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August 20, 1999

With or without Y2K, unions are changing the way we operate

Decade of partnership, education

Pro-prevailing wage coalition trounces ABC with facts and hard work

Iron highways rebuilt, too

NEWS BRIEFS

Electricians pull heavy duty cable to power new terminal

Workers who died building Mighty Mac are honored again


 

With or without Y2K, unions are changing the way we operate

Following are Patrick Devlin's comments to delegates at the annual Michigan Building Trades Council Legislative Convention held last week in Mt. Pleasant.

In four and a half months, we're going to be living in a new decade, a new century and a new millenium.

People have talked about "heading into the new millenium" as if everything is going to be different just because the odometer on the calendar is going to flip.

We're told we have to get ready for the "challenges of the 21st Century," whatever that means, and I had wondered what makes anybody think that the challenges of the 21st Century are any different from the challenges of this century.

Since I took over at the Detroit Building Trades at the beginning of this year, I have come to the conclusion that the way we conduct the business of building trades unions is already much different than the way it was conducted even 10 or 20 years ago. And in the first few years of the 21st Century, things are going to change even more dramatically. And I'm talking about changes for the better.

So at the final Michigan Building Trades Annual Convention of the 20th Century, I have compiled a few fearless predictions that you can take with you to the bank in the new millenium - assuming the banking system isn't going to be screwed up by the Y2K bug.

Prediction No. 1: Organizing is about to become a way of life for not just some locals, but all locals.

It's amazing how far we've come from just a decade ago, when few locals wanted to bring on nonunion workers, and practically the only guy in the state talking about organizing was a Muskegon electrician named Jim Rudicil.

He went on to the IBEW international, and helped that union become the organizing powerhouse that it is today.

He helped initiate the COMET courses and educated everybody about federal labor law. In Michigan in 1991, the IBEW had 7,016 members. Today, it has increased its membership by 18.4 percent, to 8,307 members.

The electricians are kicking butt because they have incorporated organizing into their culture.

Of course, the IBEW isn't the only trade union that's successful at organizing. But they have provided a great model for other trades to follow.

More than any other unions, the building trades are being innovative when it comes to bringing in new members. Ten years ago, about the only tactics we had ever tried were using picket lines and boycott threats.

Today, who would have thought the trades would be buying billboard space, classified ads, radio and TV ads, to bring in new members.

Most importantly, organizers have realized the value of approaching nonunion workers one-on-one, as human beings, with the same needs as anyone else. All these approaches are working.

Prediction No. 2: The public perception of building trades unions - in fact all unions - is going to be more positive.

The best example of this is that the doctors are starting to organize. They're fed up with HMOs, and they're looking for some empowerment. Good for them.

A couple months ago, one of our affiliated locals put a classified ad in a paper looking for new members. They put to work a whopping 60 applicants, and figured it was because their ad stood out from the rest.

It stood out because they put the word "union" in the ad, and applicants correctly figured that they would have some job protections and the wages would be higher than those in other ads.

Remember when workers naturally wanted to get that union card, because it meant job security and good pay and benefits? Remember when everyone from street sweeper to the trolley car driver held a union card?

Today, unions represent only about 20 percent of Michigan's population, which is historically near rock-bottom for the last half of this century.

And it's no coincidence that workers are moving from job to job in record numbers, and job stability is a thing of the past.

People want stability in their working lives. Unions provide that stability. Things will change for the better.

Prediction No. 3: Unions will continue to be run more like businesses. Let's face it, our unions are not going to grow and thrive unless we're helping to put our members to work.

Something I hope will never end is the role of the union as a fraternal organization that has picnics, holds fundraisers to help the needy, and creates a place where lasting friendships are made.

But in today's world and in the new millenium, the social aspects of unions won't happen without the union maintaining the best apprenticeship schools, while assuring as much work as possible for members, and fighting for our members' health and safety.

Simply put, serving our members in those ways is the basic business of our business.

Prediction No. 4: We will eventually find a way through the petty differences that divide the Carpenters and the rest of the trades.

Every year, government rankings show that Michigan is in the top two or three states when ranking union penetration in the building trades. While other states have let their building trades councils dry up, Michigan still has two top-notch, effective councils.

To cite just one example of that effectiveness, the Michigan Building Trades Council earlier this year did a great job in helping beat back the latest attack on our state prevailing wage law.

That single effort saved millions of dollars in income for all of our workers. And three years ago, the state building trades won about $2,600 each for 386 construction workers who were denied work at the Blue Water Fibre paper mill in Port Huron.

