroit (#378).

Among out-of-state contractors that have a major presence in Michigan were Skanska (#6); Alberici (#60); The Boldt Co., (#85); Miron Construction (#123); Graycor (#130) and Lunda Construction (#245).

The top three contractors in the nation are Bechtel, KRB and Centex.

State lawmakers seek to help Wal Mart
Separate bills aimed at helping Wal Mart expand in Michigan have been introduced in the state House and Senate.

According to the Michigan AFL-CIO, Wal-Mart is seeking to build a new distribution center in Mount Pleasant and they want new government subsidies to help pay for it.

Sen. Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt) has introduced SB 434, which would allow Wal-Mart to receive money from the Transportation Economic Development Fund to make road improvements at the site of their proposed distribution center.

Senator Cameron Brown (R-Sturgis) has introduced SB 175, which would allow a local community to offer a tax abatement for new distribution centers, like the one Wal-Mart wants to build in Mount Pleasant.

Both bills have passed the Senate and are now in the House of Representatives.

"It doesn't make sense to take taxpayers' money to subsidize a wealthy corporation that cheats its workers by paying low wages and not providing benefits," said a statement by the Michigan AFL-CIO. "Meijers is a union store, they don't ask for state taxpayer handouts, yet they pay up to twice as much in wages and provide health care for their workers. It's time for the taxpayers of Michigan to stand up to Wal-Mart and say "NO" to corporate welfare that comes at the expense of working families."


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