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April 4, 2008

Lots of energy at building trades conference

Billions in utility construction hinge on repeal of state law

New BT president stresses worker accountability

You're a union Hardhat: define yourself

Progressive, labor groups to Spend at least $150m on election

From oldest to newest, Bell Hospital makes modern movement

News Briefs

 

Lots of energy at building trades conference

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - Politics and power dominated the conversation at the 49th legislative conference of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

Held March 19-20, the conference emphasized the importance of electrical production to the future of Michigan - and to the employment fortunes of the building trades. Hosting the conference were council CEO Patrick Devlin and President Patrick "Shorty" Gleason.

Convention delegates learned about what's on the agenda for building the infrastructure in Michigan to take advantage of the power produced by sources like solar, wind, bio-fuels, and the old standby, coal. They also learned about the need to dump Public Act 141, as well as the political landscape in Lansing and Washington D.C.

Following are some snippets from the various speakers:

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm: "We want to partner with you to create a pipeline of skilled workers.

"We are uniquely positioned to be able to create a whole new sector of Michigan's economy to replace those lost manufacturing jobs. There's been a lot of talk about alternative energy, manufacturing wind turbines, installing those turbines, hooking them up to the grid. But in addition to that, the energy efficiency package (part of the proposed state law revamping Public Act 141) rewards the installation of efficient equipment. There's a whole sector of the economy, both in commercial and residential that can be created.

"We are the largest producer in the world of polycrystalline silicate, (at Dow Corning) the stuff that goes into solar panels.

"We are uniquely positioned, because of our geology with the water, the wind, the woods up north, and the conversion of waste wood into fuel.

"I'm really focused on diversifying this economy, and alternative energy is one way to do that. The other is through education. In this new world, a high school education isn't going to be enough. The trades have very sophisticated jobs, and we want to partner with you to create a pipeline of skilled trades workers. You in the building trades have fantastic training programs around the state.

"Part of the immediate strategy is an economic stimulus program of $1.4 billion worth of accelerated construction projects around the state, for construction in universities and on roads across the state. We want to shovels in the ground and we want to see dirt flying both this summer and next summer.

"We have a short-term, medium term and long-term strategy to move this state forward. We know that we've been in recession since 2000 essentially and have lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs due to the shift of manufacturing in this global economy.

"That's why we need a partner in the White House for working people, who will enforce these trade agreements, somebody who will help us diversify our economy. This election will be really critical for us.

"You have partner in us, whether it's in prevailing wage or eliminating the underground economy with the use of 1099s and making sure we're hiring Michigan people first."

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow: "Hopefully come January with a new president we will have someone who understands the needs of the middle class in this country about jobs in this country and about what we need to do for our families.

"Democrats have the slimmest majority in the Senate, 51-49. But with Democrats having the majority in Congress, it has made a difference.

"Last June, something called Fast Track Authority was up for renewal. It would allow the president to continue to make bad trade deals with very little ability for Congress to stop it. The Democrats said "no' and now there's no more Fast Track. It's done. We did not extend it.

"We have a very different set of priorities than the Republicans.

"Democrats want to invest in Michigan jobs. First, green collar jobs in the green economy. My initiative to focus on things like batteries, for hybrids, and battery storage for wind turbines. Biofuels, job training, retooling older plants, then a block grant program to focus on weatherization and energy saving construction jobs.

"Second, as I call it, is jobs for building America. Just drive down any road, bridges, water schools - we need a major investment in rebuilding America. For every billion we spend on infrastructure, we get 47,500 jobs. Third, job training and education.

"It's a very different set of priorities. We stopped Fast Track that created unfair trade agreements, we stopped the president from taking away Davis Bacon and the minimum wage. It makes a difference who you put into office."

Michigan Speaker of the House Andy Dillon: "The energy package you've been following is my number one priority. I wish it were done by now. It's very complicated.

