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August 6, 2004

Pro-worker themes Mark Kerry speech before Democrats

Bush's new OT rules ready to reclassify workers, reduce pay

Poof! You're an executive! Now take a cut in pay

Get ready for Labor Day, 2004

Undergrad Science Building goes up on dense, immense Palmer Drive

Clearly, you can help improve Michigan's electrical deregulation law

News Briefs

 

Pro-worker themes Mark Kerry speech before Democrats

BOSTON (PAI) - Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry included a wide range of pro-worker and pro-middle class themes in his July 29 speech accepting his party's nomination.

His speech reached both convention delegates - including more than 800 union members - in Boston, but was also aimed at the national television audience.

It also featured the Massachusetts senator's pledge to "bring back a time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to."

Kerry's speech centered around returning the U.S. to values that improve the country, creating a new foreign policy where the U.S. works with allies - but is not dictated to by them - to win the war on terrorism, and on helping families.

And when it comes to terrorism, "I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war," he declared, referring to his service as a wounded, decorated Vietnam veteran.

"Before you go into battle, you have to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say: 'I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm's way, but we had no choice," Kerry said.

It was middle-class and worker families, on whom the economic slump has fallen and whose children are serving, that Kerry focused, including a promise that "we won't raise taxes on the middle class" and another to "not privatize Social Security."

"Here at home, wages are falling, health care costs are rising, and our great middle class is shrinking," he said in an implicit critique of the economy under present GOP President George W. Bush. "People are working weekends - two jobs, three jobs - and they're still not getting ahead.

"We're told that outsourcing jobs is good for America," he said, citing Bush's chief economic adviser, though not by name. "We're told that jobs that pay $9,000 less than the jobs that have been lost is the best that we can do. They (the GOP) say this is the best economy that we've ever had. And they say anyone who thinks otherwise is a pessimist.

"Well, here is our answer: There is nothing more pessimistic than saying that America can't do better. We can do better and we will."

Kerry promised that "help is on the way" for people such as Ohio Steel Worker Dave McCune, who "saw his job sent overseas and the equipment in his factory was literally unbolted, crated up and shipped thousands of miles away, along with his job."

In a line that pleased unionists, the aid for McCune and thousands of other USWA members who lost their jobs to subsidized foreign imports would be from trade "on a fair playing field," Kerry declared. Give that to U.S. workers, he said, "and there's no one in the world the American worker can't compete against."

Trade treaties signed by Bush and former President Clinton lack enforceable labor rights and that fair playing field. Kerry has pledged to review those pacts - and not sign new treaties that lack such rights.

And he pleased union delegates by promoting "new incentives to revitalize manufacturing, and investment in technology and innovation that will create the good-paying jobs of the future."

Kerry also took aim at corporations that evade taxes, again pledging to close loopholes for those that create jobs overseas, but adding tax incentives for those that create jobs in the U.S.

"We value an America that exports products, not jobs. And we believe American workers should never have to subsidize the loss of their own jobs," he said.

He said he saw the alternative on the campaign trail: "What does it mean when workers I've met have had to train their foreign replacements?" he asked. That refers to the issue of outsourcing - and the Bush aide's comments in favor of it.

The speech drew positive reaction from the delegates and also from AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney. He predicted Kerry will "be a great president for working families," who will "reverse the policies and direction" of Bush and "put policies and programs in place that will help working families more than those of any administration in recent history."

By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates Staff Write
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Bush's new OT rules ready to reclassify workers, reduce pay

If you believe Bush officials, his Labor Department's new overtime regulations are "fair-pay rules" that "strengthen overtime protections."

But if you believe two new studies, the rules strengthen protections all right: For businesses, not for workers.

Bush's Labor Department, both studies say, is flat-out wrong in the figures it uses about how many workers will be helped, or hurt, by the rules.

The studies are by the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute and by three former top Labor Department wage and hour division officials, who were commissioned by the AFL-CIO. They come at an important point in the fight over workers' overtime eligibility.

Congressional Democrats, backed by the federation and other groups, are mounting yet another effort to halt the new rules, now scheduled to take effect just before Labor Day, on Aug. 23.

EPI details how, within a month, at least six million workers could lose overtime pay they now receive. "Almost every one of these changes will weaken the rights of employees to earn overtime pay," says EPI Vice President and economist Ross Eisenbrey, its author. "This is the most significant rollback in employee rights in the last 50 years. The Labor Department is not responding to the needs of workers. It's responding to the demands of employers."

