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April 29, 2005

Sweeney to building trades: right to organize, filibuster top 2004 legislative agenda

'ABC programs do not work' - Study points out lousy nonunion training record

Landmark St. Hugo carillon a delight for the eyes and ears

Public, Dems support hike in minimum wage; GOP won't budge

'Jobs Today' bill features many jobs aimed at construction

When smart people do stupid things

Blink and you might miss NMU's Magers Hall renovation

News Briefs


Sweeney to building trades: right to organize, filibuster top 2004 legislative agenda

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Campaigning for the right to organize and preserving the rights of minorities to impact legislation - by preserving filibusters - were AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney's top two legislative priorities in mid-April.

Speaking April 18 to the Building Trades Department legislative conference in Washington, Sweeney and other speakers put great emphasis on the filibuster rule, which the Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-Tenn.) wants to change.

Frist says he would virtually eliminate filibusters - the right of senators to talk for unlimited time, unless shut off by a three-fifths majority - only on judgeship nominations. Sweeney and the others said it could extend to worker-related issues.

Sweeney also urged the 3,000 delegates to lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act, a major revision of labor law that would level the playing field for workers vis-à-vis employers. "Tell lawmakers that voting 'no' is not an option" on the bill, elevating it in terms of future labor political backing, he said.

EFCA would ban captive audience meetings, increase union access, impose heavy penalties on labor law-breakers and mandate binding arbitration if the company and the union reach an impasse on a first contract, among other revisions. But the GOP-run Congress is not expected to consider it.

The measure "would guarantee freedom to join unions without harassment, intimidation and coercion by employers," Sweeney added. "This the most dramatic demonstration of the linkage between politics and organizing," he pointed out.

The filibuster mess has turned into a heated D.C. lobbying battle because last year Senate Democrats blocked GOP President Bush's nomination of 10 Right Wing appellate judges, while approving 205 other federal judges. Now Frist wants to end such blockages by banning the talk-a-thons.

"We face an all-out attack by the most anti-worker administration in history," and the filibuster battle is part of that, Sweeney said. "It's a move by the Republicans to trample roughshod over the rights of the minority. We need to oppose this because they're stacking the courts with Right Wing judges.

"If it (the filibuster) goes away on judges, it soon goes away on everything," he warned the delegates.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took a similar tack, even though his predecessor, South Dakotan Thomas Daschle, lost his re-election bid last year partly because of the Democratic use of the filibusters against Bush's judges:

"This is their attempt to make it impossible for us to speak for the people who sent us here. This is about protecting the Constitution. If they get their way, the Senate will become a rubber stamp for the president, for anything the Right Wing wants - not just judges, but Social Security or anything else."


Other legislative priorities speakers from both parties discussed included preserving Social Security, protecting multi-employer pension plans - many of which are in the construction industry - and preserving the Davis-Bacon Act while finally passing the $284 billion 6-year highway-mass transit bill.

"I've had discussions with the White House and with (Republican National Chairman) Ken Mehlman," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), co-chair of the GOP Labor Caucus. "He's assured me the president understands the importance of this highway bill having full Davis-Bacon protections, and I'll take him at his word."

Sweeney and Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan both discussed the ongoing debate over revamping the labor movement, and alluded to - but not by name - Service Employees President Andrew Stern's demands, as part of it, for forced union mergers. The Building Trades strongly oppose that.

"We must make changes with respect to our tradition of democracy," Sweeney said. "We are not a corporation and do not dictate to our members from the top down."

Sullivan said, "Our detractors predict our divisions will lead to implosion" of the labor movement. They're wrong. Political action without organizing will leave us with a shrinking base, and organizing without political action will leave organizers vulnerable."

But some of the changes are already in motion. Teamsters President James Hoffa - a BCTD vice president - said after the session the AFL-CIO is already being streamlined, with 100 staffers being let go. He also said his group, which Stern first led and he now leads, is picking up support for its revamp plan to rebate half of any union's AFL-CIO dues if the union creates a strategic organizing plan.


'ABC programs do not work' - Study points out lousy nonunion training record

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO on April 11 released the final report in an extensive two-year study of apprenticeship programs sponsored by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

And for the anti-union ABC, the results aren't pretty - less than a third of those workers who entered ABC apprenticeship programs graduated during the period 1995-2003.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Labor and state apprenticeship agencies, the report examines every ABC-sponsored apprenticeship program in the country, and every apprentice that was registered in these programs during that period.

The report found that of the 24,663 apprentices who registered in all ABC sponsored programs (except Hawaii) between 1995 and 1999, only 7,154 graduated by 2003, for an overall ABC graduation rate of only 29%.

