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May 25, 2001
By Marty Mulcahy
Our look at the history of the Empire and Tilden mines in the Upper Peninsula comes at a time of tremendous uncertainty and turmoil in an industry that has an almost seamless tie with mining: the manufacturing of steel.
"Stand up for Iron Ore," and "Stand up for Steel" are the names of two groups comprised of unions and their parent companies, who are protesting the "dumping" of below-market-cost foreign steel on American markets. The cheap foreign steel is made in nations where government-backed industries don't have to show a profit. And when they sell their products on U.S. soil, they undermine legitimate U.S. companies that can't possibly sell their steel at a profit - and still pay workers a decent wage.
"This should concern all Americans, and the building trades especially have a major interest in what's going on in the steel industry," said Mike Prusi, a former Upper Peninsula state representative who now coordinates the "Stand up for Iron Ore" campaign. "Not only is there a lot of work at the mines in the U.P., but the building trades in Southeast Michigan get thousands of hours of work building and renovating Great Lakes Steel and Rouge Steel."
Good union jobs in the Upper Peninsula have already been hit by the steel crisis, with the Empire and Tilden Mines both facing six-week shutdowns and the laying off of 1,800 workers due to a glut of steel on the market. In the building trades, 30-40 operating engineers who are employed by the mines will also be idled by the shutdowns.
"This is a devastating problem," said Don Ryan, district manager, public affairs for the Cliffs Mining Service Co. "The fact that our mines are shutting down is directly related to our government allowing foreign companies to sell steel here in the United States at a price that's less than what it costs to manufacture."
Over the last few years, 20 U.S. steel manufacturers have gone belly up because they couldn't compete with foreign steel. Most of the cheap steel comes from Eastern nations like China, Korea and Japan, who, because of the worldwide economic slump outside of the U.S., wouldn't have any market at all if it weren't for the U.S.
So far, the Bush Administration has expressed concern about the steel dumping, but they have not pledged any action. The Stand Up groups are seeking higher tariffs on the cheap steel or a limit on the amount that can be imported. Opposing any limits are the auto manufacturers, utilities and other major steel users, and Bush has been getting pressure to do nothing from the international front.
"The issue of steel dumping is a disaster for the U.S. economy in general, and for U.S. construction workers, too," said Michigan Building Trades Council Upper Peninsula Business Rep. Jack LaSalle. "It all comes down to the question of whether we should maintain a steel industry in this country. Does our general economy need the steel industry and the jobs it provides? Do we need our own steel production for national defense? Or are we going to allow our steel industry to go away in favor of some short-sighted policy that will make a quick profit?"
A "Stand Up for Steel" rally will take place
Saturday, June 2 at 10 a.m. at United Steel Workers Local 1289,
11424 W. Jefferson in River Rouge. Park at Great Lakes Steel,
and shuttles will transport you to the march site. Speakers will
talk about steel's plight.
By Marty Mulcahy
Michigan has a heavy metal heritage.
The stamping, axle and assembly plants in Southeast Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes region get all the notoriety for the finished automotive and other products they produce, but the raw materials have to come from somewhere.
And a major part of that "somewhere" are the Tilden and Empire mines, located a few miles apart near Marquette in the Upper Peninsula. The mines are owned by Cliffs Mining Service Co., a subsidiary of Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. Together, the open pit operations produce about 20 percent of North America's iron ore, and provide jobs to more than 1,800 hundred people.
Over the years the mines have also provided tens of thousands of man-hours for the building trades in new construction, renovation, and regular on-site work.
"There's no question that along with the paper mills, the mines in the U.P. have been a major source of work for the building trades, even back before World War II," said Jack LaSalle, the U.P. business rep. for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "Over the last 50 years, I would estimate that mining has generated as much as 50 percent of all construction work in the U.P. The mining industry is that significant."
The everyday workforce inside the mines are primarily United Steel Workers union members, but the building trades are brought in during periodic renovations and expansions. LaSalle said the mines "have been excellent" when it comes to employing union building trades.