"This problem is emblematic of what's going on in Washington. Sound byte wars, the partisan bickering. It's very easy to say utility competition is good. But if you listen to what the experts are saying who don't have a dog in the fight, competition in the utility market doesn't work.

"If you go to investors and say we want to build a new power plant, and say 'by the way we don't have any customers locked in,' they're going to say we're not going to finance that. It's a broken model.

"If you look at states that have experimented with deregulation in the last six years, their electrical rates have gone up 40 percent. States that haven't have gone up 20 percent

"You have to win the hearts and minds of the legislators and overcome the perception that competition in every sector of the economy is the way to go.

"We're very close to having a package ready, we're very close to having the Michigan manufacturers and the chamber (the Michigan Chamber of Commerce) on board. I'm reasonably confident we'll have this out of the House in a month or so."

Dillon said the state budget is "nowhere near as bad as last year" and is currently short by about $100 million to $200 million to being balanced this year. He said the Lansing legislature has very limited ability to improve the state's economy, but that construction spending is one of the best ways it can help.

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council CEO Patrick Devlin: "One of the things we're working with the state right now is Executive Order 2008-1, which will help us fight employers from misclassifying workers.

"In the last month, we worked with Michigan State University Trustees to get them to approve responsible contracting and Project Labor Agreement language for work done on campus.

"We're actively lobbying to reverse Public Act 141, which would make the state's regulatory environment more favorable for building new power plants. It would make our state an exporter, rather than an importer of power, and provide us with millions of man-hours of powerhouse work.

"We're also pushing for the passage of the Michigan First Bill, which would give owners and developers tax incentives for using Michigan-based contractors. This proposed legislation has moved us into valuable partnerships with big owners in Michigan - and having those relationships can't help but be a benefit in the future."

DELEGATES TO THE Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's 49th Legislative Conference in Lansing's Radisson Hotel.

DELEGATES TO THE Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's 49th Legislative Conference in Lansing's Radisson Hotel.

 

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Billions in utility construction hinge on repeal of state law

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Adopted in 2000, Public Act 141, The Electric Restructuring Act, partially deregulated Michigan's electrical industry.

The act was supposed to lead to enhanced competition, greater choice and lower costs for Michigan's residential and business utility customers.

Instead, only about 3 percent of Michigan's residential customers have taken advantage of electric choice, energy costs haven't gone down, and the alternative utility suppliers have been allowed to "cherry pick" profitable commercial and industrial customers from traditional utilities.

The lack of a dependable customer base has led to uncertainty for Michigan's traditional utilities - Consumers Energy and DTE Energy - who have said they are putting a pause on the construction of at least two baseload power plants until P.A. 141 is replaced with a more competition-friendly legislation package that would mostly re-regulate Michigan's utilities.

"Repeal of Public Act 141 is a jobs bill for you," said DTE Energy Vice President Ron May to delegates to the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council legislative conference.

Echoed Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to the same delegates: "Passing this package of bills is the single quickest way for us to create construction jobs in this state. "There's a whole sector of the economy that can be created. The jobs are coming somewhere - and they will choose Michigan if we have the right policy in place."

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council is part of the "Protect Michigan" coalition, which is seeking passage of House Bill 5521. The bill would partially re-regulate certain private utilities, provide for alternative energy suppliers and encourage use of resource recovery facilities. Most importantly, passage of the bill would clear the way for billions of dollars in Michigan-based power plant construction.

Granholm said there's some $6 billion in baseload construction on the horizon that's awaiting reversal of PA 141. Last fall Consumers Energy announced that if state law is changed, it would construct a new $1.5 billion coal-burning plant, and possibly a second unit, at its Karn-Weadock plant near Bay City. And, Detroit Edison has started work on preparing a license application for a new nuclear plant at the existing Fermi site near Monroe.

Jim Beaubien of Protect Michigan, who serves as president of IBEW Local 17, told building trades delegates that "if we do nothing we are going to be way worse off and no plants are going to be built." He's a strong advocate of the plan to replace Public Act 141, which limits, but doesn't eliminate, customer choice.

