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April 4, 2003
WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans had an opportunity to provide a little more help to the nation's laid-off workers. They failed miserably - and unanimously.
On March 25, an amendment to legislation that outlines federal budget spending would have extended Unemployment Insurance benefits by six months. The amendment failed along party lines, with 51 Republicans voting against it, 48 Democrats for it, and one Dem not voting.
The vote to deny added benefits came at a time when the war with Iraq is causing uncertainty in the markets, in the midst of a recession, and when the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 5.8 percent, compared to 3.8 percent in 2000.
"As a co-sponsor of this amendment," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, "I was very disappointed to see it defeated on a straight party-line vote. This vote clearly shows the differences in priorities. Democrats voted for working families facing extended unemployment. Republicans voted for tax cuts for predominantly upper income folks."
Michigan's junior senator, Debbie Stabenow, said jobless benefits were not extended even though this recession "has been far worse for unemployed Americans than the recession we experienced in the early 1990s." In contrast, she said a 1991 law extended benefits five times though April 30, 1994.
Stabenow called last month's Senate vote "a terrible
failure" that "does not address the needs of those
hurt most by this economic downturn."
A Michigan general contractor was held not liable for on-the-job injuries suffered by an employee of a subcontractor, in a case published Jan. 28.
The case involved an apprentice carpenter in Washtenaw County, who was severely injured during the construction of an office building. The subcontractor violated MIOSHA regulations when pre-constructed wall frames were improperly lifted into place by a forklift. As the wall was being lifted, a section broke away, severely injuring the apprentice.
The apprentice sued in circuit court against the general contractor and other parties, and won a $10 million judgement against the general contractor for failing to provide a safe workplace and negligently hiring a careless contractor.
The case was appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which barred enforcement of the order until review by the Court of Appeals. Upon review, the Construction Labor Report said, the appellate court ruled that as a general rule, a general contractor is not responsible for the work-related injuries suffered by a subcontractor's workers.
A general contractor may be held liable if it retained control over the work being done, if the work was inherently dangerous, or if it did not take reasonable precautions against "readily observable" risks in common work areas.
The appeals court dismissed the case against the general contractor, ruling that it had not retained control over the sub's work and that the raising and framing of the walls was not inherently dangerous.
"The implications are devastating for workers who are injured and killed on the job," said building trades attorney Doug Korney. "You would hope there would be a shared sense of responsibility, but this ruling allows unscrupulous general contractors to take a 'hear no evil, see no evil' attitude when it comes to safety. If a roofer falls through a hole in a roof, and the general contractor had turned a blind eye to the hazard, the court is saying the general is not liable for the death or injury.
"That's not right, but it's just part of a broad trend of conservative lawmakers putting conservative judges in Michigan courts. The trend is to limit liability for companies whenever they can."
By Marty Mulcahy
For more than a century, building trades workers have been the backbone of the customer base for Carhartt, a leading manufacturer of quality work clothes.
Now, Carhartt is returning the favor, making it a point to
employ union labor to build its 57,000-square foot headquarters
"So far so good," Shamery said. "Schedule-wise, the work is moving along fine. Our workers are doing a good job. I find that you can reduce the problems you have on the job with good communication."
Carhartt has been manufacturing work-wear since 1889. At the time, traveling salesman Hamilton Carhartt rode the trains, selling a number of products including overalls, which were a popular item among railroad workers. Taking note of the demand, he began a sideline business of manufacturing overalls, initially renting a 600-square-foot room and two sewing machines.
"I soon found out that I was up against it good and proper," Carhartt wrote. "I could not manufacture overalls and compete with sweat shop products. The first buyer I approached with my samples said he could buy overalls cheaper than I could steal them, and he came pretty near proving it. It made no difference to him what pay the workers who made the overalls he bought received, nor that the lifeblood of the gaunt workers was on every garment."
Carhartt wrote that he consulted with a railroad engineer on the Michigan Central Railroad between Detroit and Jackson, who said that if he made an overall "thus and so, railroad men would fall for them hard" since most of their overalls were individually built for them by hand.
Following that advice, Carhartt said his business then grew by "leaps and bounds." Today the company has continued the tradition of treating its employees well, and owns and operates 13 unionized manufacturing facilities and two unionized distribution centers , employing about 1,800.
"Over the years, Carhartt has made it a policy to hire union workers," said Carhartt representative Nancy Sheedy. "We try to have a good relationship with our workers, and union people support us by buying our clothes."
Carhartt's current headquarters are in the twin Parklane office towers in Dearborn, not far from where the new HQ is being erected at Mercury Drive north of Ford Rd. The company has been renting space for nearly 30 years, but their offices are on three different floors and in separate towers.
Shamery said the new building "is a pretty typical office building," with one minor exception. In the new building, plumbers are installing hook-ups for a laundry room, complete with a pair of Kenmore washers and dryers. Laundry rooms are certainly not common in office buildings, but Carhartt will use them to test clothing for durability, colorfastness and shrinkage.
As a goodwill gesture on the project, Carhartt has provided each construction worker with a new pair of pants and a winter jacket. Sheedy said their new headquarters is also providing Carhartt designers with a convenient "laboratory" for looking at the way construction workers wear their clothes. For example, she said the designers were surprised by the wide use of vests by construction workers during the winter - so marketing clothes that allow cold-weather flexibility might be in the company's future.
In recent weeks, Hardhats have been shedding their vests and winter jackets in the warmer weather as they go about erecting Carhartt's new building.
"It's going to be so much easier to work together in the new building," said Sheedy. "Plus we're doing more hiring, so we're going to need more space. We've been renting space for so long that it's just exciting to have a building of our own. It's been fun to look our of our windows and watch it being built."