The second study, by the three former DOL officials, says the new overtime rules overwhelmingly weaken protections for workers. In fact, it says, the rules vastly expand the number of workers to whom businesses can refuse to pay overtime.

Using the department's own statistics, this study calculates the new rules could deny overtime eligibility to 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, compared with 15 percent today.

Study authors Gail Coleman, John Fraser, and Monica Gallagher say updating the rules is absolutely necessary. But they also warn that: " 'Doing something' should not mean that doing anything is acceptable." They conclude: "Implementation of these new regulations will harm rather than promote and protect the interests of U.S. workers and their families."

These assessments are the exact opposite of Bush Labor Department claims that the new rules "will strengthen overtime rights for 6.7 million American workers."

The agency claims the new rules will directly benefit "1.3 million low-wage workers who were denied overtime under the old rules." Eisenbrey calls that "wildly inflated." He calculates only 400,000 more workers who don't get overtime now will do so.

Labor Department spokesman Ed Frank told the Kansas City Star the studies are "a rehash of misinformation put out by the AFL-CIO and its allies." He continued to insist: "Millions of workers will benefit from the strong new overtime guarantees."

The conflicting claims surround revised rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The changes will take effect unless Congress successfully blocks them. Bush previously threatened to veto one bill with a provision blocking the rules, but congressional GOP leaders dumped the Democrats' overtime pay protection plan before sending the bill to the White House.

House GOP leaders have also prevented votes on acts to block the new rules, when Democrats tried to bring the issue up.

The Bush Labor Department's new rules do three basic things:

*Require that workers who make less than $455 a week to receive overtime pay when working more than 40 hours in a week.

* Rewrite guidelines, or duties tests, under which employees can be denied overtime if their company can classify them as "executive," "administrative" or "professional."

* Automatically deny overtime to most employees making at least $100,000 a year. Requiring overtime pay for virtually any worker making less than $455 a week - roughly $11.37 an hour - is about the only change that benefits workers, both studies say.
That replaces the current level - $155 a week for most workers - in place since 1975.

But the $455 figure is not indexed to inflation, EPI's Eisenbrey points out. That means, as the years go by, fewer and fewer workers will qualify under this rule.

On the other end, the $100,000 threshold isn't indexed for inflation either, so more and more workers will make more than that figure as years go by. And as "highly compensated employees" it almost guarantees these workers will lose overtime pay, Eisenbrey says. That's because their jobs have to include only a single duty that can classify them as "executive," "administrative" or "professional."

By Michael Kuchta
The St. Paul Union Advocate
Special to PAI

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Poof! You're an executive! Now take a cut in pay

Most workers who will lose money under the new Bush overtime provisions will at least get a new title.

One result of the new rules, predicts Economic Policy Institute Vice President Ross Eisenbrey, "is that there will be an "explosion of 'executives' " in the U.S. workforce.

The new rules set up all kinds of guidelines to help companies determine whether jobs paying between $23,600 and $100,000 are exempt from time-and-a-half pay under the "executive," "administrative" or "professional" categories.

Those are the areas, said Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa), where a worker who toils say, for 95 percent of the time as a worker and 5 percent as a manager - at a McDonald's, for example - can't get overtime under the new federal rules.

Of course, it won't be executives as most people understand the term - suit-and-tie types in corporate offices. Instead, workers who supervise as few as two co-workers, such as a shift manager in the toy department of a Wal-Mart, could be reclassified as "executive" and lose overtime eligibility, Eisenbrey says.

There's more. Firms can exempt more than one "executive" for the same workers, as long as they maintain a 2:1 ratio of exempt (executive) and non-exempt employees. Supervising doesn't have to include the ability to hire and fire, or even take up the majority of the "executive's" time, under the new rules.

"You can spend virtually all day serving customers, sweeping the floor, or doing the same things your co-workers do and still be exempt," Eisenbrey says.

Similarly, the new rules create a broad new exemption called "team leader" that can exclude workers from overtime pay as "administrators." Eisenbrey calls this "a huge loophole."

Team leaders who have "no supervisory authority at all" still can be exempt and denied overtime, he says. Exemptions for "professional" employees also expand so that, in some cases, workers who have only a high-school education, not a college degree, can lose overtime pay eligibility.

Workers covered by union contracts do not lose overtime eligibility, but once their contract expires, they will have to successfully renegotiate to keep their overtime rights, Eisenbrey says. In the meantime, he says, "You don't have federal law behind you."

