The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index
August 30, 2002
By Edwin Hill
We're in the middle of what might be called the patriotic season.
In early July we celebrated Canada Day and Independence Day, and on we move to Labor Day.
This year, of course, September will also mark - with mourning and resolve - the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the closing months of 2001, I was heartened by the surge of unity and patriotism across this continent. All elements of society seemed to be putting aside normal squabbles for the greater good. Thousands of members of the IBEW and other unions literally joined the fight through their military reserve duty. Hundreds of thousands of other union members are working at home in related efforts to keep our nations strong.
But the unity has cracked. Working North America has upheld its end of the bargain. Corporate North America and their political puppets have betrayed us.
What kind of country will our military reservists come home to? Following Sept. 11, members of both parties acted with haste to use our money to bail out the airline industry that suffered such tremendous losses in the shutdown of commercial aviation caused by the attacks. You and I helped make sure that airline executives continued to make millions. But when it came to providing relief for industry workers, Congress could not free up a single penny. In the following months, corporate welfare flowed like water, but relief for the unemployed was a mere trickle.
Then came the renewed drive for fast track trade negotiating authority for the President of the United States. Taken away in 1994, this provision gives the administration the power to negotiate trade deals with other nations and then send them to Congress on the "fast track" for an up or down vote with no amendments.
Taking this authority away from Presidents was one of the few weapons workers had available to help fight for their interests as corporate powers carved up the global economic pie.
But fast track is just a short step away from being back, having passed both houses of Congress after some tortuously close votes. And this comes as the loss of jobs due to NAFTA and other trade policies is at an all-time high. The destruction of our industrial base - even those parts that keep our national defense strong - has ripple effects that are felt by every worker in every occupation.
And now comes the seemingly endless trail of corporate scandals and with them the near collapse of the financial markets. The contempt that corporate executives have shown for the middle class, for lawmakers, and for any bounds of decency and fair play is nothing less than obscene.
When organized labor tried to sound the alarms, right-wing forces in politics and the media accused us of waging old-fashioned class warfare.
Brothers and sisters, there is class warfare, all right-the wealthiest and most powerful in this country have declared all out war on the middle class and the poor. They have systematically attacked and attempted to dismantle every safeguard, every advance and every bit of security that North American workers have fought for, earned and built over seven decades.
We are not powerless. Another season is almost upon us in the United States - election season. It is time for a little accountability on the part of those who claim to represent us. Our job is to sort through the cheap rhetoric and the attempts to drive wedges between workers through issues like guns or school vouchers or whatever.
The issue is jobs. The issue is social trust. We need to have faith in God, faith in our nation, and faith in each other as fellow trade union members. And our immediate task this fall is to call the roll, take names, and keep score. Are we a society that lives by its own rules and allows true freedom and opportunity? Or are we descending into the jungle where only the strongest survive and the rest fight over crumbs? Those in power who hold public office can't duck these questions.
Our situation is that stark, brothers and sisters. Not in my lifetime have the choices been so sobering. Let's get to work.
Edwin D. Hill
MT. PLEASANT - Jennifer Granholm was unanimously endorsed for Michigan governor Aug. 21 by delegates to the Michigan Building Trades Council's 45th Annual Convention.
"Jennifer Granholm envisions a bright future for construction workers and their families under her administration," said MBTC Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "We intend to work very hard on her behalf to ensure that she will be elected Michigan's next governor."
The Michigan Building Trades Council represents more than 80,000 trade union members statewide.
By Marty Mulcahy
MT. PLEASANT - In a speech clearly geared to her audience, Democratic Michigan gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Granholm pointed out the reasons she - and not Republican candidate Dick Posthumus - is the best candidate to protect the interests of Michigan's construction workers.
She spoke to delegates to the Michigan Building Trades Council's 45th convention on Aug. 21, and was endorsed by the delegates shortly afterward.
"For 12 years under the Engler Administration you have been out of the loop," Granholm said. "When I am governor, organized labor and the building trades will have a voice at the table. My administration will be partners with you and you will be able to give recommendations on boards and commissions and draft regulations. I will turn to you for input on critical issues that affect your job, your family and personal issues like health care."
