The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

April 13, 2007

Building trades legislative conference, '07 'It shouldn't be this hard to give American workers a voice in the workplace'

Senate hearing shows partisan divide on EFCA

Icon on Bond moves toward a high-end finish

Mock training teams up rescue, construction personnel

Building trades council mainstay Mary Bechtol retires

News Briefs


Building trades legislative conference, '07
'It shouldn't be this hard to give American workers a voice in the workplace'

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Speaking to a sun-splashed rally of building trades delegates workers on Capitol Hill, and a conference in a hotel ballroom - a number of pro-worker politicians told members of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department that the new Democratic-run 110th Congress would pass several key job-creating public works bills.

And all with Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provisions.

The March 27 rally was the midpoint of the Building Trades Department's annual legislative conference, which drew 3,000 delegates from around the nation. Key issues that sent the workers to lobby lawmakers included the Employee Free Choice Act and several public works bills.

"It shouldn't be this hard to give American workers a voice in the workplace," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), a 20-year Iron Worker and former president of Local 7 in Boston. "The only way it'll become right and safe on the job is if we have the power to stand up to the employer and say: 'We have the right to a decent workplace.'"

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), said he was one of 15 GOPers to support the Employee Free Choice Act (HR 800) because, as a conservative, he knows "labor is both a pillar of our prosperity and of the middle class." McCotter warned that "If the bitter struggle persists" between workers and management "it'll result in the destruction of both American labor and American business."

Many of the lawmakers concentrated on the construction workers' causes, notably preservation of the Davis-Bacon Act. That act mandates prevailing wages, state by state, for all federally funded construction projects. In their prior 12-year reign over Congress, GOP leaders tried to repeal Davis-Bacon, but BCTD lobbying beat them. GOP President George W. Bush tried to waive it for Katrina-hit areas in 2005, but BCTD enlisted Republicans to force him to back down.

But as a result of the wrangling, key public works legislation, such as the Clean Water Act and another bill renewing a $14 billion federal revolving fund for state and local treatment plants, was held up.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney laid it on the line to building trades delegates: "It's a good thing we stayed on the job, because over the past three decades, a bunch of anti-worker, anti-union, anti-middle-class crackpots and their corporate supporters have really done a job on America."

The building trades and the Communication Workers - who also held a convention in Washington that week - also heard from a number of candidates running for president. Invited were Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel was invited but did not attend. None of the five GOP hopefuls - including Hagel - who addressed the Fire Fighters union in mid-March even discussed labor rights, much less backed the legislation.

All the Democrats stressed their pro-worker stands, and all strongly supported the Employee Free Choice Act, labor-backed legislation designed to level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing drives and in bargaining over first contracts.

Clinton called the bill "as American as apple pie."

Biden coupled his support of the EFCA with his repeated warning that President Bush is waging war on unions, too. "These guys want you out of the way. It's time to draw a line in the dust and say: 'No way!'" he declared.

The Democratic-run House passed the bill (HR 800) last month. But the Senate GOP plans to filibuster it - talk it to death - and President Bush promises to veto it. That threat drew scorn from the presidential hopefuls, Dodd and Richardson included. "In 2008, unions will come out and we'll have a Democratic president," Richardson said, after citing union turnout in prior elections and praising building trades and CWA members for their get-out-the-vote efforts.

"We've got to stand up for the middle class and the best way to do that is to support unions," he added. "Republicans have passed right-to-work laws, but I'll fight by your side for the Employee Free Choice Act until every worker has the unfettered right to join a union."

Added Dodd: "The time is long overdue that we had an administration that understands what it means to put in a day's work in a safe workplace, with a secure retirement, and improving collective bargaining rights…empowering working people and creating jobs."

Clinton agreed and added she would "end this practice of harassing and bureaucratizing labor organizations, making them run through hoops" - the hundreds of pages of forms and paperwork, disclosing spending on everything from paychecks to paper clips, that the Bush Labor Department now forces unions to fill out. "

Clinton advocated building "21st-Century infrastructure" in her speech to the BCTD.
"That means we need bold leadership on project labor agreements," she said. PLAs, which unions sign with contractors setting out union representation on the job, are more efficient than non-PLA construction, Clinton added, and said she would promote them.

Kucinich said "my first act as president would be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO," the job-losing trade treaties pushed by Presidents Clinton and Bush.