We've all gotten by without the Carpenters the last three years, but no one can tell me that we're better off, or they're better off, with them being unaffiliated. There's strength in unity. Carpenters have the same goals as the rest of us, and they should be fighting right alongside of us for fair wages and safe jobs.

I can't make this any more clear: The Carpenters are welcome in the building trades, and they belong back in the building trades.

It may take a few months or years into the next millenium for them to realize this--but I believe they'll be back.

In most industries, turning the calendar over on the year 2000 will be just a formality.

But among building trades unions, the new millenium is symbolic of a new way of doing business.

And if we play our cards right, remember our history, remain unified, and take care of business, construction union members will get a great start in the next millenium.

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Decade of partnership, education

YPSILANTI - "We're very pleased with the setup here. We have a great partnership with Washtenaw Community College and everyone else who treats us so well here. It makes us want to come back year after year."

So said Martin Maddaloni, general president of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters, following a tour of the campus, classrooms and training sessions that were part of the Instructor Training Program.

ON HAND AT the annual UA Instructors Training Program in Washtenaw County were (l-r) UA General President Martin Maddaloni, General Sec.-Treas. Tom Patchell, IU Rep. Joe Sposita, Local 190 Business Manager Ron House and Training Director George Bliss.

The 46th annual, week-long program wrapped up last week, and is a testament to the union's desire to provide the highest quality of training for instructors to bring back to their home locals.

This year was another record-breaker for attendance, with 1536 student/instructors enrolled, and 291 first-time participants. "The program reaffirms our commitment to excellence in training and doing what we can to improve education and make this a better industry."said UA Director of Training George Bliss.

The UA regularly changes its curriculum to keep up with the times, and this year the focus is on new Internet features and instructional CD-roms that are part of a distance learning program that will bring education to instructors in the farthest reaches of the country.

This year the UA also announced construction of a new Regional Training Center of the campus of Washtenaw Community College.

"This is the tenth year for having the instructors here, and as always, the whole community welcomes the UA," said host Local 190 Business Manager Ron House.

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Pro-prevailing wage coalition trounces ABC with facts and hard work

By Peter A. Cockshaw
National Labor Analyst

Against all odds was the title of a popular movie in the 1980s. And very steep odds were exactly what Michigan's labor and management faced this year as the ABC and its legislative allies tried to pass a bill repealing the state's prevailing wage law.

Stacking the odds against prevailing wage law supporters were a Republican-controlled legislature and Republican governor.

One leading senator told me flat out that 'we're going to repeal prevailing wages and there's little you can do to stop us,' " recalls Mike Crawford, manager of the National Electrical Contractors Association's Michigan Chapter.

But stop them they did.

"Now, after a six-month battle," Crawford explains, "a bipartisan majority of Michigan legislators will not back repeal of prevailing wages."

How the various signatory employer groups and building trade unions defeated the repeal forces is a compelling story.

It also serves as a dramatic example of what labor and management can accomplish when they work closely together.

But before we relate it, some background is necessary.

In Michigan, the "merit shop" ABC has waged an unrelenting struggle to kill the 33-year-old prevailing wage law, which was enacted in 1965. The merit shop's major repeal thrust first focused on the courts. And after a long legal fight, ABC's Saginaw Valley Chapter thought it had won the war in November 1994.

Then U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland ruled Michigan's Act "invalid and unenforceable." But a federal appeals court overturned that decision in July 1997.

This year, bolstered by a 58-52 Republican majority in the State House and a 23-15 Republican majority in the Senate - plus a Republican governor - ABC was confident it had the votes to kill the law outright.

Most neutral political observers shared that view. But the "merit shop" hadn't counted on a determined organized sector - one which vowed to "pull out all the stops" to defeat repeal.

A key to this effort was a signatory sector that, unlike many areas of the country, enjoys strong contractor association-labor ties. Explains Bart Carrigan, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of America's Michigan Chapter:

"Our big asset is a very well-funded labor-management mechanism that has the muscle to take on critical issues. We are also fortunate in having a head of the state Building Trades Council, Tom Boensch, who is very effective in creating coalitions among his unions and Michigan's construction industry."

It didn't take long for this employer-labor coalition to spring into action after it learned of the legislature's plans to introduce a bill repealing the prevailing wage law.

The group's first action was to develop a workable step-by-step battle plan. The plan was a "textbook" political action strategy which, in Cockshaw's view, can serve as a model for any group facing a similar challenge.

The first component is identifying, and then uniting, your allies. In Michigan's case, they included union contractor groups, building trades councils, friendly school boards and a few key legislators.

