April 24, 2009
misery now moves from unemployment, to pensions, to politics
light a fire under several big power plant projects
work awaits rebound in nickel market
plant begins transformation into office space
new opportunities for labor
trades, misery now moves from unemployment, to pensions, to politics
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - Good news about employment or financial prospects
in the construction industry was nowhere to be found from AFL-CIO
Building Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer Sean McGarvey,
who spoke April 1 to delegates to the Michigan Building and Construction
Trades Council's 50th Legislative Conference.
Unemployment around the country in most local unions, across
all crafts, is now "steadily rising" past an average
of 22 percent, he said, and is up to 40 percent and beyond in
some locals. (Some building trades locals in Michigan are familiar
with the "beyond" part).
"Usually work will come back with the warmer weather,
but that's not what we're seeing," said McGarvey, the No.
2 man at the Building Trades Department. "There's just no
light at the end of the tunnel."
McGarvey pointed out that at a workforce development seminar
held at a Building Trades Department seminar two years ago in
Washington D.C., Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council
Chief Elected Officer Patrick Devlin told him that the seminar
subject of attracting and retaining workers probably held little
interest for building trades leaders in Michigan.
"'Workforce development?'" McGarvey said. "In
Michigan, you had no idea why were talking about that. You've
been in a deep, long recession. And now what we've seen in the
last five months is a collapse of the U.S. construction industry."
McGarvey added: "I know how tough it is to be a business
manager. You drive into the local union parking lot and you see
200 or 300 guys with no work and no health insurance. And you've
got nothing to give them."
If misery loves company, Michigan now has plenty of company.
Of course, there's the unemployment in every state of the union.
But it's worse than that: a little farther back in the jobs pipeline,
McGarvey said contractors aren't getting paid and developers
can't get financing for new work.
And now building trades pension plans are really starting to
"As the stock market started to slide, it has had a serious,
serious impact on pension funds," McGarvey said. He said
last fall's stock market "implosion" makes "irrelevant"
the previous recovery blueprints of pension plans, which had
banked on improving investment returns and greater man-hours
to improve the funds' bottom lines.
Congress changed federal pension laws two years ago in an attempt
to help pension funds work their way past the turmoil in the
stock market. McGarvey said the weak stock market and now the
downturn in work hours are going to necessitate another change
in ERISA, the federal law governing pensions. The alternative,
he said, is that poorly funded pension plans - and there are
now several in the building trades - "can't survive."
Soon to follow, he said, building trades health care funds are
going to be rocked. When workers are unemployed, he said they
go to the doctor, get the surgery they've been putting off, and
get their teeth fixed and their new glasses. "All that is
starting to hurt" employers and the funds McGarvey said.
"I hate to be doom and gloom about all this, but that's
Politically, he said the news is a little better, although he
acknowledged that Michigan's union workforce, especially in the
UAW, is angry with President Obama. The president last month
continued to call for more "sacrifice" from union autoworkers,
who have already made major contractual concessions.
Similar concessions haven't been demanded of workers in the bailed-out
financial industry. In addition, Obama ousted General Motors
CEO Rick Waggoner, while leaving in place numerous heads of financial
firms whose failures have cost the American taxpayer hundreds
of billions more than the loans given to GM and Chrysler.
"A lot of people are disappointed in President Obama,
especially here with his stance on the auto industry," McGarvey
said. "But there's been a sea-change in Washington, and
the change is dramatic. First, we have a president from a union-dense
area; he listens to us."
He said building trades leaders visited the White House a
single time during the eight years of the Bush Administration.
Since Obama has been in office, McGarvey said, they have been
to the White House seven times. He said "the phone rings
every day" with calls between the Building Trades Department
and leaders in the Obama Administration.
McGarvey said the stimulus package will provide $500 billion
"that will directly affect our members." Republicans,
he said, attempted to strip Davis-Bacon provisions from the spending,
but the Obama Administration made sure the prevailing wage rules
applied to the money.
But Democrats in the Senate, didn't escape scorn from McGarvey.
