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August 22, 2003
By Marty Mulcahy
YPSILANTI - The 50-year anniversary of the week-long United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters Instructor Program coincided with another major milestone: the dedication of the UA's new Regional Training Facility.
For the last 14 years, more than 2,000 pipe trades instructors from North America have descended on Washtenaw Community College as part of the UA's train the trainer program. This year, from Aug. 10-14, pipe trades instructors got a chance to eyeball a new building on campus built especially for them, the new 15,500 square-foot Great Lakes Regional Training Center.
UA General President Martin Maddaloni, on hand for the unveiling of the new training facility, called it "the center of operations" for the other four UA's regional training locales that are being constructed around the country. The Washtenaw Community College center will act as the hub to connect 326,000 members at 321 UA locals throughout North American via the UA's distance learning program.
Pipe trades instructors receive training in all areas of their craft, including back-flow prevention, welding, and how to teach a class.
"These training centers aren't state of the art, we're beyond that," Maddaloni said. "We're well beyond any training offered anywhere in the world."
About two weeks away from completion, the new training center includes:
J.M. Olson acted as general contractor on the fast-track project, which began late last year. "We've come a long way," said Project Supt. Wally Whims. "The tradespeople have worked very hard to bring us to where we're at."
It was hoped the center would be open in time for this year's training program, but unexpected strong groundwater pressures required construction modifications and set the schedule back.
"We're very happy with the new training center," said George Bliss, the UA's director of training. "Local 190, and the rest of the trades did a great job for us, and it will fit in very well with what we're trying to do."
Union members across Michigan are urged to make plans to attend Labor Day celebrations on Monday, Sept. 1.
Parades and parties are planned in Detroit, Grand Rapids, 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. Media rumors of the demise of the Detroit parade were greatly exaggerated - Hardhats are marching, but the rest of labor is celebrating later in September. Members of the laborers will lead the Sept. 1 march, followed by the elevator constructors, pipe trades, cement masons/plasterers, iron workers, roofers, painters and allied trades, boilermakers, sheet metal workers, bricklayers/tile masons, asbestos workers, electricians and operating engineers.
This year the march will proceed east on Fort Street to Washington Blvd. and then across Jefferson Ave. to the newly completed Labor Legacy Monument. The parade's theme: "American by birth, union by choice."
In Grand Rapids, parade-goers can gather at John Ball Park between 8 and 9 a.m., where buses will take participants to the staging area at Winter and Fulton streets. The parade starts at 10 a.m. After the parade a picnic will take place at John Ball Park.
In Marquette, the 2003 Labor Day Festival will start with an 11 a.m. parade along Third Street, followed by a picnic and other activities at Mattson Lower Harbor Park.
In Muskegon, the West Michigan United Labor Day Parade will
start at 11 a.m. The staging area is at Pere Marquette Park in
conjunction with the Shoreline Spectacular. A picnic at the park
will follow the parade.
The approach of Labor Day - a holiday that celebrates the contributions of the American worker - offers us the opportunity to take a quick look back at the founding of the cornerstone of the largest union organization in the U.S., the American Federation Labor - Council of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
And there's no separating the AFL-CIO from its founder and guiding hand, Samuel Gompers, who was nominated president of the fledgling federation of unions in 1886 and retained that position until his death in 1924. Following is a short history of Gompers, his views and his legacy.
Gompers was born in London, England, in 1850. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1863 and his family settled in New York. Gompers and his father worked as cigar makers. He became an active trade unionist and helped to reorganize the Cigarmakers' Union. In 1881 the Federation of Trades and Labor Unions was founded. Gompers became chairman of this new organization, and when it changed its name to the American Federation of Labor in 1886 he was elected its first president.
An intellectual and a skilled organizer and administrator, Gompers dedicated his life to the working class. He was a passionate advocate of shorter hours, higher wages, safe and sanitary working conditions, and workplace democracy.
"The ground-work principle of America's labor movement has been to recognize that first things must come first," Gompers said in 1911. "Our mission has been the protection of the worker, now; to increase his wages; to cut hours off the long workday, which was killing him; to improve the safety and the sanitary conditions of the workshop; to free him from the tyrannies, petty or otherwise, which served to make his existence a slavery."
Gompers believed that strong, well-financed trade unions would humanize industry, protect workers' interests, and in the process, create opportunities for workers to educate themselves and claim a larger role in industrial society.
When he became president of the AFL, Gompers became known as an advocate of what became known as "pure and simple trade unionism." This meant organizing workers into unions that would focus on struggles at the workplace, including higher wages, fewer hours of work, and improved working conditions.
But it will surprise many to learn that one of the labor giants in American history held what was then and now considered conservative political views.
Gompers opposed the creation of state health and unemployment insurance programs, welfare initiatives and minimum wage. He argued that welfare is "undemocratic" because it tends "to fix the citizens of the country into two classes, and a long established system would tend to make these classes rigid."
He acknowledged that "while our federation has thus been conservative, it has ever had its face turned toward whatever reforms, in politics or economics, could be of direct and obvious benefit to the working classes."