"For several years we have repeatedly urged the Department of Labor to take action concerning these programs, with no response," stated Building Trades Department President Edward C. Sullivan. "We must conclude that even in the face of concrete facts, the Department of Labor has chosen to please its political friends rather than remedy a broken system."

The ABC designated President Bush their "man of the year" before the 2004 election and is a major campaign contributor to the president.

The report reveals that only six of the ABC's 80 local chapters in the U.S. sponsored an apprenticeship program that graduated more than half of its apprentices. In addition, 25 chapters had graduation rates below 25 percent - with many significantly below that mark. Another 20 ABC chapters either failed to sponsor a program or failed to enroll apprentices in the program it did sponsor.

The Associated Builders and Contractors - essentially the arch-enemy of construction trade unions - claims that "tens of thousands of construction apprentices train annually through ABC-registered apprenticeship programs." That's technically true, but they say nothing about how many of those apprentices graduate. They also have claimed the ABC is "the world leader in apprenticeship and craft training in the merit shop construction industry" - which isn't saying much.

There are two federal comparisons of union apprenticeship graduation numbers. A U.S. Department of Labor study, written by the independent Westat Group, found that for the class of 1995, multi-employer union programs graduated 59% of their apprentices

And from 1997 to 2001, Labor Department numbers indicate the union apprenticeship programs in 36 states that participate in its database graduated 75 percent of enrollees, or 45,580 apprentices.

The performance of specific ABC apprenticeship programs illustrates the scope of the problem:

  • The apprentice graduation vs. enrollment ratio for Michigan's five ABC chapters overall outperformed the national average, but it was still only 31 percent overall ABC's Central Michigan Chapter's graduation rate was the highest in the state, with 47 percent, followed by Northern Michigan (30 percent), Southeast Michigan (29 percent), Western Michigan (29 percent) and the Saginaw Valley Chapter (27 percent). What's really astounding is the scant total number of graduating Michigan ABC apprentices in the boom years of 1995-1999: 562. By far, the ABC's Western Michigan Chapter had the highest number of apprenticeship graduates during that period, 413. The next closest chapter was in Central Michigan, with 62 grads.
  • Only 18 of the 331 apprentices who enrolled in the New Orleans Bayou ABC chapter program between 1995 and 1999 graduated - a 5 percent graduation rate.
  • Only 37 of the 515 apprentices who enrolled in the Greater Houston ABC chapter program between 1995 and 1999 graduated; a 7 percent graduation rate. Houston is an ABC hotbed.
  • Only 178 of the 1,175 apprentices that enrolled in the Arkansas ABC chapter program between 1995 and 1999 graduated; or only 15 percent.

In addition, a number of ABC chapters have listed individual apprentices as active long after they had been scheduled to graduate. For example, of the 667 apprentices that enrolled in the Ohio Valley ABC apprenticeship program between 1995 and 1999, 233 of them (or 35 percent) were still listed as active in spring 2004.

"Building and construction trades unions take pride in the fact that we invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually to ensure the highest standards of skills training in every craft," Sullivan said. "It is deplorable that other programs are allowed to fall so far short."

Why should the federal government and the industry care about the ABC's lousy apprenticeship training record?

A huge demographic shift is expected over the next decade, with thousands of Hardhat retirements expected. The U.S. Department of Labor has standards for apprenticeship training, and union programs nearly always provide the model for how to train construction workers.

Substandard training and lack of oversight by the DOL brings down training standards in the construction industry - and further tilts the playing ground in favor of nonunion contractors, who skimp on employee training.

Discussing the report at the Building Trades Department legislative conference on April 18, Sullivan demanded DOL investigate the poor performance of the non-union contractors' apprenticeship programs. DOL certifies apprentice-training programs.

The building trades issued a preliminary report on ABC training in November 2003, but the DOL has failed to act.

"It proves what we've known all along: The ABC programs do not work," Sullivan said.


Landmark St. Hugo carillon a delight for the eyes and ears

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Question: What do you call a structure that's 10 stories tall, has no bathroom or elevator, with the only interior spaces being two closet-sized rooms?

Hint: At the very top are 48 bells of various sizes, which will be able to gong melodies that old-time bell-ringers could only dream of playing.

Answer: It's a one-of-a-kind carillon tower, and construction of the structure at St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church in Bloomfield Hills is nearing completion. Doing the work are building trades union workers, general contractor Barton-Malow and its subcontractors.