"The building trades have been an important part of our history," said Don Ryan, district manager, public affairs for the Cliffs Mining Service Co. "Some of the operations and equipment at the mines are just huge, and it was the highly skilled people in the building trades crafts who made it all work."
Taking iron ore out of the ground has been part of the heritage of the Upper Peninsula since 1844. That year, iron ore was discovered by a state survey crew near Teal Lake, just west of Marquette. Surveyors noted wild fluctuations in their compasses because of iron-rich rocks found in the ground. Mining began there in 1847 at the Jackson Mine.
High-grade ore was mined in the Marquette Range until the 1950s, when it was finally depleted. The hematite and magnetite ore being mined today was once considered worthless rock, because there was no practical method to unlock the iron-bearing material. As it is, about a half-ton of rock must be removed to gain access to every ton of hematite ore, and about a ton of rock must be removed to gain access to every ton of magnetite ore.
The ore that is hauled from the pit is 35% iron and the finished pellets are about 65% iron.
The fortunes and economics of mining have been up and down over the years, with mines opening and closing. One of the major milestones for mining at the Tilden location took place 1972, when the mine's owners committed to spend $200 million over nearly a three-year period to develop the Tilden mine and install a pelletizing complex.
At the Empire Mine, which opened in 1963, production capacity in the early 1970s was nearly tripled with an expenditure of $67 million in new equipment. In order to power the plants, $55 million was spent to increase the output of the Presque Isle Generating Co. with three additional 80 megawatt generators. At the peak of construction activity in 1973, up to 1,400 construction workers were on the project.
Then in 1979, the production capacity of both mines was nearly doubled. A $364 million expansion of the Tilden Mine and additional expenditures at the Empire Mine allowed the mines the ability to produce iron ore pellets at full capacity - 16 million tons a year - which is the capacity today.
The Empire Mine's iron ore pellets go through Escanaba's docks, usually to steel mill blast furnaces in the Chicago area; the Tilden Mine's output usually goes through the Marquette dock to the Algoma Steel Plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
The mines run 24 hours, seven days a week. When capacity needs to be cut, they often shut down for a period of weeks, rather than operating below capacity. In fact, a large inventory of iron ore has already shut down the Tilden Mine for at least six weeks, and the Empire is slated to close for the same period of time on June 3.
Operating Engineers Local 324 members will take a big hit with the shutdown of the mines. Local 324 Business Rep. Bill Gray said the mines are among the U.P.'s biggest employers for the operators, whose efforts have mostly gone into building massive holding pond dikes.
"We run 30 to 40 operators at the mines during the season, and the shutdowns are probably going to cost us about 40,000 man-hours," Gray said. "The mines are very important to us and the shutdowns are going to hurt."
In time, the cost of transporting the ore from the ever-deepening
pit bottoms - rather than the lack of quality ore reserves -
will close the mines. Economically, it is the cost of transporting
the materials out of the pit that will eventually trim the profit
margin to zero. As it is, the bottom of the Empire Mine will
soon become the lowest point in the state.
"If I went to a school like this, imagine how smart I would be," one Local 58 retiree joked during the May 12 open house/dedication at the IBEW/NECA Apprenticeship Training Center in Warren.
While it's unlikely that today's electrical worker apprentices and journeymen have any greater aptitude than their forebears, today's International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers now have one of the best facilities in the nation to learn their craft.
The 51,000 square-foot training center in Warren, underwritten by IBEW Local 58 and National Electrical Contractors Association-Southeastern Michigan, opened for the business of educating members on Nov. 6.
"This building is a testimony to a lot of hard work, and it's a tribute to the members and contractors who approved it," said Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski during the open house. "Now, with the commitment we've made, it's a real selling point for union labor and contractors."