The "opponents list" included ABC, the Chamber of Commerce, conservative "think tanks" and influential Republican legislators.

Next was the most critical step of all - crafting a solid, supportable message to defend prevailing wages.

"This was critical," relates NECA's Crawford, "because we found a tremendous misunderstanding about the impact of the wage law. Many of the perceived negatives were the result of misinformation fostered by the law's opponents.

"It was obvious that we had to counter such negative perceptions by unearthing factual data that would change opinions."

To do so, Michigan's signatory signatory sector turned to Peter Philips, a nationally respected economist from the University of Utah. Philips has authored numerous studies comparing construction costs in state with and without prevailing wage laws.

His assignment was to research and compile a presentation the pro-wage law forces could use in selling their message to legislators, media and various publics.

Philips' prevailing wage "fact kit" included a study of costs for building 104 schools before, during and after Michigan's act was suspended. Although the bottom line cost date from his study appear to reflect dollar savings built under the prevailing wage law, Philips concluded that the cost differences are "statistically insignificant."

But--and this is the key point--the cost data clearly refuted arguments of those who claim repeal will "save taxpayers money."

The fact kit Philips developed for Michigan contained statistics from other states as well - all of which threw cold water on "savings" claims. The compilation also revealed the adverse aspects of wage repeal on training, safety and other issues.

Armed with this wealth of information from Philips and other sources, Michigan's labor-management groups were "ready for action." Their all-out anti-repeal campaign involved: public hearings sponsored by friendly legislators, intense personal lobbying of individual legislators by both employers and union members in each lawmaker's district, mailings and phone calls to legislators, educational seminars, and handouts distributed at various locations across the state.

A handout was printed that strongly motivated union members to call, write and visit with their legislative representatives. The handout's message was blunt and very much to the point. It read:

  • If you're a construction worker - there are some folks in Lansing that want you to know they appreciate what you're doing.
  • They're proud of the restoration work you did on their office building.
  • Grateful for the improvements on the roads they drive to get to work, and
  • Appalled at the number of you who are injured or killed doing your jobs. And to show their appreciation, they've introduced legislation that's guaranteed
  • To eliminate your benefits
  • Cut your wages, and
  • Increase your risk of an accident on the job.

The legislation is repeal of the Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act.

The other side listed the key sponsors of the repeal bill--along with their photos--in both the House and Senate.

The highlight of our anti-repeal efforts," opines NECA's Crawford, "was a day-long special Prevailing Wage Symposium. It pulled all our efforts together."

The symposium drew a standing-room only house of union representatives and contractors from across the state.

"Most importantly," Crawford adds, "it received meaningful coverage by the media and was attended by many legislators who still were wavering on the repeal issue."

Another key to the signatory sector's successful fight, adds Sandra Miller, manager of the Washtenaw County Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association, was that "our coalition never let up. Even though we're gratified by the outcome, we continue to work to educate legislators on the benefits of keeping Michigan's prevailing wage law."

There's an important lesson to be learned from Michigan's prevailing wage struggle--a lesson for contractors and unions everywhere.

When labor and management unite to pursue vital objectives in their common interest, it's possible to overcome even the greatest of odds.

The above analysis was reprinted by special permission of Peter A. Cockshaw, publisher of Cockshaw's Construction Labor News + Opinion.

For a free sample issue of Cockshaw's current labor advisory newsletter (at no obligation) contact Cockshaw Publications, PO Box 427, Newton Square, PA 19073. Phone: (610) 353-0123 or fax, (610) 353-0111.

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Iron highways rebuilt, too

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Thousands of building trades workers are working around vehicular traffic during a record season for renovating Michigan's roads.

Michigan's iron highways are getting plenty of attention, too. In Pontiac, the building trades are in the process of replacing aging railroad overpasses in two locations, and building a new railroad bridge and creating a new underpass at another spot.

Bridge contractor Kiewit is managing the task of replacing rail overpasses at Pike Street and Orchard Lake that date to 1911 and are well past their prime. Their ten-and-a-half foot clearances over the roads were plenty high enough for the horse and buggy, but today's trucks are constantly getting stuck at those locations. More headroom for trucks is in the works for those locations.

At M-59, the trades are in the process of replacing a grade-level rail crossing - which has caused major traffic backups - with a vehicular underpass. One span has been completed, and on Aug. 6, iron workers completed work and set end-to-end a pair of 70-foot, 100-ton rail overpass sections. Each section costs about $1 million.


A 100-TON RAILWAY BRIDGE section is moved a few dozen feet from where it was assembled to its new home: it will be part of a new overpass over M-59 in Pontiac.

