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May 11, 2001

Building Trades OK informal relations with Carpenters

State official ties on-the-job deaths to 'fate' and 'luck'

Worker fatality rate down in U.S.; state's numbers are worse

Delphi headquarters expansion puts operations in one place

Guardian Building a monument to 'workmen of unusual merit'

Utility group seeks to limit underground mishaps




Building Trades OK informal relations with Carpenters

The building trades can continue to have an informal working relationship with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters - which has withdrawn from the AFL-CIO - while talks continue among International Union leaders to get the Carpenters back in the fold of organized labor.

A statement released last week by Building Trades Department President Edward C. Sullivan said local building trades councils "should maintain the status quo regarding all current working agreements, including PLAs (project labor agreements)." Furthermore, he said the Carpenters "may participate in Building Trades Councils' affairs only on an ex officio basis, and the councils may work informally and cooperatively with the Carpenters."

The Carpenters withdrew from the AFL-CIO on March 29, primarily over a dispute in how the labor federation spends dues money on organizing. It was the first withdrawal of a union from the AFL-CIO since 1968, when the UAW split over the federation's support of the Vietnam War.

Carpenters President Douglas McCarron said the AFL-CIO "continues to operate under the rules and procedures of an era that passed years ago." By and large, however, the AFL-CIO has put the brakes on a decades-long membership slide the last few years.

Sullivan stated in his letter that, in effect, the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department's Constitution does not provide for a union to be disaffiliated with the AFL-CIO and still continue a normal affiliation with the rest of building trades.

As a result, he said local building trades councils must not accept per capita payments from the Carpenters until the matter is resolved.

Still, Sullivan said, "we are committed to maintaining the highest possible degree of unity at every level of the Building Trades and the AFL-CIO, and we urge Councils to avoid unnecessary disharmony and to promote unified action with all unions, including the Carpenters."

When news of the Carpenters disaffiliation took place, there were numerous questions about whether their disaffiliated union members would be allowed on project labor agreement jobs such as those under the National Maintenance Agreement - which govern millions of dollars of work here in Michigan alone. Would other trades be taking on Carpenter work?

The letter from Sullivan and the Building Trades Department's Governing Board of Presidents answers that question, at least for now: there will be no sanctioned raiding of work.

Five years ago, the Michigan Regional Carpenters Council stopped paying dues to the Greater Detroit and Michigan Building Trades councils, but the MRCC and the rest of the building trades have maintained an informal relationship.


State official ties on-the-job deaths to 'fate' and 'luck'

Tradesman Viewpoint

Hey all you iron workers, when the next thunderstorm comes to your job site, feel free to walk on the high steel, and wear your Florsheim shoes with the slippery soles, if you prefer. You might as well live on the edge, because when it's your time to go, it's your time to go, and there isn't much you can do about it.

To all the laborers and plumbers working in those seven-foot-deep trenches, you can shore up the earthen walls, if you want. You'll probably be fine, even if you don't. Everything you have heard about those nasty collapses only happens to workers whose number is up - not you.

Thankfully, that kind of thinking is nonsense to the vast majority of construction workers who have a healthy respect for the hazards around them and have the sense to come in from out of the rain.

They know that workplace accidents causing injury and death are often preventable with proper training, use of the right tools and equipment, and an on-the-job culture that urges and rewards safe work habits and constantly reminds workers to look up or keep an eye peeled for hazards.

Workers and their employers can make their workplace safer.

Now along comes Kalmin Smith. He's deputy director of the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services, which oversees MIOSHA and workplace safety standards.

Smith was quoted in a published report on April 19 which revealed that workplace deaths in Michigan dropped 32 percent in 2000 from 87 deaths in 1999, to 59 deaths in 2000. Of those 59 workers, 23 were in the construction industry.

"While we're pleased when the number goes down, I don't know what that tells us," Smith told the Detroit Free Press. "We have to be very cautious about seeing trends in fatalities and coming to conclusions. Fatalities are often the consequence of fate or luck as anything else."

