June 22, 2007
Veto threat aside,
Senate Dems to move on key organizing bill
A PAI Special
Report: Labor law turned upside down...Taft-Hartley signed 60
Outage results in extreme
makeover at Consumers' J.H. Campbell plant
High Court ruling
advances Indian casinos
zone speeds are working
threat aside, Senate Dems to move on key organizing bill
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The Senate was scheduled to vote on June
20 on whether to cut off a two-day Republican filibuster against
the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation designed to help level
the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and
The vote will follow intensive lobbying by a labor-led wide-ranging
coalition, including community groups, religious leaders and
civil rights groups.
The vote "is critically important," said AFL-CIO
Organizing Director Stewart Acuff, because even if we can't overcome
the filibuster, it (the vote) will set a marker for the next
two years - to get a Senate to pass it and a (new) president
who twists arms for it."
The law faces an uphill battle, even with the lobbying. Acuff
said "defeating it has become the No. 1 priority of the
Radical Right Wing." The bill passed the House March 1,
241-185, with 228 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting for it.
And President George W. Bush plans to veto it.
If the Employee Free Choice Act (HR 800/S 1041) becomes law,
it would help level the playing field by legally endorsing "card-check"
recognition of unions at work sites. Card-check is a simplified
election process for voting during union organizing drives. The
process helps prevent employer intimidation of employees during
the process of a ballot election.
Organized labor maintains that management often takes the
time before those elections to hold closed-door meetings and
intimidate and threaten workers into voting against union representation.
Backers of the legislation said it has 48 Senate co-sponsors
and counted 52 votes, going in, to shut off the GOP filibuster.
But they needed 60 votes to succeed. Among the senators targeted
were George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Norman Coleman (R-Minn.), and
both GOP senators from Maine and both Republicans from Alaska.
The business community has launched radio and TV ad blitzes
in states of undecided senators, wrapping itself in the flag
of the "secret ballot" in union recognition elections,
while ignoring the rampant business labor law-breaking that occurs
before those votes.
This year's Senate vote came on an infamous anniversary: On
June 20, 1947--precisely 60 years ago--Democratic President Harry
S Truman vetoed the Taft-Hartley Act. That law, by the GOP-run
80th Congress, incorporated the original National Labor Relations
Act, but made labor law pro-management. The House overrode Truman's
veto that day and the Senate did so three days later.
PAI Special Report: Labor law turned upside down...Taft-Hartley
signed 60 years ago
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - On June 23, 1947, U.S. labor law turned
That's when the Republican-run 80th Congress passed the Taft-Hartley
Act, by overriding a scathing veto by Democratic President Harry
S Truman and over intense opposition from organized labor.
Marking that infamous anniversary is appropriate: The Democratic-run
House this year passed the Employee Free Choice Act, designed
to undo some abuses that have arisen in the 60 years since Taft-Hartley
became law. The Employee Free Choice Act (HR 800/S1041) is pending
before the Democratic-run Senate, but faces a GOP filibuster
and - if that fails - a veto GOP President George W. Bush.
"Enactment of Taft-Hartley culminated a decade's worth
of efforts directed at repealing, modifying, confining or undercutting
the Wagner Act," Boston College law professor Thomas Kohler
told a symposium on the impact of that law, on its 50th anniversary.
"Too much of the (Taft-Hartley) act shows it was the
product of men who did not know how things work in industry or
in the administration of the NLRA (the National Labor Relations
Act), and of some who wished to weaken the position of all labor
organizations in the economic and political scene," Kohler
Will the Employee Free Choice Act undo Taft-Hartley, and restore
the nation's labor law to what the original Wagner Act - the
National Labor Relations Act - intended in 1935?
No, because of 60 years of labor case law and court decisions
made the nation's labor law "system" a pro-corporate,
legalistic maze of procedural delays. One new law cannot untie
that entire Gordian Knot. It can loosen it, however. The Employee
Free Choice Act aims to do so.