"This plan restricts customer choice to 10 percent, and that's a good start because it takes care of 90 percent of the problem," Beaubien told delegates. "It gives Wall Street some assurance that these utilities are going to have a customer base and a revenue stream to be able to build a power plant."

Overturning P.A. 141 won't be easy. A Consumers Energy lobbyist told building trades delegates that there's a "small but vocal minority" who oppose doing away with the state law.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is part of that opposition. He told the Bay City Times that repealing P.A. 141 would discourage manufacturers from building in Michigan because they won't be able to shop for low energy costs. "It's not only anti-competitive, it's anti-consumer," he said.

Whatever happens with the state law, Beaubien pointed out that Michigan's energy consumption is continuing to rise - during the past five years, despite our massive job losses, electrical demand in our state has risen 8 percent. The state's 21st Century Energy plan estimates peak electrical demand of Michigan consumers will rise 1.2 percent each year.

Increasingly, Beaubien said, our state will be relying on out-of-state, non-regulated providers for power, at rates that are at the whim of the marketplace. Private electricity suppliers, Beaubien said, "want us at some point to rely on them when they can command a premium price."

Beaubien said during the early part of this decade, some 4,000 megawatts of new generating capacity (mostly fired by natural gas) were built in Michigan, but much of that capacity is untapped because of the relative high price of natural gas vs. coal.

"The companies that built that capacity have gone bankrupt," Beaubien said. "That's one of most compelling reasons why investors won't finance another power plant in this state until we fix Public Act 141."

Consumers Energy Senior Vice President Jim Coddington said even without the construction of a new power plant, Consumers Energy alone will be spending $6.4 billion in Michigan in the next four to five years with pollution control construction work at its fleet of plants.

"People have to start thinking about building new nuclear plants in this country," Coddington said.

He said if Public Act 141 is overturned - and then taking into account the need to acquire the proper permits and the holding of public hearings - Consumers Energy expects to "put shovels" in the ground in the summer of 2010 for a new power plant on their Karn-Weadock site near Bay City.

 

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New BT president stresses worker accountability

'Members who just don't get it need to be purged from our ranks'

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING -AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers took shots at President Bush, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, and the general anti-union culture of conservatives.

But during his March 19 speech before the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's 49th Legislative Conference, Ayers made his most pointed vollies at under-performing union construction workers, stressing that they have to earn their higher pay.

"The customer doesn't expect late starts," Ayers said. "He doesn't expect long coffee breaks, extended lunch periods and early quits. And they don't like it when and if just a handful of tradesmen fail drug and alcohol tests. No they expect much more from us."

An IBEW member from Peoria, Ill., Ayers became president of the national building trades on Oct. 1. He told delegates that the Building Trades Department in Washington D.C. will be making reforms, but said the minority of under-performing workers who tarnish the union brand must be weeded out.

Here are excerpts of Ayers' speech, his first in Michigan in his new position:

"First, the Building Trades Department and our affiliates are taking great strides to change the culture of our institutions.

"Owners are witnessing first-hand our revitalized industry. The stereotypes we've been saddled with over the years - lazy, overpaid , bigoted, sexist, featherbedding knuckleheads - are starting to dissipate

"Brothers and sisters, not too soon.

"The growth of the open shop movement did not occur because they were better than us, or better trained than us, or more skilled than us. We actually handed our market share to the open shop on a silver platter.

"Our attitudes, our productivity, our work ethic and our willingness to work as a partner with our contractors and end users diminished over time. To that end each of our affiliated national and international unions has instituted stringent local union accountability and performance standards - performance standards that address productivity and work ethic for a minority of our rank-and-file members who forgot what we once had, and forgot how we got it.

"These programs are a direct response to the times in which we live today.

"It's a wakeup call to those who call themselves "craftsmen" but fail to demonstrate day in and day out on the job. Make no mistake, we are in a business that is defined by a level of customer service and value we deliver consistently.