It was a busy day, not only because of the work that had to be done, but because television and print reporters were on hand to check out the action.

"Things went exceptionally well," said Kiewit Supt. Eric Grundke. "We had a good crew, good foremen, and the details were planned out ahead of time."

Trains rumble by every half hour or so on the first overpass, which was built in place at that location earlier this year. The newer span was built on solid ground off to the side, and lifted into place in one piece. That method was safer, shaved many days off the construction schedule, and resulted in better quality.

"It took a while to set up the pick, but once we set it, everything fit perfectly," said Jim Nash, general foreman for Iron Workers Local 25. He said the spans are anchored only by 16 inch-and-a-quarter galvanized bolts.

The Michigan Department of Transportation guidelines only allowed certified welders to put the bridge sections together. Welders had to be proficient in a relatively new technique called "submerged arc welding," and the quality of the seams on the bridges have been given magnetic particle tests.

Now that the new span is in place over M-59, it will be waterproofed, and the railroad will fill it with ballast stone and set the ties and track.

JUST BEFORE setting the latest section of railroad bridge over M-59, a group of iron workers paused for a photo. They include Local 25 BA Terry Brandon, general foreman James Nash, Superintendents Matt Bush and Eric Grundke, and journeymen Buck Knill, Tom Gering, Jeff Noble, Bob Merlo and Rick Nedrow (aka "Big Puppy").

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NEWS BRIEFS

Labor Day marches scheduled Sept. 6

Could Labor Day be just around the corner?

Yep, the day to honor the nation's workers is Monday, Sept. 6 and parades and celebrations are scheduled in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Marquette.

We will have more information in our next issue - our annual Labor Day issue - but this is a short reminder to mark your schedule.

For building trades workers in the Detroit area, the marching will begin at 10:30 a.m. along Michigan Ave., with the lineup along Trumbull Ave.

The line of march is as follows: Asbestos Workers, Cement Masons/Plasterers, Sheet Metal Workers, Pipe Trades, Bricklayers/Tile Masons, IBEW, Roofers, Iron Workers, Boilermakers, Laborers, Elevator Constructors, Painters, and Operating Engineers.

An expanded LaborFest will follow the parade.

 

School construction suffers under A

Many Michigan taxpayers were under the impression that Proposal A was going to permanently fix the way state schools are funded. If so, they were mistaken.

The ballot issue was approved by Michigan voters in March 1994 and shifted the way the state collects revenues by lowering property taxes an average of 17 percent while increasing the state sales tax from 4 to 6 percent. At the time, many Michigan residents assumed bond issues - which mostly pay for school renovations - would be a thing of the past.

But school districts across the state are continuing to put bond issues before local voters, often unsuccessfully asking for money for renovation and new construction projects. In only one of the last five years have local school bond proposals enjoyed more than a 50 percent win rate at the ballot box.

In fact, since 1995, local voters have rejected a total of $5.7 billion in bonds for school construction and renovation. That's not a healthy situation for the local school districts, or the construction industry.

State Rep. Rose Bogardus (D-Davison) is holding a series of public hearings focusing on the infrastructure needs of Michigan's schools. The aim is to identify school districts that are in crisis, figure out ways for the state to assist them, and help local districts to make construction bond proposals more palatable to voters.

"There is an urgent need at the local level for school repair funding," Bogardus said. "But there is a clear reluctance among local taxpayers to foot the entire bill. If we want our kids to learn in classrooms that are safe and modern, the state must be more than a bystander. The state must become a full-fledged partner with local communities in helping to rebuild, repair and re-wire our schools."

 

Robust industry cracks $400 billion

The value of new U.S. construction contracts advanced 2 percent in June and reached a milestone of $400.9 billion, said the F.W. Dodge Division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.

After its recent loss of momentum, the construction industry now appears to be stabilizing at what is still a very healthy level," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for Dodge.

Through the first six months of 1999, total construction activity on an unadjusted basis came in 6 percent above the corresponding 1998 amount. For that time period, the Midwest region was up 8 percent.

Paycheck protection surfaces again

WASHINGTON - The notorious "paycheck protection" bill pushed by Congressional Republicans has surfaced again.

Now it's called "The Worker Paycheck Fairness Act," and would ban union dues money from being spent on "activities unrelated to collective bargaining unless that employee gives prior, voluntary and written authorization."

In other words, every union member would have to give written permission every year for their union to do everything from hold picnics to buying toilet paper for their union hall.

A similar statewide measure was put on the shelf earlier this year in Michigan and 28 other states because of strong labor opposition.