BCTD President Ed Sullivan later said unfair trade is a bigger issue for construction workers than is realized. He said when firms move plants overseas, construction of public works stops as U.S. workers lose their jobs and local governments lose income. And the plants that would have been built here, with U.S. labor, are instead built abroad.

Obama turned on the crowd at the Building Trades conclave, as he did at CWA, by casting his campaign as a people's crusade for change. He said his young daughter asked him, on his first campaign trip to Iowa, "Daddy, why are we doing this?... My answer today would be that 'We're here because the country calls us, because history beckons us and challenges us with challenges as great as any we ever had."


Senate hearing shows partisan divide on EFCA

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - The stark partisan differences that accompanied House passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) earlier this year followed into a hearing in the Senate Labor Committee on March 27.

The EFCA - organized labor's No. 1 priority - is designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in both organizing and bargaining. The act would guarantee recognition of a union when a majority of workers sign union cards. It also provides for mediation and then arbitration if management and the union can't agree on a contract, and it greatly strengthens penalties for unfair labor practices.

Management and their Republican allies say that workers should be required to go the further step of participating in secret ballot elections during union organizing drives. 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.

Democrats, including panel chairman and chief Senate sponsor, Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) either asked witnesses about what workers go through in organizing and bargaining, or connected the decline of the middle class and the decline of unions to the rabid anti-worker tactics by firms and union busters.

"This connection's too often missed," said panel member Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) "Too often we get into this pro-union, pro-employer conflict and the question of 'Whose side are you on?' We're all on the American side here," she said. Clinton is one of its 46 Senate co-sponsors of the bill.

The bill passed the House, 241-185.

The sole GOP witness, former Clinton and Bush NLRB member Peter Hurtgen, a management-side labor lawyer, acknowledged that card check voting "has always been lawful" under present labor law. But the employer needs to agree to the card check, and few do. "It's always been a secondary method" of union recognition, Hurtgen said.

Hurtgen argued that legalizing card-check recognition of unions, as HR 800 proposes, would only lead to longer and more drawn-out litigation. No senator asked him who would be prolonging the lawsuits. Present labor law, Kennedy pointed out, is pro-employer and encourages legal delays.

Witness Earl Hohrein, of Greeley, Colo., a longtime Boilermaker and middle-aged Vietnam veteran, told Kennedy he was fired immediately after the Steel Workers won an election at the plant he helped organize there, Front Range Energy.

Hohrein said that "it could be years before I get my job back" due to the company's appeal of the NLRB ruling that it fired him illegally for organizing.

And when Hohrein does get his job back, he'll get back pay: $3,800. "That minimal penalty is not a real deterrent" to Front Line and other labor law-breakers, he added. Present labor law calls for giving an illegally fired worker his or her job back, plus back pay minus whatever other wages he or she earned while awaiting reinstitution.

"The employer is a potentate," Hohrein reminded senators, noting that even if the union wins a recognition vote, the employer still has the power of the paycheck to wield over the workers. "They hold all the controls." And when GOPers complained about unions, under card check, coercing workers to sign cards, Hohrein shot back: "I'm an example of union 'coercion.' "

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said that there have only been 42 cases of union coercion, fraud or misrepresentation in the signing of union authorization forms since the NLRB was formed. In contrast, in 2005 alone, he said the NLRB awarded back pay to 30,000 workers because of illegal employer discrimination.

The partisan wrangling foreshadows future fights over HR 800. That's what happened when the House approved it. Only 15 Republicans voted for it in that March 1 tally.

Kennedy said afterwards the Senate committee will hold a work session, called a markup, on the bill "very soon," but did not set a date. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.) welcomed a fight. "If our friends on the other side want to filibuster" - try to talk it to death - "let 'em. It's still time to stand up for working people in this country," he declared.


Icon on Bond moves toward a high-end finish

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

GRAND RAPIDS -The Icon on Bond condominium project is moving along nicely toward completion at the end of this summer.

Exterior brick-work is complete, tile work has started, drywall is being finished, and electrical and plumbing rough-in is ongoing. Down from a peak of about 125, some 75 Hardhats are currently working on the all-union job.

"Everybody is doing a great job," said David Moore, project superintendent for Wolverine Construction Management. "We're very happy with the work we're seeing from the tradespeople."

The nine-story, $118-unit residential development is being erected on the brownfield site of an old foundry, and will help anchor the transformation of the city's Monroe North Business District. Moch International is the developer.

