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August 19, 2005

Delegates approve restructuring of Michigan Building Trades Council

Michigan trades council sought 'solid front' in 1957 formation

'Trying times' for labor, but opportunities, too

Michigan AFL-CIO's Gaffney: Labor split not a 'short-term deal'

Congress Oks 6-year plan for highway construction

More room for Linden students

News Briefs


Delegates approve restructuring of Michigan Building Trades Council

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAULT STE. MARIE - An historic consolidation is in the works that will result in a larger, unifying role for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

Delegates to the council's 48th annual convention Aug. 2-4 met here and unanimously approved a resolution that will result in the drafting of a new constitution and bylaws for the council.

At the same time, there's new leadership at the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, and the potential for expanded opportunities for the eight regional building trades councils around the state.

The operations of the largest among those councils - The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council - will be merged with the Michigan council. Under the new structure, principal offices of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council will be in Detroit and Lansing.

"In a lot of ways, construction is a small world in Michigan," said Patrick Devlin, who was elected to a four-year term to lead the state building trades council as its secretary-treasurer. He held the same position with the Detroit council. "For building trades workers across Michigan, there are a lot more things that we have in common than keep us apart.

"We have similar interests when it comes to electing and retaining a worker-friendly governor, a worker-friendly legislature, maintaining OSHA, keeping our job sites safe, keeping good wages and fringes and trying to keep the Wal-Marts of the world honest. So much of what we do, we can do better collectively. So it makes sense for the various building trades unions and councils to formally unite under the banner of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council."

Patrick "Shorty" Gleason, business manager of Iron Workers Local 25, was elected as full-time president of the Michigan council, a position which had formerly been part-time.

"As a third-generation tradesman, it's truly an honor to be elected to this position," Gleason told delegates. "We're going to be faced with a lot of challenges and I will do everything in my power to make sure that every council has an equal stake in the Michigan council. Thanks for the opportunity, and it's time to go to work."

Retiring from the MBCTC president position (and previously this summer as business manager of Boilermakers Local 169) was John Marek. Retiring from his position as secretary-treasurer of the Michigan council at the close of the convention was Tom Boensch.

Talks about restructuring the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council have been ongoing at local unions and councils around the state for the past eight months. Committee members representing a wide range of crafts participated in the formation of the language outlining the restructuring of the state council.

Delegates at the convention approved language that said "consolidation would unify the voice of union construction workers in the State of Michigan and strengthen their efforts, magnify their political presence, improve economies of scale and that the new constitution would strengthen the existing eight regional councils: Flint, Greater Detroit, Northern, Southeast, Southwest, Tri-County, Upper Peninsula and West and provide greater opportunities to create economic growth and expanded market share."

Currently broad in scope, more specific roles for the operations of the state and local building trades councils are expected from a constitutional committee that was formed at the convention. The committee is expected to produce a final draft document in six months. Both the Detroit and Michigan building trades councils then must ratify the new constitution.

Serving some 80,000 unionized construction workers in Michigan, the council serves as an umbrella group for 74 local building trades unions around the state. The council conducts organizing and safety seminars, participates in labor-management activities, develops safe-work information, initiates and coordinates political action efforts, administers some labor contracts and conducts marketing and communications on behalf of building trades unions, including the publishing of this newspaper.

HERE ARE THE NEWLY elected and recently retired officers at the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. From (l-r) are the new President, Patrick "Shorty" Gleason and Secretary-Treasurer, Patrick Devlin. Newly retired are Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch and President John Marek. Gleason has been business manager of Iron Workers Local 25. Devlin has been secretary-treasurer of the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council, whose operations are being merged with the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.


Michigan trades council sought 'solid front' in 1957 formation

Now firmly entrenched as a single-source, leading advocate for the state's trade unions and unionized construction workers, the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council was first established in Lansing in 1957.

The Building Tradesman reported in March 1957 that the new charter was presented to the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council officers by AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Richard Gray in Washington, D.C.

The new council replaced the Michigan Conference of Building Trades Councils, and was intended to supplement the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council, which was established in 1937 and represented some 75,000 active construction workers at the time.

"Actually," the Tradesman reported, "the Michigan Conference voted its own demise in the best interests of the building trades. The current body is loosely knit, with no full-time or paid representatives.

"The new body is expected to bring fuller representation to all councils and to work night and day for unity in the building trades throughout the state on all questions involving the prestige and traditions of the entire building trades union movement."

