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August 18, 2000
MT. PLEASANT - Unity and political action, always familiar themes to organized labor, were once again atop the agenda during the 43rd annual convention of the Michigan Building Trades Council as labor gears up for the all-important Nov. 7 general election.
"The Nov. 7 election is projected to have one of the lowest turnouts ever," said Michigan Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "And if the turnout is going to be low, that means our members' votes are going to be even more important."
The importance of the Nov. 7 general election can't be overstated for organized labor in Michigan. It starts at the top, with the presidency, and also includes the Stabenow-Abraham race for U.S. Senate, state and U.S. House seats, three judgeships on the Michigan Supreme Court, contests for Michigan Court of Appeals judges, county judgeships, county commissioners, and numerous other local offices.
For working people, the political situation in Michigan and in the nation stands to go from bad to worse if a few things don't happen on Nov. 7: If Democrats don't take back a majority in the state House of Representatives if Democrats can't win the U.S. House if Democrats can't win two of three seats and regain a majority on the state Supreme Court and if Al Gore can't defeat George W. Bush for the presidency. If some of those things don't happen, friendly lawmakers will continue to spend more time putting out fires attacking working people than proposing ways to make improvements.
"We could be looking at a total Republican sweep, here in Michigan and across the country," Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney told delegates. He said that the anticipated low voter turnout means that organized labor, including construction unions, "are one of the most critical parts of the labor movement this year."
"We have almost a million affiliated members - that's a helluva lot of power," Gaffney said. "And the building trades and workers and their families have 100,000 votes. We really need them on Election Day. We may well have one of the lowest turnouts in history for the next election, but union households are twice as likely to vote as nonunion households. That means that our vote means more."
Gaffney said hand-in-hand with political action is the need to organize. "In organized labor we just don't have the numbers or members that we used to have," he said. "Right now, they have to listen to us. But when you have a drop in membership, you lose clout."
One political leader who has always listened to the concerns of union workers is Rep. David Bonior of Mt. Clemens, the House Minority Whip in Congress. He said Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore deserves labor's vote because he compiled one of the best pro-labor voting records in Congress.
"In fact, it's been said that when Al Gore was in the Senate, only one member was more pro-worker: and that was Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts," Bonior said. "Now it's one thing to stand up for unions when you're from a state like Massachusetts. But I'll tell you, it's a hell of a lot tougher when you represent a state like Tennessee."
U.S. Senate candidate Debbie Stabenow, who is neck-and-neck with incumbent Spencer Abraham in the polls, reminded Michigan Building Trades Delegates: "In politics, you have to decide what side you're on. When it comes to matters like health insurance, pensions, overtime and prevailing wage, I'm on your side."
From her years as a state representative, to her stint as a state senator, to her successful win in 1998 in Congress, Stabenow has consistently stood up for the concerns of working people.
"I fight every day in Congress with people who think that Medicare and Social Security were a mistake," Stabenow said.
Atop her agenda, she said, are affordable prescription drugs for senior citizens, instituting a patients' bill of rights, and ensuring quality, safe schools.
"We have the greatest economy in the world, where the government helps spend millions on drug research, yet people have to go across the border to Canada to buy drugs because they can't afford them here. I get letters from people all the time who tell me that they have to choose between spending money on dinner or buying their medicine. We can fix this."
As the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" - and there are a number of items that may be "fixed" by candidates in a manner that helps businesses at the expense of the little guy. State and federal prevailing wage laws uphold wage standards for construction workers, and they're always under attack. So-called "paycheck protection" legislation would severely hamper the ability of unions to do political action work. Redistricting of legislative boundaries in favor of state Republicans is almost a given if Democrats can't win back the state House or a majority on the state Supreme Court.
Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary Treasurer Patrick Devlin said while the potential for all those negative things exists, he prefers to dwell on what hasn't happened "under Republican occupation of Lansing."
"Here in Michigan, building trades unions are doing pretty well. Prevailing wage repeal could have taken place long ago, but it's still around. Yes, there's no money to enforce prevailing wage, but it's still around.
"Similarly, Paycheck Protection has not become reality. Right-to-work pops up every now and then, but it has never caught fire. And yes, MIOSHA isn't MIOSHA anymore, and it continues to be under-funded, but it still has a Construction Safety Division, which most states don't have, and it continues to help save lives.
