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April 28, 2000

Temps threaten trades' pay and safety standards

Motown to become Geektown with new Compuware building

Doors open on new union hall

Workplace inspectors, gun safety on House Dems' agenda

Contractor appreciates trades' work at Marathon

Aaron Mechanical's ex-employee list grows




Temps threaten trades' pay and safety standards

By Marty Mulcahy

Do you want to work around an inexperienced temporary worker who operates heavy machinery or who helps puts up your scaffolding?

No? Leaders in the 15 unions of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department don't want you to, either. That's why on April 3, the building trades began an organizing and educational campaign to organize and educate individual "temps," as well as the employers that send them to job sites.

"If we do nothing, in 10 years as many workers will be referred to construction sites from temporary agencies as from union hiring halls," said Jeff Grabelsky, the Building Trades Department's director of organizing.

Work in the construction trades now rivals clerical work as the number one industry in temp work. Each day nearly 250,000 construction workers are on the job as temps.

Ten years ago, there was little temp firm presence on construction sites, says Will Collette, a research analyst at the Building Trades Department. He said that has radically changed, with temp firms such as Trade Source mimicking union hiring halls.

Collette said Trade Source operates in 15 different states and offers skilled workers across the crafts reasonable wages and benefits - in fact, the firm's wages are only a third less than union wages. And although union benefit packages are far superior, temp workers from Trade Source say their wages and benefits on the whole are the next best thing to being union.

For temporary day laborers, however, the scenario is much different. On average they make the minimum wage and often find their wages dragged well below that as temp firms charge them for transportation and safety equipment.

Addressing the AFL-CIO Building Trades annual convention earlier this month, 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 temporary agencies act as nonunion hiring halls that screen, hire and dispatch workers for the construction industry. If you think they're not a threat to your job, consider this: temporary employer Kelly Services is one of the largest employers in the nation, and transition into finding employees for construction is an easy one to make. More than 400 temporary agencies are trying to land work in construction for their employees.

They're finding takers: temporary agencies are providing an astounding 35 percent of all workers in the industrial/construction sector. "They (temporary agencies) are a growing cancer in our industry," Grabelsky told the Construction Labor Report.

Ed Lenz, senior vice president for the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services, told the Report that the temps "are no threat to collective bargaining" because their average tenure is three months on the job.

Of course they're a threat to collective bargaining - and what's worse, their inexperience also makes them a threat to the health and safety of their co-workers.


Motown to become Geektown with new Compuware building

By Marty Mulcahy

"Hordes of computer geeks" as Compuware CEO Peter Karmonos put it, will overrun downtown Detroit in June 2002, when Walbridge-Aldinger and the building trades complete the company's $800 million headquarters building.

On April 12, more than 300 dignitaries were present for the groundbreaking at Woodward and Monroe. Even more than the Tigers' Comerica Park and the Lions's Ford Field, which are a quarter mile away, the 16-story headquarters is expected to be the major catalysts for revitalizing Detroit's downtown.

"Detroit's future depends on the vision of corporate leaders," said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. "With one stroke by Peter Karmonos and Compuware, this gives us the development we've sought for over 30 years."

The 1.2-million-square-foot headquarters at Woodward and Monroe is expected to open in June 2002. Initially, 3,000 employees are expected to work in the building, but Farmington Hills-based Compuware could build space to double that number in three to five years. The development will include a 3,000-space parking garage and stores and restaurants at street level.

"To the naysayers, I have three words," Karmonos said. "We did it. This is a move that clearly benefits the entire area, and it just makes good business sense for us. It's a dream I've had for many years."

Just north of the Compuware building is the site of the razed J.L. Hudson's building, which is being dug out in preparation for a four-deck, below-ground parking structure. Atop that will be a landscaped plaza, and the parking structure's foundations will support an18-story building. Eventually, the entire Campus Martius project, as the area is called, could encompass nine blocks and will include the Compuware headquarters and potentially a mix of office towers, more stores and restaurants and maybe a hotel.

LOOKING NORTH, where Woodward (on the left) and Monroe meet will be the new 16-story Compuware headquarters. In this rendering, the old Hudson's Building would have been located to the north, just behind this building.

MEETING AT A RECEPTION following the Compuware groundbreaking are Walbridge-Aldinger Group V.P. E.G. Clawson, Compuware CEO Peter Karmonos and Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treas. Pat Devlin.


Doors open on new union hall

ANN ARBOR - IBEW Local 252 and Plumbers and Pipe Fitters 190 are open for business in their new 18,000 square-foot home on Jackson Rd.

The hall, co-owned by both locals, was dedicated April 15 before members and officers of the unions, as well as Local 252 Business Manager Greg Stephens, Local 190 Business Manager Ron House, and honored guests, Rep. John Hansen, 52nd District, Gene DeRossett, 55th District, and Liz Brater, 53rd District.

Construction began a year ago on the building, which replaced the unions' outdated and worn-out 31-year-old facility in Ypsilanti.

