August 31, 2007
proposal the latest struggle in cycle of labor history
hello Labor Day - Events slated in several communities
'Hire Michigan First:'
Dems win first round in local hiring effort
Will we let YO-YOs
decide our future?
On a roll, trades
complete MSU dorm work
proposal the latest struggle in cycle of labor history
By Marty Mulcahy
Old-timers swear that a lot of things were better when
they were younger - and when it comes to unions and Labor Day
celebrations, they may have a point.
The peak of union influence over the last century took place
in 1953, when 36 percent of private sector workers in the U.S.
were unionized. In January 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS) reported that private sector union membership had dropped
in 2006 to 7.4 percent (12 percent if government workers are
Union membership numbers in the U.S. have been steadily declining
- and they might get worse before they get better. In Michigan
the BLS said in January that our state's private/public unionization
rate continued to decline, from 21 percent in 2005 to 19.6 percent
(or 879,000 union workers) in 2006.
Still, Michigan has the sixth highest union penetration percentage
in the nation - and there's expected to be a strong push by the
business community to knock that ranking down a few pegs by bringing
a right-to-work ballot initiative to Michigan, perhaps as early
as next year.
"Those who want to fix Michigan only by seeking to attract
businesses to a low-wage state have it wrong," said Michigan
AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. "Families need adequate
income to have a high quality of life. Trying to reduce our way
to prosperity by cutting wages and benefits and weakening unions
just doesn't work."
The concept that history repeats itself is probably most appropriate
when looking at the labor movement over the last century. In
the first half of the century, the nation had an economic system
that didn't provide health insurance or pension plans for workers
- and unions were weaker until after World War II.
After the war, with the resurgence of union clout, came a
system of employer-provided health insurance and pensions that
became the norm.
Now, with the federal government looking on, the system is
shifting away from employer-backed health insurance and pensions.
More than 40 million Americans are now without health insurance,
and increasingly, defined contribution pensions are being replaced
with 401k plans as part of a conservative agenda for workers
to take "ownership" of their money.
"It has gone in a circle hasn't it?" said Stan Arnold,
84, who led the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades
Council from 1957 until his retirement in 1984. "Way back
when, we fought to get the pay and the pensions and the health
insurance. People in the unions today are fighting to keep those
Mack Cenahowicz, 88, a Taylor resident, recalled that when
he was 16 he lied and said he was two years older in order to
get hired into a nonunion metal finishing plant in 1936. "The
pay wasn't great," he said of the Depression-era job, "and
they worked the hell out of you."
He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and eventually
found work after the war as a union plumber in 1952.
"I got into the trades and it was automatically a better
lifestyle," he said. "I bought a car, bought a house
and was able to save some money.
"I don't think people in their 40s, 50s or 60s realize
that bringing in the union in those days meant survival,"
Cehanowicz said. "Unions brought in a safety factor, the
union meant that they couldn't treat you like cattle.
"Now all the jobs are going to countries where there
are no unions. In my opinion, the workers in those countries
who have gotten our jobs because of NAFTA and CAFTA are in the
same situation that we were in during the 1930s. It will take
time, but maybe those workers will be like we were, and realize
they need a union, too."
Arnold said he had to have special "working papers"
to work in the Lathers union as a 15-year-old in 1937 - "and
the wages were nothing," he said. After he served as a Marine
in World War II, he came home and worked his trade earning $1.72
per hour - "that was good money," he said, made possible
by the union.
He said even as a union member, the only thing workers received
from employers was a paycheck. The first benefit unions sought
and won was vacation pay, then later a pension and health insurance.
"That was a time when we had to stand up with each other
and demand improvements," Arnold said. "There was a
lot of solidarity then, but it was a way of life. Of course we
went to show solidarity at the Labor Day parades. It was the
thing to do. Now they're trying to take away the pensions and
the health care and lower the pay with right to work. It is like
summer, hello Labor Day - Events slated in several communities
We don't know where the summer went, either - but as the end
of August starts to loom, it's time to start thinking about Labor
Building trades workers are encouraged to join with their
fellow union members and celebrate Labor Day on Monday, Sept.
