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April 14, 2000
WASHINGTON (PAI)-- President Clinton's agenda for his last year in office includes securing funding for Social Security and Medicare, especially prescription drug coverage, and rebuilding public schools.
But the GOP-run Congress, he said, has a do-nothing mentality during his last year in office, which historically has been a "lame duck" year for outgoing presidents.
"There is no reason why the prescription drug bill and funding for the nation's deteriorating public schools shouldn't be passed by Congress this year," he said, speaking at the annual AFL-CIO Building Trades Department Legislative Conference last week. "If Republicans want to take the year off they should relinquish their annual salary."
Clinton stressed the biggest question facing the nation today is: "What are we going to do in this prosperity?"
He sounded very much like a president who would like part of his legacy to have Vice President Al Gore as his replacement, and to continue that prosperity.
"I've worked as hard as I could for the last seven years to try to first turn this country around," Clinton said. "Just remember what it was like when Al Gore and I showed up here. We had high deficits, we had high interest rates, we had no job growth, we had social divisions, we had political gridlock. I've worked hard to try to turn it around. The country is moving in the right direction. What are we going to do with it? And that is the real issue."
Clinton said Americans have "a solemn responsibility" in this election season to avoid "self-indulgence" and to "concentrate on our unique ability to meet the big, long-term challenges of America."
The president pointed to a bill about to become a law which removes the Social Security earnings limit for older people, so they can work in their later years with no reduction to their Social Security benefit. And he continues to push for strengthening Social Security and Medicare
"We've got the money now, let's dedicate it now to saving Social Security and taking it out beyond the life of the baby boom generation," he said. "The other thing we have to do is to modernize Medicare and add a prescription drug benefit for our seniors on Medicare." Clinton said when he took office, Medicare was scheduled to go broke in 1999 - "we have now taken it out to 2023, and I'm very proud of that," he said.
The improved numbers on the nation's economy speak for themselves. Since Clinton took office in 1991, the nation has created 21 million new jobs with the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years. The nation has the highest home ownership rate in history, the lowest welfare rolls in 30 years, the lowest poverty in 20 years, and the lowest crime rates in 25 years.
"This didn't happen by accident. It happened because we believed you could be pro-business and pro-labor, pro-work and pro-family; you could grow the economy and improve the environment; you could balance the budget and run a surplus and still invest more in education and give tax relief to middle income families.
"It happened because we worked together and we had the
right ideas and we were moving in the right direction. Al Gore
and I came along and said, we want to put people first. It happened
because we believed in uniting our people and lifting them up,
and not in divide and conquer."
WASHINGTON - Here's a sampling of what happened and what was heard at the annual AFL-CIO Building Trades Department Legislative Conference April 3-6, via Press Associates.
Building Trades Department President Robert Georgine retired from his position after 26 years in office. As expected, the 3,000 delegates to the conference elected International Union of Elevator Constructors President Ed Sullivan to succeed Georgine. Joseph Maloney, director of Canadian affairs for the building trades, was elected to serve in the No. 2 post, secretary-treasurer.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) promised delegates that if Democrats win back Congress this November, no legislation to erode workers' rights would be allowed on the House floor.
This drew enthusiastic applause from Building Trades members who fought hard over the years to preserve the Davis-Bacon Act, strengthen OSHA, and to protect workers against the attacks of congressional Republicans.
Gephardt said union power at the ballot box is growing. In 1996, union families accounted for 23 percent of the vote and stopped anti-union initiatives in many states. In the 1998, union members secured the gain of 10 House seats for Democrats.
"What are we winning for?" Gephardt asked the audience. "To get candidates in Congress for organized labor that will take the House back for working families."
The building trades announced opposition to a plan by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to cut from the federal motor fuels excise tax.
Repealing part of the federal motor fuel tax would cost lives and jobs, and not affect the current crisis over higher gasoline prices, construction unionists say.