THE RIBBON was cut April 15 on the new Local 252/190 Union hall. Wielding the scissors are Local 252 Business Manager Greg Stephens and Local 190 Business Manager Ron House.


Workplace inspectors, gun safety on House Dems' agenda

By Rep. Mike Hanley
House Democratic Leader

Following are two amendments in the state House that would make Michigan a safer place to work and live…

Workplace safety - Those of us who work in an office environment usually don't have any particular reason to wonder if our workplace is safe. When we send our children to school, we usually don't have to worry about whether we are putting them in the danger of violence.

Unfortunately, recent incidents of workplace deaths and school violence have shown that our assumptions of safety are often incorrect.

According to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA), 87 people died in Michigan in 1999 because of unsafe working conditions in programs that fall under the jurisdiction of MIOSHA. In 1998, the number of fatalities was 68. Each year, almost 300,000 workers are injured on the job in Michigan; across the country, that number is about 6.3 million.

Clearly, something is wrong. And while companies may be diligent in their efforts to create a safe environment, the numbers tell a different story. Obviously, not all of them are succeeding in those efforts. Currently, Michigan has about 73 MIOSHA inspectors.

There is state legislation in the works that would provide funding for the hiring of five additional general industry safety inspectors, five construction industry safety inspectors and five industrial hygienists within MIOSHA. Since its beginnings in 1975, the purpose of MIOSHA has been to ensure safe and healthful work environments free from recognized hazards to all Michigan employees. In order to realize this objective, MIOSHA requires that employers keep records of work?related fatalities, all occupational illnesses, and work?related injuries which result in loss of time, loss of consciousness, restriction of work or motion, transfer to another job, or medical treatment other than first aid.

School violence - With a classroom tragedy in our backyard, my House colleagues and I supported $500,000 in the state budget for the development of a curriculum that could be presented by police to students upon the request of a school district. This program will teach gun safety and will instruct students on what do if they see another child with a gun or find an unattended weapon.

The whole issue of guns is always a difficult one for the Legislature. However, guns are already present in our schools and around our kids. This language was a bipartisan effort to deal with that reality and take some proactive steps to address the problem.

My colleagues and I also supported language to add $100,000 to the state budget for the funding of an anti-violence hotline. The hotline would provide an anonymous mechanism by which youngsters could report imminent or suspected suspicious or other criminal conduct without fear of retaliation by their classmates. My caucus has been working on this effort since the Littleton, Colorado, incident. I'm glad it has finally come to fruition.

This is a busy time of year in the Legislature as both the House and the Senate are working on budgets and facing issues like the ones described above. My colleagues and I are always interested in your feedback, so if you have concerns or questions about the budget process or any other issue, call or E-mail us directly. If you are interested in what's been happening on various issues, be sure to check the House Democratic web site at


Contractor appreciates trades' work at Marathon

The following letter was sent to Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin, regarding work at the Marathon Ashland Alky 2000 Turnaround Project. Building trades representatives went through extensive talks with Marathon to make sure this project and future projects go union.

Dear Mr. Devlin,

As we enter the demobilization stage of this project, I finally have some time to reflect on the past four weeks and to convey some thoughts about the job in which we have all participated.

In my mind the cooperation shown by the Building Trades in general was better than I had expected. Any jurisdictional disputes (and there were few) that did arise were handled internally and quietly within our organization without distraction or disruption. This was an issue that Marathon expressed some concerns at the concept and watched very closely.

The safety record for this project was exceptional. Of the approximately 42,000 man-hours expended, we had a total of one OSHA-recordable incident. Although my goal was zero recordables, I am very proud of the effort made by all in keeping this workplace safe.

The skill and craftsmanship displayed on this job was for the most part good but not without its lumps. If there was an area needing improvement, it would be here. Shutdowns are complicated and fast-track jobs that require a lot of attention to detail. Unfortunately we did not have the time to fully comprehend all of our work scopes or the time to properly train the supervision. This was due in part to Marathon's late decision to award this work "union," unfamiliarity of the local work force with refinery projects, and a short learning curve, which is important on any project.

On a positive note…we never did reach our original man count, which means that our productivity rate overall was somewhere in the 1.2 range. A productivity rate this high is outstanding. My hat is off to all the Detroit Building Trades involved.

Another positive note is that Marathon has asked us to play a major role in the upcoming FCC Turnaround this fall, which now has a tentative start date of mid-October.

I wish to thank all of the local unions that participated in this project: Boilermakers 169, Pipe Fitters 636, Plumbers 98, Laborers 334, Operators 324, Teamsters 247 and Painters 22. I also wish to thank the Carpenters and Insulators who were not under our contract but worked with us and share our success.

Please convey my appreciation to all involved and share this letter.

Respectfully yours,
Michael D. Williams
Site Manager
RMF/Delta Industrial Services, Inc.


Aaron Mechanical's ex-employee list grows

Another major player has defected from the team of Hardhats working for Aaron Mechanical, one of the largest nonunion mechanical contractors in the state.