Gompers' endorsement agenda seemed very much independent - a far cry from today's political arena, where labor leaders lean toward Democrats as far and away the default choice for most of organized labor.
In the presidential election of 1892, in which the AFL did not take a position, Gompers suggested that there was a feeling of "dissatisfaction" and "antagonism" with both the Republican and Democratic parties among working class voters
Gompers wrote, "Broken promises to labor, insincere, half-hearted support and even antagonism of legislation in the interest of the toilers on the one hand, and the alacrity and devotion with which the interests of the corporations and the wealth-possessing class are nurtured, protected and advanced on the other, have had their effect, and the result is that many toilers have forever severed their connection with the old parties."
There are a lot of union members today who would maintain that things haven't changed much: many Democratic lawmakers continue to accept labor's money while offering "half-hearted support," while Republicans continue their devotion to "the interests of the corporations."
What has changed today is the partisanship of the political parties, with both parties nearly always defending their political turf without the give and take process. Although Democrats rarely stick their heads out for organized labor, most labor leaders maintain that Dems are the best hope workers have to maintain their standard of living.
Two days before his death in 1924, Gompers provided a few final words to live by to coming generations of union members. "Say to them that as I kept the faith I expect they will keep the faith. . . . Say to them that a union man carrying a card is not a good citizen unless he upholds the institutions of our great country, and a poor citizen . . . if he upholds the institutions of our country and forgets the obligations of his trade association."
Gompers once replied simply: "More."
"If a workingman gets a dollar and a half for ten hours' work, he lives up to that standard of a dollar and a half, and he knows that a dollar seventy-five would improve his standard of living and he naturally strives to get that dollar and seventy-five. After that he wants two dollars and more time for leisure, and he struggles to get it. Not satisfied with two dollars he wants more; not only two and a quarter, but a nine-hour workday. And so he will keep on getting more and more until he gets it all or the full value of all he produces."
"What does labor want?
"It wants the earth and the fullness thereof. There is nothing too precious; there is nothing too beautiful, too lofty, too ennobling, unless it is within the scope and comprehension of labor's aspirations and wants.
"We want more schoolhouses and less jails, more books and less arsenals, more learning and less vice, more constant work and less crime, more leisure and less greed, more justice and less revenge. In fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright."
Union groups showed they were all aboard a $400 million plan to convert an existing pair of railway tunnels under the Detroit River to hold truck traffic, while building a new tunnel to carry rail traffic.
An agreement was signed Aug. 8 at the Detroit entrance of the tunnel in Southwest Detroit to use union labor on the project, which is expected to alleviate congestion at the Ambassador Bridge and the existing vehicular tunnel under the Detroit River.
Dubbed the "Jobs Tunnel," the new single-rail portal would be 9,000 feet long and 27.5 feet in diameter. Plans call for the new tunnel to be constructed next to the existing two-tube rail tunnel, which was constructed in 1909 and would be converted to hold a lane of truck-only traffic in each direction that would connect to I-75 in Detroit and Highway 401 in Windsor.
"This is a great day for organized labor on both sides of the river," said Teamsters International Union President James Hoffa. "We are all delighted that the Jobs Tunnel will use union labor in its construction. That in and of itself will add significant jobs in Detroit and Windsor."
There is no shortage of opposition to the plan, especially in Windsor, where many residents object to the fumes and noise associated with the anticipated increased truck traffic. Still, the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership is moving ahead with the plan. Partnership CEO Michael Sheahan said "most of the financing is in place," and now the focus is "on getting permits from environmental and government agencies."
Sheahan said he anticipated a three-year construction process. Unlike the first rail tubes, which were floated over the river in 12 sections, sunk into place atop a trench in the riverbed and enclosed in concrete, plans call for the new tunnel to be bored under the river. The tunnel would contain only a single track, but it would be tall enough to hold rail cars that carry the tallest containers.
The existing concrete rail tunnel contains two separate tubes. Today, one is used for train traffic, the other is used for maintenance. In 1995, about 18 inches of concrete was shaved from the top of one of the 18-foot-tall rail tunnels to provide extra space so the tube could carry double-deck container cars. Since the, some of those containers have gotten even taller, and can't fit.
The Detroit-Windsor border is the busiest in the nation, with $92 billion in trade crossing every year. A large portion of that is done by the 3.5 million trucks that make the border crossing annually. Increased traffic and Homeland Security efforts often create hours-long waits to make the border crossing. Union leaders stressed that their support of this project doesn't mean they don't support the construction of other proposed crossings, like a second bridge.
"You have our wholehearted endorsement of this project," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council. "The Jobs Tunnel partnership obviously understands the skill and dedication of union construction workers. And like the existing tunnel, I expect that the new tunnel will also be providing good service 100 years from now."
The AFL-CIO has decided to "indefinitely" delay punitive action against the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBC), which stopped paying dues to the labor federation in 2001.
The Carpenters broke away from the AFL-CIO primarily over a dispute in how the federation spends dues money on organizing. According to the federation's constitution, any international union that disaffiliates is not allowed to remain in any subordinate body of the AFL-CIO - which effectively banned the Carpenters from the building trades.