A handful - especially those who hail from more conservative
Southern and Western states - have been waffling on their support
of labor's No. 1 legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice
Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize. One Republican
senator, moderate Arlen Spector from Pennsylvania, last month
threw a monkey wrench into organized labor's plans for the EFCA.
After supporting the measure last year, he announced that he
would not support it this year. Spector's vote would have been
the 60th vote in the Senate, enough to overcome a Republican
filibuster. Spector is up for election next year.
"He will lose his election next year, but I'm far more
disappointed with the Democrats," McGarvey said. "These
are people who wouldn't be in the Senate without the help of
He said one major problem with political influence can be
solved internally by the building trades. The individual crafts
have individual political action committees, and give their money
to candidates and causes without coordinating with other trades
- even though there is usually no difference in who they support.
The result: McGarvey said when you add up all their contributions
individually, the building trades are by a 4-1 margin the largest
contributor to Democrats. The building trades are also the fifth
largest contributor to Republicans - bigger contributors to the
GOP than even the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors.
"In Washington, they don't recognize us as one voice,"
he said. "They see painters, boilermakers, electricians.
"If we speak as one voice, we would be much more effective.
The problem is, we just can't get together enough."
to light a fire under several big power plant projects
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - A powerful boost could be coming to Michigan's
construction industry over the next decade. But for the thousands
of Hardhats sitting on the bench - who are ready for work, now
- the waiting is the hardest part.
The status of two major Michigan-based power plant projects
were outlined at the 50th Legislative Conference of the Michigan
Building and Construction Trades Council held April 1-2. (A project
that falls under a different category - a nickel mine near Marquette
- is described below). But several other power plants in the
hopper are in various stages of the state and federal permitting
process. All told, there's about $22 billion in potential power
The projects, if they happen at all, can't come quickly enough.
Here's a rundown of what's in the works, and why construction
isn't starting anytime soon. (Hint: the state Department of Environmental
Quality is mentioned frequently. Obtaining financing is no doubt
an obstacle, too).
Consumers Energy - A new 800-megawatt Advanced Super-Critical
Pulverized Coal Burner is being proposed for construction on
the grounds of the utility's existing Karn-Weadock plant in Essexville,
near Bay City.
The target for the start of construction: groundbreaking in
2012, with the construction process extending through 2017. Cost:
about $2 billion. About 1,800 construction jobs would be created.
But construction of the plant is not a done deal. "This
is far from over," said Consumers Energy Vice President
Jim Pomaranski to delegates of the Michigan Building and Construction
He said there are hurdles that first need to be jumped, including
the state issuance of environmental permits, which are in progress.
There are also going to be regulatory requirements for limiting
carbon emissions, but Consumers "doesn't know what those
are going to look like," Pomaranski said. There is also
the issue of the state's issuance of a certification of necessity,
which was a major bone of contention between the Michigan Building
and Construction Trades Council and Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
As we reported in our last two editions, Granholm shocked
the state's construction industry in her state of the state address
by issuing new limits on the construction of coal-burning power
plants. She instituted a new level of requirements for the state
Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to get information
from utilities as to whether the state even needs four new coal-burning
power plants proposed around Michigan. After pressure from the
building trades, she apparently backed off, leaving only a requirement
for utilities to submit a "carbon reduction strategy"
that Pomaranski mentioned.
Public comments are also being taken by the Michigan DEQ regarding
whether the plant should be constructed. After all that is said
and done, Consumers Energy must make the call that the plant
is financially feasible.
Pomaranski said the new plant would be built south of the
existing works at the Karn-Weadock site. If and when the new
plant is up and running, plans call for the abandonment of Units
1-6 at the plant, with Units 7-8 kept in operation.
Pomaranski said the new plant at Karn-Weadock is part of $6
billion in construction that the utility intends to sponsor over
the next five years at its existing power plants, and for new
An outage is currently wrapping up at Consumers' J.C. Campbell
Plant, located between Holland and Grand Haven, and other environmental
work will be going on at the Karn-Weadock plant. There are also
miscellaneous infrastructure jobs, gas compressor work, and some
$300 million in renewable energy projects that are in Consumers
DTE Energy, Fermi III - Michigan has an aging fleet
of power plants, one of the oldest in the nation, with some power
production units half a century old. "They're doing yeoman's
duty, in no small part because your people have helped maintain
them," said DTE Energy Senior Vice President Ron May to
delegates at the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's
50th Legislative Conference. "But it's not a bad idea at
all to be looking at our choices for replacement."