Granholm told delegates that she realized the building trades "are a trade union organization, not a Democratic Party organization." She then proceeded to talk about three major issues of importance to the building trades:
Prevailing wage: "I have been to battle with you to protect prevailing wage," she said. "Prevailing wage will be sacrosanct. It will be protected and preferred."
On the issue of firearms: "Take comfort in the fact the Michigan Democratic Party is establishing a hunting and fishing caucus which will be talking about preserving peoples' right to carry weapons and to hunt and fish and make Michigan the great state that it is," Granholm said. "Please know that I believe in the Second Amendment.
"I will not take away your guns. But they (Republicans) will take away your right to organize.
"I will not take away your guns. They will take away the prevailing wage.
"I will not take away your guns. They will try to take away your unemployment benefits.
Be very clear about this. You have a friend on this issue."
Unemployment benefits: This spring, the Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate finally agreed to raise the maximum jobless benefit level to $362 per week after the level had been kept at $300 per week since 1995. Republicans pushed for a waiting week for workers to receive benefits, but that was beaten back through the lobbying efforts of organized labor.
"I am glad we were able to win the fight on the penalty week, but obviously the benefits levels leave a lot to be desired," Granholm said. "One of the draconian moves of this administration was to cap the level at $300."
"They talk about tax cuts, but the tax cuts they talk about will only help the wealthy and are not the tax cuts that are most beneficial to stimulating the economy. That's what unemployment benefits do. We need to index unemployment benefits to the inflation rate."
Granholm said the state's workers "have been playing defensive ball" for the last 12 years, "and now it's time for us to start writing the laws." She said the Department of Labor will be made independent again and taken out from under the state Department of Industry and Consumer Services.
"When I am governor labor and the building trades will
have a voice at the table," she said. "No more getting
kicked in the teeth. For 12 years you have been out of the loop
and finally the welcome mat will be put out."
By Marty Mulcahy
MT. PLEASANT - For workers in Michigan and around the nation, the fight for respect, fair wages and safe workplaces never ends.
That concept formed the foundation of the 45th Annual Convention of the Michigan Building Trades Council (MBTC) held Aug. 20-22, as delegates were reminded what organized labor has done, what it can do - and what can be done to it.
"The men and women in the building trades made us all proud to be part of this movement after what happened on Nine-Eleven," said MBTC Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "There were 62 of our people who died in the attack, and many more walked, ran or came by truck to help out with the rescue effort
"There were many lessons to be learned from the attacks of Sept. 11. They sound trite, but they're true: Don't take things for granted. Don't sit on the sidelines if you can help people. And be aware of your enemies."
The national sense of fellowship proved to be short-term. Any goodwill unions earned after 9-11 was supplanted by news of corporate accounting scandals that shook the nation's economy, which was already in a recession. Small investors lost tremendous amounts of money. Lawmakers bickered over how much to spend on national defense, and whether or not the new Homeland workers should be unionized.
"Our unions have kept us strong and effective," Boensch said. "But our state and nation face profound economic hardships. Part of the solution will be in the political choices we make this fall."
The choices on the ballots of Michigan voters will be particularly crucial this year. Michiganians will choose: a new governor, attorney general and secretary of state, university regents, lawmakers in the state Senate and House, hundreds of judges, as well as county commissioners and some local officials.
Michigan Senate Minority Leader John Cherry (D-Flint) told delegates that Michigan has been ruled by a "corporate democracy" for the past 12 years of state government - "how many shares you own determines how many votes you get" with the Engler Administration.
"Unions associated with the Michigan building trades have provided the essentials for workers to live a good life," Cherry said. "But as far as your government is concerned, I've watched over the last 12 years as the Engler Administration has dismantled MIOSHA, and health and safety laws, and have wreaked havoc with worker compensation and attacked public schools. Well that's all about to change.
"It's time to take back the state, and that's our job and challenge this fall."
Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin told delegates that gun rights are one subject building trades unions reps and politicians are going to have to start discussing.
