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June 23, 2006
DETROIT - On the same day the first television ads supporting her candidacy hit the airwaves in Michigan on June 8, Gov. Jennifer Granholm made her first re-election campaign pitch before the building trades.
Talking to the quarterly meeting of Michigan Pipe Trades Association delegates, Granholm used that audience to tout her strategy of accelerating billions of dollars in spending on construction projects to pull the state out of its economic doldrums.
"My $6 billion Jobs Today plan is the most aggressive and comprehensive jobs plan in the nation," Granholm told pipe trades union delegates. "It's going to give your workers a lot more hours. We're taking ten years of building projects and putting them into the next three to four years. There will be $3.5 billion in accelerated projects, which will put 40,000 people to work."
Delegates to the Michigan Pipe Trades Association endorsed Granholm for re-election to governor, and presented her with a $34,000 from their political action committees.
Granholm took only a few swipes at her Republican challenger, billionaire Richard Devos, whose television ads have been airing since February. (She did point out that Devos has already reserved the Internet domain, wwwdevosforpresident.com.) Devos has been short on specifics in his campaigning, but has a record of supporting trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and wants to cut taxes for Michigan's businesses even further by eliminating the state Single Business Tax.
Devos, the former president of Alticor (previously Amway) has never laid out a plan on how to replace the $1.9 billion in state revenues generated by the SBT, but many Democrats suspect plans will include raising the sales tax.
Granholm said she would support eliminating the SBT - if the replacement money doesn't hurt Michigan taxpayers. "We need aggressive solutions that are good for business, and good for everyday people," she said. "Too often it's everyday people who are left out of the equation."
The governor acknowledged that the state is "struggling" economically, but said the major reason for this is that the federal government is "ignoring manufacturing. We've lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs to China where they're paying workers $1 per hour."
She pointed out that South Korea exported 700,000 vehicles to the U.S. - but only allowed the importation of 4,000 vehicles because of their stricter trade limitations. And more vehicles are made in Ontario than Michigan, she said, because Canada's government-sponsored health care lowers their cost of doing business.
During her 15-minute talk, Granholm kept the mood positive, focusing on the good things that have happened during the last three-and-a-half years she has been in office. Among them: cutting state government spending to make up a $4 billion deficit when she came into office. At the same time, signing into law 59 targeted tax cuts. And the implementation of higher high school academic standards, as well as the announcement of moves to Michigan by companies like Keebler (700 jobs) and a solar energy company to Greenville, which recently saw the shuttering of the Electrolux refrigerator plant.
"We know there's more to do," she said. "I won't rest until Michigan is turned around on the path to transforming our economy."
GRAND RAPIDS - The Icon on Bond development is quickly coming out of the ground, transforming a brownfield site that hosted an old foundry into a residential development that is expected to add to the transformation of the Monroe North Business District.
The $55 million, nine-story residential tower will include 118 units. Work began in January on the all-union construction projectwhich is being managed by Wolverine Construction. So far, 37 units have been sold or reserved said Joe Moch, Jr. of project developer Moch International.
After breaking open an unmarked water main some 25 feet below grade and flooding the site for a day and a half earlier this year, Moch said the hole in the ground where the building is being erected has been "amazingly dry."
"Everything is coming along nicely," Moch said one day last month, stopping by the site. "The trades have been great for us."
When finished, the Icon on Bond will offer condos ranging in size from 728 square feet to 1,418 square feet. The development will feature outdoor balconies, views of the Grand River and the downtown skyline, nine-foot ceilings, and personal laundry. Development plans also call for a community room with a 12-seat movie theatre, as well as exercise, conference, and office space. Units will range in price from $186,000 to $420,000.
The development is located in a designated Renaissance Zone,
which means residents receive a break from city and state income
tax as well as property tax until 2012. The project is expected
to be complete in June 2007.
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Saying the ongoing cost of asbestos claims must be resolved, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has revived and rewritten his controversial asbestos trust fund bill.