The AFL-CIO also criticizes the Labor Department for writing "rules that are vague and internally inconsistent" and failing to achieve its own stated goals to "simplify, clarify and better organize the regulations."

The study's authors - who all worked in the agency division that enforced pay and overtime regulations - predict the rules "will likely result in greater confusion and profusion of litigation - outcomes the department explicitly sought to avoid."

"Ambiguity will almost never favor employees, and will almost always favor employers," Eisenbrey said, adding that because the Bush Labor Department fails to define many key terms and makes minor changes in many of the definitions it does provide, decades of case law no longer directly apply, he says.

By Michael Kuchta
The St. Paul Union Advocate
Special to PAI

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Get ready for Labor Day, 2004

Although it's never pleasant talking about the end of summer in Michigan, we will make an exception because it is traditionally marked by Labor Day, which is only one month away.

Building trades workers and their families in three communities are invited to join celebrations of Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 6. Parades and picnics are the order of the day in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Marquette and Muskegon.

In Detroit, the building trades will march in the annual Labor Day Parade starting at 9:45 a.m. The parade will stage as usual along Trumbull Blvd., then proceed north, and then east along Michigan Avenue. Marchers will then go south on Washington Blvd. to Jefferson Ave. to the Labor Legacy Monument.

This year, other AFL-CIO unions will stage on Trumbull north of Michigan Avenue and proceed along the same route.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO will once again host LaborFest at Ford Field.

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.

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Undergrad Science Building goes up on dense, immense Palmer Drive

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - The building trades and construction manager Barton Malow are helping the University of Michigan fill in one of the few open places remaining on its sprawling campus, with the ongoing construction of the Undergraduate Science Building providing another piece in the puzzle.

The L-shaped, 140,000 square-foot building is situated so that it will tie three buildings together with a plaza and a walkway in the huge Palmer Drive development. The building also links the U-M medical campus with the science corridor.

The four-story science building is packed with mechanical services that will allow more than half of the structure to serve its future mission with teaching laboratories for the school's Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology as well as interdisciplinary science instructional space and support.

"It's definitely a tight building for pipe installation," said journeyman Doug MacDonald of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters 190 and W.J. O'Neill. "There's a lot going in here."

Not your common office tower, the $61 million Undergraduate Science Building has mechanical services for high and low electric cable, telecommunications, vacuum, hot and chilled water, de-ionized water, steam, natural gas, laboratory gases, acid waste as well as conventional plumbing.

"The corridor ceilings are packed with just about everything," said Barton-Malow Project Manager Ryan Maibach. "We're a lab building, so it's very similar to hospital construction. We had a lot of planning and coordination before we did any work, so the installation has gone very well."

The building is uniquely situated atop a five-level, 1,000-space parking structure that will help alleviate parking woes on campus. While trades workers have been toiling on a tight site, the clean, flat concrete atop the parking deck has provided an ideal lay-down area. The Undergraduate Science Building and nearby structures have been built with, and around, a tower crane erected on the site. Since it was built atop a swamp, a cistern is buried below the parking deck to hold runoff rainwater.

The exterior wings of the Undergraduate Science Building will match the nearby Life Sciences Institute and the Commons Buildings, using a multitude of colored masonry panels including brownstone, sandstone, limestone and granite, and painted metal panels with painted aluminum frame windows.

The new building will feature nine small classrooms and seminar rooms and 20 teaching labs, in addition to large lecture halls that will accommodate approximately 100 students each. Four of the teaching labs are set up so professors can make smooth transitions between lecture and laboratory exercises within a single class period. The university said the building will also include "plenty of public spaces to create a welcoming environment" as well as "incidental seating" for student and faculty interaction.

"In addition to having world-class research, we have to make this research available to our students and this is the building where it will happen," said Robert Kasdin, U-M's executive vice president and chief financial officer, at a meeting of University regents.

The project is about 50 percent complete, with completion expected in the fall of 2005, according to the university. Approximately 150 Hardhats are on the job.

"There's just a great crew of workers out here," Maibach said. "The site is small, and there are intense mechanical and telecommunications in here. But having such a great crew has really helped us."

The University of Michigan's $61 million Undergraduate Science Building is wedged into a tight site on the campus - and trades workers are packing numerous mechanical systems into the walls and the ceilings of the building. The tower crane, which extends 70 feet below ground, has become a permanent fixture over the last few years at the site and has been used in constructing other nearby buildings.