Having worked in the building for the last six months, Training Director Mike Hogan said the facility "is everything I hoped for and more. We have all the room we need. The IBEW and National Electrical Contractors Association Southeast Michigan Chapter have stepped forward and built the type of training center needed to fulfill the training requirements and manpower needs of the electrical industry."
The $8 million school currently trains 700 electrical worker apprentices, and 200 telecommunication apprentices. The facility can train up to 1,300 apprentices and journeymen. IBEW 58 /NECA sold the old school in Fraser, which was about five times smaller than this facility.
"This new building defines pride, quality and history," said IBEW International Rep. Pat Curley, on hand for the dedication. "When I walked in I felt the pride of those who came before us, those working in the trade presently, and those who will work in the trade in the future."
The single-level brick structure is one of the top three or four largest electrical worker training centers in the nation. The building houses offices for the local's trust funds, and has space for 14 classrooms, including three large shops, a large and a small conference room, and numerous bright, open common areas.
"This is an excellent facility and it represents a commitment by both sides to meet industry needs now and in the future," said Dan Tripp, Southeast Michigan Chapter NECA executive director.
FLINT - The last major section of steel was installed at Mott Community College's Regional Technology Center on May 15, moving the school a step forward toward supplying trained workers to the organizations that need them.
Set to open in 2002, the $35 million center will specialize in training students in the area of manufacturing technology, including the use of computer simulation.
"It's a great day for Mott, it's a great day for a topping out, and it's another great day for the Iron Workers leading up to their 100th anniversary," said college President Richard Shaink. "The iron workers and the building trades have been such a big part of the process of building our Regional Technology Center."
Mott sought and won status for the planned center as a Michigan Technical Education site, one of 16 such sites at community colleges statewide. The centers focus on training skilled workers needed to attract high-tech companies. The college has received grants and government assistance, including a recent $1.78-million congressional appropriation for the tech center.
"On behalf of the building trades, our thanks go out to Mott College for having the foresight to enact a project labor agreement with unions on this project," said Flint Area Building Trades President Dennis Lynch. "With a project labor agreement, workers from this area will be paid the right amount of money for the job they do. And in return, Mott will get a job done right, and a job done on time and on budget."
The new Regional Technology Center is an 11,000-square foot, high-bay manufacturing facility with a 10-ton overhead crane system. It is located adjacent to heavy manufacturing processing labs (machining, CNC, welding and casting) and a materials science lab equipped with testing and documentation equipment. This new lab is linked to manufacturing programs in design, automotive, electronics, fluid power and information technology/computer networking programs.
"The topping out is a milestone for Mott Community College and for our community," said Iron Workers Local 25 President Shorty Gleason. "Under the terms of a project labor agreement, we're building a tech center that we can all be proud of. Our work here is a symbol of our commitment to the community, just like Mott's commitment to the community."
During the topping out ceremony, Gleason urged Genesee County
residents to vote in favor of a 0.65 millage increase issue that
will appear on the June 11 ballot. The operating millage increase
will help Mott operate the Regional Technology Center.
By Marty Mulcahy
No matter how you cut it or apply it, and no matter how large an ego the installer might have, most tile jobs are not a piece of art.
That's not the case on a wall along the main entrance walkway to the Environmental Interpretive Center under construction on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus.
There, employees of Rustin Tile and Marble Inc. and members of Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Workers Local 32 have completed a 70-foot-long tile wall that depicts close-up scenes from a nature preserve located on the campus behind the building.
Students in grades 3-11 from schools around Southeast Michigan who took field trips to the campus' natural area on various days last year were asked to draw on ceramic tiles and make close-up drawings of flora, fauna and natural objects that can be seen at the site.
The images won't fade quickly because they were set into the tile during the glazing process. The young amateur artists who drew birds, leaves and flowers on 2,000 tiles were given a further measure of posterity earlier this month by having their tiles set into the curved cinder block wall that acts as a backdrop. A roof over the walkway keeps the tiles out of the sun and gives the tiles some protection from the weather.