"Cutting 4.3 cents a gallon sounds innocent, but it translates into 840,000 lost jobs, 28,000 accidental deaths, over 1 million non-fatal injuries, and $40 billion in health care and other related costs," said Georgine.
The fuel tax goes directly to the Highway Trust Fund. The fund pays for maintenance and repair of the nation's highways and bridges. And if the fuel tax cut went into effect the fund would be cut by $20 billion through 2003.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association says every billion dollars invested in road repair prevents 1,400 premature deaths on the highways. The Department of Labor estimates that every billion dollars invested in surface transportation creates 42,000 jobs.
Commenting on the Democratic line-up of speakers at this year's Building Trades convention, Republican Governor John Rowland of Connecticut said he felt like a guest at the Democratic National Convention.
Invited to speak because of his firm support of Project Labor agreements in his state, Rowland acknowledged congressional Republicans deserve labor's contempt. They certainly have earned a bit of his own, he told the audience.
He said he was "embarrassed" by the congressional GOP and their union-bashing comments.
Rowland added he was tired of the misdirection of the GOP and their rhetoric of "union bosses that is offensive to everyone. You are not union bosses, you are union leaders," he told delegates.
Rowland also said he told the GOP in a caucus meeting in Florida a few years ago that the GOP has been very successful in alienating people such as women, senior citizens, trade unionists, African-Americans, etc. But, he said, the good news is "we still have the support of white male businessmen."
Work in the construction trades now rivals the clerical field as the top industry for temporary work. Each day nearly 250,000 construction workers are on the job as temps.
This dramatic restructuring of the building trades is now the target of a nationwide campaign to organize construction temp workers, spearheaded by the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department.
Addressing the delegates, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney hailed the Building Trades Temp Campaign as critical in stopping "predatory temp firms" and making sure that "temps get a permanent voice at work."
The temp campaign's two main goals are to raise awareness among building trades union members about temp agencies' encroachment in construction work, and to unionize those temp workers.
On average, temporary day laborers make the minimum wage and
often find their wages dragged well below that as temp firms
charge them for transportation and safety equipment.
Maybe it's something in the water.
Detroit and Michigan have rarely had the kind of local representation on the state and international union level that exists today. No less than a dozen trade union officers who hail from Michigan have been promoted to jobs that involve greater influence, notoriety and responsibility.
Those union officers were honored March 30 at a luncheon at the Gaelic League in Detroit. Proceeds were donated to the St. Cecilia and St. Rita food banks.
"I doubt that Michigan has ever had this level of representation
and influence on the international level, but it's no surprise,"
said Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer
Patrick Devlin. "Some of the brightest and best union officers
in the country come out of our locals, and it makes sense that
the Internationals want our people, too."
By State Representative Julie Dennis
As you may know, the budgets for the various state departments are starting to work their way through the Michigan Legislature. As the ranking Democrat on the House Employment Relations, Training and Safety Committee, I thought I would take this opportunity to bring you up to speed on some of the labor-related issues we have dealt with in the budgets so far.
Our aim with these amendments was to draw attention to the problems that workers, especially in the construction trades, face when a company misclassifies an employee as a sub-contractor. In this situation, that worker suddenly finds himself in the position of being responsible for his own taxes, since the employer is no longer paying taxes to the state or to the Michigan Unemployment Compensation system.
We have proof in several cases where the workers are either given cash in an envelope or a flat check and treated as a sub-contractor, and at year end are issued a 1099.
Incidents of 1099 abuse also affect our state's revenue. Michigan and the federal government lose millions in tax revenue each year due to 1099 abuse. In addition, this precludes employees from receiving any unemployment compensation benefits, workers compensation benefits, health insurance or retirement benefits.
One of the amendments we attempted would have provided a legal remedy for workers who are faced with the situation of their employer not paying the taxes due to the state or federal government. Under the amendment, the employer would not be able to make construction workers independent contractors. Employers who violated the rule would be subject to a legal judgment that could award the worker back wages, benefits and actual attorney fees.