But this version, S. 3274, is considerably worse than the one the Senate sidetracked earlier in 2006 due to budget-busting concerns, asbestos victims say.
That's because the bill makes it harder for ill and dying workers to get paid from the proposed $140 billion trust fund, which victims note is inadequate. Specter's committee held a June 7 hearing on S. 3274.
Specter said this version of the bill is "the last best chance" for passage by his Senate Judiciary Committee.
The victims said Specter's new bill caps the money paid to terminally ill victims - those with fewer than 12 months to live - and gives asbestos makers and their insurers no incentive at all to bargain and every incentive to force the victims to take less.
Specter himself, introducing S. 3274 on April 25, pledged no federal funds would be available for victims should the trust fund, which asbestos manufacturers and their insurers would supply, run out of money. And, like the previous trust fund bill, the new legislation bars victims from going to court and throws out pending victims' cases.
Specter said the new asbestos bill address objections from
two senators, both of whom want to place more burden of proof
of illness on victims. The new bill would require victims to
provide a diagnosis from a doctor "treating" rather
than "examining" the asbestos patient. It would also
require credible affidavits - and random audits of those documents
- as proof of asbestos exposure.
Those workers, including construction workers, contracted those illnesses due to repeated exposure to asbestos, which got into and lodged in their lungs.
Many sued the firms that employed them, because those companies did not warn them of asbestos hazards or prevent the illnesses, even though company studies show some firms knew of asbestos hazards as far back as World War I.
The suits drove several former makers of asbestos into bankruptcy.
So Specter started out in congressional-labor-business negotiations
to try to craft a solution. But the biggest asbestos
The AFL-CIO then walked away from the bargaining, saying victims had been double-crossed and were left with too little money and no way to get more or go to court for themselves. Both the federation and victims groups opposed it - and still do.
"Letting the corporations bounce back from bankruptcy
with a slap on the wrist with this trust fund takes imperfection
to new levels," said Susan Vento, chair of the Committee
Vento testified June 7 that the new asbestos bill "changed the expedited settlement process for the terminally ill victims in a manner that prevents these victims from receiving the full compensation due to them." She said the provision allows defendant firms substantial leverage to force victims into accepting much lower awards if they desire to be compensated before dying
"This trust fund is 'no-accountability' heaven for corporations," she said. "Even Enron would be jealous."
As we reported in our last issue, Republican lawmakers in Michigan are trying to take up where federal lawmakers have left off, introducing legislation to make it more difficult for workers potentially afflicted with asbestos-related disease to get monetary relief.
In addition, the State Supreme Court is considering raising the legal standard by which asbestos victims can make a claim in the judicial system.
One lawyer who supports asbestos victims said Republican lawmakers
and the Michigan Supreme Court are attempting to fix problems
that don't exist.
One of the Department of Labor's most important roles is the enforcement of the nation's wage and hour laws - making sure employers don't cheat workers out of their wages, and if they do, recovering those lost wages.
The House Appropriations subcommittee that put together the 2007 budget cut by $10.2 million President Bush's request of $176 million for wage and hour enforcement in fiscal year 2007. If the cut is approved, it will mean that in FY 2007, the money to enforce wage and hour laws will be 6.1 percent less than when Bush took office.
Contrast that to a 12.1 percent hike in funding for the Office of Labor Management Standards. That agency enforces the administration's new stringent financial reporting rules for unions.
That request for $52.4 million also represents a 49.6 percent increases from fiscal 2001 funding.
(From the AFL-CIO)
are steaming up on NMU campus
As a result of the old age of its components and the need for added capacity, the Ripley Heating Plant is undergoing its first major upgrade. Just after the winter semester was complete last month, contractor Gundlach Champion and the building trades began the job of ripping out two of the original boilers. A third boiler will stay in service.
Two new 70,000-lb. natural-gas/oil-fired boilers will increase the capacity of the plant by 19 percent to 210,000 lbs. of steam per hour.