"We have a product that we sell at a fair price. We market that product as the most highly skilled, and best construction workforce in the world. Our customers, the owners, the end-users, the contractors, who buy our product have a reasonable expectation that comes when they pay that price. They expect a full day's work. They expect a high level of coordination. They expect teamwork. They expect productivity and they expect exemplary work ethic.

"Why? It's simple. Because they are paying for it. For the most part they get what they pay for, with the exception of a few workers who can contaminate any project. We've all seen it happen.

"The customer doesn't expect late starts. He doesn't expect long coffee breaks, extended lunch periods and early quits. And they don't like it when and if just a handful of tradesmen fail drug and alcohol tests. No they expect much more from us.

"Our task in most areas is to overcome a swell of corporate mistrust, which has built up over the decades and has resulted in an adversarial approach to doing business. Now that a robust economy appears to be headed to a slippery slope, some of our corporate customers are becoming even more vigilant.

"We cannot allow them to receive a less-than-adequate return on the investment they have placed in us.

"We are getting on jobs we haven't been on in 25 years. This is most evident in the South. We're back in the game. Jobs where every worker is hitting on all cylinders will stay if we continue to deliver consistent, uncompromised value over and over

"Members who just don't get it need to be purged from our ranks."

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You're a union Hardhat: define yourself

By Mark Breslin

Character is a quality most usually associated with people. As a professional negotiator, advocate and strategist for 25 years, it is now the first assessment I make of prospective allies or opponents.

The funny thing is, that most people and organizations are under some form of illusion or delusion on how their character is defined or displayed. In many cases everyone sees who they really are, but them. The starting place for both the individual and the organization is identifying your "defining characteristic."

What do I mean by this?

Take a look at the list below. It is a summary of the top 10 Most Admired Companies in the US based on an annual national business survey (3000+ top business leaders) by Fortune Magazine. See if you can accurately match the Top 10 company and it's defining characteristic.

GE Innovation
Starbucks Management Excellence (2 firms)
Google Long Term Strategic Vision
Fed-Ex # 1 Ranked Place to Work
Berkshire Hathaway A People Service Culture
Johnson and Johnson Quality
Procter & Gamble Remarkable Product Line
Apple Unmatched Market Performance
Toyota Low Cost, High Satisfaction
Procter and Gamble Focus on Growth
Southwest Airlines
(answers & company ranking below)

The business lesson here is that every great organization has one defining characteristic. And everyone working for that organization knows what it is. This influences recruitment and hiring; management; product and services; marketing and promotion, company market share and ultimately profitability.

So the question becomes, what is the defining characteristic in your business and your personal contribution? What is the ONE distinctive, driving and identifiable element that makes your organizational identity one of leadership and excellence? Does everyone in your organization know it and share the same commitment? And how do you contribute to this from where you are in the organization?

For the construction industry, unfortunately, these questions are seldom asked. It is most always "profitability" as the answer; but profitability should be the result, not the identity. Why do certain companies consistently attract the best and most qualified workers, even if there is no wage differential? We all should be asking ourselves that question very hard. The answer is the defining characteristic.

Everyone in our business model of unionized construction needs to be on the same page on this. From contractors, owners, superintendents and foremen, to business managers, training directors and agents. The most compelling reason for this, is that it directly relates to the performance of the craftspeople.

They need a consistent defining characteristic of not only a company but an industry, to build pride and commitment. If it is not there, then it is just a paycheck. And no one wows anyone for just a paycheck.

As a leader and individual I aspire to define my characteristic as performance accountability. Doing the right things for the right reasons without compromise or excuse. Now I will tell you that one does not always help you win popularity contests, but when applied to an organizational model it narrows the shotgun approach to the rifle shot of what needs to be done, by whom and when.

And it influences who I hire, how they manage and are compensated and what happens at the end of every day, week, month and year. That one simple defining characteristic alone has more power than can be imagined.

