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August 4, 2006

'I'm your backstop, Granholm tells trades audience

Labor is too quiet as Bush's NLRB mulls anti-union cases

Supervisor in name only: Union rights of 8 million workers at stake

State's second ethanol plant fuels bounty of work for trades

State releases first Local Jobs money

Congress gets closer to pension plan overhaul

News Briefs


'I'm your backstop, Granholm tells trades audience

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - Gov. Jennifer Granholm collected an endorsement and commitments of campaign cash amounting to $144,500 from Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council (MBCTC) unions.

Paying a July 19 visit to the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333 union hall, Granholm accepted the money, the endorsement of the MBCTC, and told the 100 union reps in attendance that the state is "only a signature away" from implementing a number of anti-union and anti-worker proposals.

"You need to arm your members with data," Granholm said. "Right now, all they're seeing is $10 million in data," referring to how much her opponent, Republican billionaire Richard DeVos, has spent on television and radio ads so far this year.

Organized labor fears that if he wins the gubernatorial election, DeVos would provide his signature on bills that would:

  • Bring an end to worker-friendly MIOSHA reforms.
  • Bring back a pro-business, anti-worker government.
  • Rescind Michigan's prevailing wage law, or at least stop funding for it, as was done during the John Engler Administration. Engler probably never had the votes in the legislature to rescind prevailing wage - but he did the next best thing, which was to woefully under-fund the enforcement of the law. The Michigan Prevailing Wage Act is the single most important law on the state's books that upholds construction worker wages.
  • Create a right-to-work law in Michigan. This is a major hot potato issue for DeVos, who would never pledge to support this union-killing law before an election. However, he will get pressure to do so from his supporters in the business community.

A Detroit News article said Richard's wife, Betsy DeVos, herself a major player in state Republican politics, "struck a raw nerve a couple of times when she said the state's economic woes stemmed from workers earning too much. She suggested Michigan would be better off as a right-to-work state, which means labor unions could not compel workers to join. Dick DeVos has distanced himself from those statements, and says he will not back right-to-work legislation."

The Michigan AFL-CIO thinks if DeVos gets into office he would back right-to-work legislation, and so does Granholm. The governor pointed out that she has been glad to use her veto pen - or the threat of a veto - to stop all kinds of anti-worker legislation.

DeVos' campaign has been short on specifics when it comes to his plans for turning around Michigan's economy. For example, his categorical position "on jobs," has bulleted items that call for killing the state Single Business Tax (it will expire in 2009 anyway, or sooner, if state legislators can find a way to make up for the revenue loss) and creating one-stop shopping for new jobs providers. That's an example of his lack of specifics provided by his campaign.

DeVos may more than double the $10 million he has spent so far on his campaign, while Granholm reportedly has about $6 million in her war chest. "Many have said why don't you get on the air and fight back," she said. "First, I am not a multi-billionaire with those kinds of resources," she said. "So we're saving our resources for the right time. We will enter the fight at a strategic moment."

Granholm pointed out several initiatives she has pushed through that help the state and the building trades specifically, including

  • Jobs Today: A three-year plan that spends $3.5 billion on infrastructure and renovation projects, including the acceleration of $400 million in road and transportation projects. A total of about 7,000 jobs - the vast majority in construction - will be created. A local component of the plan provides grants to local governments to enable them to take advantage of federal grants for road and infrastructure improvements, creating an additional 7,100 jobs. "This is taking a page from FDR, using public works projects to put people back to work," Granholm said.
  • The 21st Century Jobs Fund - The $400 million fund, established earlier this year, will help business leaders, researchers, and entrepreneurs conduct new research, develop new technology, and create new jobs in Michigan. The state is targeting the life sciences, advanced manufacturing, alternative energy or defense technology. Granholm pointed to the decision by Google to build a location in Ann Arbor as an example.
  • Inheriting and eliminating a $4 billion state deficit, and juggling a chronic budget shortfall year after year - "yet we were able to protect things that people care about," Granholm said.

"I'm your backstop," Granholm told the union audience. "I've got your back. I put union people on state boards and commissions. My opponent will not. I opposed right to work. They will not. I enforce prevailing wage. They will not. I enforce state safety standards for workers. They will not. There's a choice in this election; there are two very different philosophies."

MIGHIGAN GOV. Jennifer Granholm spoke to an audience of building trades supporters in Lansing and picked up some hefty campaign contributions, too.


Labor is too quiet as Bush's NLRB mulls anti-union cases

By Harry Kelber

Over the past five years, President Bush's appointees to the National Labor Relations Board have taken away or "severely restricted" the rights of millions of workers to organize into unions and enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining, according to a July 13 report issued by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The 25-page report cites cases by which the Labor Board excluded large categories of workers from being represented by a union by ruling they are not employees, but rank as supervisors.

