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August 3, 2007

Rulings show why the NLRB isn't working for workers

House cuts funds for anti-union Labor Department agency

Doors open at Odawa Casino

Trades try to leave a light footprint at Motor City Casino

State's roads could take another hit with reduced federal funding forecast

Does your hard hat deserve to be retired?

News Briefs

 

Rulings show why the NLRB isn't working for workers

By Dmitri Iglitzin & Steven Hill

With the Democratic Party regaining control of Congress for the first time since 1994, Democratic leaders should look to undo the effects the Bush administration has had on America's workers. But that won't be easy, because one institution that remains solidly in Republican and anti-worker hands is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the country's chief arbiter of labor disputes.

Although nominally a quasi-judicial entity appointed by the president and empowered to adjudicate labor disputes, the NLRB actually sets the rules that govern those disputes and thereby exerts an enormous influence over who prevails.

In case after case over the past several years, the Republican-dominated board has taken positions that have hurt America's workers.

Last year, in the Oakwood Healthcare decision, the board found (by its usual 3 to 2 Republican majority) that a group of Michigan nurses are excluded from the protection of the nation's most important labor laws on the spurious grounds that they are "supervisors," not employees. In one stroke, these workers - and potentially tens of thousands of others - lost the right to be in a union and to advocate collectively for workplace improvements.

The same September day as the Oakwood decision, the board also cut back on the right of employees to wear union buttons at work. That case arose out of a dispute in San Diego at the W Hotel, which, according to its owner, the Starwood Hotels & Resorts chain, seeks to give its guests a "wonderland" hotel experience where they get "whatever they want, whenever they want it."

For its employees, however - mostly low-paid Latino laborers - the hotel is no wonderland. Some wore buttons bearing four words - "Justice Now! Justicia Ahora!" - and the name of their union. The W demanded workers take them off.

The NLRB sided with the W because the buttons were "controversial." W guests now need not worry about having their wonderland experience marred by seeing employees exercise their First Amendment rights. That rule is now precedent and can be applied to workers in labor disputes across the country.

But what happened in San Diego is nothing compared to what happened to workers in Jacksonville, Texas, just the day before. Back in 2000, the employees of a small meat-cutting department at a Jacksonville Wal-Mart voted to unionize. A week later, Wal-Mart announced that it was phasing out in-store meat-cutting departments nationwide.

It took six years for the NLRB to conclude that Wal-Mart had unlawfully retaliated against workers trying to unionize. Even then, the board disregarded the ruling of its own administrative law judge and decided that, even though Wal-Mart violated the law, it can't be ordered to restore the unionized meat department. Add up the score: Wal-Mart - 3,245 nonunion stores; union-represented workers - zero.

These are just the latest in what is now a long line of literally dozens of anti-worker NLRB decisions in recent years. The cumulative effect has been devastating, particularly in a global economy where America's corporations are cutting back health care and retirement pensions for employees, and where workers' rights are being eroded toward the lowest common denominator established by labor conditions in places like China and India.

A recent nationwide study by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development found that:

  • 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers.
  • 49 percent of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to unionize.
  • 82 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives.
  • 91 percent of employers force employees to attend anti-union meetings one-on-one with supervisors.

"Our research clearly shows that firings, bribes and threats are pervasive," said Nik Theodore, director of the Center for Urban Economic Development. "These actions greatly impede workers' ability to form unions."

In 1935, when Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, it held the philosophy that protecting the right to organize helped to restore "equality of bargaining power between employers and employees" and removed "sources of industrial strife." What's more, enabling workers to unionize was seen as a practical way to help keep the economy humming along, since higher wages would increase the purchasing power of workers as consumers.

In other words, Congress saw workers' rights as good for the overall economy. Over the past several years, however, the Republican-dominated Congress and anti-worker NLRB have been motivated by a much different philosophy.

The question now shifts to where will the new Democratic majority come down on this philosophical divide? In an age of globalized economies, unions are one vehicle for workers to try and receive their fair share of the pie. President Bush can point all he wants to low unemployment and a resurgent stock market as signs of a strong economy, but the fact is most Americans don't feel so bullish. Median incomes are flat, health care costs are
soaring, pensions are being de-funded and corporate employers are threatening to shred the social contract with their employees that has prevailed for 60 years. America's workers have lost a lot of ground over the past six years, with stagnant wages and a fraying social net, even as corporations have enjoyed record profits.