This amendment failed on a procedural vote, with several vulnerable Republican legislators helping to defeat it. They include Reps. Clark Bisbee (R-Jackson), Sandy Caul (R-Mount Pleasant), Jennifer Faunce (R-Warren), Judd Gilbert (R-Algonac), Lauren Hager (R-Port Huron), Jim Howell (R-St. Charles), Larry Julian (R-Lennon), Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), Scott Shackleton (R-Sault Ste. Marie), Gerald VanWoerkom (R-Muskegon), and Gary Woronchak (R-Dearborn).
The second amendment House Democrats sponsored would have allowed the Department of Treasury to go after these contractors who do not operate above-board with their workers. The amendment would have added two full-time positions to the department to study construction industry 1099 abuse. The amendment was voted down by the Republican majority, with many of the same vulnerable legislators voting against it.
It is obvious that Republicans are not concerned with protecting Michigan's workers from the rampant practice of 1099 abuse, and are more concerned with protecting the contractors. It is unfortunate that this misguided loyalty is costing our state millions in tax revenues.
I am very concerned about 1099 abuse in our state. I will be drafting legislation based on both of these amendments to introduce later in the year. I would welcome any input from you or your membership on how to best attack this problem.
More MIOSHA Inspectors
A Democratic-sponsored amendment attracted the votes of eight Republican legislators to add the inspectors. The funding will provide for five general industry safety inspectors, five construction industry safety inspectors, and five industrial hygienists.
I was pleased to see this amendment pass, and I will continue working with my colleagues in the Michigan Senate to see that the funding survives in that chamber.
As the rest of the 2000-2001 state budget works its way through
the Legislature, I will keep you updated on any labor-related
issues we debate. Please feel free to contact my office if you
have any questions or concerns about the budget.
By Dennis McKee
More than 400 skilled tradesworkers teamed up with Consumers Energy's employees recently to tackle the biggest maintenance project in the utility's history. An intensive 70-day effort replaced more than 30,000 components of Unit 3 at the J.H. Campbell Generating Complex.
The $42 million maintenance outage will help keep Campbell 3 operating efficiently and reliably, especially during Michigan's hot summer months when customer demand for electricity soars.
Campbell 3 superintendent Gary Keller said the recently completed project wouldn't have been possible without the tradesworkers.
"During a normal outage, we can rely on our experienced maintenance and operations employees to get the work done," Keller said. "Frankly, there aren't enough hours in the day for our employees alone to complete this amount of work in a reasonable period of time, and some of the work really requires industry specialists."
Well-maintained power plants have never been more important to Michigan's families and businesses. Growing energy consumption has put heavy pressure on the electric grid. Transmission systems have capacity limitations that restrict the amount of electricity that Michigan can bring in from other states and Canada. Even though customers demand 2 percent to 4 percent more electricity each year, plans for more power plants are on hold until electric utility deregulation legislation is passed in Lansing.
Campbell 3 can produce up to 790 megawatts of electricity, enough for a community of about 600,000 people. The Campbell Complex, located between Holland and Grand Haven, has 320 employees and three units that generate up to 1,404 megawatts.
A mile-long train-load of coal is burned every day to heat millions of gallons of water to produce the steam necessary to turn a turbine and operate an electric generator. The electricity created at Campbell goes into Consumers Energy's electric transmission system to help meet the needs of the utility's 1.6 million electric customers statewide.
Keller said the tradesworkers and the Consumers Energy employees had to do a staggering amount of work in only 70 days.
"All told, the skilled trades contractors and our site employees replaced more than 30,000 components in our pollution abatement equipment, boiler, steam turbine and generator," he said. "We have never had a maintenance outage of this magnitude at any of the company's four coal-fired plant sites."
The general manager of the Campbell Complex, Bill Ritchie, emphasized that safety was never compromised, despite the deadline.