 

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Electricians pull heavy duty cable to power new terminal

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

You won't find the electrical cable mains that will feed the new $570 million midfield terminal at Metro Airport at your neighborhood Home Depot.

And you won't find the workers who install it just anywhere, either.

The right electricians, the right cable and the right contractor - Centerline Electric - have come together in the major task of pulling 1.2 miles of three-and-a-half inch thick, 136 k.v. main feed that will supply power to the new terminal.

"This has gone very well, we're very pleased with the progress," said Centerline Electric President Clyde Jones. "The guys have done a great job."

The fat cable is extremely heavy and difficult to pull. It had to be routed underground from a Detroit Edison feed, under a runway through existing PVC conduit, and into an area where a substation for the terminal will be constructed. Made in Quebec by Pirelli, the cable run involves two circuits, about 40 electricians, 36 splices and a good deal of coordination and ingenuity.

LOCAL 58 ELECTRICIANS have been pulling 30,000-lb. spools of big 136 k.v. cable without a hitch at Metro Airport. In the photo (l-r) are Centerline Electric President Clyde Jones, Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski, BA Ed Kohler, foreman Brian Kohler, general foreman Brian Bonk, and some of the Local 58 journeymen on the crew.

"This kind of job is really rare for construction electricians," said foreman Brian Kohler of Centerline Electric and IBEW Local 58. "I've never worked with cable that's this thick or will carry this kind of voltage."

This job was part of the airport agreement that all work is to be done by building trades craft workers.

Pulling the wire is made much easier because of an innovation by project manager Ken Emerson, who added a variable speed drive to help turn the 30,000-lb. spools of cable as the cable is being pulled. On the other end, a wench, as usual, helps to pull the feed. In all, 36 spools of cable are being pulled.

"This has been well-planned, we're properly equipped, and you can't ask for a better group of guys to get the job done," said Centerline Electric general foreman Brian Bonk.

The cable costs $18 per foot, for good reason. At the center is an inch-and-a-half copper conductor consisting of 91 strands of wire. The strands are surrounded by a thin rubber membrane, which is surrounded by three-quarters of an inch of plastic, then another thin rubber layer, then a one-eighth-inch layer of lead, all encased in rubber.

"This is the biggest cable I've ever seen," said IBEW Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski. "It's a great opportunity to show what we can do. To me it's a great compliment to our quality of work, our training, and our work ethic. You have to be pleased with the result."

The wire pull is one of a number of recent milestones associated with the new terminal. The first structural iron for the terminal was installed last week, and we highlighted the record-breaking 23-hour cement pour for an airport access tunnel back in May.

When the two million square-foot terminal project really starts to get going a year from now, it's expected that 2,000 construction workers will be put to work. Combined with the rest of the work at the airport, it is easily the largest public works project ever in Michigan. More than $1.2 billion will be spent on the new airport.

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Workers who died building Mighty Mac are honored again

MACKINAC CITY - If you want to honor the memory of men who died doing something worthwhile, the least you can do is spell their names right.

That was the idea behind a July 29 ceremony re-dedicating a refurbished plaque that correctly spells the names of all five men who lost their lives building the Mackinac Bridge, which was completed in 1957. The plaque includes the corrected spelling of James LeSarge's name, which was spelled "LaSarge" on the original plaque.

On June 28, 1958, that plaque and another marker recognizing dignitaries whose vision made the bridge possible were attached to a bridge column at the south entrance of Colonial Michilimackinac when the span was formally dedicated.

"As soon as I heard there was an error on the plaque, I thought it should be corrected," said Mackinac Bridge Authority Executive Secretary Hank Lotoszinski. "The Mackinac Bridge stands as a testament to the courage and determination of those who built it. It is the crown jewel of Michigan. The people who worked on that project, especially those who lost their lives, should be remembered."

The rededication moved the plaques to a new, more visible location on a bridge column close to the entrance of the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor's Center.
Also on hand for the rededication were family members, labor representatives, State Transportation Director James DeSana, members of the Mackinac Bridge Authority and the State Transportation Commission.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Frank Garrison recognized the work of Michigan Building Trades Council Field Rep. Jack LaSalle and state AFL-CIO staffer Paul Seldenright for helping get the spelling changed and the plaque moved.

"But most of all, I want to remember and honor those five men who made the ultimate sacrifice," Garrison said. "The five who lost their lives in helping create this monument called the Mackinac Bridge, a bridge which now also serves as a monument to them."

Other workers who died building the bridge were Albert Abbott, Jack Baker, Robert Koppen and Frank Pepper.

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