  • The NLRB decided that disabled workers in rehabilitation programs do not constitute employees, depriving 45,000 disabled workers of the right to join a union.
  • The Board also found that graduate research and teaching assistants are not employees because their primary relationship with the university is educational rather than economic. This decision, the report said, has denied more than 51,000 graduate teaching and research assistants and proctors at 1,561 private universities the right to organize.
  • It decided that temporary employees at a nursing home could not join a union with permanent employees unless the temporary agency and the employer agreed to the arrangement. The decision severely restricts the basic rights of more than two million temporary and contract workers.

"President Bush has filled the NLRB with anti-union members who have made it more difficult for workers to organize a labor union," Rep. Miller said in a statement releasing the report. NLRB has "used double standards, rationales and unfair, inconsistent rulings to give employers more power over workers," he said.

Is labor ready to fight NLRB threat to 8 million workers? The pro-Bush NLRB will be considering three cases, known collectively as "Kentucky River," in which its decision can exclude as many as eight million workers from the protection of a union if they can be classified as supervisors.

The Board's definition of "supervisor" can embrace any individual who assigns or "responsibly directs" employees using independent judgment. That could include tens of thousands of teachers, nurses, construction workers and workers in other occupations.

The Board has refused to hold hearings on the three cases, thereby giving its members a free hand to apply their anti-union biases. An unfavorable NLRB ruling could cripple union organizing for years to come.

So what has been the response of labor's two rival federations? Change to Win has done nothing, except to post a news item on its website that deplores the NLRB's anti-union move.

The AFL-CIO had a "Week of Action" in 20 cities, where speakers denounced the NLRB. But that had little effect in Washington.

The AFL-CIO's "civil disobedience" exercise in front of the Washington's NLRB building was a farce. The ten protesters who locked arms to block the front of the building were disappointed, because the police were ordered not to arrest them. "Civil disobedience" that lasts 15 to 30 minutes can't be taken seriously. This one was a fake.

If 8 million workers will be seriously affected by the NLRB ruling, why can't the AFL-CIO mobilize even one percent - 80,000 - to come to Washington to raise all kinds of hell to show that they are really enraged at what Bush is doing to them - and without a hearing?

It is unlikely that a torrent of e-mails and fiery statements on our websites will convince Bush's NLRB surrogates to reverse course. So what then?

This article was made available via the International Labor Communications Association.


Supervisor in name only: Union rights of 8 million workers at stake

By Ross Eisenbrey & Lawrence Mishel
Economic Policy Institute

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will soon decide three cases, known collectively as the Kentucky River cases, which could change the basic rights of workers in America.

If the NLRB accedes to the demands the employers are making in these cases to significantly broaden the definition of "supervisor," hundreds of thousands of employees could be stripped of their contract protections and millions more across the economy could be denied the right to form unions or engage in collective bargaining.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the nation's primary law determining the rights of employees to join unions and bargain collectively, excludes "supervisors" from the definition of "employee" (29 USC 152 (3)). A "supervisor" is defined as:

any individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibly to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend such action, if in connection with the foregoing the exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment. (29 USC 152 (11))

The three cases are: Oakwood Healthcare Inc., Golden Crest Healthcare Center, and Croft Metals, Inc. The cases deal respectively with registered nurses (RNs) acting as "charge" nurses in a hospital; "charge" nurses (RNs and LPNs) in a long-term care facility; and "leadmen" and "load supervisors" in a manufacturing facility.

The upcoming cases all involve whether these employees can be classified as supervisors and thus excluded from NLRA protections and participation in collective bargaining because they "responsibly direct other employees" while using "independent judgment." But until now no one would have called these employees "supervisors" in the traditional sense because they do not have authority to hire, fire, discipline, evaluate, or promote the employees they supposedly supervise.

Skilled and experienced workers such as registered nurses, who give instructions to co-workers about how and when to perform certain tasks, are particularly vulnerable to reclassification as supervisors under this push for a broader reinterpretation of the term. For example, nurses who tell orderlies or nurse aides to do certain things for particular patients are at high risk of reclassification, as are journeymen construction workers who guide other workers on a crew.

These forthcoming decisions have the potential to affect a wide range of workers, including many in the building and construction, broadcast, energy, shipping, accounting, and health care industries. The very broad definition of "supervisor" employers are seeking ultimately could take away the right to join a union and bargain collectively from 8 million Americans throughout the labor market.

We have analyzed the potential impact of the decisions in two ways: by examining the supervisory duties associated with the occupations involved in dozens of cases pending before the NLRB or its hearing officers, and by examining the supervisory duties of the entire U.S. private sector workforce that is covered by the NLRA.