"I'll tell ya, when we this started I didn't know a thing about bells," said Jerry Slusarski, project superintendent for Barton-Malow, which is overseeing the construction. "I still don't. But as for the tower, I think it's beautiful. Passers-by stop and talk to us and you can tell they've become more impressed as we've gone higher with the exterior masonry. It's a very impressive structure."

St. Hugo of the Hills' pastor, Monsignor Anthony Tocco, said he had his doubts about the varying colors in the tower's masonry panels in the project's early stages. "But they blended into each other beautifully," he said.

The tower is clad with more than 1,600 pieces of Mankato Kasota limestone from Minnesota. The masonry panels, attached with stainless steel clips to an iron frame, were chosen to match the rest of the church. The project began in July and completion is expected in mid-June. Stone masons have worked through the winter, wrestling with limestone panels that weigh an average of 150 lbs.

"This hasn't been an easy job," said Dennis Van Steenis of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, working as project superintendent for mason contractor Chezcore. "The tower is set up on a hill, and it gets windy and cold up there."

He added, "the stones have been custom fit all the way up, but it has come together nicely."

The carillon tower, or course, would be nothing without the bells and the system that controls them. Installed by a company from the Netherlands called Royal Eijsbouts Dutch Bellfounders and Tower Clock Makers, the intricate system can be operated manually from a keyboard in the tower's small control room - the "cabin" - about 60 feet up. An interior iron spiral staircase provides the only access to that room and the top of the tower.

The carillon system can also be programmed to play predetermined music at certain times. And in today's wired world, we shouldn't be surprised that the system can be controlled via telephone. A phone call from the Netherlands or anywhere else - plus knowledge of the access code - can have the St. Hugo of the Hills carillon ringing out "Ave Maria" or any number of hymms in a matter of seconds.

The carillon system has already been tested, with parishioners hearing programmed Christmas music from the bells before and after masses at the church last Dec. 24-25.

"It sounded fabulous," said Monsignor Tocco. "I love the carillon tower, and the parishioners are delighted. When the bells ring, they smile. I was worried about the reaction of the neighbors, but the only complaints I've heard is that they haven't been able to hear the bells."

Slusarski said that while the carillon tower structure has a minimal amount of wiring and mechanical fixtures, the wiring for the bells "is very complex."

When St. Hugo's new complex was built in 1988, a planned carillon tower was cancelled due to budget constraints. Today, the entire cost of the $2.1 million carillon tower is being paid for by a contribution from a St. Hugo parishioner, Wilda King Tiffany, who died in July - just as the project was starting. She was cremated and her ashes will be placed on a small "columbarium nitch" in the tower.

The parish will hold a dedication ceremony when the tower is complete. "The people who worked on the tower should be proud of their work," said Monsignor Tocco. "They've done a beautiful job."

SURROUNDED BY BELLS in the carillon tower are (l-r) Dennis Van Steenis of BAC Local 1 and Chezcore and Jerry Slusarski, project superintendent for Barton-Malow.

THE 110-FOOT- tall carillon tower at St. Hugo of the Hills Roman Catholic Church in Bloomfield Hills.


Public, Dems support hike in minimum wage; GOP won't budge

By a nearly 3-1 margin, Michigan voters expressed support for Democratic legislation to increase the state's minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.15 per hour, according to a March poll commissioned by Inside Michigan Politics.

"Raising the minimum wage is about fairness and restoring a basic standard of living to more than 460,000 people who work in some of the hardest jobs in Michigan," said House Democratic Leader Dianne Byrum. "Michigan voters recognize that. We're truly encouraged by their strong support on this issue and we'll keep fighting for Michigan's working families."

During the survey, respondents were told that the minimum wage hasn't been raised since 1997. They were also read claims by opponents who say approving the raise would "hurt our economy further."

The poll of 600 registered voters showed 70 percent of respondents support the raise to $7.15 per hour: 54 percent said they strongly support a raise, 16 percent said they "somewhat support" an increase. A higher minimum was opposed by 24 percent of respondents.

The Dems' proposal would also provide for automatic cost of living increases to the minimum wage so that "we won't have to have this fight every few years," said the Michigan AFL-CIO. Michigan Republicans, who control both houses of the state legislature, have refused to act on the minimum wage bills.


'Jobs Today' bill features many jobs aimed at construction

LANSING - Gov. Jennifer Granholm last week called for immediate legislative action on a new jobs package which is expected to be a boon to the building trades.

"The Jobs Today Initiative is designed to put thousands of Michigan residents to work right now," said Granholm. "The infusion of public and private investment in Michigan over the next three years will jump-start the state's economy and have dust flying at construction sites all across the state. This legislation cannot wait."

