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April 26, 2002
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - It's a sign of the conservative times in our state capital that even in an election year, it was a mighty struggle for Republicans to do the bare minimum to help Michigan's unemployed workers.
The state's jobless workers who receive the maximum benefit will soon be getting a $62 weekly boost in their Unemployment Insurance checks, but the raises are smaller than originally proposed and took nearly five months to become reality.
"While we still believe that this legislature could have done more for working families, the latest plan removed the most onerous provisions from the previous bills," said Senate Democratic Leader John Cherry (D-Clio). "I am proud that Democrats and organized labor stopped the Chamber of Commerce plan which would have penalized unemployed workers."
To organized labor, the most onerous provision that was removed during the legislative process was a waiting week for benefits. Instituting a waiting week would have actually resulted in a reduction in benefits for short-term jobless workers.
Since 1995, Michigan's unemployed have received a maximum benefit of $300. That amount is the lowest among states in the Great Lakes region and has not budged over the last seven years because of inaction by Republican legislators.
State Republicans, who control all three branches of state government, decided in January to raise the unemployment benefit. The first proposal seemed too good to be true, and it was: it included an increase of $415 per week, but included the waiting week. All manner of negotiations ensued, with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce adamant about keeping the waiting week, with organized labor insisting that it be removed, and with conservative Republicans insistent that the initial proposed raise to $415 per week was too costly.
In the end, the bill that was signed by Gov. Engler, raises
the maximum benefit by $65, eliminates the waiting week, and
also increases the duration of the benefits formula that determines
how long a laid off worker will receive benefits. This ensures
Where did the amount of the $65 increase originate? One Republican leader said it amounts to increases in the inflation rate since 1995.
Democrats remain critical of several elements within the legislation. The final plan offers no increase to people who made less than $30,000 per year prior to becoming unemployed - 40 percent of Michigan's jobless.
"We waited weeks longer than was necessary and ultimately passed a plan that doesn't help more than 40% of those receiving benefits," said Cherry. "But at least we were able to help some of those who are struggling to provide for their families."
The bill also includes a number of new benefit eligibility restrictions. Workers who receive severance pay will have their unemployment benefits reduced. The reduction does not apply to Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) pay to autoworkers. There is a heightened burden of proof on workers to show that it's the employer's fault that they were let go from their job. And, idled workers would have to move quicker on taking jobs that become available, even lower-paying ones, or lose their benefits.
"There's still work to be done to make sure that every
Was the Republican plan to re-district Michigan's legislative boundaries unconstitutional? And could it delay the state's Aug. 6 primary election?
The answer to both of those questions is now in the courts.
The re-drawing of legislative boundaries - or gerrymandering - takes place every 10 years after the U.S. census is taken. Michigan's House and Senate lawmakers re-drew the district lines in a process that wrapped up last year.
Democratic lawmakers, who had almost no input into the final decision on the boundaries, did what any state political party would do when they have no control over the process: they sued in federal court in an attempt to win at least a partial victory.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge David Lawson delayed the filing deadline for congressional candidates by nearly a month, to June 11. That's because the boundaries of the districts that the candidates want to represent may change, depending on the outcome of a federal judicial hearing on the boundary question on May 20. Judge Lawson is also expected to decide whether that delay also applies to candidates for scores of other state and federal offices.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Rusty Hills told the Detroit News, "This could delay the primary. Once you start moving dates around, anything is possible."
Democrats contend that the boundaries drawn by Republicans are unfair and do not reflect the political makeup of the districts. In Michigan, Al Gore handily beat George Bush in the November 2000 presidential election, and Democrats currently control the state's congressional makeup 9-7. But the Republican plan would move boundaries to take advantage of voting patterns and very likely give Republicans a 9-6 advantage (Michigan is losing a congressional seat because population in other states have grown more rapidly).
The state's nine Congressional Democrats celebrated Judge Lawson's decision to hear the case. "We've long known the Republicans' gerrymandered map was derived from a partisan process, and we're pleased the federal court has scheduled a trial date," they wrote in a joint statement. "We welcome the opportunity to present our case and we look forward to an equitable result for all Michigan voters."
Michigan Democrats had argued in the state case that the redistricting plan was invalid because lawmakers who passed the plan last year violated 1999 redistricting rules that require the fewest possible breaks in county, city and municipal lines when redrawing districts.
By Marty Mulcahy
ANN ARBOR - With little room to work in this crowded university town - and virtually no spaces to park their cars -building trades workers and construction manager Barton Malow are successfully going about the job of erecting the Palmer Drive Development.
The bigfoot, $168 million project is being shoehorned into an area at Washtenaw and Huron streets in the central area of the University of Michigan campus. The signature project on the job is the $100 million, 235,000 square-foot Life Sciences Institute, a six-story building which will allow scientists "to explore the complex questions of the emerging scientific revolution in the life sciences," according to the university.