Looking just at the dozens of pending cases, the position advocated by the employers involved would lead to the exclusion of approximately 1.4 million employees as supervisors. Across all occupations, this extreme employer-centric position would strip 8 million more workers of their right to participate in a union and bargain collectively, adding to the approximately 8.6 million first-line supervisors that the Government Accounting Office estimates have already been excluded by prior interpretations of the NLRA.


State's second ethanol plant fuels bounty of work for trades

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ALBION - Michigan is the home of auto plants, coke ovens, blast furnaces and mining operations, each of which have their own particular catch-phrases and buzz-words.

The same holds true for ethanol production plants, which are growing in Michigan like a well-watered field of corn. One ethanol plant, in Caro, is operating. The second plant scheduled to come on-line is The Andersons Albion Ethanol Plant, which the building trades were quickly bringing to completion last month.

"We already have corn in the silos, the first grind is scheduled for July 31," said Buzz Seydel, just a week prior to that deadline. He's the site manager for ICM, the project's engineering, procurement and construction manager. The "first grind" refers to the corn-crushing first phase of ethanol production.

The $86 million plant's first ethanol is slated to be pumped Aug 4-5, on the way to producing 55 million gallons a year. At peak, as many as 280 construction workers have toiled on the fast-paced ethanol plant since it began less than a year ago.

"The progress has been excellent," Seydel said. "I give a lot of credit to the building trades craftspeople out here. They've done an excellent job. From a mechanical standpoint, the unions and the tradespeople have really helped us out."

He said ICM design-builds about 75 percent of the ethanol plants in the nation, but this is the first they have self-performed.

The project's workforce began at about 50 percent union/nonunion, but IBEW Local 445 Business Manager Steve Claywell said the number of union workers has steadily increased as the job progressed. "We started with a smaller piece of the work, and we're finishing with a bigger piece," he said. "It's a tribute to our efforts and work habits that our employment numbers have increased out here. They obviously appreciate the skills of union labor."

The Andersons Albion plant will process about 20 million bushels of corn into 55 million gallons of ethanol and approximately 175,000 tons of distillers grains annually.

Andersons said there are currently 91 ethanol plants nationwide that have the capacity to produce over 4 billion gallons annually. There are 20 ethanol plants and three major expansions under construction with a combined annual capacity of over 1.1 billion gallons.

According to the Michigan Corn Growers Association Michigan, there are three other ethanol plants in our state that are either under construction or in their final permitting stages: Midwest Grain Processors (Blissfield); U.S. Bio Woodbury (Lake Odessa), and Marysville Ethanol (Marysville).
"Demand for affordable, renewable ethanol is skyrocketing," said Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen, when ground was first moved on the Albion plant. "By filling this need, The Andersons Albion Ethanol will be helping consumers across the country and creating jobs in Michigan."

The plant is expected to employ about 33 with full- and part-time jobs.

"We must also express our appreciation to the state, county and township governing bodies, and their economic development units, for their strong support of the project. It simply would not have gotten off the ground without their cooperation," said Mike Anderson, president and CEO of The Andersons, Inc.

Ethanol is a gasoline additive derived from corn, which the company expects to market to gasoline blenders and refineries in the Great Lakes region. Other co-products of the plant include distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient, and carbon dioxide, which will be processed and packed by a third party processor.

With gasoline prices settling in at $3 per gallon, the use of ethanol is increasingly seen as an alternative fuel. According to the corn growers, there are two common types of ethanol blends used for passenger vehicles. E10, which is widely available and approved by auto manufacturers, is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent unleaded gasoline. The other is E85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. E85 is used in flex-fuel vehicles.

With ethanol plants increasing in Michigan, the building trades will be increasingly exposed to the process of turning corn into fuel. While we don't have space to relate the complexities of ethanol production, building trades workers will be increasingly exposed to installing new technologies like "enzymatic processing," "liquefaction tanks," "fermenters," "vacuum distillation" and "rectifier columns."

"Promoting the development and use of alternative energies is vital to the state's economic success in the 21st century," said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "This new plant will turn an important agricultural resource into fuel for Michigan's future, helping Michigan farmers while advancing the nation's goal to become less dependent on foreign oil."

A CORNFIELD, of all things, abuts the new ethanol plant that has been erected in less than a year near Albion. Railroad cars will bring in the corn.

ASSEMBLING A conduit bracket at The Andersons Albion Ethanol Plant is Lance Dougherty of IBEW Local 445 and Aladdin Electric.

CO2 piping is assembled at The Andersons Ethanol Plant by Mick Dickinson of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters 333, working for W. Soule.