After the presentation of the charter, a 19-man committee, representing each building trade union at the time, was said to be ready to work on a new constitution governing the new council.

"The new council," The Building Tradesman reported, "came into being at the behest of leaders of the Detroit Building Trades Council and similar organizations throughout the state.

"These leaders saw a need for a more compact and unified body… the need for central organization, and the need to coordinate the state's building tradesmen into one unit as a means of presenting a solid front against jurisdictional inroads and organizational drives."

At the time, with the 1955 merger of the American Federation of Labor and Council of Industrial Organizations newly completed, "jurisdiction" took on a somewhat different meaning than it does today. The building trades and the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO were still arguing about work assignments and raiding workforces, and the building trades councils were spearheading the trades' efforts.


'Trying times' for labor, but opportunities, too

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAULT STE. MARIE - In a number of ways, the 48th annual convention of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council provided a status report on organized labor in Michigan.

"We all live and die by work hours, and we're facing high unemployment and severe unemployment pressures," said retiring Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch, in his final address to delegates. "These have been pretty trying times for organized labor."

Short of a magic formula for making jobs appear, he said organized labor has been focusing its efforts in other areas where it may be able to do some good. These include

  • Lowering health care and prescription drug costs, which are rising about 15 percent every year.
  • Coping with the schisms in organized labor. "Some affiliates may decide to leave (the AFL-CIO) by this time next year," Boensch said. "It makes more of a point of the importance of regional building trades councils."
  • Promoting the work of the Michigan Association of Responsible Contracting. The union-backed MARC advances the cause of hiring responsible construction contracting companies to cities, school boards and businesses, without sounding like a pro-union shill.

The goal is to introduce standards for weeding out irresponsible, low-bidding nonunion companies that perform substandard work without providing a warranty.

Delegates also got an earful about a number of other issues that directly and indirectly affect building trades workers in Michigan.

Utility restructuring.

If Michigan is going to build desperately needed powerhouses, then state utility regulations that hinder the construction of new coal-burning plants are going to have to be re-examined.

So said Consumers Energy Vice President Bob Fenech to delegates at the convention. Fenech said several new big coal-burning "baseload" power plants need to be built in Michigan, where demand for electricity keeps inching up by two percent or so every year.

State regulations must be loosened to make it feasible to build more coal-burners, Fenech said, or Michigan will have a serious crisis on its hands by 2012. He said both Consumers Energy and DTE Energy need to start building a new baseload plant every three years in Michigan. In the case of Consumers, the average age of their coal-burning plants is 45 years.

Fenech said while burning coal is not popular with environmentalists, the smaller, natural-gas burning "peaker plants" that have been built in recent years in North America to provide power during peak periods have drawbacks. Long-term, they can't cost-effectively produce the megawatts that coal-burners can. In addition, coal is more abundant in North America than natural gas, and the supply can't quickly be cut off by potential terrorists.

And importing electricity from other states via over-taxed power lines is an expensive proposition.

"From your standpoint," Fenech told building trades delegates, "construction of coal plants will provide a lot more work, plus maintenance. We need to position ourselves to get more coal plants built in Michigan."

Michigan's budget.

We reported last year on the chronically underfunded, sorry state of the state's budget. It hasn't changed.

Tom Clay, of the nonprofit, non-partisan Citizens Research Council, was invited to give building trades delegates the lowdown on Michigan's state budget problems, which have been in deficit mode for the last five years.

Clay said Michigan has used up every accounting gimmick to improve the state's "structural deficit," including spending the rainy day fund, spending the school aid fund surplus and moving up the date of tax collections.

General fund revenues in 2003, 2004 and 2005 have all been below what the state took in during 1995. Total spending in Michigan has dropped $1.2 billion, or 12 percent in the last four years. The state's workforce has dropped 14 percent over the last few years and now stands at the same number it was in 1974.

At the same time, state income has dropped: burdens on state taxpayers fell from 7.8 percent of personal income in 1995 to 6.8 percent today.

State Medicare payments, which help one in seven Michiganians (mostly children, Clay said) have risen 10 percent each year over the last four years. More than 30 percent of state workers are in Corrections - a $1.7 billion million industry projected to see an 1,800 per-year increase in prisoners through 2010.

In the future, Clay said Michigan can expect an annual deficit of 3 percent - or $300 million per year.

"The state will somehow fix the problem, the Constitution says so," Clay said, referring to rules that require a balanced state budget. He said it could come through additional budget cuts, or perhaps through "broadening" the state sales and usage tax base.

