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April 18, 2003

Delegates seek to overcome prevailing wage protests, start construction spending

Building trades support the troops

Building trades have an 'in' at MeadWestvaco outage

American Axle's headquarters campus rolls toward completion

Work stoppages a thing of the past

Can't help falling…You can, with a good safety plan, well-fitting harness

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Delegates seek to overcome prevailing wage protests, start construction spending

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Armed with arguments showing construction projects
immediately put people to work, 2,578 delegates from the nation's building trades unions headed for Capitol Hill April 7-9 to lobby for federal funds to start putting shovels in the ground.

But the delegates to the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department legislative conference had a second goal: To preserve the Davis-Bacon Act, which ensures prevailing - not cut-rate - wages on the federally funded construction contracts.

The demand for the construction projects and for Davis-Bacon drew support from politicians across the bipartisan spectrum.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the House Infrastructure Committee's top Democrat, said measures approving more than $500 billion in construction of highways, railroads, airports, schools, and water and sewer plants over the next five years are stalled because GOP leaders won't let lawmakers vote on them.

That's because his committee inserted pro-Davis-Bacon provisions - and "GOP
leaders hate Davis-Bacon," he said. But Oberstar won't let the panel send the measures out for a full House floor vote without it, he pledged.

Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) told the delegates that 36 moderate Republicans are demanding their leaders allow votes on construction spending measures - with Davis-Bacon included.

"If we get an up-or-down vote, we win," because Davis-Bacon construction
jobs "get done on time and under budget," he said. Signers of Quinn's letter include two House committee chairmen: Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.)

"While a majority of Republicans may oppose" Davis-Bacon, "we feel equally as strong that Davis-Bacon is important to the country's construction workers, union or non-union, whose standard of living is often predicated on this law," the lawmakers' letter warned their leaders.

And Quinn and his colleagues also chided the GOP leadership for refusing to hold votes last year on big construction-related bills because of the Davis-Bacon controversy.

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Building trades support the troops

WASHINGTON - The Governing Board of Presidents of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department expressed support for the U.S. troops serving in the Persian Gulf during the group's annual legislative conference April 7-9.

Building Trades President Edward Sullivan announced the resolution of support and appreciation, noting that thousands of men and women from the building trades are serving in the military on American soil and in Iran and Afghanistan.

A moment of silence was observed for two union tradesman who have lost their lives in combat: Marine Lance Corporal Eric Orlowski of Buffalo and Marine Sgt. Bradley Korthaus of Davenport, Iowa.

"We are heartbroken for the families of our fallen brothers, we extend our heartfelt sorrow for their great loss and deepest appreciation for the sacrifice made by their loved ones," Sullivan said. "We are especially proud of the thousands of building trades members who answered the call to duty and are now serving in this war. We send them our prayers and hopes for their safe and speedy return home."

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Building trades have an 'in' at MeadWestvaco outage

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

ESCANABA - With a soft employment outlook for the building trades in the Upper Peninsula, it's good to have "steady Eddie" employers that keep the paychecks coming in.

One of those is the MeadWestvaco plant (formerly Mead Corporation), which hosted a 12-day outage at its paper mill on Little Bay De Noc that began March 24. Up to 500 building trades workers toiled on the site in an annual outage to refurbish the company's recovery boiler.

The trades performed tube panel replacement, duct work repairs and repaired the electrostatic precipitator in addition to other miscellaneous work. They worked under contractors Jamar Construction, API, Bosk Paints and M & J Electric.

"We need to do effective maintenance in order to assure continued compliance with federal rules and regulations that cover our permit," said Mike Fornetti, director of source and support for MeadWestvaco. "It's also very important that the outage be performed in a safe, speedy and cost-effective manner. The competitive nature of the paper business and competitive pressure from imports puts us under a lot of cost pressure."

The bulk of the work on the outage was directed at the recovery boiler. It's also called a black liquor boiler, because during the papermaking process, sap and other byproducts are removed during the pulping process and used to fuel the boiler. At some point, someone decided the fuel resembles black liquor.

The recovery boiler generates 506,000 lbs. of steam per hour at the plant, which helps MeadWestvaco's on-site power plant create 100 megawatts of power. The plant has three other boilers on site that continue to operate during this outage. The company operates three coated paper machines at the site, and the integrated pulp and paper mill have a combined capacity of 700,000 tons per year.

MeadWestvaco currently employs over 1,200 at its Escanaba location. Mead has had controlling interest in the Escanaba plant since 1942, but a power plant has operated at the site since 1907.

The use of certified welders, safety training and good planning got the outage off to a good start, Fornetti said on the third day of the process. "In general we have a history of being blessed with having good work crews and contractors, and the training provided by organized labor and their contractors has helped. We've been appreciative of that," he said.