And DTE Energy's primary choice for baseload power production
is the construction of a new nuclear power plant on the grounds
of the existing Fermi I and Fermi II plants near Monroe. Fermi
II has been in operation since 1988, and Fermi I would be fully
decommissioned during the construction process. But construction
of Fermi III is still years away.
May said the process looks like this: DTE Energy applied to
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last September for a license
to build a new nuclear plant. The NRC accepted the application,
and is now in a 40-month review process that ends in spring 2012.
"Financing is currently risky, but by 2012, financing
should be easier," May said. When DTE Energy obtains the
license to build, May said they have a 20-year period to construct
Fermi II produces about 1,100 megawatts. Fermi III, a new-design
boiling water reactor, would be cranked up to 1,500 megawatts.
Plans call for both to run simultaneously. DTE Energy spokesman
John Austerberry said current plans call for Fermi II to operate
through 2025, and beyond.
Construction of Fermi III would take six to seven years. The
price tag for the work is a reported $10 billion. "This
time frame doesn't help you right now, but we're looking at a
construction period from 2018 to 2025," May told the building
trades. At peak employment, construction at the plant would employ
about 2,500 Hardhats.
DTE is currently hosting the building trades for other jobs
including pollution control work at the Monroe Power Plant, and
an outage at Fermi II. Plans are also in place for the company
to erect windmills in the Thumb.
May gave kudos to building trades workers hired by DTE. "I'm
proud to say that when I speak to groups around the country,
I tell them we have the best-skilled people," he said. "I
give your guys a lot of credit."
He pointed out that on a New Mexico project power plant project,
75 percent of the construction workforce failed their drug and
alcohol tests. "Stay strong on drug and alcohol issues,
don't let up on that," he said. "It's a voracious problem
in other parts of the country."
May added: "we will employ union labor. That is the promise.
So let's be the best."
Wolverine Power Cooperative's "Clean Energy Venture"
- Proposed to be constructed in a quarry in Rogers Township
is a $1 billion clean-coal burning power plant designed with
two 300-megawatt boilers. The facility's air permit application
also calls for the use of up to 20 percent of fuel as sustainable
biomass, such as switchgrass.
Wolverine Power is currently awaiting air quality permits
from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Craig
Borr, Wolverine's executive vice president, told Richard Lamb
of the Presque Isle County Advance in late February that "we
are hopeful the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
will take action on the permit sometime this year. We don't know
that and we have no guarantee of that, but we are optimistic
we are going to see some action by the agency this year."
If those permits are granted, Borr said, Wolverine would then
make the go- or no-go decision for construction to start after
a detailed financial evaluation
L.S. Power Group, Midland - A site located northwest
of South Saginaw Rd. and Waldo Ave. is still the planned destination
of a $2 billion coal-fired plant. Plans are moving forward to
gain permits for the plant, despite the loss late last year of
one of the partners in the project, Dynegy.
Joy Buchanan, a spokesperson for L.S. Power Group, said earlier
this year it was continuing to work on plans and permit applications
for the project.
The 750-megawatt complex is to be located on a 130-acre site.
At least 15 state and federal permits must be obtained before
ground for the new facility can be broken.
Ripley Heating Plant, Northern Michigan University, Marquette
- The Ripley Heating Plant supplies steam to most of the
NMU campus' three million square feet of university facilities.
The primary fuel for the heating plant is natural gas with fuel
oil as a backup. The Heating Plant is also the primary distribution
point for electricity purchased from the Marquette Board of Light.
NMU officials are proposing to add a Combined Heat and Power
(CHP) Cogeneration addition to the existing plant. The project
would utilize a high pressure boiler rated at 120,000-140,000
pounds per hour, capable of burning wood chips, coal and natural
gas integrated with a 7-10 megawatt extraction steam turbine
capable of producing the required University's thermal and electrical
needs. The $55 million plant addition would save NMU up to $1.9
million annually, depending on the mix of fuel.