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Allow expanded use of local Downtown Development Authorities and Tax Increment Expansion Zones to make physical improvements or enhance economic developments.
  • Convert the School Bond Loan Fund to a self-sustaining, revolving fund. School districts that have long overdue construction and renovation projects could obtain zero interest loans for five years from the fund to help finance construction projects. A total of $500 million in qualified bonds would be available to districts for these projects.
  • Amend the State Building Authority Act to allow financing of special maintenance projects at Michigan's universities and community colleges, which will create thousands of jobs and improve campus facilities.
  • The 2005 budget agreement between Granholm and lawmakers paved the way for many of the accelerated projects to begin this construction season. As part of the agreement, legislative approval was given to the $38 million in pollution cleanup projects as well as $220 million in projects to upgrade universities and community colleges. In addition, Granholm said $400 million in accelerated road projects will also begin this year.

Senate Bill 235, which authorizes accelerated construction projects, has been adopted by the Legislature and is awaiting the Governor's signature.

The governor said several components of the Jobs Today Initiative, which required only administrative action or new incentives to spur private investment, are already in place in several areas:

  • Renovating higher education and state facilities;
  • Building additional affordable housing projects;
  • Renovating aging long-term care facilities.

Construction workers may take exception with the rebuttal to Granholm's plan offered by Nate Bailey, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, who told The Detroit News: "A lot of these jobs are short-term. Does anyone think road construction projects are the long-term solution to Michigan's economy? This only proves she does not have any idea to get us back on track."

Granholm said: "Every piece of Jobs Today offers a win-win scenario. Not only will each put people to work, these projects also make Michigan more attractive to current and future job providers. The Legislature needs to act on these items with the same sense of urgency that every man and woman searching for a job feels today."

A bevy of Democratic legislators co-sponsored the bills.


When smart people do stupid things

By Scott Schneider
Director, Occupational Safety and Health
Laborers International Union

Every day we hear about people getting killed on construction sites (currently about four per day in the U.S.). Many more are seriously injured.

When you read the stories in the paper or the accident investigation reports, many times it makes you wonder, why were they doing what they were doing at the time of the injury or fatality?

In hindsight, it seems as if they were taking unnecessary risks and deliberately placing their lives in danger. But does that really make sense? Most people don't have a death wish. They don't really want to get killed or seriously hurt. So why would workers do these things?

One possibility is that they are careless.

For younger workers, they may not really understand the danger or risks.

For older workers, they may be habituated to the risks or underestimate them because of familiarity or overconfidence.

If they work unsafely yet don't get hurt, they come to believe that it "won't happen to me" - that because of their experience they can continue to work unsafely and not get hurt. But it only takes one time for a serious injury to happen, often just a few seconds. Something unanticipated or extraordinary may happen, and a finger is cut off, an eye blinded or a back injured.

Sometimes the risks may be hidden or difficult to judge. For example, years of exposure to high noise levels can result in hearing loss, a common problem for laborers. Yet how much is too much? When is it at a dangerous level? How long could exposure occur before it is harmful? Without measurements, it is hard to tell.

Workers are sometimes under pressure to cut corners, and the risks may seem small. For example, workers may be asked to go into an un-shored trench for a minor job because "it will only take a few minutes, and it would take hours to get a trench box in place." Yet, an un-shored trench could collapse in less than a second.

Often workers are asked to carry too much weight by themselves because it would take too long to get a cart or dolly to move it or find someone else to help. This is one reason back injuries are the No. 1 injury in construction, and the most costly.

Training can help but will not prevent all these incidents. It is necessary but not sufficient.

What can be done?

People are human and will always make mistakes or misjudge situations. We can reduce that through training and experience, but never eliminate it.

Other solutions include:

  • Constant efforts to correct all unsafe conditions - people can't work safely in an unsafe environment.
  • Adoption of engineering solutions so that people cannot get hurt or make mistakes. For instance, the new J-4 Flagger Station allows flaggers to do their job at a distance from oncoming traffic.
  • Making mistakes easily correctable and non-serious - when people do make mistakes, the error should be obvious and correctable before something bad happens. A ladder level is a good example.
  • Creating good habits through high expectations - good work practices are expected and part of the culture so that workers wouldn't think of doing something the wrong way (this is how hardhats and seat belts became a way of life). People should speak up when unsafe work occurs and not let it slide.
  • Making safety a priority - many people think safety will slow the job down, but companies that make safety a priority find that it increases productivity because jobs are better planned and safer.
  • Making sure older workers set a good example for younger ones - younger workers look up to and learn from more experienced ones; if the older workers are doing it the wrong way, so will the younger ones.
  • Making the risks and the consequences more real for workers - while it may be unlikely someone will get hurt, workers need a clear picture of what could happen if they do. What if they hurt their back and are out of work for weeks or months? How would that affect their family, income and ability to work? Real stories of workers who have been hurt and suffered can help others understand that it is not worth the risks to work unsafely.
  • Making safety easy - if it takes too long to work safely or it is too complicated or difficult, people will naturally try to cut corners.