To make sure you got that right, here is the last portion of his quote again: "Fatalities are often the consequence of fate or luck as anything else."

So there you have it: when it comes to workplace safety in Michigan, fate and luck are placed on the same level of importance, or perhaps are more important - than good planning, proper worker training, effective workplace laws, and punishment for lawbreaking employers.

Smith's comments bring into focus the attitude that we have long observed about the Engler Administration, which has pushed through an anti-worker agenda from Day 1. Smith's comments are incredibly insensitive, display ignorance for someone in that position, and should anger anyone who cares about worker safety.

Worker safety laws, penalties and enforcement can make a difference. During the 1960s, before the existence of OSHA or MIOSHA and with a mostly booming economy, Michigan averaged 44 construction fatalities every year. During the 1990s, with OSHA and MIOSHA in place and a mostly booming economy, the state experienced an average of 24 construction fatalities. Workplace safety laws, combined with a workplace culture that stresses safety, brings workers home alive.

One of the definitions of fate by Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary is "an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition, or end." Fate plays a role in some world religions, and luck has its place in the casino halls, but it is ludicrous, irresponsible, and distressing to suggest that worker safety depends on a roll of the dice or has anything to do with some abstract concept like fate.

Back in 1849, writer Matthew Arnold observed, "They who await no gifts from chance have conquered fate." And Thomas Jefferson once said, "I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have."

We would welcome the same kind of can-do attitude from the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services.


Worker fatality rate down in U.S.; state's numbers are worse

Workplace fatalities dropped in Michigan last year, and the trend is lower across the nation over the last two decades.

Center for Disease Control figures released last month said the worker death rate in 1997 (remarkably, the most recent information they have available) was 4.1 per 100,000 workers, down 45 percent from 1980, when it was 7.4 per 100,000.

"The hazards workers face are considerably different," said Suzanne Marsh of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. "We're moving from an industrial country to more of a service-oriented country."

In Michigan, the long-term numbers aren't so good. An average of 73 workers in all industries died every year from 1997-2000, compared to 52 from 1993-1997. Injuries are also up significantly over the last four years

In Michigan's construction industry, workplace fatalities have been all over the map since 1985. According to MIOSHA figures, 23 workers were killed on the job in 2000 - one less than the 24 Hardhats killed in both 1985 and 1986. The lowest number since that time was 15 killed in 1992; the highest, 35 in 1998.


Delphi headquarters expansion puts operations in one place

By Marty Mulcahy

Consolidation is king for Delphi Automotive Systems, the world's largest auto supplier as the large supplier is bringing together its spread-out office space onto the campus of its headquarters building in Troy.

Walbridge-Aldinger and the building trades are in the process of building 240,000 square-feet of new space for Delphi, making room for a total of 775 salaried employees from Delphi's Energy & Chassis Systems and Interior Systems divisions from current facilities in Dayton, Ohio, and Warren and Flint, Mich.

"This consolidation project will bring Delphi significant increased operational efficiencies and falls directly in line with our corporate strategy of being a lean organization," said Delphi Chairman, CEO and President J.T. Battenberg III. "We will continue to examine all phases of our business, looking for ways to best serve our customers by improving productivity and reducing the cost of doing business."

Construction of the new two- and three-story buildings adjacent to Delphi's headquarters building, scheduled for completion early next year, will result in a net reduction of 35,000 square feet of office space that Delphi is leasing elsewhere.

"Everything has gone well," said Walbridge-Aldinger Project Manager Pete Smeekens. "After a brutal winter, we're in pretty good shape. The most challenging part of the job is coordinating with the owners, who are in our front yard, and with the neighbors, who are in our back yard." A residential area is not far from the job site.

Situated at Crooks Road and Square Lake Road just east of I-75, the existing two- building Delphi World Headquarters is comprised of a six-story office tower and a one-story high bay/tech building which were completed in August, 1997. The two buildings are separated by a courtyard and outdoor eating area, but are physically linked by two ground level walkways.

