June 8, 2007
Yet another dorm
renovated at NMU
for workers' rights in Immigration debate
ABC never fails to
disappoint - and they're at it again
against OSHA's waiting room
An update on
the rights of asbestos victims, and how they've been wronged
bike run set for July 28
another dorm renovated at NMU
By Marty Mulcahy
MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University students had to be
out of their Van Antwerp Hall rooms on May 5, just after the
end of the winter semester.
On May 8, the building trades and general contractor Gundlach
Champion moved in, starting a summer-long process that will result
in the complete refurbishment of the 50-year-old hall.
"The upgrades we're doing are really necessary,"
said Brandon Sager, owner's representative for NMU. "Basically
the building hasn't been touched since it was built in the mid-1950s."
The $8 million renovation project will put to work about 60
Hardhats at peak employment. They will be moving quickly over
the next few months to get the hall ready for habitation in August.
Sager said the first three weeks of the project involved asbestos
abatement, with the removal of ceiling and floor tiles, as well
as the removal of lead paint from various areas, especially door
frames. He said the project will then proceed to "completely
gutting" the interior of the building.
All existing resident rooms, bathroom facilities and lounges
will be upgraded. A sunroom will be added to the dorm, new windows
will be added, and a system that will improve air circulation
in bathrooms and corridors will be installed. The renovations
will also include the installation of a new elevator.
NMU said the Van Antwerp renovations are a continutation of
the campus' Quad II complex renovation, which included work on
Magers Hall (completed in 2005) and Meyland Hall (completed in
2006). Hunt Hall renovations are slated for next year. All the
halls are in the range of 60,000 square-feet.
"It's a challenge with the tight time span, but we're
looking really good with the schedule," Sager said. "I
think we've learned from the previous halls that we've worked
on, and that experience has helped us quite a bit."
A DUCT IN VAN ANTWERP HALL under renovation
at Northern Michigan University is sized up by Bob Cisluycis
of Sheet Metal Workers Local 7.
NEW TRUSSES abound in a lay-down area at Van
Antwerp Hall at Northern Michigan University.
Photos by Jack Deo/Superior View Photography, Marquette
pushes for workers' rights in Immigration debate
The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has grown to
nearly 5 percent of the U.S. working population, or 12 million
workers, according to a report last year by the Pew Hispanic
Center. And about 20 percent of that population works in construction.
The building trades have a major stake in the ongoing immigration
debate. Undocumented workers drag down wage scales, allowing
unscrupulous employers to underbid legitimate contractors while
taking away American jobs.
President Bush has suggested that undocumented workers are
performing jobs that Americans don't want to do - but organized
labor argues that if workers are paid properly, they will do
just about anything.
Late last month, Bush and a bipartisan group of senators came
up with a compromise immigration plan that drew nasty rhetoric
from both parties. The centerpiece of the plan is a "Z Visa"
which would set the 12 million illegal immigrants on the road
to permanent residency if they pay fines, return to their countries
to file paperwork, and learn English. Border security would also
need to be improved under the measure.
Here are some reactions to the immigration debate, from several
points of view in the organized labor and human rights community:
*"In the AFL-CIO's view, there is no good reason why
any immigrant who comes
prepared to work, to pay taxes,
and to abide by our laws and rules should be denied what has
been offered throughout our history: a path to legal citizenship,"
said AFL-CIO General Counsel Jon Hiatt. He said the present law
"has strengthened the perverse economic incentive employers
have to violate immigration laws. As long as employers have
access to a class of workers they can prevent from exercising
labor rights by merely asking a simple question: 'Do you have
papers?' the incentive to exploit will continue."
The bill's "touch back" requirement of having undocumented
heads of households return to their home countries to apply for
"green cards" and wait for them is not likely to work,
said Hiatt. "Exploitation of undocumented workers is economically
attractive," he said, and this bill will probably maintain
Employers, he said, use immigration laws to quash worker activism.