So ask yourself: what is your defining organizational characteristic? Elite performers? Competitive? People Caring Culture? Dog-Eat-Dog? Safety? Productivity? Teamwork? Only you can answer the question. I can tell you though, that people who are bored in their jobs or disconnected from a feeling of fulfillment usually cannot answer the question and it shows in their organizations.

To become "Most Admired" requires more than taking credit for the obvious; it requires thoughtful discipline and focus. The rewards for this are higher levels of job satisfaction, greater production and commitment and a better bottom line.

( Ranking and Characteristics: 1. GE: Market Performance 2. Starbucks: A People Service Culture 3. Toyota: Quality 4. Berkshire Hathaway: Long Term Strategy 5. Southwest Airlines: Low Cost High Satisfaction 6. Fed-Ex: Management 7. Apple: Innovation 8. Google: Ranked # 1 Best Place to Work in the US 9. Johnson and Johnson: Management 10. Procter and Gamble: Product Line

Mark Breslin is a strategist and author specializing in labor-management challenges. He is the author of Survival of the Fittest, Organize or Die and coming in 2008 Alpha Dog. He addresses more than 50,000 labor and business leaders each year in North America. More on his work and profile is available at www.breslin.biz.

His next visit to Michigan will take place Thursday, May 8 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Westin Metropolitan Airport Hotel in Romulus. The subject: Top Down Organizing and Business Development Training. For more information go to www.Breslin.biz or call (866) 837-4179.

 

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Progressive, labor groups to Spend at least $150m on election

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Progressive groups nationwide, including the AFL-CIO, plan to spend at least $150 million - and could spend double that - on voter education and get-out-the-vote activities for this year's election, news reports say.

And that may be underestimating labor's contribution.

Quoting leaders at the Take Back America conference in Washington - a confab of 2,000 activists - news reports put the minimum spending at $150 million and range up to $400 million.

Their objective is not only to elect a progressive Democrat to the White House but to increase the progressive majority in the House and to get the 60 Senate votes needed to halt GOP filibusters against the Employee Free Choice Act and other progressive legislation, said conference members, including Change to Win Executive Director Greg Tarpinian.

Labor will be a key part of the effort. "We cannot take back America politically or in any other way unless workers are in motion, in the workplace and politically," Tarpinian told delegates. Organizing, he added, was the key, since the 2004 election showed labor and its allies "were too small" to beat Republican George W. Bush.

The groups involved in the education, registration and get-out-the-vote drives include People for the American Way, the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, Rock the Vote and MoveOn.org. The AFL-CIO budgeted $53.4 million for such action for this year.

But the progressives also made clear that the sole goal is not electing Democrats, but holding candidates - of any party - to a progressive agenda. Robert Borosage of Campaign for America's Future warned of a "window of opportunity" for progressives to push workers' rights, universal national health care and other causes.

The Service Employees, a Change to Win member, plans to spend $75 million on education, mobilization and getting out the vote, Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger has said. AFSCME, the AFL-CIO'S largest union, plans to spend $60 million on similar efforts, adds its president, Gerald McEntee.

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From oldest to newest, Bell Hospital makes modern movement

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ISHPEMING - Constructed in 1917, Bell Memorial Hospital is believed to be the oldest active hospital building in the state, and is nearing the end of its lifespan as a health care facility.

Boldt Construction and the building trades are in the process of erecting its replacement: a 102,424 square-foot hospital and attached 44,244 square-foot medical office building. The new $35.5 million hospital will have numerous advantages over the old four-level facility, including a single-floor, heating and cooling efficiencies, and improved infrastructure for modern medical equipment.

"Our existing building had been though a number of expansions and renovations over the years, but this time it became apparent that the cost of another renovation would be more than the cost of building new," said Rich Rossway, Bell Memorial Hospital's director of marketing and communications.

One major factor, he said, is that "hundreds of thousands of dollars" are spent every year to heat the old hospital.