"The new boilers will be somewhat more efficient, but the real advantage will be getting new equipment in there," said Robert Ryan, an NMU engineer overseeing the project. "After 40 years, things were beginning to wear out."
The $7.4 million project also involves upgrading "ancient" electrical service and switch gear, Ryan said. New switch-gear will be installed on a portion of the plant that was built for a never-realized fourth boiler.
As part of the design process for the upgrade, NMU said it is also reviewing the possibility of burning alternate fuel sources, such as wood or coal. If this option proves feasible the third 70,000-lb. boiler could be replaced with a unit capable of burning multiple solid fuels. Items being considered as part of the study are start-up costs, fuel supply, storage and utility savings.
The Ripley plant creates steam to both heat and cool buildings on the NMU campus. Electrical power is provided to the campus by Marquette Board of Light and Power. Ryan said there has been one electrical outage to the campus so far, and future outages are planned for 15 minutes or less as the new electrical equipment is tied in.
The new boilers and related electrical equipment should be online in mid-October.
"Right now, we're right on schedule," Ryan said. "We have good people working, we haven't had any problems."
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The market for construction materials is way up compared to other types of goods - and they may stay higher.
"Many materials are contributing to the increase," said Associated General Contractors of American (AGC) Chief Economist Ken Simonson this month. "In the last 12 months, there have been increases of 87 percent for copper and brass mill shapes, 48 percent for asphalt, 40 percent for diesel fuel, 26 percent for gypsum products, 18 percent for plastic construction products, and 15 percent for cement.
"I expect a few of these increases to level off as the housing market cools, but most are tied to strong U.S. and world demand for materials and freight transportation. Thus, I think construction materials costs will keep outstripping the overall inflation rate."
By project type, the 12-month increases range from 8 percent for new single-unit residential construction to 16 percent for highway construction.
Not counting food and energy, the producer price inflation rate was 1.5 percent last year, but the producer price index for construction and material components jumped 7.8 percent over the last 12 months.
"Public agencies, private owners, and contractors need
to face this new reality," Simonson said. "Budgets
must allow for more inflation, for purchasing materials earlier,
and for sharing the risk and reward from price volatility."
Hurricane work hasn't led to boom
More than nine months after the second of two devastating hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, the Engineering News Record reports "there really isn't a giant sucking sound coming from the Gulf Coast region that represents workers pulled from the rest of the U.S. to shoulder the tremendous amount of debris removal and reconstruction resulting from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."
The level of construction activity in the region "still won't create a giant vacuum on the rest of the country," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. "I hear all the time that worker shortages are due to all of the work going on in this region because of the hurricanes, but I can't find the level of activity that would swing the national market," which is overall doing very well.
Construction statistics, Simonson told an AGC Rebuild Louisiana Forum June 2-3, show that from last August and September, when the hurricanes hit, Louisiana lost 26,000 construction jobs, or 22 percent of total state construction employment. Since then, he said the amount and pace of reconstruction in Louisiana has been greatly exaggerated.
Insufficient flood insurance by home and business owners has
slowed construction. Building codes haven't established new flood
plain codes until recently, and Congress has yet to approve rebuilding
money, a process which could take until late summer or early
The ABC is a national contractor group dedicated to the preservation and proliferation of open shop contractors. Over the last three years, the Building Trades Department issued an extensive study showing the poor graduation rates of apprenticeship schools sponsored by ABC chapters.
The Building Trades Department also requested that the Labor Department look into alleged illegal activity by several ABC chapters, involving "failure to disclose financial transactions" between ABC nonprofit apprenticeship trusts and local ABC chapters, and excessive payments from the apprenticeship trusts to the chapters.
"It is time for the Department of Labor to take serious and credible action," said Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan. An ABC executive called the allegations "groundless."
The DOL has yet to respond. "To date," said the
Construction Labor Report, "there has been no public response
to allegations in the report" from the IRS, DOL or any other
federal agency." A response may have to wait for a regime
change in Washington D.C.