Running electrical metallic tubing through a crowded corridor ceiling at the U-M Undergraduate Science Center is Eric Faulhaber of IBEW Local 252 and Huron Valley Electric.


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Clearly, you can help improve Michigan's electrical deregulation law

Michigan's electrical industry CLEAR Coalition - which includes the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council - is looking for a boost from the public.

The coalition says it was formed because Michigan's electric deregulation law, Public Act 141 of 2000, "has failed to deliver and is leading Michigan down the path toward a California-like crisis, with the potential for blackouts, huge rate increases and bankrupt utilities."

Back in March, at the state building trades legislative conference, DTE Energy's Nancy Moody said the current electric system in Michigan "is threatening our jobs and the reliability of the electrical system."

When it was adopted by ruling Republicans, CLEAR pointed out that the goals of Public Act 141 included:

  • Introducing electrical choice for all residents and businesses in Michigan by allowing people to choose their own electricity supplier.
  • Lower costs and more jobs.
  • Bringing affordable and reliable electric power from financially stable Michigan utilities.

But the real affect of the legislation is that when the law's rate freeze expires in 2006, Detroit Edison's residential rates could go up 30 percent. In addition, less than 100 residential customers are being served by an "alternative energy supplier" - and Michigan utilities have about 3.7 million residential customers.

Moody said the current law allows alternative energy providers to "strip" business customers - and about 15,000 have been cherry picked from DTE Energy. As a result, DTE's earnings for 2003 dropped 31 percent. If a business or residence is too small or too far out of the way to be profitably serviced by an electrical provider, they can be ignored by everyone except the established utilities.

Last month, Republican and Democratic lawmakers came out with a package of bills that mostly corrects the problems associated with PA 141. Building trades members and their families are urged to log on to www.clearmichigan.com and sign up to help steer the legislation through the Michigan Senate.

"It seems to me that DTE Energy over the years has been one of the great customers for the building trades, and has provided our members with a lot of work," said Michigan Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "We urge our members to back DTE Energy on this matter and contact their state lawmakers."

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News Briefs

Both sides closer on asbestos talks
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said negotiators "have never been this close" to an agreement on the creation of a huge new trust fund that would compensate workers who are suffering from exposure to asbestos.

That comment, which appeared in the Construction Labor Report, was made a few days before Congress took a six-week adjournment on July 23. Republican and Democratic negotiators were said to be only $1 billion apart on a $140 billion compensation package that narrowed a gap that seemed insurmountable earlier this year.

The amount seems to be moving closer to the higher figure being pushed by Democratic negotiators, and reflects a greater willingness by the business community to pay a higher share. Other money for the fund would come from insurers. The matter will again be taken up by Congress in the fall - but both sides said there were a number of other issues that still must be settled.

Pay hikes down for U.S. Hardhats
First-year U.S. wage and benefit increases negotiated so far in 2004 in new construction labor agreements average $1.38 per hour or 4 percent, compared with $1.45 per hour or 4.3 percent for the same period in 2003.

So said a report issued July 2 by the Construction Labor Research Council, which also found lower average increases in the second and third year of new agreements compared to a year ago. According to the report, the region that includes Michigan had a slight improvement compared to the national numbers, with average construction industry wage increases so far in 2004 averaging $1.47 per hour (or 4.2 percent) in the first year.

Old caulk found to be a new hazard
Here's another substance that most of us didn't know we had to be worried about: old caulk.

The Harvard School of Public Health investigated 24 buildings in the Boston area and found eight of them contain caulking materials with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) exceeding 50 parts per million in weight. Numbers above 50 exceed the EPA's specified limit to be considered PCB bulk product waste.

The greatest hazard created by the PCB-laden caulk is in dust. In one building the air sampling was sufficiently high that the EPA mandated removal of the caulk. PCBs are a known carcinogen. The information was published in the July 2004 Environmental Health Perspectives.

"Production of PCBs was halted in the United States in 1977," the report said, "however, their persistence in the environment and tendency to bio-accumulate have been well documented."
The report added: "Buildings that were constructed or refurbished before 1977 may still contain caulking with elevated levels of PCBs. Caulking has been analyzed only rarely for PCB content; therefore, it is poorly recognized as a hazard."

The study said the PCB-laden caulk "may pose a significant public health hazard" and recommended that testing be conducted where it is likely such caulk will be found, along with "comprehensive control" programs to eliminate it."

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