According to SourceWatch, the state Department of Environmental
Quality issued a permit for the university to proceed with construction
last May. However, upon appeal, the Environmental Protection
Agency's Environmental Appeals Board effectively revoked the
license to build, claiming the EPA must take into account the
global warming effects of CO2 pollution.
Lansing Board of Water and Light - The Lansing utility
is proposing construction of a 350-megawatt plant that would
burn coal and biomass fuels like waste wood and waste crops or
The project is under review by the state's Department of Environmental
The plant would be built next to the Board of Water and Light's
Erickson Station, and cost about $1 billion. The system's aging
Eckert station would eventually be closed and its output replaced
by the power produced by the new plant.
Mine work awaits rebound in nickel market
LANSING - A mining project is proposed for land located 20
miles north of Marquette, which would create 200-400 construction
jobs over a two-year period.
But when construction will start is anyone's guess. "The
economy plays a role in the construction process," said
Kennecott spokesman Matt Johnson, to the Michigan Building and
Construction Trades Council delegates, at their April 1-2 Legislative
Conference. "The green light could come at the end of the
Or not. Nickel prices, like the market for most other ores
and metals, has declined with the rest of the economy. Rio Tinto,
Kennecott's parent company, announced earlier this year that
development of the mine has been "deferred until market
The proposed underground mine "has a high concentration
of nickel," Johnson said, adding that the U.P. mine would
be "the only primary nickel mine in the world."
The mine has its detractors in the environmental community.
Johnson said state permits have been granted for the mine, and
two of three legal challenges to those permits have been overcome
in favor of the mine. The third is pending. Mine owners are also
in talks with the Environmental Protection Agency.
If and when the nickel market does bounce back, the Kennecott
Eage mine in the U.P.'s Yellow Dog Plains would consist of a
two-mile-deep, 28-foot wide access tunnel bored into the earth.
The mining would take place "100 percent underground,"
Johnson said. The nickel would be removed by 45 trucks making
round-trips every day. The site would then be filled in and "100
percent reclaimed" Johnson said.
The project would also consist of the $80 million refurbishment
of the 1960s-era Humboldt Mill, which has sat unused since the
1990s. That's a two-year project that would create 200 construction
jobs. And, plans call for the construction of a 22-mile long
access road on what is currently an old logging trail.
Beyond that, Rio Tinto owns or has leased the mineral rights
to 500,000 acres of land in the U.P. "Geologists are looking
for other deposits on that land right now," Johnson said.
power plant begins transformation into office space
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING -The ongoing transformation of the Ottawa Street Power
Station into the headquarters of the Accident Fund Insurance
Company of America in recent months has made the structure a
shell of its former self.
Currently a dusty, dirty, cavernous building - now devoid
of old power plant equipment with nearly every interior nook
and cranny exposed - work over the next two years by The Christman
Co. and the building trades will create an airy office building
that's likely to be one of the coolest office towers in Michigan.
There are currently about 90 Hardhats on site, a number that
will ramp up to as many as 250 when employment peaks out. Interior
demolition began last fall, and now the project substantially
consists of Hardhats removing iron and concrete that doesn't
need to be there, and shoring up the structure with new iron
and support where necessary. "We left what needs to be left
to maintain the stability of the building," said John Holmstrom,
senior vice president for Christman.
He said nine new floors are being created in the building,
with new steel being lowered through a shaft in the roof. Then
the steel is wheeled around on a cart to where it needs to go.
"It's like building a ship in a bottle," Holmstrom
The Accident Fund's new $182 million headquarters will span
333,000 square feet, including the renovated building and a four-story
addition on the north side. Demolition of an adjacent parking
deck will also open up the seven-acre campus to the rest of the
downtown area. In addition to the office space, the project will
include a large atrium, a top floor meeting room, a café
and a wellness area.
"We are proud to be a part of the transformation of this
magnificent building and the future
development of downtown Lansing," said Elizabeth R. Haar,
president and CEO of the Accident
Fund, when the new design was unveiled last year. "We can't
wait to share this exceptional new home with our employees, customers,
business partners and the entire mid-Michigan community."