OPERATING ENGINEER Mark Brown of Local 324 dumps a bucket of dirt in front of the Delphi headquarters, which is undergoing an expansion.

WRAPPING A supply duct at the Delphi HA is Jonathan Martin of Dependent Insulation and Asbestos Workers Local 25.



Guardian Building a monument to 'workmen of unusual merit'

Writ Rowland, who designed the Guardian Building in Detroit, was said to be the last U.S. architect of the Art Deco era who had complete control over every aspect of his building's design, right down to the cigarette urns.

Rowland took full advantage of his capacity with this project, completing the 40-story skyscraper in 1929 that has been called "one of the most exuberant Art Deco skyscrapers built in America."

Now headquarters for MCN/Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., the structure was originally built to house a bank, the defunct Union Trust Co. The $12 million skyscraper was one of several built in Detroit in the 1920s. While the building's height never brought it fame, it is recognized as being one of the most ornate skyscrapers in the nation, and has been on the National Historic Register since in 1989.

"Brilliantly colored arts and crafts tiles and orange brick, formulated especially for this building, cover the steel frame structure," says a state history of the building. "The building is profusely ornamented inside and out with geometric designs executed in brilliantly colored terra cotta and glazed tile, and gold-stained glass and metal. The bank and office building appropriately was termed a 'cathedral of finance.' "

The Union Trust Co. wanted a building that would befit the bank's growing prominence during a booming economic era. Beginning in March 1927, five buildings had to be demolished along Griswold Street to make way for the skyscraper, and seven months later, the foundation, with 120-foot-deep caissons, was complete.

Limestone and granite were the preferred materials at the time for skyscraper fascia, but Rowland instead decided to test the skill of the trowel trades. Nearly two million orange "Guardian" brick were used on the building's exterior, which measures 535 feet from the sidewalk to the roof. Since brick was a less-expensive material, more money could be spent on ornamentation.

Along the lower floors ran bands of pink granite, buff Mankato stone, and green, tan, and red-brown glazed tile and terra-cotta that Rowland used to help welcome the small depositors who formed the core of the company's business. The entrances offered more color, much of which came from tiles produced by Detroit's Pewabic Pottery, and featured stepped arches that became the building's primary motif.

The tiles in the half-dome over the main Griswold Street entrance portrayed scenes of progress. Rowland divided the main banking room into three parts that resembled the interior of a church, designating an elaborately decorated, barrel-vaulted ceiling.

The building was completed in the spring of 1929, about six months before Black Friday and the start of the Great Depression. The economic downturn caused the failure of the Union Trust Co. and it reorganized into the Union Guardian Trust Co., and the building became known as the Union Guardian. Over the years, that was shortened to the Guardian Building.

Many of the building's rich details disappeared over time - modernization of the air conditioning system, for example, revealed two stained glass windows in the elevator alcoves. Today, after extensive renovations in recent years, most of the 450,000-square-foot building has been restored to its original glory.

"What we see, we must see quickly in passing, and the impression must be immediate, strong and complete - color has this vital power," said Rowland at the time, who also designed the nearby Penobscot Building.

Unusual features of the building include a three-level basement, which once contained a gun range for building security guards; a public cinema on the 32nd floor; a conference room floor built with five different woods; and a metal tablet in the lobby engraved with the names of 40 tradesmen "to commemorate the true craftsmanship of these workmen of unusual merit."

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, the Guardian Building in Detroit is one of the nation's greatest examples of Art Deco construction.


Utility group seeks to limit underground mishaps

More than 30,000 Michigan contractors were sent a mailing this month from a partnership of state utilities encouraging them and their workers to dig safely this season.

In a new twist to safety incentives, contractors that do not cause damage to underground utility service lines can win tickets to a Detroit Tigers baseball game in September.

Sponsored by Consumers Energy, Detroit Edison, Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. and Ameritech, the "Raise the Flags" contest is part of a multi-faceted communications effort by Michigan utilities to reduce the amount of damage done to their underground service pipeline and buried cable.