Hiatt cited one immigration law case from 2003 where the employer
called the Immigration and Naturalization Service on itself to
quash an organizing campaign.
*Service Employees Vice President Eliseo Medina said the "compromise"
has "some positive aspects," notably building a path
to eventually legalize undocumented workers now in the U.S.
But Medina called the guest worker program "ludicrous."
And he added the bill "still falls short of comprehensive
immigration reform, and all workers ought to have full protection
of labor, civil and employment laws."
There is one more big problem with the bill, said Kevin Appleby
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: "Triggers,"
demanded by the GOP, that must be in place before legalization
starts. They include hiring and training 20,000 more Border
Patrol agents and finishing the fence along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
"Assuming 'triggers' go forward, we would advocate a
'time definite' " for legalization and other parts of the
bill "so they wouldn't be delayed for years and years,"
Appleby said. But workers seeking legalization would have to
pay hefty fines and back taxes, show they worked here for eight
years, have clean criminal records, learn English and apply for
permanent residence "Z visas," similar to green cards.
And they could have to wait up to five years for the visas.
Their family members would also have to wait.
"How many families are going to wait eight years to 13
years to join their loved ones?" asked Appleby.
*Harry Kelber, the self-proclaimed "labor educator"
and a frequent critic of the AFL-CIO, said the labor federation
"has come up with an immigration policy that makes sense."
He praised the AFL-CIO's call to give immigrant workers "full
workplace rights, including the right to organize and protection
Kelber continued: "The labor federation rejects President
Bush's proposal for a "guest worker" program that calls
for (allowing the importation of) 400,000 foreign workers under
a three-year contract, Instead, (the AFL-CIO) proposes that "Labor
and business together should design mechanisms to meet the legitimate
needs for new workers without compromising the rights and opportunities
of workers already here."
"If millions of undocumented workers can be persuaded
that organized labor is their strong, steadfast and resourceful
ally," Kelber said, "it will be a lot easier to recruit
them into unions. They represent the biggest organizing target
on the horizon, as well as an important political force. Can
we take advantage of this opportunity?"
(Press Associates contributed to this report).
fails to disappoint - and they're at it again
If you operate a construction company that relies on temporary
workers whose citizenship is frequently found to be a "gray
area" - then you probably share the goals of the Associated
Builders and Contractors.
On May 25, the ABC - which is basically the arch-enemy of
the unionized construction sector - released its own goals for
immigration reform. It's safe to say that they don't call for
rules to limit the exploitation of workers, as does the AFL-CIO.
What does the ABC want out of a new immigration policy? They
believe reform must:
1) "Secure our nation's borders;
2) "Create a workable system that can be used by big
and small employers alike to
determine an employee's legal status;
3) "Create a usable temporary worker program that will
help the construction industry
meet the increasing labor demands our industry face;
4) "Allow well-meaning undocumented immigrants a means
to earn lawful work status
without a mandatory return to their country of origin."
"We are hopeful that Senate Democrats and Republicans
working together will produce what Americans are entitled to:
an immigration reform package that serves our nation by ensuring
the enforcement of our laws, the security of our borders and
the prosperity of our economy," said ABC Chairman David
It will be real news when the ABC produces a press release
that says its affiliated contractors are willing to do their
part to limit the hiring of illegals. Such as, making an effort
to self-police their hiring, to create a permanent workforce
and shun the use of temporary agencies, to pay prevailing wages
to make jobs attractive to U.S. workers, and to put into place
construction training programs that aren't seen as an industry
But the self-serving goals of the ABC have nothing to do with
improving the quality of life for workers, and everything to
do with having the federal government open a sanctioned low-wage,
low-skill employment system for their contractors.
rails against OSHA's waiting room
A workplace hazard at popcorn plants, of all places, was used
to illustrate OSHA's agonizingly slow process of setting safety
standards on the job.