The old hospital has 69 beds, the new facility will have 25, all in private rooms. The new hospital, which is being built on a 35-acre parcel within the city limits, will have a "north woods lodge" entrance, with a fireplace and vaulted ceilings. Construction began in February 2007. Completion is expected with the facility's grand opening, planned for the third week of September 2008.

"The tradespeople and contractors are doing a phenomenal job," Rossway said last month. "We're ahead of schedule and under budget. What impresses me when I've gone on tours of the building is that the workers are very focused on the jobs at hand. It's been a great experience."

Bell offers a full range of medical services, including mammography, x-ray, ultrasound, laboratory, respiratory therapy, and nuclear medicine, plus general/ambulatory surgical units, a coronary care unit, and obstetrics with private birthing suites.

Bell administrators are exploring other uses for the existing hospital and its additions, which were built in1954 and 1975.

The new hospital, said Bell Memorial CEO Rick Ament, "will allow Bell to provide a modern healthcare delivery system that is better suited to meet a changed national healthcare delivery system which has shifted many services from in-patient care to out-patient care. The highly-efficient facility will offer patients clinical and hospital services on one campus, all within feet of each other."

SOLDERING COPPER PIPE at the Bell Memorial Hospital project is Jason Argall of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 111 and Dressler Mechanical.

THE SPRAWLING EXTERIOR of the new Bell Memorial Hospital in Ishpeming. Photos by Rich Rossway


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News Briefs

Road workers get ready to rumble
Building trades road workers, get ready to rumble.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced March 28 it is starting a three- year, $8 million safety initiative involving the installation of centerline rumble strips on 5,700 miles of rural, non-freeway roads across the state.

MDOT also will add approximately 1,700 miles of shoulder rumble strips. Rumble strip installation will begin this construction season and will be completed in 2010. MDOT will improve about one-third of its selected inventory during 2008, beginning in April; one-third in 2009; and the remainder in 2010.

"We expect to save lives and reduce the number of serious crossover crashes by adding the centerline rumble strips," said MDOT Director Kirk T. Steudle "This safety initiative supports Michigan's strategic objective to increase safety for the traveling public."

Centerline rumble strips differ slightly from the more common shoulder rumble strips, because they have a different pattern and are not as deep. Several other states have successfully launched similar safety efforts aimed at saving lives on rural roads. MDOT reviewed all two- and four-lane rural highways with a posted speed of 55 mph or higher, in order to determine where centerline and edge line rumble strips could be installed as a low-cost, high-benefit improvement.

Since the 1990s, MDOT has systematically installed rumble strips on freeway shoulder. MDOT says the new centerline rumble strips on rural non-freeways are proven as a cost-effective countermeasure to "lane departure crashes" brought on by driver drowsiness, distraction, and/or inattention.

Let's talk trade, union chief says
Building trades road workers, get ready to rumble.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced March 28 it is starting a three- year, $8 million safety initiative involving the installation of centerline rumble strips on 5,700 miles of rural, non-freeway roads across the state.

MDOT also will add approximately 1,700 miles of shoulder rumble strips. Rumble strip installation will begin this construction season and will be completed in 2010. MDOT will improve about one-third of its selected inventory during 2008, beginning in April; one-third in 2009; and the remainder in 2010.

"We expect to save lives and reduce the number of serious crossover crashes by adding the centerline rumble strips," said MDOT Director Kirk T. Steudle "This safety initiative supports Michigan's strategic objective to increase safety for the traveling public."

Centerline rumble strips differ slightly from the more common shoulder rumble strips, because they have a different pattern and are not as deep. Several other states have successfully launched similar safety efforts aimed at saving lives on rural roads. MDOT reviewed all two- and four-lane rural highways with a posted speed of 55 mph or higher, in order to determine where centerline and edge line rumble strips could be installed as a low-cost, high-benefit improvement.

Since the 1990s, MDOT has systematically installed rumble strips on freeway shoulder. MDOT says the new centerline rumble strips on rural non-freeways are proven as a cost-effective countermeasure to "lane departure crashes" brought on by driver drowsiness, distraction, and/or inattention.

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