3. Labor Day celebrations will be held this year in Detroit,
Grand Rapids, Marquette/Ishpeming and Muskegon.
Here are some of the things you might need to know about each
Detroit -The 2007 Detroit Labor Day Parade will start
earlier than usual at 9 a.m. It will be staged as usual for the
building trades along Trumbull Ave. south of Michigan Ave., proceeding
along Michigan to Woodward. The earlier starting time will allow
the building trades to move ahead of the other unions' line of
march, which moves south along Woodward Avenue to Jefferson Avenue
to the Legacy of Labor Monument in Hart Plaza.
The theme of the Detroit parade is "Unions benefit all
The building trades parade lineup will start with the IBEW,
followed by the Pipe Trades, the Sheet Metal Workers, Boilermakers,
Bricklayers and Allied Crafts, Cement Masons/Plasterers, Laborers,
Iron Workers, Painters, Roofers, Heat and Frost Insulators and
A blood drive will be held on Labor Day in the basement of
IBEW Local 58 on Abbott Street, east of Trumbull from 7-1 p.m.
Walk-ins are welcome. The American Red Cross reports that they
usually collect 30-40 pints of blood in this collection effort
- which would be welcome this year with blood supplies running
The Grand Rapids United Labor Day Parade starts at
10 a.m. on Labor Day. The staging area will be in the Grand Valley
parking lots (Mt. Vernon lot and Watson lot) on the south side
of Fulton and Mt. Vernon Ave.,
The shuttle to take walking participants from John Ball to
the staging area starts running at 7 a.m. Members wishing to
drive their company vehicles, cars or motorcycles in the parade
should report directly to the staging area by 7 am. After the
parade there will be a hospitality tent with refreshments and
Marquette - The annual Labor Day Festival will be in
Ishpeming, southwest of Marquette. The parade will start
at 11 a.m. EST on Labor Day, with a parade along Euclid Street,
Main Street, Division Street and Lakeshore Drive. A picnic and
program will follow at the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum and Lake
Bancroft Park on Lakeshore and Euclid Streets.
The Muskegon United Labor Day Parade will be at Pere
Marquette Park on Labor Day, Sept. 3, 2007. The parade begins
at 11a.m. Participants should meet at the Harbor Towne area at
9 a.m. to catch the trolley to the staging area. Following the
parade will be a Solidarity Tent with food and refreshments.
Michigan First:' Dems win first round in local hiring effort
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - An effort to give preference to hiring Michigan
workers on state taxpayer-funded projects moved quickly last
week, and resulted in a victory for the home team.
On Aug. 20, State Rep. Fred Miller (D-Mt. Clemens) announced
a plan "that gives priority for economic development projects
to companies that employ 100 percent Michigan workers."
The "Hire Michigan First" initiative would also crack
down on the practice of hiring illegal immigrants and would prohibit
businesses that violate these guidelines from receiving tax breaks
or future state contracts.
Then the initiative quickly became implemented. As the state
Senate was going to vote on new spending measures on Aug. 22,
State Sen. John Gleason (D-Flushing) attached an amendment to
Senate Bill 239, which provides funding for projects that come
out of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.
The amendment was right out of the playbook for "Hire Michigan
First" effort. The pro-Michigan-worker amendment passed,
38-0, with all Democrats and Republicans voting for it.
the amendment was adopted shortly after state Republicans
unanimously rejected an identical amendment attaching the "Hire
Michigan First" legislation to a bill funding projects sponsored
by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
"After it went down the first time, I figured what the
hell, I'd try to shame them (Republican senators) into going
along with it," Gleason said. "I just got up an asked
them 'whose side are you on? Out-of-state workers? Illegal aliens?
Or Michigan workers?' They voted for Michigan workers. Maybe
they were embarrassed."