Blink and you might miss NMU's Magers Hall renovation

MARQUETTE - The Magers Hall renovation at Northern Michigan University isn't the largest, most complex, or architecturally significant renovation to take place on campus.

But it is the fastest.

Three prime contractors and the building trades are in the process of renovating the 50-year-old office building into a modern dormitory. Northern Michigan wants the job done in three months - in what amounts to a construction experiment to determine if residence halls in the future can be renovated quickly enough not to impact students during a major portion of the academic year.

"That is a very aggressive approach to a project of this magnitude, but we wanted to finish it over the summer so that we wouldn't have to take a building off line for a whole year," said Art Gischia, NMU's director of purchasing.

Hardhats, along with prime contractors Clossner Construction, Gressler Mechanical and S & T Electric, are working two shifts to renovate the 60,000-square-foot residence hall. The university is also employing the three different prime contractors "In order to have better control of the scheduling," Gischia said. This $6.1 million project is the first of eight residence hall renovation jobs that are planned on campus.

There are currently about 50 trades workers on the project during the day shift, and 10 at night - but those numbers fluctuate," said Mike Hebert, project superintendent for Clossner.

"There's a lot going on and the pace is extremely difficult," he said. "There are two different foremen for two different crews, and the trades are kind of stacked up right behind each other. But all in all I have to say, things are going pretty well."

THE ONGOING Magers Hall dorm renovation project at Northern Michigan University highlights is an example an accelerated state-sponsored construction project.

OPERATING ENGINEERS Local 324 member Jerry Bell works at the NMU Magers Hall job.
Photos by Jerry Bielicki


News Briefs
Volunteers sought for Habitat blitz

Habitat for Humanity and the Jimmy Carter Work Project are conducting a 30-home building blitz in Macomb County. Volunteers are being sought to install gas and water piping and to set fixtures. Pipe installation can begin prior to the "official" work-day on Sunday, June 19. On Thursday, June 23, the fixtures are scheduled to be set. Habitat officials say that volunteers can begin to work in the basements after June 11.

Pipe trades workers are being sought to volunteer with the sub-assembly of plumbing for single bathroom ranch houses. Gas pipe can also be pre-assembled. Several dates and times are available. To volunteer, please call Molly Forward at the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors of Detroit, (313) 341-7661, ext. 204.

Union label site helps you shop
Looking to buy union - or not buy nonunion?

In order to help consumers become better informed about how they spend their money, the AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department sponsors a website,, which acts as a clearinghouse for "do-buy" and boycott lists.

School candidates endorsed for May 3
The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council's Political Action Committee have a short list of endorsements for the Tuesday, May 3, 2005 school elections:

*Brighton Area Board of Education - Endorsed is Joe Carney, a 35-year member if IBEW Local 58.

*Warren Consolidated School District - Endorsed are Warren Consolidated Board of Education candidates Elaine Jankowski-Arnold and Chris Arnold. Chris is a member of Roofers Local 149 and Elaine is his mother. Both have pledged to support prevailing wage in the community, prevent outsourcing, and support the labor movement.

Hunter safety program scheduled
The 9th annual Hunter Safety Program hosted by state Sen. Deborah Cherry in conjunction with the Flint Area Building Trades is scheduled in May.

Two classroom lessons will be held, on Monday, May 9 and Wednesday, May 11, from 6-9:30 p.m. at Grand Blanc High School (auditorium), 12500 Holly Rd.

A shooting range lesson will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 21 at the Grand Blanc Huntsman's Club, 9046 Irish Rd. in Grand Blanc. Free refreshments follow.

This is a free Michigan DNR-certified program, and all supplies and safety equipment will be provided. Gifts will be provided to all program graduates.

To register, go online to and click on "hunter safety program," or call (866) 305-2126.

Tradesman wins 3 labor press awards
The Building Tradesman Newspaper won three first-place awards in the annual Michigan Labor Press Publication Contest earlier this month.

The contest was held in conjunction with the MLP's annual convention, which took place this year in Detroit. The Building Tradesman won top honors for General Excellence- Tabloid, Best Feature Story and Best Editorial.

Established in 1952, The Building Tradesman is one of the oldest and largest union publications in the nation, with a circulation of more than 48,000.


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