"If we can get our membership out to vote on Nov. 7, and vote the right way, the labor movement in Michigan will truly be in terrific shape for years to come."
AFL-CIO Building Trades Department convention delegates unanimously elected Edward C. Sullivan as president and Joseph Maloney as secretary-treasurer for five-year terms at the July 25 constitutional convention.
Sullivan, 55, had been president of the Elevator Constructors and Maloney was director of the Building Trades Department's Canadian division. They had been serving their positions since January, assuming their office after the retirement of President Robert Georgine.
"As we face the future, I see three main goals: aggressive organizing, operating a powerful legislative and political program, and involving our members in all we do," Sullivan said. "We also intend to increase the market share for union construction and encouraging the use of project labor agreements."
Sullivan used his pulpit to urge building trades reps to go to greater lengths to take on the anti-union ABC.
"We have met the enemy and it's not us; it's the ABC's merit shop contractors and it is time for us to take them on and take them out," Sullivan said.
It was pointed out at the convention that building trades organizing efforts are working - last year, the 131,000 increase in building trades union membership accounted for half the growth of the entire labor movement. However, there are plenty of nonunion employees who are ripe for picking. According to research conducted by the Building Trades Department, temporary employment agencies still dispatch about 250,000 construction workers every day in the U.S. - about 20 percent of the nation's 1.1 million unionized construction workers.
The building trades will remain politically active under Sullivan.
"Key to the success of all these efforts is the direct involvement and participation of building trades members," Sullivan said. "We intend to reach out to our members, and urge them to participate in our quality, political and organizing programs. Our strength lies with our members and we intend to build on our strength at every level.
"New challenges face union building trades as we move
into a new century, but we remain committed to our traditional
values of expanding union work and protecting the hard-won wages
and benefits for our members."
Iron workers reach for the top
Iron workers topped out the new Midfield Terminal at Metro Airport Aug. 9, moving the mile-long structure another step toward completion.
"The $1.2 billion Midfield Terminal Project is the largest public works project in the history of our state," said Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara. "This, by far, is one of the most important projects our community and state will ever see, and its completion is just 17 months away. The steel and concrete now in place stands as real proof that the best is yet to come."
The last structural beam - 88-feet long, weighing 10 tons and manufactured by Havens Steel in Kansas City - was placed by operator Shawn Phillips and iron workers Mike Radja and Jeff Zemback at the north end of the East Concourse, and was actually an "ending out" of the project, said Tim Brown, project superintendent for National Riggers and Erectors.
The first steel went up Aug. 11, 1999 - so all the structural steel took two days short of a year to erect. "There have been a bunch of good, hard-working people on this project," Brown said. MBM Fabricators also made steel for the project.
The project currently employs some 1,300 Hardhats - and all of them enjoyed a hamburger and sausage lunch after the topping out, courtesy of Northwest Airlines. Almost as impressive as the new terminal building was the caterer's ability to serve lunch to that many people in less than an hour.
"We thank the building trades and our subcontractors for their cooperation and hard work on this project," said Mike Kerr, president of the Hunt Group, the project's general contractor. "We have a long way to go, but with the good work of the building trades and our subs, this will be one of the best projects ever."
According to Northwest Airlines and Wayne County, the Midfield Terminal is comprised of 14,500 tons of structural steel, 120,000 cubic yards of concrete, 2 million feet of wire and cable (enough to stretch from Detroit to Toronto), 400,000 feet of heating and cooling piping, 150,000 feet of ductwork requiring two million lbs. of sheet metal, and 45 air handling units.
The new Midfield Terminal will feature 99 gates, 18 luggage carousels, an 11,500-space parking garage and an automated express train system. The terminal is set to open in December 2001.
"This terminal is a shining example of what can be done with teamwork," said Airport Director Lester Robinson. "We're thankful there has been no loss of life in building this terminal, and we applaud the iron workers and the other building trades for the job they've done."
By Marty Mulcahy
While iron workers were topping out the Midfield Terminal structure, a much lower area of Metro Airport was continuing to get attention by the building trades.