Last month, the building was added to the National Register
of Historic Places by the National Park Service. "It's wonderful
to see this amazing building get the recognition it deserves,"
Haar said. "This inclusion on the National Register of Historic
Places shines a positive light on all of downtown Lansing and
ensures that the rich history of the station will be preserved
and honored as the building takes on a new life."
The information that accompanied the National Register designation
said: "The Ottawa Street Power Station, located at 217 E.
Ottawa St. along the Grand River, has been one of the downtown
skyline's most distinguishing features since it was built in
1939 by the Lansing Board of Water and Light. The power station
was designed in the distinctive Art Deco style, and is significant
for both its grandeur and its role in providing electricity and
steam heat to downtown Lansing from 1939 until the late 1980s.
Besides the Michigan Capitol dome itself, the power station -
with its broad base, stepped arch windows and metal doors, blocky
tower form and graded-hue masonry - is one of the capital city's
most visually dominating structures."
For a decade or so after the 25-megawatt plant went dead,
city leaders unsuccessfully tried to lure suitable tenants for
the landmark building. The Board of Water and Light finally decided
to use a portion of the structure to house a chilled water system
to cool downtown buildings, in a project that was completed in
2001. All of that work will be torn out as part of this project,
and a new chilled water plant will be built elsewhere.
The Accident Fund will also pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design) certification by the U.G. Green Building
Holmstrom said the biggest challenge can be described in a
basic explanation of what they're doing. "We're adapting
an old powerhouse into an office building," he said. "The
tradespeople have been excellent, it's been going great out here.
Right now it's a diamond in the rough, but it's going to be beautiful
when it's done."
Construction is expected to be complete by the first quarter
FORMERLY THE Lansing Board of Water and Light's
Ottawa Street Power Station, the Christman Co. and the building
trades are transforming this gem of a building into a new headquarters
for the Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America. Photos of this
building have graced these pages before. In 2001 a downtown chiller
system was constructed in the building, which was completed in
1939. The colors of the exterior brick represent the process
of the burning of coal.
WORKING IN THE OLD turbine bay of the former
Ottawa Street powerhouse in Lansing is Jeff Bradley of Iron Workers
Local 25, working for Douglas Steel. This area will become an
atrium for the renovated Accident Fund headquarters.
leadership, new opportunities for labor
SILVER SPRING, Md. (PAI) -- AFL-CIO President John
J. Sweeney formally told top leaders of the federation that he
will retire at the AFL-CIO Convention in September.
Sweeney's statement, at the April 6 closed-door meeting of
the AFL-CIO's 21-member Executive Committee at the George Meany
Center/National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., was confirmed
by a federation spokeswoman.
It also came as Sweeney, Change To Win leaders and National
Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel announced creation
of the National Labor Coordinating Committee, a group of presidents
of the nation's 12 largest unions.
In arrangements worked out by American Rights At Work President
David Bonior of Michigan, the committee is the first concrete
step towards reunifying the labor movement all under one roof.
And that includes the 3.2-million-member NEA, which is both unaligned
with either labor federation and the nation's largest union.
Sweeney's retirement was expected. The former Service Employees
president, who will turn 75 in May 5, has led the now-56-union
group since 1995, when his slate ousted incumbent Tom Donohue,
who took over from Lane Kirkland months before.
Sweeney's departure also comes at a key time for labor: Workers
played a top role in electing pro-worker Democratic presidential
nominee Barack Obama to the White House and increasing pro-worker
ranks in the Democratic-run Congress.
Increased political activism and mobilization, to enhance
the chances of pro-worker legislation in Congress and nationwide,
was and is a top Sweeney cause. The results were that unionists
and their families were more than one-fifth of the electorate
in 2008, almost double the share (12.4%) of union members in
But even as Sweeney leaves, problems remain:
* Labor is still split. One of the leading events of Sweeney's
14 years at the federation's helm was the 2005 withdrawal of
seven unions - the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Teamsters,
the Laborers, the Service Employees International Union, UNITE
HERE (apparel hotel, textile workers), the Carpenters and the
United Farm Workers - to form Change To Win.