With the House controlled by Democrats, passage of the bill
with the pro-Michigan worker amendment is expected.
"Michigan families have been hit hard by outsourcing
and downsizing, and every scarce state dollar should be used
to create jobs here in Michigan," Miller said.
The "Hire Michigan First" effort was unveiled last
month with considerable pressure from building trades unions.
A consistent sore point over the past year has been the ongoing
construction at the Marysville Ethanol, LLC plant south of Port
Huron. The $95 million plant received a four-year, 100 percent
tax abatement from St. Clair County, plus considerable state
incentives. They hired hundreds of construction workers - some
of them union who are local residents, many who are nonunion
and who live out of state.
"I think this 'Hire Michigan First' effort is long overdue,"
said Mike Moran, business agent for IBEW Local 58. Moran and
other agents and supporters have staged pickets on the highway
in front of the plant nearly once a week for a year to call attention
to the hiring of out-of-area workers. "It's great that we
have friends like (State Reps) Fred Miller and Terry Brown in
the House and John Gleason in the Senate who are willing to fight
for us. After all, we're the taxpayers who are helping to pay
for these jobs - we should be the ones who benefit."
State Democratic lawmakers aim to have the "Hire Michigan
First" rule permanently tied into spending packages for
10 other state-funded programs, including the Transportation
Economic Development Fund, the 21st Century Jobs Fund and the
Michigan Economic Growth Authority.
The policy would require companies that accept state economic
development incentives to report who they hire to ensure that
Michigan workers are hired first - "encouraging transparency
Businesses with contracts for construction of state buildings
would be required to hire 100 percent of their workers from Michigan
- strengthening the current requirement of 50 percent.
And, companies found to hire illegal immigrants would have
their state incentives and contracts canceled, require them to
pay back past incentives, and bar them from future dealings with
"I've visited the pickets in Marysville a few times,
and I learned a lot," Gleason said. "There are investigations
going on regarding whether workers there are in this country
legally. Everything about this whole situation, with what's going
on in Marysville and in Lansing, should remind building trades
workers to remember who their friends are at election time."
we let YO-YOs decide our future?
By Jared Bernstein
Economic Policy Institute
As Labor Day once again dawns on America, we are faced with
old problems and new solutions.
As any economic cheerleader from Wall Street or Washington
will tell you, we've been posting some impressive economic statistics,
the most important of which is faster productivity growth.
These same boosters will stress that faster growth of output
per hour is the main channel through which we achieve higher
But over the past few years, that channel has been blocked,
and economic growth is failing to reach many, if not most, working
families. Real wages for most workers, after rising for the first
few years of the 2000s, have fallen lately, and despite 14 percent
higher productivity, a typical worker's real weekly earnings
are down 3 percent over this expansion. Median family income
is down about $1,500 since 2000, and more than 5 million people
have been added to the poverty rolls.
In other words, the economy looks fine until you take a closer
look at the people in it. And while it continues to bewilder
those who focus exclusively on these top-line statistics, majorities
consistently report dissatisfaction with the economy.
But it should be no mystery. Many families, stretching to
meet their budgets with squeezed paychecks after filling up their
gas tanks, must be wondering: With recoveries like this, who
So where's the growth going? Again, no mystery: Profits, as
a share of GDP, are the highest they've ever been.
Like I said, it's an old story. But this Labor Day, the story
doesn't stop here.
Today, there is a palpable sense among the public that our
leaders are not up to the challenges they face. This is most
clear in the foreign policy arena, but you see it on the economy
as well. A recent New York Times/CBS poll revealed that for the
first time since they started asking the question in the early
1980s, fewer than half of the adults surveyed expect their children's
living standards to surpass their own.
Stop and ponder this for a second. America's workers are working
harder and smarter than ever before, and we've got the productivity
numbers to prove it. But we're growing more pessimistic about
our kids' future.