"I worked in state government from 1996 through 1997, and I never saw a situation where fiscal problems are crowding everything else out, as they are now" Clay said.

Michigan AFL-CIO.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney told building trades delegates that helping to pass Gov. Jennifer Granholm's $2 billion bond issue is the best way for construction workers to help themselves and the state get back on their feet. A significant portion of that bond issue - which may be whittled down to $1 billion by state Republican lawmakers - will fund construction projects.

Politically, Gaffney predicted that Granholm "will not have an easy re-election campaign" in 2006, whomever her opponent. He added that organized labor would like to help itself by not only re-electing Granholm, but by adding four Democratic seats to the state House for a majority or three seats to the state Senate to create a tie with Republicans.

Then, organized labor would be able to have a better shot at increasing unemployment benefits, or increasing the minimum wage. At $5.15 per hour, Gaffney said the state's minimum wage, which is not being increased because of Republican opposition, "is legally instituted poverty."

Gaffney pointed out another Republican deficiency. Exxon Mobil, he said, made $7.5 billion profit in a single quarter this year. The energy bill passed by the Republican Congress saw those profits and still gave Exxon-Mobil and other petroleum companies a tax break.

Another example: just after CAFTA was OKd by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, giant automotive supplier Lear opted to move some production to Honduras.

"Those are the kinds of frustrations that lead unions to diverge," Gaffney said. "We don't have the power to make changes."


Michigan AFL-CIO's Gaffney: Labor split not a 'short-term deal'

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

The Michigan AFL-CIO - like its national parent - is significantly smaller than it was a month ago - when three major unions dropped out of the national AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win Coalition.

Dropping out were the Service Employees, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, amounting to about four million of the nearly 13 million workers that had been in the AFL-CIO. Additional members of the new coalition (but not yet necessarily out of the AFL-CIO) are the Carpenters, Laborers, UNITE HERE (garment and hotel workers) and the Farm Workers.

Addressing delegates to the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's annual convention, Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, asked rhetorically, "What does this mean for the Michigan AFL-CIO?"

He answered: "We will cooperate with these unions in a new way. The Change to Win Coalition is a separate labor coalition and it's very serious and well-funded. I hope you will see them as a partner labor federation."

Gaffney said he hoped the new labor federation would lead to "healthy competition," and suggested "there are ways we can use competition to be helpful and work on common goals, for example political fundraising."

He said the state AFL-CIO would not allow the breakaway unions to participate in voting matters or in the endorsement process, and any of their officers must resign from AFL-CIO positions. As a result of the break, Gaffney said the state federation has lost about 18 percent of its funding. The Metro Detroit AFL-CIO has lost about 50 percent.

"As it is, this split makes all of the building trades together about the largest union group in the state AFL-CIO," Gaffney said. "That makes you very important."

Gaffney said he did not envision the split in labor as a "short-term deal."

Essentially, he said, the arguments over leaving boiled down to a demand for a priority for more money to spend on organizing, sought by the Change to Win Coalition, vs. the AFL-CIO, which leans toward spending more money on political action.

The Change to Win Coalition "has something to prove," Gaffney said. "The coalition is made up of unions that have different outlooks, so it may be as little as two years, or it may be as much as 10 or 11 years."


Congress Oks 6-year plan for highway construction

After nearly two years of disagreement on funding levels, Congress and President Bush have come to terms on a plan that will guarantee $286.5 billion in federal money for highway and transportation programs to the 50 states over the next six years.

President Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFE TEA) on Aug. 10. He said "our economy depends on us having the most efficient, reliable transportation system in the world," adding that the new legislation "will finance needed road improvements and will ease traffic congestion in communities all across this country."

For Michigan, the plan will bring an additional $239 million more per year in transportation spending, said Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"The good news," she said, "is that increased highway and transit funding translates into more jobs for Michigan. It also means that Michigan will get back more of the federal gasoline tax revenue we send to Washington D.C., so that we can aggressively invest in preserving and improving Michigan's transportation system."

The prior federal funding mechanism, TEA 21, expired on Sept. 30, 2003 and was extended (but not increased) 12 times by Congress.

"Today's bill signing," said Associated General Contractors CEO Stephen E. Sandherr, "means that highway contractors around the country will be able to take their businesses off hold, and move forward with this construction season and those to come."