With that in mind, it is useful to review some of the major
provisions of Taft-Hartley and what labor said about it at the
time - and later:
*The Taft-Hartley Act solidified the National Labor Relations
Board's status as a quasi-judicial body, acting only on cases
brought before it but with little enforcement power. Taft-Hartley
also turned the board's General Counsel into an administrator
and prosecutor, empowered to investigate complaints and prosecute
when and where the counsel finds legitimate reason.
*Taft-Hartley reaffirmed Wagner Act provisions outlining 13
types of management labor law-breaking, formally called "unfair
labor practice," charges. It added six methods of union
labor law-breaking. Taft-Hartley also outlawed a key weapon unions
had available until then, the secondary boycott.
Sponsoring Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) Taft "had a mental
block on one phase of labor relations: The secondary boycott.
He couldn't understand it," the late AFL-CIO President George
*Supervisors were barred from unionizing under Taft-Hartley.
Under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, they could, in their
own bargaining units. As supervisors, thanks to Taft-Hartley,
they may be forced into anti-union anti-worker campaigning, or
be fired. One impact of the Bush NLRB majority's Kentucky River
nurses-are-supervisors ruling last year is that millions of more
people - from construction workers to physicians' assistants
to newspaper reporters - could arbitrarily become "supervisors"
who can't unionize, thanks to Taft-Hartley.
Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to reverse
* Taft-Hartley let states enact so-called "right-to-work"
laws. It said that a contract that includes a union shop provision
could see a de-certification election against that provision
alone. The Bush-named majority on the NLRB just made such de-certification
votes against union shop provisions easier to seek. The right-to-work
provision particularly upset the AFL, Meany said in a later interview.
Indeed, Taft-Hartley "didn't put us out of business, but
we felt highly emotional about" both it and the right-to-work
provision. "It said in effect: 'Here is the federal standard,
but if the states want to tighten up and make it more difficult
for labor to organize, they can do so. But they can't go the
other way,'" and make it easier to organize, Meany added.
The Employee Free Choice Act does not repeal right-to-work.
The last time the union movement tried, and failed, to repeal
that part - section 14(b) - of Taft-Hartley was 1965.
* Taft-Hartley did reaffirm that encouraging collective bargaining
as a way to settle labor-management disputes is a legitimate
national interest. That was object of the NLRA, but House Republicans
actually knocked that "national interest" language
out of their version of Taft-Hartley in 1947. Sen. Taft stuck
it back in, and in it stayed. "The bill is based on the
theory of the Wagner Act. It is based on the theory that the
solution of the labor problem in the United States is free, collective
bargaining," Taft said during the debate over Truman's veto.
* With the passage of Taft-Hartley, enshrined into labor law
was the so-called "free speech" provision, letting
employers campaign against unions. "Although unions are
limited in campaigning on company time and property, employers
are not," writes noted St. Louis labor law attorney Bruce
Feldacker in Labor's Guide To Labor Law.
"An employer has the right to speak to employees on company
time and require employees to attend the meeting. This is the
so-called 'captive audience' doctrine. An union does not have
the right to reply on company time," Feldacker adds. It
was cemented into labor law, other specialists say, by Taft-Hartley.
The Employee Free Choice Act would outlaw captive audience
Taft-Hartley had many other provisions, all designed, as speakers
at the symposium said, to allegedly correct the pro-union tilt
of the NLRA. Union leaders said business interests wrote Taft-Hartley.
"The Hartley-National Association of Manufacturers bill
designed to bring about the destruction of free trade unions
in our country," Meany told a radio audience in 1947. "Throughout
the 68 pages we find the ideas and the very language of the NAM's
anti-labor program lifted bodily and incorporated into the bill."
Mine Workers President John L. Lewis called Taft-Hartley "the
first ugly, savage thrust of fascism in America" written
by "those who still believe in the institution of human
Today, AFL-CIO General Counsel Laurence Gould says the problem
isn't Taft-Hartley, but labor law in general, combined with the
NLRB's rulings and management's attitudes.
"Congress, the board and the courts enormously underestimated
employer determination to maintain the status quo as the sole
master of the enterprise and as the figure who is entitled to
loyalty and to punish disloyalty," Gould told the Wagner
Act symposium. "The rules that govern organizing campaigns
may have changed the methods of coercion that are available,
but they have done little or nothing to change the final result.