When finished, the Icon on Bond (Street) 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 the low $200,000s to $420,000.

Moore said units will have ceiling heights of nine feet, with 10-inch thick, cast-in-place concrete floors. Drywall walls will be two inches thick. High-end finishes are being installed throughout. "I could be a salesman for this place," Moore said. "It's going to be the best-built condominium project in Grand Rapids."

THE NINE-STORY Icon on Bond condominuim building. The partial use of union pension dollars to fund the project has assured the use of all-union trades.

PULLING NO. 4 meter bank wire on the first level of the Icon on Bond job is Scott Kavner of IBEW Local 275 and Newkirk Electric.


Mock training teams up rescue, construction personnel

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - A construction worker goes in the hole. How do you apply first aid and get him out quickly and safely?

That was the first of three joint rescue training scenarios conducted on March 23 at the Ross School of Business project on the University of Michigan campus. The others were simulating the treatment of a worker in medical distress on a high level of a steel building under construction, as well as the rescue of a construction worker suspended by a fall protection system.

The simulated rescue operations were conducted with the cooperation of the Ross School of Business project's general contractor, Gilbane/Clark, Bristol Steel and Conveyor Corp., Iron Workers Local 25, Operating Engineers Local 324, and the Ann Arbor Fire Department Technical Rescue Team. The simulations were observed by Hardhats on the job, and videotaped to provide training lessons for future rescues.

Ann Arbor Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said the department has 23 firefighters trained for emergency response rescue operations, but this is the first time they have been given access to a live construction site and the opportunity to work on the job with construction workers.

"To get a site like this to do a training operation is obviously difficult," Cook said. "It's a huge asset to be able to work together with the people who would be helping us to make a rescue."

The first of the three simulated rescues had iron worker Ed Bulzan falling off the steel on the project and lying on a concrete basement floor with a probable broken leg. Bristol Steel site safety coordinator Steve Gulick and a team of other iron workers provided first aid to their stricken comrade while waiting for the rescue team to arrive.

The first priorities was doing the "Three C's": check the scene to make sure it's safe to approach, call 911, and then care for the patient. And, the most important aspect of caring for the patient was the "ABCs" - assuring the patient's airway, breathing and circulation - and making sure he or she is comfortable. When the rescue team arrived, they cautioned construction workers that improperly moving a fall victim could worsen his injuries.

"You know he has a broken leg, but you don't know if there's a fracture farther up, in his back," said firefighter Andy Box. After positioning a hard backboard under patient Bulzan, he was moved into a "stokes litter" stretcher. Rigging the patient was a little more involved than hooking up a section of steel. The basket was attached to the line of a crane operated by Chris Casto of Operating Engineers Local 324 and lifted to ground level near an ambulance.

"You never know what you're going to be called upon to do when you're out on a construction job and you're faced with an injured co-worker," Gulick said. "But since we know these job sites better than anybody, we need to be able to know how to coordinate our efforts with local rescue crews to get our injured people evacuated safely."

Iron Workers Local 25 Business Manager Jim Hamric said "our people do hazardous work, and it's a great idea to have them trained to help each other and help rescue teams in case of an accident."

In the aftermath of 9-11, when construction workers took the lead in the attempt to recover victims from World Trade Center disaster, Cook said there have been a limited but growing number of fire department personnel in Southeast Michigan, the Lansing area and in Grand Rapids that have had teams trained in technical rescue operations.

Taking the lead in such training is the Operating Engineers Local 324 Education Center in Howell. In September 2005 the training center and the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue (MUSAR) Training Foundation unveiled a program to provide space for response teams across Michigan to learn to perform urban rescue operations in fallen buildings, trench collapses or similar events.

"We want first responders in the state to be able to do the best job possible," said Local 324 Business Manager and General Vice President John Hamilton.

CONSTRUCTION workers and the Ann Arbor Fire Department Technical Rescue Team team up to aid and lift "stricken" iron worker Ed Bulzan.


Building trades council mainstay Mary Bechtol retires

LANSING - No one keeps statistics on people who keep the same job for four decades.

But if they did, it would likely be a short list - and now, it's even shorter with the March 23 retirement of Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Administrative Assistant Mary Bechtol.

Mary began her employment for the council as a secretary in November 1966. She had been working as a secretary for the manager of the Lansing Civic Center, but was pregnant with her son - and at the time, pregnant women could be laid off after their first trimester. Mary's sister worked at a business down the hall from the office of the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council, and let council President Stan Arnold know that her sister was available for an open secretarial position on his staff.