CTW wanted more emphasis on organizing and less on politics,
but it has joined the AFL-CIO's political efforts. The new coordinating
committee is the first step to heal the split.
But Change To Win has its own problems: UNITE HERE has divided
and a majority of its board voted to talk with Sweeney on re-affiliation
with the AFL-CIO. UNITE HERE also charged the SEIU was trying
to take it over. SEIU has an internal battle with its biggest
West Coast local. The Laborers, while not back in the AFL-CIO
yet, are half-in, half-out, as members of its Building and Construction
* The Employee Free Choice Act, labor's #1 legislative priority,
which Obama supports and pledged to sign, faces a planned GOP
Senate filibuster. It has yet to get the 60 committed senators
it needs to break a fatal filibuster. A key senator, past co-sponsor
Arlen Specter, R-Pa., defected under pressure from business and
his party's Radical Right, which wants to beat him in a primary
next year. Several Democrats, notably Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.,
and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have drifted away.
The bill would help level the playing field between workers
and bosses in organizing and bargaining, by writing into law
that workers -- not employers -- get to choose how they want
their union recognized: Through an NLRB-run election or through
the agency's verification that the union collected authorization
cards from a majority of employees at a worksite.
* Even without the CTW unions, the number of members in AFL-CIO-affiliated
unions declined by a net of 43,326 from 2007 to 2008, and by
139,474 from 2003 to 2008, the federation's own figures show.
That decline in turn has hurt the AFL-CIO's finances, which
depend on remittances - calculated on a per-member basis - from
its 56 member unions, plus payments from its affinity credit
card. The federation asked for voluntary contributions last year
to pay for the big political push, but the payments fell short
* Successorship questions. Until Sweeney ousted Donohue at
the 1995 convention in New York City, AFL-CIO presidents were
often succeeded by their #2 officers, the secretary-treasurers.
Current Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka, a former Mine
Workers president, is a leading candidate to succeed Sweeney.
But at least one CTW union that might return to the AFL-CIO would
not do so if Trumka is in the top job. And other names have been
floated for Sweeney's post.
* Structure. Any new, unified labor federation must figure
out its structure - the consensus-based but sometimes-slow AFL-CIO,
the leaner top-down CTW, or a mix of both. And it must figure
out what to emphasize and what to leave to member unions.
Endorsements set for school boards
The following school board trustee candidates requested and
were granted an endorsement from the Political Action Committee
of the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council.
These are just a handful of candidates that will appear on
Board of Education elections across the state on Tuesday, May
5. Building trades union members are urged to vote for candidates
who support the goals of organized labor.
Capac Community School Board - Norm McDunnah
Chippewa Valley School Board -Frank Bednard, Henry Chiodini,
Julie Ariganello Fitzgerald
Clintondale Board of Education - Michael Scott
Fitzgerald Board of Education - Cheryl Moreno
Hazel Park School Board - Charles Hemple
Roseville School Board - Joseph Steenland, Brent White
Wyandotte School Board - Daniel Cusson
Welcome drop for work zone fatalities
WASHINGTON -National Work Zone Awareness Week kicked off
April 6 with the announcement of a 17 percent drop in work zone
fatalities and injuries in 2007 vs. 2006.
"I am encouraged by the decrease in fatalities and injuries,"
said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "With $27 billion
in economic recovery funds fueling thousands of highway construction
and repair projects nationwide, drivers must be more careful
The drop in injuries and fatalities came during the busiest
road work season in the U.S. in seven years. Work zone fatalities
and injuries have fallen over the last ten years. The 17 percent
drop in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available,
represents the sharpest single-year percentage decline since
the week's inception a decade ago.
There were 835 fatalities in 2007, down from 1,004 fatalities
in 2006. Four of every five victims in a work zone crash are
motorists, not highway workers as is commonly believed.
The National Work Zone Awareness Week is a national campaign
conducted at the start of construction season to encourage safe
driving through highway construction sites. It is observed nationally
by state, local and federal transportation officials the first
week of April, which coincides with the start of highway construction