Road and bridge construction spending in Michigan will hit a speed bump this year, as state and federal legislators look to cut government spending wherever possible
The state will be spending about $1.3 billion on road construction in 2003, down from the $1.5 billion that was spent in 2002 and the record $1.54 billion spend in 2001. Compared to some years in the 1990s, when road repairs were severely underfunded, this year's spending level is still robust.
To illustrate how much the state has increased its spending, Michigan only spent an average of $560 million per year on road repairs from 1994-1996.
"We're still doing a lot, but the money we have to spend has been affected by declining federal and state revenues," said Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stephanie Litaker.
To make the most of the money the state has to spend, new Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has launched a "Fix it First, Fix it Right" initiative. "The idea is that instead of spending money on new construction, we're going to direct our resources to preservation of what we have," Litaker said.
State highway money is released incrementally every month. Nearly $100 million in contracts was released in February. They're paying for projects that include: pavement repairs on US-131 in Grand Rapids and on I-94 near Jackson. Also in the package is reconstruction and streetscape improvements in downtown Perry on M-52 and the removal and construction of a bridge over Dead Creek in Frankenmuth Township.
"We are ready to get started; all we need now is cooperation
from Mother Nature," said State Transportation Director
Gloria J. Jeff.
By Marty Mulcahy
Painters District Council 22 held an open house at its new union hall and training center on March 19, and the building's layout said a great deal about the union's plans for the future.
"Eighty five percent of the building is dedicated to training," said International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) President James Williams, who was on hand for the dedication of the building. "That's appropriate. That's the direction we want to take. This is an A-plus facility, but it doesn't make any sense to build it unless our apprentices use it to full advantage and our journeymen take part in upgrade training."
Newly constructed in Warren west of Grosbeck and just north of I-696, the 25,300-square-foot facility includes office space for business agents and staff, a union meeting hall, and training areas for the four major crafts of PDC 22: painters, drywall finishers, glaziers and glass workers and sign pictorial and display workers.
The building has been occupied by the painters and allied trades since December, and gives them about four times more room than they had in the buildings they moved out of, two cramped and outdated buildings in Hazel Park - a union hall and training center.
"With the help of our members and our contractors, we built this facility from the ground up, and I think it turned our pretty well," said PDC 22 Secretary-Treasurer Robert Kennedy. "We love it. It's a great facility to do business in and it's something our members can be proud of."
A good economy in the 1990s and the paid-off status of their buildings in Hazel Park allowed Painters District Council 22 to pay $2.5 million in cash for the construction of the new building.
"It's a beautiful and impressive facility, and I'd say it's a little bit overdue," said Nick Atsalis, owner of Atsalis Brothers Painting. "This building is excellent for the industry because it provides the space that's necessary for training, and it can generate enthusiasm for the painting field."
Warren Mayor Mark Steenburgh, who attended the open house, told attendees that among the building trades, the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, IBEW and Millwrights have also chosen to locate facilities in Warren.
"I'm proud that another building trades union has once again decided to locate in our city," Steenburgh said. "This training center and the great neighborhoods of the city were built by workers making good wages who could look forward to a good future."
Williams said the commitment of contractors and the IUPAT to training is evident nationwide, as he has attended the grand opening of three union hall and training facilities this year alone. He said the IUPAT spends about $4.5 million a year on training more than 300 instructors every year, who in turn impart their knowledge on about 13,000 painter and allied trades apprentices across the nation. This year, the international union recently announced that it will contribute $100 to each local union for each apprentice that is currently enrolled.
"All that money we spend is so that we can provide the
best qualified workforce for our contractors," Williams
said. "We want to get paid the best, and to be the best,
we have to have the best training."
U.S. trade union population takes a hit
The 2002 percentage translates into 1,184,000 million unionized construction workers in the U.S.
"The union membership rate has steadily declined from a high of 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available," the BLS said, although the statement wasn't quite accurate. Prior to 2002, construction union membership had gained in five out of six years.
Still, construction remains one of the most highly unionized job sectors, trailing only the transportation and public utility industries.
Robert Gasperow, executive director of the Construction Labor Research Council, told the Construction Labor Report that the drop in union representation rates come as no surprise. He said the boom in residential construction - which now accounts for an astounding 40 percent of all construction - largely benefited nonunion workers. In the meantime, industrial construction, which employs more union workers, dropped 40 percent last year.
Carl Shaffer, director of organizing for the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, told the Construction Labor Report that "clearly our actions have not matched our rhetoric." He said to reverse the decline, unions need to do a better job of involving members in organizing and coordinating organizing efforts among unions.
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO released its membership numbers on Feb. 26, and the federation showed a decline of 72,788 members, or about a half-percent, in 2002. There are now 13,181,282 union members in the federation. These numbers are slightly different from BLS numbers, which include both affiliates of the AFL-CIO and those who aren't.
The Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers had the fourth-highest growth totals among all AFL-CIO affiliated unions, gaining 20,991 workers in 2002.
Coors boycott ends after settlement
"No one is pleased with the contract, but six months is a long time to have your livelihood taken away from you, and we clearly understand why our members voted for it," said Bill Gibbons, vice president of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE).
The union said it would remain vigilant to see that individual workers are not harmed by the onerous provisions that the company imposed on the workers under the new five-year contract. The company locked the workers out even before their old contract expired. Workers had refused to yield to company demands for mandatory work for up to seven days a week--including every holiday except Christmas--and for up to 16 hours a day.
Given that the brewer Coors controls Graphic Packaging - it owns 41 percent of the common stock and all of the preferred stock - PACE and the AFL-CIO targeted Coors for a boycott, which has ended.