Many hands are applying the finishing touch to a 1,000-foot-long vehicular tunnel under one of Metro's runway that is part of the north-south access road through the airport complex. It is one of three tunnels in the thoroughfare, and each tunnel has three tubes: a service tunnel, and one each for north and southbound traffic. The other tunnels are 1,200 feet long and 300 feet long.
Walbridge-Aldinger is acting as general contractor on the $144 million, four-mile-long South Access Road. The 1,000-foot-long tunnel, which extends under a crosswinds runway, was made famous in May 1999 when the trades placed a world record 20,917 cubic yards of concrete in 22 hours, 57 minutes. It was the largest pour ever in a 24-hour period.
Project Director Awadh Prasad said the tile masons are placing close to 500,000 square-feet of tile over the concrete walls of the tunnel. "Nothing special, just glazed white ceramic tile," Prasad said. "The tile will improve the tunnel's aesthetics and provide a little more reflective light."
Shores Tile is handling the tile portion of the project, which is employing 20-25 workers on any given day.
"This is a huge tile job, but these days, everything is big here at Metro Airport," said Walbridge Project Supt. Dave Abrams.
A compassionate conservative? The record of George Bush during his years as Texas governor indicates otherwise.
Chosen earlier this month at the Republican National Convention as that party's candidate for U.S. president, Bush's record in office indicates that he "is more a corporate conservative than a compassionate one," said Wall Street Journal opinion writer Albert R. Hunt.
Bush has built his campaign around themes like health care reform, tax cuts, private retirement accounts to supplement Social Security, and no-excuses educational reform.
For the six years Bush has been in office as Texas governor, there's substantial public record of how his policies, votes and viewpoints have affected the nation's second largest state. Following is his record on a few of the bigger issues:
Health care: "On health care, Texas looks more like a Third-World backwater than the progressive, compassionate, 21st century workplace heralded at the convention," wrote Hunt. "It has the second-highest percentage of kids without health insurance. Although flush with money from the tobacco settlement, George W. Bush incredibly sought to deny coverage of the low-income Children's Health Insurance Program to children of families making between $25,000 and $35,000 a year."
Bush's plans for health care include overhauling Medicare to allow people a choice of health care plans, increasing the size and availability of medical savings accounts and expanding coverage for low-income families. He has not indicated how he will pay for those ideas, especially taking his proposed tax cuts into account.
Campaign finance reform: "When it comes to looking out for his affluent constituents, Mr. Bush has never displayed such stinginess," (as he did with the Children's Health Insurance Program), Hunt said. "Like most states, Texas has enjoyed huge surpluses during these boom times. Considerably more money has gone to affluent contributors than to poor children left behind."
Coincidentally, Bush's choice for vice president, oil-industry executive Dick Cheney, "give the GOP an 'all-Big-Oil ticket,' " Newsweek said.
Education: In the first in a series of nationwide town hall meetings June 29, union workers told how Texas school children have lost millions of dollars in state aid because of Gov. Bush's plan for private school vouchers.
Public employees say they have struggled to win small pay raises, only to see them eaten away by rising health care costs - while Bush carries on his drive to privatize public services.
"Don't be fooled. I am here to tell you that George W. Bush is no friend of education, no friend of school children and no friend of working families," said San Antonio eighth-grade teacher and AFT Local 1356 member Minnie Sanchez.
Sanchez said one of Texas' poorest school districts lost millions in state aid because of a privately funded voucher scheme blessed by Bush. The district lost some 700 students, and because Texas school funding is based on the number of students per district, the impact was disastrous.
"It was almost $4 million - money that could have been used to modernize schools, reduce class size, hire more teachers," Sanchez said.
Taxes: George W. has a lot of tax cuts in mind, including doubling the child tax credit to $1,000, ending the so-called marriage penalty and cutting the highest middle-class tax rate from 28 to 25 percent.
"Bush's plan also includes goodies for wealthy voters," Newsweek said, "he'd slash the highest tax rate to 33 percent instead of the current 39.6 percent and eliminate the estate tax so Uncle Sam could no longer take a bite out of an inheritance. Critics say the plan would cause deficits and benefit the rich over the poor."