Amidst the expectations unleashed by the Democrats' retaking of Congress, it should not be forgotten that America's workers have given a lot in recent years but have not received their fair share. It's past time to level the playing field.

(Adapted from an article released by the AFL-CIO)


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House cuts funds for anti-union Labor Department agency

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - The Democratic-run House cut funds to a Department of Labor agency that supposedly investigates union corruption.

The reduction in the funds for the Office of Labor-Management Standards left it with $11 million less than what GOP President George W. Bush sought for the year starting Oct. 1. Meanwhile, in action taken on July 17 that funded a massive money bill to provide money for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, lawmakers increased funds for all other DOL investigative offices.

The Office of Labor-Management Standards was set up under the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act to supposedly monitor union finances. The Bush regime has increased its funds by 33 percent, while imposing new and onerous reporting requirements on unions.

Unions now must disclose their spending to the agency, of $5,000 or more, on everything from paychecks to paperclips. Their foes can mine the data. Bush's DOL uses it to construct "corruption" charges. Businesses do not make such disclosures.

House Republicans, pushed by the anti-union National Right to Work Committee, tried to restore $2 million to the agency. They lost, 237-186.

Funding for the union oversight agency has increased by 33 percent over the last four years, and staffing has been increased by 25 percent said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) in responding to the GOP.

"At the same time you've had those large increases," Obey said, "the Wage and Hour Division, which is supposed to enforce protection for workers on minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws, will have seen its staffing drop by over 12 percent since 2001, and the staff level at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, which protects workers from unfair employment practices by federal contractors, will have dropped by 23 percent.

"What the amendment does is to enrich the one portion of the Labor Department which has been doing very well, thank you, and they have been doing very well while other portions of the Labor Department that are supposed to focus on protecting workers have, in fact, been starved."

Arguing for restoring the funds, sponsoring Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), declared that the Office of Labor-Management Standards "functions like the Securities and Exchange Commission for labor unions. Why should rank-and-file union members not be protected in the same way as individual shareholders of corporations? DOL is not only being denied the increase it asked for; it is being cut to the bone."

Kline tried to pay for his increase for the anti-worker agency by cutting $3 million from the U.S. contribution, via DOL, to the International Labour Organization for its campaigns against child labor and workers' rights abuses. That move died, too.

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Doors open at Odawa Casino

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

PETOSKEY - A few finishing touches at the Odawa Casino Resort was all that was left to do late last month in the days before the facility had its grand opening on July 25.

In only 17 months, Clark Construction, its subcontractors and the building trades built the new $145 million facility for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which has a 135,000 square-foot main floor with 1,500 slot machines, 30 game tables and six poker tables.

The resort includes a gourmet restaurant, a fancy buffet, a café, lounges and bars, a 1,000-seat showroom, and a 1,600-space parking area.

"It was a fast-moving project," said Sam Clark, senior project manager for Clark Construction. "But it went very well. I thought we had an excellent group of subcontractors and tradespeople on the job, and the project labor agreement worked well for us." At peak employment, about 350 Hardhats worked on the project.

The new casino is located off US-131 just south of Petoskey, and will replace the tribe's nearby Victories Casino. The new casino will employ 1,000, and will bring an additional 500 jobs to the area.

"Throughout there's a high level of finish, and there are a lot of unique architectural features," Clark said. "This is a first-class facility that will be a benefit to the area for years to come."

WORKING IN Sages Restaurant inside the Odawa Casino Resort in Petoskey are IBEW Local 498 members Gary Vajda (on the ladder) and Rob Harrison (carrying the wire).

HERE IS the entrance of the Odawa casino, which opened to the public on June 20, although the grand opening did not take place until July 25.


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Trades try to leave a light footprint at Motor City Casino

DETROIT - If it's possible to work delicately around an operating casino while erecting an adjacent conference center, 17-story hotel, conference center and parking deck - the Michigan Industrial Group (MIG), their subs and at least 400 building trades workers are pulling it off.

"We're in a confined area, putting up about $275 million in construction around an existing gaming operation, and we're doing our best to keep away from where they're making money," said Paul Jenkins Jr., vice president of business development for MIG. "Overall, things are going well."