"In those terms, insofar as the (Wagner) act was designed
to change the brute fact of employers' dominance, the act has
failed. I do not believe procedural niceties and questions of
.are at all determinative as to whether this
law has any vitality at this point in time. This has come about
because there are no major shared objectives between management
and labor," Gould added. That was true when Taft-Hartley
became law. As the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act shows,
it still is.
results in extreme makeover at Consumers' J.H. Campbell plant
By Marty Mulcahy
PORT SHELDON TWP. -The population of this small town on the
Lake Michigan shoreline grew by up to 1,400 from last November
through March, as the building trades, their contractors and
support staff descended on Consumers Energy's J.H. Campbell Generating
Complex to complete installation of pollution controls and convert
the 820-megawatt boiler to burn low sulfur western coal.
The major tasks on their to-do list during the Campbell Unit
3 emission control equipment installation outage include: tie-in
the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) equipment on the plant
and convert the unit to allow burning 100% low sulfur western
coal. The work is part of a three-year, $450 million plan whose
goal is to reduce the plant's nitrogen oxide emissions.
The SCR technology allows a small amount of ammonia to be
injected into flue gas leaving the boiler and entering a catalyst.
The chemical reaction converts ozone contributing nitrogen oxide
to nitrogen - which makes up about three-fourths of the air in
nature - and water vapor.
"This has been an extremely large outage," said
Rich Kasper, the project manager who handled the contract labor
force for Consumers Energy. "Converting the boiler to burn
western coal was the largest project we've ever undertaken at
this site beyond initial construction of the three power plants."
The project has been led by APCom Power/Alstom Construction.
The Unit 3 outage began in the last week of September, and employment
for the outage peaked in late January. Work on the boiler and
related plant equipment was essentially complete in April with
testing and analysis occurring in May.
The project from 2006 through 2007 has involved two million
man-hours of work, with some highlights including:
- Completion of the new SCR superstructure and supporting equipment
- Replacement of boiler tubes
- Replacement of induced draft fans
- Installation of a new static exciter on the generator
- Installation of a new boiler economizer and re-heat section.
- A large amount of maintenance on valves and pumps
- Generator refurbishment
- Complete inspection of turbines
- A tremendous amount of associated wiring
Kasper said with the vast number of welds that were performed
on the boiler tubes some flaws were anticipated, and welders
were performing leak-seeking and repairs while the system was
pressurized late last month.
Much planning went into the outage, Kasper said, and when
it came time to do the work, Hardhats usually toiled 24 hours
in two shifts.
"We had four large trestle cranes, and now we're down
to one," he said late last month. "Right now, we're
in demobilization and clean-up, and from now through November,
we'll be restoring the superstructure and doing punch-list work."
Consumers Energy spokesman Dennis McKee said the modifications
to reduce emissions from Unit 3 are unprecedented in scope for
any plant in the utility's fleet - and for that matter, the rest
of the country. "We expect the rest of the industry will
emulate the work we've done here," McKee said.
Overall the project "was a great campaign," Kasper
said. "We did it with tremendous attention to safety and
it was close to being on time. We've had a lot of success stories
but we've learned lessons, too."
The project's safety record was marred by the fall of an iron
worker who was severely injured on the project.
And, on Feb. 22, an outdoor crane at the job site collapsed.
The 300-foot crane boom fell onto the building housing the complex's
Unit 3 turbine. Miraculously, with about 100 Consumers Energy
and construction personnel inside the building at the time, no
one was seriously injured. The crane was not manned at the time.
While MIOSHA hasn't released a final report on its investigation
of the incident, there were high winds at the time off of Lake
The modifications at the plant are expected to result in an
85 percent decline in nitrogen oxide emissions and a 20 percent
drop in sulfur dioxide emission rate.
The 260 megawatt Unit 1 at the Campbell Plant has already
been configured to burn Western coal, and the 360 megawatt Unit
2 can burn 40 percent Western coal. The installation of future
pollution controls on Units 1 and 2 "will be determined
by government policies and what makes economic and environmental
sense," McKee said.