Hardhats worked 12-hour shifts during the outage. About one-quarter of the trades workers were boilermakers. Two other outages at the MeadWestvaco plant will be held in April.

Boilermakers Local 169 Business Agent Babe Jenerou said the outages are taking place at a good time for the U.P. The only other major industrial project going on in the U.P. is work at the Presque Isle Powerhouse. "Every year, Mead has been a good employer for us; we're fortunate to have them around," he said. "It sure hasn't been difficult to find people to do the work."

A BOILERMAKER takes the torch to cut up an old combined condesate tank during the MeadWestvaco outage.

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American Axle's headquarters campus rolls toward completion

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Construction work is starting to gear down on the seven-story, 252,000-square-foot American Axle and Manufacturing (AAM) headquarters building in Detroit.

A short ceremony on March 31 marked the beginning of the end, when iron workers placed the final 50,000-lb. pre-cast section of the headquarters' 160,000-square-foot, 650-spot parking deck. The joint venture of Alberici Constructors and Clayco Construction Co. and the building trades are working together to get the building ready for the first group of employees to move into their new offices in July.

Located at the northeast corner of Holbrook and I-75, the new $32 million headquarters building will serve about 700 employees and consolidate several corporate departments on the existing campus and other offices in Michigan under one roof.

When AAM co-founder, Chairman and CEO Richard E. Dauch joined with two investors to purchase the assets of what would become American Axle & Manufacturing from General Motors Corporation in 1994, they committed to rebuilding and revitalizing not only the manufacturing facilities but also surrounding areas. Abandoned houses and run-down buildings were purchased and torn down, and roads, sewers, sidewalks and lighting were improved. The result was the creation of a 174-acre industrial campus that includes an extensive greenbelt.

"We focused on creating modern manufacturing facilities and producing a safe and productive working environment for our associates," Dauch said. "We are proud to say that in 1994 we were the first multibillion-dollar company to locate its headquarters in the City of Detroit in more than 20 years, and as we pursue our strategy of selective global growth, we have elected to remain headquartered in Detroit."

AAM manufactures, engineers, designs and validates driveline systems and related components and modules, chassis systems and forged products for trucks, buses, sport utility vehicles and passenger cars. The company has 14 locations in the U.S. as well as several off-shore facilities.

The new headquarters building was constructed of a reflective glass curtain wall, and architectural precast panels with limestone accents at the front entry. The building includes a 300-seat cafeteria and 300-seat auditorium on the first floor, a two-story lobby with bridges, and an open floor plan throughout.

We weren't allowed access to take photos inside the tower - but the trades had the construction of the parking deck humming along. During our visit, flatbed trucks, one after another, backed into the tight site, and their load was immediately lifted into place.

"Over the last three-and-a-half weeks, we must have set a record for productivity," said Iron Workers Local 25 general foreman Danny Crawford, who was working with raising gang foreman Mark Grasso. "We've had 30 to 35 trucks a day through here, and when the trucks were running on time, we were in great shape."

IRON WORKERS Local 25 members marked the occasion of placing the final pre-cast section on the parking deck of the American Axle headquarters in Detroit on March 31.


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Work stoppages a thing of the past

The argument that the potential for strikes is a hindrance to hiring union workers took another blow last month, as the Labor Department reported that major work stoppages in the U.S. dropped to a record low of 19 in 2002. Only three of those 19 work stoppages were in the construction industry.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported that the U.S. has not experienced more than 40 major work stoppages in a year since 1991. A major work stoppage is defined as having at least 1,000 workers involved.

The stats are a barometer of good union-management relations - but they may also be an indicator of declining union clout.

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Can't help falling…You can, with a good safety plan, well-fitting harness

"Careful out there!"

It's a safe bet that many construction workers hear a form of that admonition by a spouse or loved one every day before they leave for work in the morning. If you feel that well-meaning advice may be going in one ear and out the other, try this one for a while: "don't fall!"

If a construction worker is going to get injured or killed on the job, a fall will be the likely cause. In 2000, there were 1,154 construction industry fatalities in the U.S., and the greatest percentage - nearly a third - were the result of falls. In Michigan, the ratio was similar: falls claimed the lives of eight of the 24 construction workers killed on the job in 2002.

At a national construction safety conference last year, fall safety expert Nigel Ellis, who authored "Introduction to Fall Protection," told attendees that employers and workers "are playing the game of fall protection" and leaving workers vulnerable to injury and death.

Ellis, whose book was published by the American Society of Safety Engineers, said the "game" is one of not taking responsibility. As detailed in the Construction Labor Report, he said workers are told to wear harnesses and to tie off, but employers often do not take responsibility for ensuring that safe anchorage points are available.