According to utility records, last year in Michigan there were more than 10,000 recorded damages to underground facilities that caused loss of communication and utility service, property damage and sometimes serious injury.

Since this is a contractor program, building trades workers probably won't see in the inside of Comerica Park as part of this contest - but this does provide us with another opportunity to remind Hardhats to make sure they're digging safely.

The statewide "Raise the Flags" contest mailing outlines four steps for contractors to follow to dig safely, including:

  1. Call MISS DIG,
  2. Wait the required three business days before giving utilities time to "raise the flags" over this underground fixtures;
  3. Hand-dig to expose buried service lines and cables before using power equipment; and
  4. Respect the flags whenever operating in their vicinity.

Contractors who follow these guidelines and have no verifiable dig-in damages to underground utility lines and cables between April 15 and Aug. 15, 2001 will be eligible for a Sept. 1 drawing, with the grand prize being the use of a suite at Comerica Park for the Sept. 15 baseball game between the Tigers and Kansas City Royals.

Contractors may enter the contest by returning the postcard in their mail or by registering online at

Four sets of tickets to the Sept. 15 game will be awarded as second prizes.



Detroit Water Team wins GARDE Award
And the GARDE Award goes to…

The 11-member joint venture known as the Detroit Water Team that's building the new $275 million water plant on East Jefferson.

The GARDE Award, handed out May 1 at a ceremony at the African-American Museum in Detroit, recognizes individuals and organizations that have done the most to promote racial and gender diversity in the construction workforce in Southeast Michigan. There were seven nominees for the award, which were judged on their success in increasing the numbers of minorities and women in construction.

In an effort to encourage young people to pursue careers in the water and construction business, the Detroit Water Team and the Water Works Park II project developed a major series of educational programs. On of them is a "Saturday and Summer Science Academy," promoting math and science education to high school students. Modeled after a similar program in Florida, the academy uses the water treatment plant and other Detroit Water and Sewerage Department projects as a basis for a curriculum.

The Detroit Water Team joint venture includes Black and Veatch, Cole Financial Services, Detroit Water Constructors (J.S. Alberici and Walsh Construction), EBI-Detroit, Henderson Electric, Metco Services, Montgomery Watson, Motor City Electric and Rotor Electric.

More than 65 percent of all contract dollars have been assigned to Detroit-based enterprises and business and half of all contract dollars have gone to women- or minority owned contractors.

Trades want PLAs reinstituted
The AFL-CIO Building Trades Department has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to throw out President Bush's Executive Order banning project labor agreements (PLAs) on federally funded construction projects.

Bush issued the Executive Order on Feb. 17, which canceled a previous order by President Clinton that urged the use of PLAs.

The lawsuit was filed in Washington D.C. and contends that Bush had no constitutional authority to interfere with the rights of unions and their contractors under the National Labor Relations Act to seek PLAs on federally funded construction jobs.

Bush's order may have a good chance of being overturned: In 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of PLAs by a 9-0 margin.

"The Executive Order is directly contrary to the National Labor Relations Act, which grants employers in the construction industry and building trades unions the right to enter into pre-hire agreements that are binding on all employers performing work on the particular project," the lawsuit states.

Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Building Trades Department, said PLAs "bring order out of chaos on construction jobs by setting wages, establishing work rules, and methods of settling grievances. They provide safe, fair working environments for crafts people, and they level the playing field for all competing contractors, union and nonunion."

All Trades Softball Tournament is May 19-20
Since the annual Michigan Building Trades Council's All-Trades Softball Tournament began in 1990, nearly $220,000 has been raised in the effort to cure diabetes.

The tournament will take place this year on Saturday and Sunday, May 19-20 with 21 ball teams representing building trades local unions from around the state. The action will take place at Gier Park in Lansing.

Since the inception of the "Dollars for Diabetes" program, building trades unions from across the nation have raised money to build and then fund the operations of the Diabetes Research Institute in Florida

The first games begin on Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m.


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