Speaking on behalf of workers and safety conscious employers
across the United States, the Laborers Health and Safety Fund
of North America attacked the standard-setting shortcomings of
OSHA during April testimony before the House Education and Labor
Committee, Subcommittee on Workplace Protections.
Calling OSHA's standard-setting process "broken,"
LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott
Schneider urged Congress to set time limits to speed the agency's
consideration and adoption of standards.
To correct OSHA's meandering process, Schneider stressed the
importance of Congressional prodding to ensure results. "After
Congress imposed deadlines, we got an OSHA standard for lead
and another for hazardous waste within six months. Without deadlines,
we get regular re-statements of OSHA's intention to establish
standards, but we do not get any new standards," he said.
His comments were made at a House hearing held in conjunction
with a similar hearing on the Senate side. The twin hearings,
scheduled the week before Workers' Memorial Day on April 28,
were designed to lay the groundwork for workplace safety legislation
introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).
Schneider asked Congress to push OSHA to renew use of its
dormant Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) authority. Such
use might have prevented the wave of serious lung injuries incurred
over the last decade by workers exposed to diacetyl, a flavoring
agent, at popcorn plants across the country. One of these workers,
Eric Peoples, also testified at the House hearing, saying he
now faces a double-lung transplant.
Peoples began work at a popcorn plant in Missouri in 1997,
but was soon ill with bronchiolitis obliterans, an often-fatal
lung disease. Doctors in the area quickly realized that other
current and former workers at the plant had similar symptoms.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health visited
the plant and issued a bulletin in 2001, saying "a work-related
cause of lung disease" had occurred there. NIOSH is not
empowered to develop standards or to issue safety and health
citations. The agency followed up with an alert recommending
safeguards to more than 4,000 businesses.
OSHA, however, took a different tact, Schneider said. It sent
an inspector who concluded that the plant was in compliance with
existing rules and closed the case. Sixteen months later, sick
workers filed a complaint with OSHA, but after another inspection,
the agency said it could not do anything because no safety standard
exists to establish a level beyond which exposure to diacetyl
Meanwhile, the lawsuits have been piling up. Peoples, himself,
recently won a $20 million claim against the flavoring's manufacturer.
"This is exactly the kind of situation where OSHA should
step in and issue an ETS," said Schneider. "No one
knows the extent of exposure to diacetyl that is safe, but everyone
knows it should be minimized. OSHA should have stepped in and
required the plants to reduce exposures through ventilation or
closed processes and required workers to wear respirators on
a temporary basis until a safe, permanent solution could be devised."
Also testifying was OSHA Director Edwin Foulke, who offered
a rosy assessment of the agency's performance under the Bush
Administration. He cited data that shows all-time lows in occupational
injury, illness and fatality rates.
"His testimony was misleading," said Schneider,
discussing his and others' remarks in a follow-up interview.
"His data is inherently flawed because some of the most
common and most significant health concerns in construction"
- Schneider highlighted silicosis and hearing loss in his testimony
- "are chronic conditions, often missed by doctors and almost
never recorded in OSHA logs."
Construction workers are victims of OSHA's waiting room. Discussion
of an improved excavation standard began in 2001; six years later,
it is still in the pre-rule stage. A possible silica standard
also remains in the pre-rule stage four years after it was first
considered and more than 60 years after the Department of Labor
promised to eliminate the threat of silicosis from American worksites.
The long-awaited Hearing Conservation Program for Construction
Workers has been in OSHA's hopper since 1983. There has since
been little movement on a new standard since then - and the date
of the agency's next action officially remains "undetermined."
(Adapted from an article by the Laborers Health and Safety
Fund of North America).
update on the rights of asbestos victims, and how they've been
By Michael B. Serling
On April 17 I had the distinct honor of addressing the Michigan
Building and Construction Trades Council in Lansing. The occasion
was their 48th Annual Legislative Conference. Many of the leaders
in attendance expressed to me their concerns regarding asbestos
disease among their membership.