Despite the situation at the AFL-CIO, the Carpenters and the rest of the building trades came to a side agreement last December that kept the UBC in the fold of the Building Trades Department - but without the AFL-CIO's blessing.
Now AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and the Executive Council have effectively decided to cast a blind eye to the rulebook while their talks continue with the Carpenters, the largest union in the building trades.
"The 15 affiliated unions of the Building Trades Department respect the fact that President Sweeney is under a constitutional obligation to take certain actions relative to the Carpenters' affiliation issue," said Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan. "However, we also appreciate his support of our proposal to hold the mandated disaffiliation of the UBC in abeyance indefinitely. In the intervening time we are confident that remaining issues of concern between the AFL-CIO and the UBC will be addressed and resolved to everyone's satisfaction."
In May 1996 the Michigan Regional Carpenters Council (MRCC) stopped paying per capita tax to the Greater Detroit and Michigan Building Trades councils, effectively withdrawing from those organizations. The MRCC continues to be disaffiliated with all of the state's building trades.
While the Carpenters International Union has re-affiliated with the national building trades, that union left the decision up to local unions to re-join local building trades councils.
"The construction industry is complicated and unique,"
Sullivan said. "The building trades can only survive with
all our crafts united in and strengthened by cooperative efforts.
For any of our affiliates to be disaffiliated with the building
trades would be at this time detrimental to the construction
trades and a setback for the labor movement."
By and large, Hardhats are highly skeptical of claims that there are, or will be, shortages of construction workers.
"There isn't enough work to keep everyone employed now," is one argument that few can dispute. "Travelers can always be imported to fill the gaps," is another prevailing opinion that may well be true. And given the prediction of a severe lack of construction workers in the boom years of the late 1990s - a shortage which largely never happened - skepticism about the need for more construction workers seems warranted.
Not so fast, said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., who made a revealing presentation on demographics to delegates at the 46th annual convention of the Michigan Building Trades Council.
"In a sense, given this economy, this is a weird presentation, with the number of your members currently looking for work," Glazer told delegates. "But the odds are in the coming years, the normal state of affairs is that there will be a labor shortage in Michigan."
Earlier this year, Glazer released a study of employment and population trends in the 1990s along with University of Michigan researcher Donald Grimes of the U-M Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. "Reports on employment don't usually start with population, but demographic trends are shaping employment in Michigan," said Grimes. "Michigan's population is both aging and growing slowly."
Glazer said over the next two decades, employers will be looking for workers in Michigan "over a broad spectrum of job categories." In the construction industry, he said, "there won't be enough people to do your work." The reasons:
Glazer warned that "we're leaving an era when there were more people than there were jobs available." U.S. industry, he said, is about to be turned on its head, from a scenario of relatively high unemployment to a surplus of jobs. Such a situation then brings us back to the aforementioned warnings about actively bringing more people into the construction industry. Is it a good idea?
Yes - good recruitment will be an absolute necessity for the survival of any company, Glazer said, because of all the fighting that will go on to attract workers. That led to a final observation, one that could - and with more study, perhaps should - affect how unions recruit new members.
He said a whopping 70 percent of young people make up their minds about their career choice in their 20s. Recruitment theories that it's best to get the attention of young workers in their high school or even junior high school years usually don't pan out. Glazer said his research indicates that only 10 percent of young people choose their eventual career choice in their high school years.
Glazer said people typically choose a career path after they leave high school or college and get a job. Using their job as a base, they acquire skills, a comfort zone, perhaps get a promotion, look around at other opportunities, talk to others, then pursue or settle on a job path.
He said the industries that will be the most successful in attracting new workers are those that have developed "a pipeline to new recruits," via connections through family, friends and business associates. The best example of this is the military, but he added that construction gives itself "an enormous advantage in that you don't leave your training to educational institutions, you do it yourself."
Successful organizations should start now to address recruiting challenges, he said.
"We're about to enter an historic turning point," Glazer said. "If organized labor is to survive you must deal with this issue."
Study: Union trades more productive
The study is significant because it is one of the few that has tried to evaluate construction worker productivity, a notoriously difficult subject to examine because of all the variables involved.
The study was also significant because it was presented to the annual construction conference of the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT), which represents major corporations that are the largest consumers in the construction industry. And CURT is hardly known as a bastion of union lovers.
Presented by Dean Findley, regional director of the firm Independent Project Analysis, the study focuses on "understanding effective contractor contribution to owner capital project performance and understanding effective team performance." The study was titled, "Understanding Labor Productivity in High Wage Regions," and surveyed 1,185 construction projects in the U.S. and Europe.
The results: In the U.S., union jobs are almost 17% more productive on average than open shop projects. Mixed union/non-union jobs are slightly less productive than fully open shop jobs and much less productive than all-union jobs. The study also found that subcontractor-supplied labor is 13% more productive than direct-hire, on average.
The importance of studying construction productivity for owners was based on five key reasons:
Candidates endorsed for Sept. 9 primary
Building trades union members are urged to research and vote for candidates who support organized labor.