"There's no question, it's a tight site," said Barton Malow Project Administrator Brent Bohan. "That's the reason for the tower crane. There's no room to park, there's no room for lay-downs. But we've adjusted, and we're doing well." Hardhats working at the site park elsewhere and are bused in and out.
Also part of the project is the $32 million, 99,000-square-foot Commons Building, which will provide conference, retail and dining space. A Department of Public Safety neighborhood office will be located here, as well as Plant Operations department offices.
Unsurprisingly, the site also includes a 1,000-spot, five-deck parking structure. In the bowels of the parking structure is a one million-gallon capacity cistern to accommodate and improve storm water run-off in the area. Although plans are not finalized, a four-story Science Instruction Center Building is expected to be placed atop the parking structure. It will house instructional space for students and space for a variety of science programs.
Moving vehicular and pedestrian traffic around and through this project is particularly important to the university. The new parking structure will be connected on two levels by bridges for vehicular traffic to an existing parking deck. The roof level will serve as a walkway/plaza providing access to the Life Sciences Institute and Commons Building. All the connectivity, the university says, will create a much-needed "circulation path" between the nearby Medical and Central campuses.
Between 325 to 375 university employees will work at the Life Sciences Institute, including about 25 researchers from a variety of disciplines. The U of M describes the newly formed institute as the "crown jewel of the University of Michigan's renewed emphasis on the life sciences," but at the same time, "somewhat of an experiment" because it involves breaking down traditional academic distinctions.
"The questions we face aren't just in one area like biochemistry anymore," said Jack E. Dixon, Ph.D., director of the Institute. "You need computers, engineering, chemistry, physics, clinical medicine to get a handle on some of these things. We'd like to have all those people under one roof, working together."
The building will include collaborative meeting spaces and offices for visiting faculty and post-doctoral fellows. Included in the physical space the trades will be creating are wet research laboratories and support spaces, core laboratory areas, principal investigators' offices, interaction spaces and administrative offices. Though the exact direction of the institute's research will be determined by the investigators it attracts, the initial thrust is going to be in the area of communication among cells.
"The greater goals of this life sciences initiative are
very interesting, and I think it's interesting and challenging
to be a part of it, even if it's a small part compared to what
they will be doing later," Bohan said. "We've been
pleased with the quality of work from the Ann Arbor-area trades."
WASHINGTON - Most delegates to the annual AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department's annual legislative conference April 15-18 may have assumed that resolving jurisdictional issues and coming to terms with the return of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) to the building trades would be the priorities.
Instead, the headlines were made during a passionate, unscripted speech by International Union of Painters and Allied Trades President Michael E. Monroe, who questioned the accomplishments of BCTD President Edward Sullivan and announced that he is a candidate for Sullivan's position.
As if to emphasize his point, on April 18, Monroe resigned from the general presidency of the IUPAT. In a prepared statement, the union said Monroe would "pursue the interests of all working members and their families under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO."
James A. Williams, the IUPAT's general secretary, was elected by the general executive board as Monroe's successor.
Sullivan, who hails from the Elevator Constructors, has served
about 18 months of a five-year term in leading the national building
trades. During his speech, he listed the department's accomplishments
and called on delegates to rise above the "divisiveness
that would tear us apart," and "unite for the benefit
of the construction industry."
Monroe left the podium quickly and did not elaborate about why he plans to challenge Sullivan.
Monroe's challenge further complicates the turbulent situation at the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department. It was anticipated that some progress might be made toward bringing the United Brotherhood of Carpenters back into the building trades, but there was no formal action. The Carpenters union withdrew from the AFL-CIO in March 2001, which effectively banned them from the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department.
Two months ago, UBC President Doug McCarron called for a restructuring of the Building Trades Department, including the resignation of Sullivan and Building Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer Joe Maloney. They would be replaced by a part-time president and executive director.
McCarron also called for formation of a committee to address jurisdictional disputes among the trades, as well as a system of weighted voting that would give larger building trades unions more clout.
Sullivan said, "I will not set arbitrary deadlines, I
will listen to all, and I will resist any pleas for precipitous
action from either side of the table. As for myself, it is not
about who will run it (the department) but about where we are
going. It's not about who's in the driver's seat."
- Press Associates contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON - In a highly charged atmosphere, with rumors flying about internal union politics at the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department's Legislative Convention, Martin Maddaloni, general president of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters, put everything in perspective.
Maddaloni sits on the Building Trades Department's Governing Board of General Presidents. Following are excerpts of his April 16 speech to delegates:
"This movement is bigger than any one individual, it is bigger than all of us that are here on the dais and we must never forget that. Perhaps the most important fundamental principle of organized labor is the concept of solidarity.
"We must not tear apart this building trades of ours. It is the lifeline of all our members. Yes we can have disagreements and we have many. And yes, it takes leadership and commitment to resolve our differences.