"Stan asked me if I knew how to type. I told him I did, and he said, 'you can start on Monday.' I've been here ever since," Bechtol said.

Most of her job description included letter-writing, taking phone calls, planning conventions and conferences and taking minutes at board meetings. Every now and then her job has allowed her to meet the famous - Richard Nixon, Al Gore, Hubert Humphrey, Hillary Rodham Clinton Gov. Jennifer Granholm - and the infamous, Jimmy Hoffa.

"You see these people on TV and it's kind of neat say that I've been able to meet them," Bechtol said. "But I think it's some of the more regular people I've met over the years who have been the most interesting."

During her career, Bechtol has talked to thousands of building trades officers, secretaries and workers. In some cases she has watched three generations of family members go to work in building trades offices and out in the field.

Office hardware has changed, with desks morphing into "work stations" and typewriters going the way of the dinosaur, but Mary said that's not all that has changed over the last 40 years. "It used to be a lot of agreements were done with a handshake; your word was good, and things got done," she said. "Today, everything is spelled out in a contract, everything is legal."

Patrick Devlin, CEO of the council, said "Mary has been an institution at the Michigan Building Trades. As she retires she takes with her the good wishes of generations of building trades officers and office staff from around the state who have gotten to know her and appreciate her depth of knowledge and experience."

Devlin said Maurine Homola, a secretary at the council for 29 years, will assume Bechtol's duties.

In the immediate future as a new retiree, Bechtol said "I don't know what's next." She said she enjoys gardening, reading, bowling and is active in her church and looks forward to spending time with her son Floyd (a Millwrights 1102 member) daughter-in-law Ellen and two grandsons. "With one in five people in this country functionally illiterate, I'm thinking about working with the Literacy Coalition here in Lansing," she said.

Stan Arnold, who hired Mary, said "she was always on time, very efficient, and did her job well. She was an employee who everybody liked."

Last week Mary said she's "trying to get into the groove" of retirement. "I met a lot of nice people along the way," she said. "I hope I did as much for them as they did for me."

MARY BECHTOL, on her last day on the job at the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.



News Briefs

Building trades council mainstay Mary Bechtol retires
The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council is urging building trades workers who live in White Lake Township and along the M-59 corridor to attend an upcoming meeting to show their support for proposed developments in the area.

Work involving a new Kohl's store, the J.C. Penney Plaza, St. Joseph Medical Center and other big box stores is on the horizon, but there is a vocal faction in White Lake Township against development in that community.

The next White Lake Township Board of Trustees meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, 7525 Highland Rd. "We need as many tradesmen as possible to pack the auditorium and send the message to the trustees that we need these projects and need the jobs they will create," said IBEW Local 58 BA Ryan Webb.

News from the (anti-)Labor Dept.
If you assumed that the role of the federal Labor Department was to act as an advocate for the nation's working people… well, you would be wrong.

An article in the Construction Labor Report said that President Bush's Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, is pushing for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) to be "defeated soundly" in Congress. An explanation of the pro-worker bill is elsewhere on this front page.

The EFCA has already been passed by the House, and President Bush has announced he will veto the bill if it is adopted by the Senate. The Employee Free Choice Act is organized labor's No. 1 legislative priority. But is probably the Bush Administration's lowest priority.

Chao told a legislative conference of the Society for Human Resources Management: "Please do not think that President Bush can simply wave around his veto pen and the debate is over. It is very important that this bill be defeated on the Hill and defeated soundly. Proponents of this bill should not be allowed to harbor any hope that they can win in 2009," when Bush will be out of office.

Bigger boot-print for Hispanic workers
Hispanic workers are becoming a major part of the U.S. construction industry.

A new survey from the Pew Hispanic Center found that the U.S. construction industry employed 2.9 million Hispanic workers in 2006 - accounting for 25% of the total 11.8 million Americans employed in the industry.

Further, Hispanic workers landed two out of every three new construction jobs in 2006, benefiting from strong employment growth in the industry even as the housing market endured a year-long slump. The vast majority of new construction jobs in 2006 were filled by foreign-born Latinos, many of them recently arrived.

Of the 2.9 million Hispanics employed in the construction industry in 2006, 2.2 million were foreign born, representing 19.1% of industry employment.


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index