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April 29, 2005
By Mark Gruenberg
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.
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
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:
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.
By Marty Mulcahy
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?
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."
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.
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:
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:
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.
By Scott Schneider
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:
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."
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
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, www.unionlabel.org, which acts as a clearinghouse for "do-buy" and boycott lists.
School candidates endorsed for May 3
*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
Hunter safety program scheduled
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 www.senate.mi.gov/cherry and click on "hunter safety program," or call (866) 305-2126.
Tradesman wins 3 labor press awards
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.