Jim Kaffenberger, a business agent with Boilermakers Local
169, said Consumers Energy was "excellent to work with.
They went out of their way to give us everything we needed. One
thing they did was heat the building, which was a really big
plus for us."
Dan Malone, site manager at the Campbell Complex, said the
quality of work from the trades "is very high - craftworkers
and the Consumers site staff interacted very well together. They
were a very easy group to manage, and the work they've done has
brought about a very high quality, reliable unit."
BOILERMAKERS from Local 169 work amid a mass
of boiler tubes several stories up at Consumers Energy's J.H.
Campbell plant. More than 800 boilermakers worked at the plant
in late January at the peak outage period. Photos by Dennis McKee/Consumers
A SECTION of duct-work starts its journey
from a flatbed to a retrofitted area of the Campbell plant.
Court ruling advances Indian casinos
(From Michigan Construction News.com)
A Michigan Supreme Court ruling tossing out a challenge by
TOMAC ("Taxpayers Of Michigan Against Casinos") will
allow the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo Township to open in
August, as scheduled. It's also seen as a decision that will
aid other Native American owned casino projects in the state.
Ground was broken a year ago by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi
Indians for the estimated $400 million casino and resort.
The casino facilities are rising on a 51-acre portion of a
675-acre site located north of M-239 and east of I-94 at Exit
1. Included is to be 130,000 square-feet of gaming space, six
restaurants, and three bars. There are also to be 164 hotel rooms,
including 98 suites; meeting rooms; an exercise facility; outdoor
spa; and childcare facility and arcade.
TOMAC had argued Michigan's process for ratifying compacts
signed between the Native American tribes and the governor to
be improper. It also claimed the governor could not amend them
without additional ratification by the state legislature. The
high court disagreed, by a 5-2 decision issued June 1.
In addition to the Pokagons, the decision let stand casino
gaming compacts with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians,
the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and the Nottawaseppi
Huron Band of Potawatomi.
Though it must overcome another legal challenge, the Huron
Band hopes to break ground late this summer on its $120 million
Firekeepers Casino near Battle Creek. It would rise on a 78-acre
site in Calhoun County's Emmett Township.
work zone speeds are working
In 2005, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)
considered ways to attack the increasing problem of tragic work
zone crashes. Its "Where Workers Present 45" campaign
seems to have made a difference.
"Like transportation departments in all states, MDOT
is faced with the difficult task of maintaining highways that
are increasingly clogged with traffic," says the Laborers
Health and Safety Fund of North America's Occupational Safety
and Health Division Associate Director Walter Jones, who testified
at the state's legislative hearings. "In Michigan, about
20 people are killed every year in work zone crashes - the vast
majority being the drivers or passengers of the vehicles that
crash. About ten percent are construction workers, mostly Laborers."
Due to increasing traffic demand, road closures for repair
are problematic. In some areas, night work has been more widely
employed, but this has additional costs and different (as well
as similar) dangers. Physical separation with barriers is generally
recommended but, because of the mobile nature of roadway work,
is difficult to implement in many situations. Police presence
is known to slow drivers, but it is costly and enforcement in
a work zone area can add to the confusion and danger.
Thus, among these other tactics, states continue to rely on
messages aimed at the motoring public that are designed to get
them to slow down and pay attention in and around work zones.
"But, even that is not so simple," says Gary Jorgensen,
Michigan Laborers District Council Business Manager. "Initially,
the state's police and engineers - citing studies that indicate
that whenever drivers make sudden speed adjustments, the risk
of crashes with other drivers increases - wanted to allow speeds
of 60 mph in work zones. We had to battle to get them to listen
to our perspective. Even then, their plan was to change the limit
to ten mph below the highway's posted speed limit. In many cases,
that would have meant 55 mph."