Rightly so, since the sad truth is that cases of mesothelioma
cancer, lung cancer and asbestosis are still prevalent among
Michigan building tradesmen. Indeed, mesothelioma cases in the
United States are still as numerous as they were ten years ago,
perhaps even more so.
Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung or lining
of the abdomen, is almost always a terminal illness for which
the only known cause is asbestos exposure. It is a disease that
strikes its victims 20, 30 and even 40 years after the first
exposure to asbestos. At the conference I told the delegates
the story of the first mesothelioma case ever to be filed in
the state of Michigan. It happened to be my case.
The year was 1975 and I was only 31 years old at the time,
in practice for just five years. My client was an asbestos insulator
who died at the age of 53, leaving a widow and two young children.
Over the next three decades this tragedy was repeated in tens
of thousands of other families of our tradesmen in Michigan and
throughout the country.
What is troubling is that redress for the victims of asbestos
disease is now under attack in many states, including Michigan.
Last year we and many other defenders of victims' rights were
in pitched battles in Washington, Lansing and many other state
On the federal level, the proposed asbestos legislation (the
mislabeled "FAIR Act") before the U.S. Senate appears
to have faded into the background. This was a controversial
bill that actually divided labor.
The AFL-CIO came out against the bill, whereas the UAW supported
it. Indeed, some of the building trades supported the legislation
while most trades sided with the AFL-CIO in opposing it. Most
asbestos law firms opposed the bill as did the American Trial
Lawyers Association (now known as American Association for Justice).
Those opposing the bill felt that it would have created a
new bureaucracy mired in red tape. Under the proposed bill victims
would have given up their right to trial by jury in favor of
this new system controlled by the government in power. There
was great skepticism about the adequacy of funding. Many predicted
that cases would not be compensated for five years or more.
Most states, including Michigan, resolve asbestos cases within
two years. Fortunately, from our perspective, the bill did not
make it through the Senate and has been dormant for over a year.
With the Senate now in control of the Democrats, it is unlikely
this bill will resurface.
In Michigan bills were brought before committees of the state
House and state Senate to establish criteria legislation. This
would have defined when an asbestosis or lung cancer case could
be brought, somewhat akin to Michigan's No-Fault auto law.
The criteria proposed by the Republican majorities was extremely
one-sided and, if passed, would have denied 75% to 90% of asbestosis
and lung cancer victims their day in court. I am happy to say
that the bills failed and in November Democrats carried enough
seats to control the state House.
In the Michigan Supreme Court insurance and company lobbying
groups attempted to have the high court in Lansing pass a court
rule which would have achieved the same result as the proposed
legislation mentioned above. This would likewise have denied
75% to 90% of asbestosis and lung cancer victims access to the
Although the state Supreme Court did not give big insurance
and big asbestos what they wanted, the court did pass a rule
in August 2006 interfering with the ability of Michigan asbestos
judges to resolve cases, which they had been doing successfully
for many years.
Nonetheless, the parties involved in asbestos litigation have
continued resolving about 600-800 cases a year. This has enabled
most victims to receive compensation within two years from the
date their cases were filed. However, with the new court rule
the pace of case resolution could be in jeopardy.
We believe that the current Michigan Supreme Court has demonstrated
hostility toward victims' rights and access to the courthouse.
Most appeals involving issues affecting the rights of victims
are being decided against the plaintiff by a 4-3 margin. There
are now several cases in the Michigan Supreme Court which could
significantly further erode the rights of asbestos victims.
The cases deal with issues involving the Statute of Limitations,
qualifications for expert witnesses and the rights of family
members of tradesmen to bring claims for their own asbestos related
diseases. My firm and other attorneys representing the rights
of asbestos victims are doing our utmost to continue defending
those rights of hard-working tradesmen.
We ask every one of you to remain educated on issues affecting
the rights of workers and victims of asbestos disease. We urge
you to exercise your rights at the ballot box and to contact
elected members of our state and federal government on issues
that are important in preserving your rights. If we all work
hard we can make Michigan once again a place that is safe for
workers and a place where workers are free to exercise their
constitutional rights as envisioned by our founding fathers.