"We teamed our site safety coordinator with contractor counterparts to help prevent accidents and injuries. We held regular safety meetings for all workers and shared information about minor incidents that can be precursors to serious injuries. It was clear that we had good communication and safety teamwork - although we won't be completely successful during outages until we have zero safety incidents," said Ritchie.
The first installation of General Electric's new "dense pack" high-pressure turbine system was one of the many highlights of the project. With the breakthrough technology, Campbell 3 will be able to create more electricity from each pound of coal it uses. GE also worked with tradesworkers and Consumers Energy workers performing a rewind of the generator's copper cables.
Another highlight was the replacement of all 48 of the unit's coal burners. Those are injectors that shoot powdery pulverized coal into the plant's boiler in a process that is similar to how gasoline is shot into a carburetor. The new high technology burners will help lower Campbell 3's nitrogen oxide emissions to maintain compliance with the federal government's strict standards.
Age, federal Clean Air Act requirements, and timing came together to create the need for the project at Campbell 3, which began operating in 1980. While it took 20 years for Campbell 3 to need a maintenance outage of such magnitude, the record won't stand for long, Ritchie said.
"Periodic congressional amendments to the Clean Air Act require us to invest in new technology to meet stricter standards. The most recent round will require us to invest $300 million at Campbell over the next three years," Ritchie said. "That's about half of the book value of the whole site. We're in a tough business but it is among the most important enterprises in our economy, and I'm proud of our ability to make electricity in a manner that is safe, reliable, cost effective and respectful of the environment."
Consumers Energy, the principal subsidiary of the CMS Energy
Corporation, is Michigan's largest utility providing natural
gas and electricity to more than six million of the state's nine
and one-half million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.
FLINT - Genesee County's municipal, judicial and prosecutor offices are well on their way to getting some much-needed elbow room.
On March 31, Local 25 iron workers and Johnson Steel topped out a five-story, 60,000 square-foot addition to the Genesee County Courthouse at Beach and Court streets. By next January, general contractor Sorensen Gross and the rest of the building trades are slated to have the rest of the addition completed, and tied into the existing courthouse that was constructed in 1929. The old courthouse will then be renovated.
"Overall it's been a good job," said Sorensen Gross Project Manager Michael O'Donnell. "We've had a few conflicts, but nothing we can't handle."
Johnson Steel Supt. Dave Hamilton said about 500 tons of steel manufactured in Sanford, Michigan is going into this project. "It's been a super job; no one has been hurt," said.
The addition to the courthouse - which will cost about $17 million - is part of a $25 million expenditure by the Genesee County Board of Commissioners to expand and renovate county office space.
Hunter safety program scheduled
The free MDNR-certified program includes two classroom lessons, on Tuesday, May 2 and Thursday, May 4 from 6-9:30 p.m. at the Grand Blanc High School auditorium. A shooting range lesson will follow on Saturday, May 6 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Grand Blanc Huntsman Club.
Free refreshments will follow the range lesson. All supplies
and safety equipment will be provided. Gifts will be provided
for all program graduates. To register, call (800) 551-1636 or
Cockshaw's Labor News and Opinion, an independent observer of the nation's construction industry, called the study of prevailing wage costs in Washington state "well-written" and "certain to influence those not intimately familiar with how construction costs are derived."
However, Cockshaw's concluded, "the report has serious flaws which call into question its central claim that 'prevailing wage laws mandate excessive costs.' "
The study by the Washington Research Council came after a series of separate independent studies involving no less than 11 states found that prevailing wage laws have no effect on school construction costs.
The Washington study, Cockshaw's said, was based on Congressional Budget Office numbers that the CBO later found to be flawed, and was based on data compiled in 1983, which were in turn was based on 1979 numbers.
"Prevailing wage opponents continue to cite so-called
cost 'savings' based on unreliable CBO data which is over 20
years old!" said Cockshaw's, which added the exclamation
point. The publication added that the study also incorrectly
assigned labor costs at 48 percent of a typical project - double
the accepted industry average.