Kevin Steiner, Aaron's foreman and the only licensed plumber among six of the contractor's employees building the large Dearborn Civic Center, refused to cross a union picket line on the project last month, and then agreed to sign up with Plumbers Local 98. The next day he was earning $4 an hour more, with much better benefits, working for Michigan Mechanical.

"I feel that my move from Aaron Mechanical to Local 98 will provide my family with a higher standard of living," said Steiner, who had been considering joining the union for several months. "The health care benefits alone will help immensely with my five children. The retirement package will provide my family with a quality of living long after I have retired. (And) better working conditions and respect are all benefits of Local 98."

Steiner is not only an experienced foreman, he was the only instructor in Aaron's version of an apprenticeship school.

Union organizers have long tried to turn around Aaron Mechanical, which up to a few months ago employed about 85 workers in the field. A staunch affiliate of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Aaron management has consistently refused to allow unions to come into their shop.

"We welcome all capable nonunion journeymen with open arms," said Local 98 Business Manager Gary Young. "Most of the guys we have brought in in this fashion have turned out to be excellent journeymen who more than carry their weight in the field. We're constantly looking for this kind of worker."

A multi-craft employer, Aaron has also been targeted by organizers from the Asbestos Workers, Pipe Fitters, Plumbers, Sheet Metal Workers, and Sprinkler Fitters. Brighton-based Aaron bids on work in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint and Lansing. The aforementioned picket line was honored by all the crafts and for two days shut down the Dearborn Civic Center project, located at Michigan and Greenfield.

The union stripping campaign has worked "extremely well" said Local 98 Organizer Mark Bott, where attempts at negotiating a contract failed: in recent months, union efforts have helped whittle the company's field staff down to about 60.

In a stripping campaign, union organizers attempt to lure the most experienced workers away from nonunion shops, putting a crimp in their ability to bid for work, especially on larger jobs.

"We've had a lot of success with stripping," said Pipe Fitters Local 636 Business Manager Jim Lapham, who gave credit to the organizing efforts of 636 organizers/agents Joe Andrews and Greg Sievert. "We shut down Aaron's entire service department about nine months ago because we took all their guys. That really hurts the contractor until they scream uncle and want sit down and get an agreement with us."

Lapham said Local 636 has brought in more than 200 new members and signed 15-20 nonunion contractors in the last few years, although Aaron Mechanical still isn't one of them.

Aaron was bought out by Texas-based Comfort Systems a year ago, but their anti-union philosophy never changed. Organizers say Aaron employees have recently dealt with watching their profit-sharing checks dwindle, while wondering if the 20 percent co-pay on their health insurance will increase.

"It sounds like benefits over at Aaron Mechanical are week to week," Young said. "Our collectively bargained benefits are cast in concrete, and they last from contract to contract. In light of this situation with fluctuating benefits, we're just waiting for the next phone call from the next Aaron employee."



Painters' Cardwell tapped by International
Another Michigan man is going to work for his International Union.

B.J. Cardwell, business representative for Painters District Council 22, has been appointed "general organizer" by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

Cardwell, 43, became a painter in 1975 in Local 514. For the last three years, he has been business representative and director organizing for PDC 22. Since February 1998, Cardwell said the Painters District Council in Michigan has organized an average of three to five new contractors per month, resulting in cards being signed by about 700 new members.

Newly installed International President Mike Monroe noticed the results in Michigan under Cardwell, and approached him about extending his organizing talents nationwide.

"I feel great about going to the International Union," Cardwell said. "I'm looking forward to helping the Painters membership numbers grow in Michigan and in the rest of the country. I'm confident that the organizing successes we've had in Michigan will continue."

Cardwell starts his new job June 1, and his new duties will require him to roam the country.

"B.J. is a sponge, he learned quickly and he just has that gift," said Painters District Council 22 Secretary-Treasurer Robert Kennedy. "We have other people who will step up and get the job done, but we're going to miss B.J. around here."

In our last edition, we had Bob Pilarski's name right, but the wrong union affiliation in a photo caption. Bob is an International Representative with the Laborers Union. Sorry about that.

Noise standard falls on deaf ears, so far
Every year, 750,000 construction workers are regularly exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels or more, and OSHA's standard for noise protection for Hardhats doesn't kick in until 90 decibels.

However, in other industries, OSHA has a much lower tolerance for noise, and the agency gives employers a detailed list of hearing protection equipment for workers and has extensive bookkeeping requirements for noise exposure.

As is the case with the proposed new federal ergonomics standard (which ignores construction) and a proper sanitation standard which does not currently require portable toilets and handwashing facilities on all job sites, the lack of a proper standard for hearing is again giving building trades workers the short end of the stick when it comes to health and safety protections.

Alice Suter of Alice Suter and Associates, told an OSHA panel that OSHA has not effectively enforced the noise standard because there is not much of a standard to enforce. "It's just a bare-bones type of regulation," she told the Construction Labor Report.

OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress told the panel that he agrees with Suter's assessment and that the agency will start rulemaking this summer to revisit the construction noise standard.


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