Cerebral palsy bike run set for July
The second annual Benjamin Franklin Memorial Poker Run will
be held starting at with registration at 10 a.m. on Saturday,
July 28 at the Lansing Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333 union
The motorcycle ride is held in memory of Benjamin Tyler Franklin,
who died at age three of cerebral palsy. He's the son of Plumbers
and Pipe Fitters Local 333 secretary April Franklin and Iron
Workers Local 25 member Benjamin Franklin.
In a poker run, drivers of cars and motorcycles make five
stops on a pre-planned route and draw a card at each stop. Prizes
are given out for those who have the best poker hand.
The ride will start at the Local 333 union hall, at 5405 S.
Martin Luther King Drive in Lansing. Bikers will head south before
ending at the Wooden Nickel Saloon in Dansville.
The registration cost is $20 per bike/$5 per passenger. Call
April at (517) 749-9583 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for
ENR ranks nation's top contractors
The status Michigan-based construction contractors large enough
to make the Engineering News Record's annual list of top revenue-makers
generally held steady from 2006 to 2007.
"The construction market for U.S. contractors is hot,
and smart contractors now are enjoying a business environment
that they hope for, but rarely experience," said the ENR
article that accompanied the rankings. "There is enough
work to go around to satisfy contractors in most markets, and
there is enough security for them to focus on good business practices."
While Michigan's economy has generally lagged behind the rest
of the nation, that trend isn't necessarily hitting the state's
Southfield-based Barton Malow, Michigan's largest contractor
in terms of revenue on ENR's list, dipped from No. 37 in 2006
to No. 39 in 2007. Detroit-based Walbridge-Aldinger is No. 51
on the list this year, down 8 spots from 2006.
The rest of the top Michigan-based contractors for revenue
on ENR's Top-400 list include Angelo Iafrate of Warren (#118,
+17 from 2006); The Christman Co., Lansing (#149 +33); Granger
Construction, Lansing (#213, +62); Rockford Construction, Grand
Rapids (#227, -46); Roncelli, Inc., Sterling Heights (#296, -12);
Pioneer General Contractors, Grand Rapids (#358, +1); George
W. Auch, Pontiac #367, -81), and Clark Construction, Lansing
John M. Olsen of St. Clair Shores, which dropped 40 places
from 2005 to 2006 and was #294 last year, dropped from the ENR's
Top 400 list this year.
Other construction contractors (and their 2007 rankings) that
do a significant amount of business in Michigan include Skanska
USA (#5); Washington Group International (#16), and Alberici
(#55). Also on the list are The Boldt Co. (#98); Miron Construction
(#134), and Lunda Construction (#190), which are all based in
Nationwide, the top three contractors for revenue in 2007
are Bechtel, Flour and Turner Corp.
April construction slides 5 percent
The value of new U.S. construction starts fell 5% in April to
a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $565.1 billion, according
to a report released May 23 by McGraw-Hill Construction.
For the first four months of 2007, total construction was
down 17% from the same period a year ago. Even with the exclusion
of the downtrodden residential building sector from year-to-date
statistics, new construction starts in the first four months
of 2007 were down 3% from last year.
The year-to-date decline for construction starts reflects
the comparison to the elevated activity in the first four months
of 2006, which was just prior to the time when the single family
correction grew pronounced.
"The weak residential sector continues to shape the pattern
for overall construction activity," stated Robert A. Murray,
vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction.
"The rate of decline for single-family housing is not as
severe as what took place earlier, but the level of activity
is down substantially from the initial months of last year, and
renewed expansion is not anticipated any time soon."
For the five major U.S. regions, total construction during
the first four months of 2007 relative to last year was the following
- the South Central, down 9%; the Northeast, down 14%; the Midwest,
down 15%; the South Atlantic, down 18%; and the West, down 25%.