For their part, workers often appear to be tied off, but choose to remove part of their harness. Ellis estimated that 30 percent of the time, workers disconnect leg straps on their harness for the purpose of comfort or convenience.

"Safety is an add-on. It's not integral." Ellis said. "The boss passes on the responsibility and the worker does what is responsible as opposed to what is safe."

He said employers must have an engineering plan for choosing safe anchorage points. And Ellis suggested fall hazards could be reduced by performing more assembly work on the ground.

Employers also need a rescue plan. Ellis' book told of a welder who fell but was working with the correct fall protection. When he fell, a maintenance worker on a level above accidentally spilled some solvent on the welder who was hanging by his lanyard. The torch then ignited the welder's clothes. "Ablaze, he become a screaming torch with no rescue plan and no extinguisher on hand," Ellis said. The welder died.

The rate of fatal falls increases with age, Ellis said. As years pass on the job without incident, workers become overconfident and sloppy in their safety habits.

Safety regulators can become a little sloppy, too. Remarkably, it took until Jan. 1, 1998 for MIOSHA to outlaw the use of safety belts (in favor of full-body harnesses) by construction workers. The switch came years after the automotive industry acknowledged that single lap belts can cause vehicle occupants significant internal injuries during crashes - and then began installing three-point shoulder and lap belts.

Michigan state and federal rules require employers to provide workers with the necessary fall protection equipment, and to train workers in their use. With all this talk of safety harnesses and anchorage points, it's important to remember that those things are the last line of defense when it comes to fall safety.

Beyond that, here are a few more points to ponder when it comes to fall protection.

  • "Personal fall arrest systems" are required to be worn if a worker faces a fall hazard six feet or greater, and nets or guardrails are not used or don't apply. The attached lanyard and vertical lifeline must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 lbs.
  • In 1998, Michigan also began the new requirement for the exclusive use of locking snap hooks on lifelines. The old non-locking hooks with a self-closing keeper have been outlawed, because of a tendency under certain conditions for the line to roll out of the hook.
  • Make sure the harness fits you and is comfortable, to prevent body strain. You can get shoulder and back pads to reduce harness pressure. Full-body cross-chest harnesses are more comfortable for women and can reduce bruising when falls are stopped.
  • All harnesses are not made equally, nor are they of the same quality, nor do they last forever. Some manufacturers' adjustable straps are often too complicated, said Harry Galer, director of corporate safety for Clark Construction Group Inc. "Employees often have trouble adjusting the leg straps, or they have the D-ring in the back adjusted improperly," he said. "In many instances, workers wear harnesses far too loose in order to find a comfortable fit. These are things our safety managers have to watch constantly."

FULL-BODY HARNESSES were much in evidence on workers during the renovation of the Mackinac Bridge in 2000.

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NEWS BRIEFS

Anti-union rules irk some in GOP
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Twenty-six GOP House members are asking Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to dump union reporting rules that would cost organized labor
millions of dollars.

Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), a lawmaker known for reaching out to unionists in
his blue-collar Buffalo-centered district, disclosed the April 7 letter to Chao in his speech the next day to the Building Trades Department legislative conference.

"Yesterday, 26 Republicans sent a letter to Chao about this onerous LM-2
situation," Quinn said, referring to the form unions must file with the government yearly, detailing their expenses.

"Maybe the large international unions here can handle this," he remarked.
"But if this goes to local unions in Erie County and Chautauqua County (New
York), it'll put them out of business. Well, if that's your reason, why don't you just say so - and not hide behind some kind of reporting mechanism?" Quinn challenged Chao, drawing cheers from the 2,578 conference delegates.

The department proposed the new rules earlier this year, without consulting
labor at all. They would require local unions to itemize virtually every expense starting at $2,000, and internationals to itemize everything starting at $5,000.

Nothing, from pencils to pay, would be omitted. There are no such specific
requirements for corporations. AFL-CIO staffers said the Bush administration wants to use the rules to tie up union members, staffers and cash in paperwork.

Industry's stall becoming evident
The value of new construction starts dropped 3 percent in February from the previous month to $483.6 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge.

"Total construction activity during 2003 is expected to see some loss of momentum, and February's mild setback is consistent with that trend," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill. "Last year, the brisk pace for single-family housing offset weakness for commercial building, but sluggish employment and shaky consumer confidence are beginning to dampen homebuyer demand. Tighter fiscal conditions are now having a restraining impact on institutional building and public works. The commercial structure types remain generally depressed, but on a positive note, their up and down pattern in recent months suggests that a leveling-off process is under way, following the extended slide witnessed over the past two years."

Total construction during January and February 2003 were down 10 percent from the same period a year ago. McGraw-Hill said that gap should narrow because there was an "unusually high" volume of construction starts in this year's first two months.

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