Something is awfully wrong with this picture, and I believe the
YOYOs are at the root of it.
YOYO is the acronym for "You're On Your Own," the
philosophy that drives much of today's politics and policy. It's
the idea that the best way to solve the economic challenges we
face, from Social Security to health care to globalization and
inequality, is a tax cut, a private account and a pat - if not
a shove - on the back as individuals are pushed to fend for themselves
in the private market, supposedly tapping the power of competitive
forces to deal with these daunting forces.
What's lost amid all this rampant, hyper-individualism is
the sense of WITT ("We're In This Together"), the notion
that there are problems - like those just cited - that are too
large for individuals to face down on their own. Each of these
challenges is much more effectively addressed by pooling risk,
not shifting it to individuals.
Conservatives have been pummeling progressives on these issues
for decades, arguing with tremendous conviction - but without
convincing evidence - that any steps toward the WITT agenda will
kill the golden goose of growth. Whether it's universal health
care, a higher minimum wage, greater union power, or a pause
in trade agreements while we build the policy structure to offset
the downsides of globalization, the YOYOs have only one message:
"Sounds nice, but sorry
can't go there."
This Labor Day, their arguments ring especially hollow. The
gap between productivity and working-family incomes is too large
to ignore, and politicians do so at their peril. Be prepared
to hear a lot more about these problems as coming election cycles
Which leaves us with the critical question: What, precisely,
will those who want our support propose to do to close the gap?
You'll recognize the Your On Your Owns easily enough: They bemoan
the problem, and their solutions will be a) patience, b) privatization,
c) tax cuts for investors, and d) more education (the opportunities
are there; you're just not smart enough to take advantage of
The We're In This Togethers will support the education agenda,
because it's critical for equalizing opportunity. But they won't
stop there. They'll recognize that the time has come to construct
the architecture needed to start actively shaping economic outcomes,
not passively accepting them. They will speak of universal health
care (listen for "Medicare for All") and replacing
the labor demand sapped by globalization by actively creating
more quality job opportunities through full employment initiatives
and investment in public infrastructure, including energy independence.
They will support a rational fiscal policy that stresses a
measured role for government, not one based on starving the public
sector of the revenues it needs to do its job.
There lies the continuum on which we should judge those who
seek our support. At one end lies YOYO'ism. Been there, done
that, and the pendulum has already begun its swing. The question
is how far toward the other end - toward the WITT agenda - will
That, ultimately, is up to us.
(The author is senior economist at the labor-backed Economic
Policy Institute is the author of All Together Now: Common Sense
for a Fair Economy, published by Berrett-Koehler and available
from The Union Shop Online).
a roll, trades complete MSU dorm work
By Marty Mulcahy
EAST LANSING - Just in time for the new fall semester, the
building trades late last month were wrapping up the renovation
of the Snyder/Phillips residence halls.
The adjacent dormitory halls received their first major overhaul
since they were built in 1946. The renovation work cost more
than $40 million. Renovations to nearby Shaw Hall (completed
in 2002) and Mason/Abbott (1997) were also performed by the building
"This was a major project and the tradespeople and contractors
really did an outstanding job for us," said Sherry Margraves,
MSU's manager for construction maintenance and interior design.
"It was a major engineering project and they did it in a
short period of time, and got it ready for this semester."
The major part of the project was demolishing the center portion
of Snyder Hall and excavating 13 feet below the existing building
to allow for easier hookup with steam and other utility lines
that snake through the campus. The demolished area of the hall
was replaced with a cool food court that has several dining options,
art gallery and classrooms.
According to Jeff White, project superintendent for Christman
Construction, careful planning for the project allowed for immediately
putting to work some 150 construction workers at the project's
inception in May 2006. The job peaked out at about 220 workers.