So it goes with the expansion of the Motor City Casino, which began in November 2005 and is expected to wrap up this fall. The grand opening for the expanded casino took place on June 7 - now, ongoing work at Grand River and the Lodge Freeway includes a 401-room hotel, a new parking deck, a 185,000-square-foot conference center and 1,200-seat theatre venue.

"We've made some unbelievable progress," Jenkins said. "The tradespeople and our contractors are on the same page, and we're building this complex just as flawlessly as possible."

The original Motor City Casino opened in the century-old Wonder Bread bakery building in 1999. There was 65,000 square-feet of gaming space added for a total of 105,000 square-feet of space. The expansion's exterior remains faithful to the original building's brick exterior, and the masonry covers most of the lower-level buildings.

No so with the glass curtain-walled hotel, which is easily the tallest structure in the area, rising 250 feet. At the very top of the hotel is a cavernous restaurant and club with a 50-foot-tall ceiling. An automotive theme dominates the design of the building, which is topped by a massive stainless steel architectural feature at the top of the building that looks a bit like chrome.

"We intend to build a quality hotel and entertainment complex far beyond anything that is currently available in the city and be the first casino to open a new facility," said MotorCity Casino owner Marian Ilitch. "The expanded property will usher in a new era in the hospitality industry in Detroit."

The completed project will add approximately 300 jobs to MotorCity's current base of nearly 2,700 employees.

Added Gregg Solomon, CEO of Detroit Entertainment, L.C.C., owner and operator of Motor City Casino: "The property design will be an extension of the MotorCity Casino brand and include elements that will make it a must see for visitors to the City of Detroit."

IRON WORKERS Steve Basinger and Craig McEntyre of Local 25 and Aristeo hook up a decorative section of sheet metal, to be installed along the roof line of the Motor City Casino's hotel.

A FIXTURE FOR A SMOKE detector is assembled in a corridor on the 15th floor of the Motor City Casino hotel by Cliff Chaney of IBEW Local 58 and Bayview Electric.


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State's roads could take another hit with reduced federal funding forecast

Washington, D.C. - Back in February, the Bush Administration released a budget forecast for fiscal year 2009, which included a relatively mild $700 million reduction in Highway Trust Fund spending compared to the previous year.

On July 11, the administration released an update to that forecast, and the outlook for road construction spending grew worse. Much worse.

"America's transportation system is the heart of our country's economy and to neglect it is a disservice to our nation," said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America. "The cuts in FY 2009 from the promised level of $43.4 billion to about $27 billion, would result in a 37 percent reduction in spending on our nation's infrastructure. Neglecting our transportation infrastructure will only make it more difficult for America to compete in the world market."

Michigan is slated to spend $1.62 billion on highway work in 2007, but that amount is projected to decline to $1.2 billion in each of the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle. Those future amounts don't include the future federal cuts in highway spending. Steudle said state spending on roads is one-third from federal money and two-thirds generated from the state.

Sandherr continued, "This budget news comes at a critical juncture for the highway program, and federal, state and local governments will all feel the pinch. AGC has been working with our allies in the State DOTs on solutions to fix the problem, which we have presented to both the administration and Congress."

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Does your hard hat deserve to be retired?

Wearing a well-worn hardhat is almost a freak flag for some. Stickers, logos, American flags, photos of the kids… the décor can stretch the gamut. No doubt, a hardhat is one of the most-recognizable pieces of safety equipment on the construction jobsite.

Yet it also is one of the most important pieces of safety equipment on the job. It protects your brain. Unfortunately, this ever-present piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) is rarely part of an inspection, maintenance or replacement program.

Many workers may be wearing a hardhat well past its useful life without even knowing it. The durable exterior of the rugged-looking hardhat can disguise the need for replacement. A hardhat is designed to protect you - only once.

If the hardhat has been struck by a forcible blow of any magnitude, both the hardhat shell and the suspension should be replaced immediately - even if no damage is visible.

Hardhats also should be replaced if dropped accidentally by the worker from the height of a two-story building or higher. Damage to the hat and suspension from the drop could seriously degrade its effectiveness. OSHA, ironically, does not specify the service life of a hardhat, and there is no standard expiration time frame for hardhats.

The hardhat manufacturer can recommend a replacement guideline for its products, but hardhat life span may vary significantly - based upon the conditions at each work site. As a general guideline, most manufacturers recommend replacing hardhats every five years - regardless of outward appearance.