"Of course, we're going to have to do the traditional things that labor does - including the get-out-the-vote efforts and the spending of PAC money," Devlin said. "But we also have some other work to do - and that means making sure that we have our own members' needs in mind.
"Frankly, in the building trades, gun owners are either a huge minority or a majority of our membership. Throughout our recent history, our legislative goals have been dominated by preserving our incomes through prevailing wage, maintaining job safety, and initiating project labor agreements.
"We should continue to pursue those goals, but isn't it time we started listening to a huge faction of our members and started talking about gun owners' rights? We don't need to ram the issue down anyone's throat - but we should point out to candidates that gun owners' rights are a major issue with our membership, and that winning their vote could depend on the position that candidate takes toward gun owners."
By Marty Mulcahy
YPSILANTI - Every year in August, there's one location in the nation that's the center of the universe, so to speak, for education in the plumbing, pipe fitting and sprinkler industries.
This year, as it has for the last 13 years, Washtenaw Community College hosted the week-long, 49th annual Instructor Training Program for the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters. This year, 1,777 pipe trades union instructors from across the U.S. and Canada descended on the campus from Aug. 10-16, absorbing lessons in everything from orbital tube welding to backflow repair and maintenance to how to develop a lesson plan.
"The continued growth of this program is an enormous inspiration to all of us who care so deeply about training," said UA General President Martin Maddaloni. "It is proof that the United Association truly supports training and understands that it is our instructors who carry the enormous responsibility for preparing each new generation of craftspeople."
Pipe trades instructors take the information they learn back to their home local unions and upgrade their own curriculums and methods of teaching. This year, there were 203 graduates of the five-year program - the largest graduating class ever.
"We're always happy to come back here to Washtenaw County," said UA Training Director George Bliss. "It's been a wonderful place for us to use."
Bliss said there are constant upgrades and expansions of the training program. The most significant, he said, is a new college credit program that allows graduates of the UA Training Program to apply their education at Washtenaw Community College to gain up to 30 credit hours toward getting a degree at another college.
"It's always good to have the UA here, and have our area be the center of attention for a week," said Business Manager Ron House of host UA Local 190. "The depth and detail of all the classes on the curriculum is really amazing. It gets bigger and better every year, and next year we're going to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Instructor Training Program. We're already planning for it."
The Operating Engineers Local 324 Blue team rode a stellar 19-4 record en route to winning the 2002 Building Trades Softball League Championship. The league wrapped up play on Monday, Aug. 12 with a one-game elimination playoff tournament.
"I think maturity was the biggest key to us doing so well this year," said Local 324 Blue Manager Kim Chafee. "That and we really came out to play ball. And along the way we played good defense and we hit the ball well."
The Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 team came in second place at 16-7, IBEW Local 58 came in third place (14-9) followed by the Operators Red team (13-10), which had won the championship the last few years but came in fourth place.
"The Blue team did a great job this year," said
Local 324 Business Manager Sam T. Hart. "We've got two good
teams; this year the Blue picked up where the Red team left off."
Recruitment program for veterans begins
Formally started by representatives of building trades unions and eight contractor associations on Aug. 1, the parties approved bylaws, elected a board of directors and an advisory board. The nonprofit group is called the new Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment. Both the U.S. Senate and House have approved funding for the project for one year.
"Military service people are ideal candidates,"
said the building trades' publication, The Builder. "They're
educated, racially diverse, drug-free, have a record of dependability,
The building trades say there will be a deficit of construction workers nationwide over the next five years.
Edward Sullivan, president of the AFL-CIO Building Trades
Department and Kenneth Hedman, vice president and manager of
labor relations for Bechtel Construction Co., will share the
chairmanship of the group. The federal government will fund $4
million of the $6.4 million cost; the building trades and contractors
will split the remainder.
Sweeney told reporters, in an interview after the close of
And though the Carpenters have not been formally in the federation
Carpenters President Douglas McCarron took his union out of
Both Sweeney and AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President
Edward Sullivan have since met with McCarron to try to bring
the Carpenters back. Sweeney, said the focus in the talks "has
been on organizing, resources for organizing, and
McCarron could not be reached for comment on the status of