Wage standards - Bush believes that the Davis Bacon Act and state prevailing wage laws are wasteful. His campaign stated, "Davis-Bacon laws artificially inflate the cost of federal construction projects." (The Commercial Appeal, April 20, 2000).
The average manufacturing wage in Texas in 1998 was almost 10 percent below the U.S. average. In Dallas, union laborers earn an average $7.58 per hour, according to the U.s. Department of Labor.
Bush opposes a national minimum wage law, and Texas workers employed in agriculture or domestic service are covered by the state minimum wage law - which pays $3.35 an hour rather than $5.15 per hour.
"George W. Bush is the most dangerous politician I've ever met, and when you look at my gray hair and wrinkles, you all know I've met a lot of them," said Texas AFL-CIO President Joe Gunn.
Things are bigger in Texas, including social problems
The State of Texas, which George W. Bush has governed for two terms, has the following numbers among the 50 states to show for the work of its chief:
The Michigan Unemployment Agency (UA) will introduce a new "wage record system" on Oct. 1, which is expected to save the state recordkeeping costs while having a nominal effect on the income of jobless workers and the cost to employers.
"The new system is basically benefit-neutral," said Dave Plawecki, deputy director of the Unemployment Agency, during a presentation to the Michigan Building Trades Council's annual convention. "The system is mandated by the federal government, and Michigan is the last state to implement it. It collects about the same in taxes. Some jobless workers will get a little bit more, some will get a little less."
Currently, the agency must send requests for wage information to employers every time one of their employees files an unemployment claim. The agency will scrap the existing system, and replace it with a program of using quarterly wage information submitted by employers to establish the amount of unemployment benefits jobless workers may receive, if they are otherwise eligible.
Advantage to employers: they will no longer have to complete up to one million UA forms annually, requesting weekly wage information. This will save employers and the UA countless hours in processing time as well as mailing costs.
Advantage to laid-off workers: They will know immediately upon filing their claims how much they may get in unemployment benefits, rather than wait up to 14 days. In addition, the Unemployment Agency says Wage record can help identify and resolve problems with wage information before the first payment is made, and thereby reduce errors and fraud in the UA system. This will result in millions of dollars in annual savings to the state's UA trust fund.
Advantage to the state: A savings of about $3 million to $5 million a year. And by converting to wage record now, the federal government will provide most of the funding to cover Michigan's conversion costs.
The changes were made with input from a committee comprised of business, labor and Unemployment Agency reps.
The wage record base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters. If a person is unable to qualify on that basis, then the last four completed quarters are considered. Previously, the base period was the 52 weeks preceding the filing for benefits, and jobless workers qualified on the basis of their base period employment and earnings.
Wage record calculates the weekly benefit amount at 4.1% of
wages paid in the high quarter plus $6 per dependent (up to five
dependents are allowed). . In the past, benefits were based on
67% of after-tax earnings. The current maximum benefit of $300
per week will not change.
Labor Day Parade set for Sept. 1
There is no change in the meeting area for parade participants, who will gather along Trumbull south of Michigan Avenue at around 8-9 a.m. However, there is a change in how the parade will be routed: in the past few years, the building trades have marched east along Michigan Avenue. This year, because of construction in the Kern Block area, the building trades will proceed north along Trumbull, turning right on Grand River and finishing at the Lodge Freeway near the Motor City Casino.
The rest of organized labor marching in the parade will also change the direction of their march: the Woodward parade participants will begin at Michigan Avenue and proceed north to Mack Avenue. A LaborFest celebration will take place at the Carpenters Union Hall at Woodward and Mack after the parade.
Also, make plans to give blood before or after the parade, as the American Red Cross will be setting up shop at the IBEW Local 58 hall on Abbott, east of Trumbull, once again this year from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
If you want to make your Labor Day an even longer one downtown,
a number of unions have $8 tickets available for the 5 p.m. Detroit
Tiger game that day. Contact your local union.
Fall classes are available at various sites and times around the states for the training, which is free to labor/management groups that are members of the institute. If you have a group of 10 or more, the institute can arrange a class at a location of your choosing. Training is also available for spouses and children.
For more information or to receive a coarse schedule, contact
the Michigan Construction Trades Safety Institute at (800) 657-8345.