If work conditions include exposure to higher temperature extremes, sunlight or chemicals, hardhats should be replaced after two years of use. Some manufacturers recommend the replacement of the hardhat suspension every 12 months, regardless of appearance.

Careful review of each work site is critical to ensure that degradation of PPE is not being accelerated due to extreme work conditions. The typical ANSI Type I-compliant hardhat, which provides protection from objects striking the top of the head, consists of two components: Shell and suspension. It is important that both shell and suspension are regularly inspected. Regardless of the material, shells should be inspected routinely for dents, cracks, gouges and any damage due to impact, penetration, abrasions, rough treatments or wear that might reduce the degree of protection originally provided.

Degradation of thermoplastic material may be apparent when the shell becomes stiff, brittle, faded or dull in color or if it exhibits a chalky appearance. A hardhat should be replaced at first sign of any of these conditions.

To determine possible degradation of polyethylene shells, compress the shell inward from the sides about 1 inch (2.5 cm) with both hands and release the pressure without dropping the shell. The shell should quickly return to its original shape, exhibiting elasticity.

Compare the elasticity of the sample with that of a new shell. If the sample does not exhibit elasticity similar to that of a new shell or if it cracks due to brittleness, it should be replaced immediately.

(From the St. Louis Labor Tribune)

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News Briefs

Union Sportsmen's Alliance launched
Union men and women who hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors -about 3.2 million, according to a recent survey - can now join together in the AFL-CIO-backed Union Sportsmen's Alliance (USA).

The new outdoor enthusiasts' group is a joint venture between 21 unions and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). One of the main goals of the two groups is working together to boost the TRCP's long-standing dedication to guaranteeing access for hunters and anglers, conserving fish and wildlife habitat and increasing funding for conservation.

TRCP President George Cooper says union members are some of the most active conservationists in the nation but most of them are not affiliated with hunting, fishing or conservation organizations. "USA gives them a unique affiliation opportunity and will bring them into our fight to insure policymakers are better addressing the priorities of our nation's sportsmen-conservationists," he said.

The dues-based group's new website will help union members plan trips, learn tips, swap stories and save on hunting and fishing gear for an annual membership fee of $25 or a charter membership fee of $40.

For more information, go to www.unionsportsmen.org (From the AFL-CIO).

Long-time editor Constantineau dies
Don Constantineau, who worked at The Building Tradesman from the paper's inception in January 1952 until he retired as editor in 1989, died July 20, 2007. He was 80 years old.

A Navy veteran, Mr. Constantineau started as a reporter for the Detroit Times in 1948. During his tenure with The Tradesman, the paper won several labor journalism awards, but he was known just as much for his people skills.

"He was just an outgoing, social guy who got along with everybody," said Dave Davis, the Tradesman's retired advertising director. "Don was a nice easy-going guy who was always good for a laugh."

An article published in The Building Tradesman when Don retired in 1989 noted his "genial nature," and the 12 journalism awards the paper won while he was there. "His recognition factor was enhanced by his dapper attire and fancy footwork on the dance floor of many banquets he attended over the years," the article said.

U.S. residential work 'a disaster'
A July 3rd decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has struck down the last challenge blocking the construction of the $270 million Firekeepers Casino in Emmett Township, near Battle Creek.

To rise on a 78-acre site, the facility is to be built by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians on property located near I-94 and 11 Mile Road. The tribe says it expects to break ground on the project this coming fall. Completion is being expected within 12 months.

Full House Resorts, Las Vegas, Nevada, has said it will be handling the facility's design and construction. The project has been opposed by a group known as the Citizens Exposing Truth About Casinos for about eight years. (From MichiganConstructionNews.com)

More schools get 'responsible'
Public and private nonresidential building is fueling the U.S. construction industry, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), earlier this month. "Private residential spending remains a disaster."

He was commenting on a U.S. Commerce Department report from the beginning of last month, that said total U.S. construction was down 3.9 percent in the first five months of 2007 compared to the same months in 2006. But broken down, that number includes a jump of 15 percent for nonresidential construction and a plunge of 18 percent for the residential sector.
"I expect private nonresidential construction to keep up the pace for the second half of 2007 and probably right through 2008 as well," Simonson said. For the residential market, "I don't foresee an improvement in these numbers before the second quarter of 2008," he said.

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