He said the planning and construction process had an added
layer of complexity by the interconnection and redundancies (for
backup) of steam and electrical lines with other buildings on
the campus. "Whatever we did affected other buildings, so
it was almost like doing three or four projects at the same time,"
The Snyder/Phillips renovation project also included: upgrading
the community restrooms, replacing windows, restoring exterior
masonry, replacing the fire alarm system, adding an indoor sprinkler
system, updating the electrical distribution system, adding an
emergency generator, upgrading the ventilation systems, and
improving building accessibility.
"It is important that renovations upgrade our facilities
so that they enhance safety while better meeting the needs and
wishes of our students," said Charles Gagliano, assistant
vice president for Housing and Food Services, when the project
was announced. "The renovations will also provide more privacy
and space for students, and help the university maintain the
residence hall for the next several years."
Approximately 290,000 square feet of space was involved in
the renovated portion of the project, and another 87,000 square
feet of new space was added.
"The construction crew here has been great to work with,
but they really should be called a team," White said. "It
takes a team to do some $40 million worth of work in 15 months.
These guys were really rolling."
HANDLING WIRE for a VAB box at the Snyder
dorm on the Michigan State University campus is Chuck Smith of
IBEW Local 665.
Below, grinding a 3-inch steam line is Greg
Paksi of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33, while Dennis Gordon
looks away from the sparks.
July construction retreats 11 percent
The value of new U.S. construction starts fell 11% in July to
$588.1 billion, according to an Aug. 22 report by McGraw-Hill
Nonresidential building experienced "an exceptionally
strong June" but returned to a slower pace, the report said.
Residential building "continued to weaken" the report
For the first seven months of 2007, total construction on
an unadjusted basis was reported at $363.2 billion, down 13%
from the same period a year ago. If residential building is excluded,
then new construction starts during the January-July period of
2007 would be up 2% compared to last year.
"July's slower activity for nonresidential building was
expected, since June had been boosted by the start of several
massive projects," stated Robert A. Murray, vice president
of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "The year-to-date
figures show that
nonresidential building, up 1%, is performing fairly well in
2007. For residential building, however, the July report shows
that this market continues to lose momentum, and that the correction
for homebuilding is turning out to be deeper and more extended
than initially believed.
By region, the Midwest was down 11% in July.
Construction gains 4.6% in bargaining
Collective bargaining settlements among all U.S. construction
contracts through mid-July showed that the average first-year
wage increase was 4.6 percent, compared with 3.9 percent in 2006.
The information was compiled and released last month by the Construction
In collective bargaining among all industries, average first-year
increases so far this year were 3.6 percent, compared to 3.2
percent in 2006.
In the meantime, another group, the Construction Labor Research
Council, via the Construction Labor Report, issued similar numbers
for all of unionized construction, saying that first-year wage-benefit
increases were up 4.7 percent, or $1.90 per hour through June
2007. That compares to $1.74 a year ago.
The CLRC said most construction first-year increases fell
between 3.0 percent and 5.9 percent. In Michigan and the rest
of the "East North Central Region," the CLRC said the
average increase was below the rest of the country: $1.72 (or
4.2 percent) for wages and benefits in the first year, and $1.72
(3.9 percent) for the second year.
Send Wal-Mart back to school
WASHINGTON (PAI) - With rallies in 100 cities and radio spots
in 26 markets, union-backed Wake-Up Wal-Mart launched a new drive
August 16 to get consumers to stop buying school supplies at
the monster anti-worker retailer Wal-Mart, unless it cleans up
"Send Wal-Mart Back to School" featured community
leaders, activists, teachers and students with blue T-shirts
and black chalkboard banners, seeking consumer pledges to boycott
Wal-Mart unless it starts paying a living wage, ends discrimination
against women, "adopts a zero tolerance policy on child
labor," and provides affordable health care to its workers
rather than forcing taxpayers to foot half the bill.
AFT signed a letter calling on Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott to address
the company's irresponsible business practices. "As the
nation's largest private employer, with profits of $12 billion
in just the past year, Wal-Mart can afford to do better by its
employees, its customers, taxpayers and the children of America,"
the union wrote.