"It turned out really well; there's so much color," said Mike Perrin, the University of Michigan-Dearborn's coordinator for natural areas. "When the kids went to tour the natural area and make the tiles, we encouraged them to look at the details, and there are a lot of details in what you see here. I think it serves a purpose."
Ford Motor Co. paid for the wall, which is modeled after a similar set up at a zoo in Kansas City. The tiles are flanked at either end by professionally created depictions of herons set in the center. The tile project, which was conceived more than two years ago, was handled by Rustin Tile and Marble.
"It's been two years in waiting, but it's beautiful," said the project's artist, Susan Miller. "The tiles depict scenes from the four seasons, spring, winter, summer and fall, and that really brings it all together."
Local 32 journeyman Shawn Kearney said it took a week for he and fellow journeyman Tony Romero, as well as Tom and Seamus Rustin, to put up the wall. Kearney said all the tiles are numbered so students will be able to find their tile, and so the installers can figure out where they go.
"It was a little bit of work to follow the pattern and
get the four seasons correct," he said. "It was interesting,
it definitely is not your average job. I enjoyed the work."
LANSING - Legislation is in the works to improve worker safety
by getting tough on employers who break state safety laws.
Tradesman trying improve mailing
Local union offices have let us know that the paper is arriving in members' mailboxes days after it should have arrived. We understand that this can create a major problem in sending out meeting notices and other information that needs to arrive at members' homes in a timely manner.
In the case of the Tradesman's editor, our April 27 edition arrived 15 days after it was placed in the mail - a wholly unacceptable performance.
Our paper is delivered into one post office on Wednesday and into another on the Thursday prior to the Friday publication date on the paper. We haven't missed a deadline with the mailer, nor has our mailer missed a deadline in delivery to the post office - in the eight years since our paper went to an every-other-week schedule.
Our mailer sorts the papers per postal service regulations, by region, zip code and even down to each individual postal carrier route, to make it as easy as possible for the paper to be delivered in a timely manner. We have been told that the paper should be treated as first-class mail. Unfortunately, in all-too-many cases, that's not happening.
The Tradesman staff and our mailers have had several telephone conversations and meetings to try and alleviate the problem. Postal service officials have pledged to look at delivery routes and place "publication watches" on individual papers, to see where the problems might be. To date, delivery continues to be erratic.
This is to let our readers and local unions know that we understand
there's a problem, and we're trying to work out a solution. But
we all know what a bureaucracy the U.S. Postal Service is, and
solutions are hard to come by. We'll keep trying.
Jonah Peretti, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, attempted to get the word "sweatshop" stitched on a pair of shoes he ordered from Nike. But the giant footwear manufacturer refused to fill his order, "because your personal I.D. contains profanity or inappropriate slang," said a letter sent to him by Nike.
As reported in America @ Work magazine, Peretti countered, "I chose the I.D. because I wanted to remember the toil and labor of the children who made my shoes. Could you please ship them to me immediately."
Several exchanges later, Nike officials wrote Peretti they would not personalize his shoes with anything "inappropriate" - and didn't bother responding to his final request: "Could you please send me a color snapshot of the 10-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?"
Peretti's exchange, in the words of a national news magazine, became "a global news event," with his and Nike's correspondence being forwarded and re-forwarded across the Internet. The story appeared in Time, the Wall Street Journal and The Village Voice.
Weekend highlights union history
Union members and their families will be admitted free all weekend, and can take self-guided tours of the museum's interactive displays of life and labor in Detroit over the past three centuries.
Visitors will be able to watch an operating assembly line that melds a Cadillac chassis and body. Other exhibits - including the Streets of Old Detroit - take visitors through old shops and stores.
Throughout the weekend, labor films - including the new "Skywalkers of the Motor City" - about Detroit iron workers and a new video telling the story of Detroit's electrical workers, will be shown.
The phone number to an events hotline is (313) 628-4890.