Meanwhile, working with the "Give 'em a Brake Safety
Coalition" - an alliance of MDOT, builders' associations
and unions - to educate the driving public, Jorgensen convinced
the MDOT director (an engineer, since returned to the private
sector) that she should create a media photo opportunity to dramatize
the danger for road workers by setting up her desk in a highway
work zone. "With cars whizzing by at 60 miles per hour,
she also began to soften her support for raising the work zone
speed limit," recalls Jorgensen. "Then, we were able
to work out the compromise, agreeing to keep the speed limit
at 45 but adding 'when workers are present.' It seems to be working."
The new plan was implemented in 2006 and the progress is good.
Crashes in 2006 declined 20 percent from 2005. Injuries dropped
from 1,811 to 1,450 and fatalities from 20 to 18.
While he praised the progress and attributed it to the new
signage, new MDOT Director Kirk T. Steudle said, "We must
continue to promote work zone safety in order to reduce crashes,
injuries and deaths even further. Our goal is to make 2007 the
Previously, the state had enacted a series of laws to attack
the work zone safety problem. In 1997, it doubled fines for speeding
in work zones. In 2001, the state enacted "Andy's Law"
that imposes a year in prison for injuring, and up to 15 years
for killing, a road construction worker. In 2002, it increased
the number of points issued for speeding in work zones (three
for ten miles per hour or less over the limit, four for ten to
15 mph over and five for greater than 15 mph over). Twelve total
points necessitates a license re-examination and the possibility
of a restriction, suspension or revocation.
Only after the "Where Workers Present 45" program
was implemented did crashes, injuries and fatalities actually
decline. More study will be needed to fully understand the success,
but in the meantime, Michigan drivers will continue to slow down
when workers are present and highway workers will hopefully enjoy
"the safest year ever."
(From the Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America).
MICHIGAN'S 'where workers present' strategy for speed control
in work zones helped lower injuries and fatalities.
Photo by Bill Phillips/MDOT
Construction lags jobless numbers
LANSING - Michigan's construction and manufacturing industries
acted as anchors for the state's jobless numbers, which overall
had some good news, dropping two-tenths of a percentage point
to 6.9 percent in May from April's' 7.1 percent.
"May's 6.9 percent unemployment rate matched the state's
2006 annual average rate," said Rick Waclawek, director
of Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth's Bureau
of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives on June
13. "However, Michigan continues to outpace the nation in
manufacturing and construction job loss. These losses have been
tempered by steady growth in health services."
Michigan employed 181,000 construction workers in May 2006,
and a year later, that number dropped to 168,000.
From April to May 2007, total employment increased by 14,000
and unemployment declined by 9,000 as the state's labor force
rose slightly by 5,000. Michigan's May 2007 jobless rate increased
by three-tenths of a percentage point from the state's May 2006
rate of 6.6 percent. In the same period, the national jobless
rate decreased one-tenth of a percentage point.
In May, the number of unemployed in Michigan was 348,000.
The total number of unemployed in the state has hovered around
350,000 for about four and a half years.
Circuit City not winning friends
(PAI) - A second round of mass firings by the big electronics
retailer Circuit City - many of them at its Richmond, Va., headquarters
- prompted some workers there to contact the Retail, Wholesale
and Department Store Union in New York.
And while RWDSU has made no move to organize the chain, "we're
reaching out" to the firm's workers, union spokeswoman Zita
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum blasted the second round
of firings. He said they showed the firm's managers are "poster
children for corporate irresponsibility." The coming firings
will cut 654 store managers nationwide and 200 workers in Richmond,
the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting Circuit City CEO Philip
Earlier this year, the retailer fired 3,400 staffers nationwide,
virtually all because they were its highest-paid workers. It
told them they could reapply for their old jobs in two months,
at half the pay, and in the meantime it stuck with lower-paid
workers. Customers responded by abandoning Circuit City due to
lack of expertise on the stores' floors. The firings led to a
crash in revenues in the first quarter of 2007.
Schoonhoover earned $17 million last year in pay and benefits
while rank and file Circuit City workers earned $7.75-$10 an
hour with few or no benefits.
That first round of firings also prompted protests, including
one in Minneapolis, where unionists emphasized that had Circuit
City workers been organized - a prospect that could occur if
the Employee Free Choice Act was law - they would have had protection
against the arbitrary pink slips.