Granholm said the new federal funds "allow us to invest more dollars in congestion relief, border crossings, and to expand our focus on safety and protecting the environment." She said as part of the package Michigan will receive $108 million per year in public transit funds from 2006 through 2009 - a 39 percent increase.

Under the new funding plan, Michigan also becomes less of a "donor" state, wherein our state sends more in tax dollars to Washington D.C. than we get back. Michigan had been getting back 90.5 percent, an amount that will be increased to 92 percent for 2008.



More room for Linden students

LINDEN - A burgeoning school population has brought about the construction of a new Linden Middle School, which is being built by construction manager Barton Malow and building trades workers.

This is the third Genesee County community we have featured in recent issues that is currently enjoying a boom in school construction.

"This is a pretty normal, straightforward school," said Barton Malow Project Manager Doug Madden. "We haven't had any issues at all with the quality of work from the trades, and the subs have been good to work with, too."

Nearly 100 trades people worked on the project at peak employment.

The keys to the new school are expected to be handed over to the school district in June 2006 after what is expected to be a 26-month project. The project was slowed because of some sewer design issues that needed to be worked out with the municipality.

The school population is expected to be about 600 students in the single-level, 130,000 square-foot building.

The new 6-8 grade middle school is being built as part of a $36.1 million bond issue approved by voters in the Linden Community School District. Barton Malow and the trades have also worked on renovations/additions to the district's two elementary schools and high school.

The work will add more space to the elementary schools -where portable classrooms are currently being used - and the existing middle school will be converted into an elementary school.

LOOKING OVER PLANS for the cafeteria/gymnasium at the new Linden Middle School are (l-r) Todd Crane and foreman Jim Wooster of IBEW 948 and Ranck Electric.




News Briefs
Celebrate Labor's Day on Sept. 5

The building trades and the rest of organized labor will on the march again on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5, and union members across Michigan are urged to make plans to attend celebrations in their community.

Parades and parties are planned in Detroit, Ishpeming (near Marquette) and Muskegon.

The Detroit parade kicks off at 9:30 a.m., with the building trades lining up as usual along Trumbull, south of Michigan Ave.

The lineup will be led by the IBEW, followed by the Bricklayers and Allied Crafts, Roofers and Waterproofers, Elevator Constructors, Painters and Allied Trades, Cement Masons/Plasterers, Sheet Metal Workers, Iron Workers, Laborers, Pipe Trades, Boilermakers, Heat and Frost Insulators, Teamsters and Operating Engineers.

An American Red Cross blood drive will be held in the basement of the IBEW Local 58 union hall from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Labor Day.

The traditional Labor Day Festival will not be in Marquette this year, but in Ishpeming, southwest of Marquette at the Cliff's Shaft Museum site. The parade will start at 11 a.m. EST on Labor Day, with a picnic at noon and a program at about 1 p.m.

In Muskegon, the West Michigan United Labor Day Parade will be at Pere Marquette Park. Participants will meet at the Harbortown parking lot between 9:30-10:30 a.m. for shirts and hats. The shuttle will take participants to the staging area. The parade starts at 11 a.m. with a picnic to follow.

There will be no Labor Day Parade in Grand Rapids this year. Unionists from Grand Rapids are encouraged to join the celebration in Muskegon. If you need directions, call the UA Local 174 union hall, (616) 837-0222.

And in St. Ignace, union members are always encouraged to join the governor in the annual Mackinac Bridge walk on Labor Day. Participants can start walking anytime after the governor begins her trek, starting at about 7 a.m. No one will be permitted to walk after 11 a.m.

Trades re-elect Sullivan, Maloney
Re-elected this month to lead the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department were President Edward Sullivan and Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Maloney.

Both were unopposed and elected to five-year terms by the 300 delegates attending the department's annual convention in Boston.

Given the ongoing strife with unions leaving the AFL-CIO and becoming part of the new Change To Win Coalition, Sullivan told delegates, "We cannot afford to be fighting with each other. It saps our resources and our resolve. Rather, we must turn our attention where it belongs - toward our real adversaries in the political and private sectors, who take comfort in any sign of labor disunity."

Several unions last month bolted the AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win Coalition - the largest among them include the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Teamsters. The deadline has also passed for the Carpenters to rejoin the AFL-CIO - which means, according to federation bylaws, that they also must drop out of the Building Trades Department.

Sullivan signaled that the door has not completely shut on the Carpenters, and that "we will continue to work together to ensure that our differences do not disrupt jobsites and that the important progress we have made with contractors and owners will continue."


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