"Believe me, when I tell you that we have that commitment and leadership here on the dais, and yes, our house has some maintenance to be done. But I can assure you that everyone on the Governing Board of General Presidents are working together to put our house in order.
"If we stay united, we will prevail. Remember, it's our house, let us not tear it apart from within. There are enough enemies out there. United we stand, divided we fall."
KALAMAZOO - The ongoing $76.9 million project to renovate Borgess Medical Center is expected to take three years. And if necessary during that period, local building trades leaders are vowing to continue voicing their objections to the health care facility's use of a nonunion, out-of-area workforce being paid substandard wages.
American Village Builders (AVB) is managing the project, and continues to hire a 75 percent nonunion workforce. In protest, the Southwest Michigan Building Trades Organizers have written letters and called on the medical center's Board of Trustees and its parent company, Ascension Health. They have also had very good shows of support on picket lines in front of the hospital. And two weeks ago, union workers hand-billed many of the 70-plus satellite offices that are affiliated with Borgess.
"The people at Borgess haven't budged on anything," said Southwest Building Trades Organizers President Larry Tolbert of Asbestos Workers Local 47. "But we're not going anywhere either; and we're in this for the long haul."
Work at Borgess began last July, and the renovations will include a new parking structure, consolidation of outpatient diagnostic and treatment services, and miscellaneous campus improvements, including converting most semi-private rooms into private rooms.
On the day the pickets first appeared Feb. 1, an internal letter from Borgess to its employees said that the health care organization "stands firm in its commitment to the open market bidding process and will not be pressured to reverse this decision."
Borgess has a fairly good history of hiring union, but that all changed when they were acquired by their new parent company, Ascension Health.
Among the building crafts, the pipe trades have the most workers on the project, but they may soon join other unions in becoming extinct at the Borgess renovation.
"AVB has told us that they're not happy with the union
demonstrations," said Bob Williams, Business Manager of
Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 357. "They have told us
that we may lose work on this project. There's a good amount
of work in there, but at some point, you have to take a stand."
By Marty Mulcahy
The Archdiocese of Detroit's "Mother Church" - The Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, is undergoing its most extensive renovation ever.
Constructed in 1915 at Woodward and Belmont as a parish church, the cathedral was designated as the home church of the archdiocesan bishop in 1938 by Pope Pius XI. The building remains a classic example of English Gothic architecture. Aside from the addition of a steeple and four towers that were added in 1951, little has been done besides basic maintenance to the house of worship since it was first built.
Enter construction manager Barton Malow, specialty contractor Ohio Building Restoration (OBR) and the building trades, who are in the midst of a $15 million project to renovate the building and improve the grounds.
"The bones of the building are in good shape," said Frank McDonald, of PM-Net, Inc, who represents the owner on the project. "It's a solid building, but it's aging."
The project, which began Sept. 17, includes a completely renovated interior with a larger altar that extends into the congregation, a strengthened substructure under the new altar, installation of air conditioning, a new roof, a renovated rectory, expanded restrooms and a new common area outside. Work is expected to wrap up by the end of November.
Much of the work involves repairing and cleaning the extensive stone work inside and outside of the church. That portion of the project is being handled by OBR.
"I love working with this stone," said Rodney Klinebriel of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1. "The original workers built something that has lasted all these years and it's still absolutely beautiful. It's nice to be able to clean it and fix it up and bring it back to the way it should be."
Petitions bolster straight-party ballots
The signatures were submitted through the efforts of a variety of groups, including organized labor. The petitions would seek to overturn a century-old state tradition that allows a voter to punch one chad and vote for all candidates of a single party on a ballot.
Of the 253,321 signatures that were filed, only 151,356 are needed to be verified in order for the Bureau of Elections to place the matter on the Nov. 5 statewide ballot.
Touted as election "reform" by Michigan Republicans,
the Michigan AFL-CIO said the bill "was a thinly disguised
attempt to suppress the vote among Democratic
The Michigan Association of County Clerks (an organization
The bill was passed on a straight-party vote in the House, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Mass to honor fallen workers
The names of the 28 construction workers who were killed on the job in 2001 will be read. People of all denominations are welcome.
St. Joseph's Church is located at 1800 Jay St. at Orleans (one block east of Gratiot).
Target shoot to benefit camp
Sponsored by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, the shoot will take place at Camp Fish Tales, 2177 Erickson Rd. in Pinconning. The nonprofit camp provides barrier-free facilities for handicapped kids, and has been around since 1968.
The cost is $8 for adults; $4 for kids 6-14 years old, and kids five and under are admitted free.
Numerous targets are scattered on the grounds of the camp along a barrier-free trail. Individuals or local unions can also contribute as target sponsors, for $100. If you can help, make checks payable to Camp Fish Tales, c/o Chuck Westphal of Boilermakers Local 169, 1042 W. Hampton Rd., Essexville, MI 48732. Chuck can be reached at (517) 893-1087.
The camp is located four miles north of Linwood, then one-half
mile east of M-13.