State releases first Local Jobs money

LANSING -Michigan is granting $44 million to help 47 counties and 49 cities obtain more than $279 million in federal transportation funds under the state's Jobs Today program.

The money will be used to jumpstart 210 local road projects around the state this year and next, creating nearly 5,000 construction jobs.

The program marks the first time state dollars are being used to fund city and county transportation projects.

"People don't care if the road they're driving on is a state, federal or local road - they just want it to be smooth and safe," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who announced the release of the funds on July 25. "We're putting people to work and making our roads work better. For the first time, we are investing state transportation dollars to create jobs and make improvements to local roads that support the economic development efforts of Michigan cities and counties."

In March, Granholm and state lawmakers started talking about amending transportation funding laws to allow the state to issue bonds for local transportation grants and loans. Less than three months later, she signed the legislation into law.

Priority was given to projects that met the following criteria:

  • Locally selected federal aid High Priority Projects (HPP) that are ready to be constructed in 2006 or 2007.
  • Locally selected federal aid projects scheduled for construction in 2007 that can be advanced to construction in 2006.
  • Locally selected federal aid projects scheduled for construction in 2008 that can be advanced to construction in 2007.

There are 46 Michigan cities in line for Jobs Today transportation. Among the biggest spenders will be Grand Rapids ($17.4 million), Detroit ($12.4 million), Oak Park/Berkely/Huntington Woods ($10.1 million) and Port Huron ($6.7 million).


Congress gets closer to pension plan overhaul

WASHINGTON - Here's a good news/bad news scenario on U.S. pension plans.

First the good news: Congress is closing in on a sweeping new plan that would tighten rules for funding employee pension systems, and provide more money for the federal agency which insures pensions. The bad news: the new rules will likely move more firms away from providing traditional pension plans, which are quickly becoming extinct, anyway.

The Wall Street Journal said companies struggling to fund pension plans would be given seven years to get to 100 percent funding. The bill in Congress would tighten rules for how companies assess their ability to meet pension obligations - essentially stopping companies from making pension funding promises they can't keep.

The changes are designed to prevent companies from dumping unfunded pension obligations by companies onto the taxpayer-backed Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., which assumes the obligations of firms which have filed for bankruptcy. The PBGC currently has a $22.8 billion deficit. However, Congress also doesn't want to send more firms into bankruptcy by instituting the new rules.

The Journal said older workers due a pension are expected to take the biggest hit: the rules allow firms to convert employees to cash balance plans, even though workers expect to be able to enjoy a defined benefit in their retirement years.

Multi-employer pension plans like those in the building trades - which don't have nearly the problems of single-employer plans - aren't likely to be affected if the law passes.


News Briefs

U.S. construction jumps in first half
New U.S. construction starts in June dropped 5%, but for the first half of 2006, total construction jumped to $344 billion, or an increase of 7 percent, compared to a year ago.

The data was provided by McGraw-Hill Construction, which said its construction index showed a "generally upward trend."

"The construction industry is seeing a transition in 2006," said Robert A. Murray, vice
president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "From 2001 through 2005, single-family housing had been the primary source of expansion for total construction, but that's changed as the first half of 2006 clearly shows single-family housing cooling down.

"At the same time, the upturn for nonresidential building has gained momentum in 2006, as improved market fundamentals have encouraged further development, even amidst the difficulties arising from the higher cost of materials. In addition, greater federal spending and the improved fiscal position of the states have contributed to more public works construction this year."

By region, the Midwest was up 4 percent in the first half of 2006.

A report by Reed Construction Data said "reduced pressure on the supply of materials, labor and equipment used by non-residential contractors is now beginning, following the decline in residential starts reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in the last few months. But this impact will be small and spread over many months. Significant price and supply improvements for contractors are likely only in the most impacted housing markets in the southeast and southwest."

Welcome aboard, IBEW Local 665
We send out a hearty welcome to Lansing IBEW Local 665, which is subscribing to The Building Tradesman Newspaper for the first time.

Our paper was established in 1952 and is the official publication of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

Local 665 is the ninth IBEW local in Michigan to subscribe to The Building Tradesman, and is one of more than 40 local building trade unions that send their members the paper.

With the addition of our new subscribers at Local 665, we now have a circulation of 49,000.

Mark Labor Day on your calendar
Make plans to attend Labor Day celebrations in Detroit, Muskegon, Grand Rapids and St. Ignace/Mackinaw City on Monday, Sept. 4. We will have more details on those events in our next issue.

There will be an earlier start to the 2006 Detroit Labor Day Parade, 9:15 a.m. It will be staged as usual for the building trades on Trumbull Ave. south of Michigan. The starting time is earlier to allow the building trades to move ahead of the other line of march, south along Woodward Avenue to the Legacy of Labor Monument.



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