August 8, 2008
to spark new attention for Employee Free Choice Act
model'? Contracts need new focus on training, market share
workers set sail on Lake Huron
Trades on track
seeks to spark new attention for Employee Free Choice Act
By Joe Hoshaw
The Employee Free Choice Act has been stalled in Congress
for more than a year now, and unions throughout Michigan are
redoubling their efforts to bring attention to that fact heading
into the fall election season.
Nearly 200 members from a broad cross section of labor organizations
descended on the McNamara Federal Building July 23 for the first
of what may be a series of awareness-building exercises to be
staged between now and the November Presidential Election, which
also will choose the representatives to the 111th U.S. Congress.
"This is our first rally," said Mark Bott, president
of Plumbers Local 98 in Detroit. "We intend to possibly
incorporate this theme into the Labor Day Parade and hopefully
have a mass rally in mid-October in Detroit."
The union leaders and members picketed for about two hours
along Michigan Avenue in the shadow of the 27-story building,
the region's most recognizable U.S. government icon.
"We have people here from all over the state," said
Bott, who also serves as lead organizer for the mechanical pipe
trades. "We were hoping that we would bring to the forefront
the problem union employees have in their organizing efforts."
Added Michigan Building and Construction Trades CEO Patrick
Devlin: "It was a nice turnout, and I think it's important
we show the public that unions are still out here, fighting for
The Employee Free Choice Act is viewed by unions as a necessary
step to level the playing field with employers - who they believe
have an unfair advantage in their abilities to squelch organizing
efforts under current labor law as enforced by the U.S. National
Labor Relations Board.
"What we feel is the citizens in this country don't understand
how difficult it is today for a union in the current environment,"
Bott said. "During the last seven years the Bush Administration
appointees to the National Labor Relations Board have trampled
on employee rights and through their decisions the board has
become an advocate for employers rather than employees."
Union leaders believe the EFCA, if passed by Congress and
signed by the president, would create a fairer more efficient
system through which employees could form, join or assist labor
unions, while providing mandatory penalties for employers engaging
in unfair labor practices during organizing campaigns.
The way the law currently reads, the NLRB will certify a union
as the exclusive representative of employees if it is elected
by either a majority signature drive, a card-check process, or
by an NLRB-sanctioned secret-ballot election, which is held if
more than 30 percent of employees sign statements requesting
The EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot option for employers
when a majority of workers have signed union cards and there
is no evidence of illegal coercion.
The proposed law would also place a 90-day time limit for
the union and the company to reach terms on an initial contract.
If no agreement is reached at that point, either side can request
mediation. If 30 days of mediation doesn't produce a contract,
binding arbitration could be invoked.
The Act also defines terms for financial compensation to employees
who are determined to have been unlawfully fired for supporting
a union organizing effort.
In March 2007, the Act handily passed in the U.S. House (241-185),
but was bottled up in the Senate two months later when a procedural
vote to end debate and send the bill to the floor for a final
vote on passage failed by nine votes.
There is no expectation that the bill will see new life during
the waning months of the 110th Congress and the Bush Administration.
"We feel to fix this problem we need the new president
to immediately refill the vacancies of the current (NLRB) board
and to support the Employee Free Choice Act," Bott said.
ABOUT 200 people picketed the federal McNamara
building in Detroit on July 23, urging support for the pro-union
Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Photo by Joe Hoshaw
'I'll sign EFCA'
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Prospective Democratic presidential nominee
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told more than 2,500 union leaders
nationwide that "we can't do it without you" if he
is to win the White House this fall and advance workers' causes
when he gets there.
In a nationwide 15-minute conference call arranged by AFL-CIO
President John J. Sweeney, Obama, speaking from Iowa, reiterated
his pro-worker positions, specifically twice mentioning his determination
to push and sign the Employee Free Choice Act, the legislation
designed to help level the playing field between workers and
bosses in organizing and bargaining.
"If I'm elected president, I'll sign EFCA because if
the majority of workers want a union, they should have one,"
he declared. "And we're gong to have a president who isn't
afraid to say labor needs to be strong, a Department of Labor
that works for workers and a National Labor Relations Board"
that follows labor law, not management dictates, he added.
Obama also promised to "negotiate new trade agreements
with worker rights in them, crate three million" new 'Green"
jobs and create 2 million jobs "building locks and dams
and roads." A lot of union workers, he noted, would get
high-paying jobs "aboard those earth movers" and other
construction equipment in those projects.
But, drawing on his experience as an organizer on Chicago's
South Side - before he entered the Illinois Senate and the U.S.
Senate - Obama warned the unionists that he could not win the
election by himself. Grass-roots organizing, he said, is much
more important and effective than top-down commands.
And the unionists' efforts would be doubly important, the
senator said, because the GOP "doesn't have any new ideas,
so they'll spend their time attacking me, instead." The
attacks, from presumed GOP nominee Sen., John McCain (R-Ariz.),
have already started.
"So we depend on you to tell them" - voters - "about
where I am on workers' issues," Obama said. Those issues
include not only EFCA but universal health care, the suffering
economy and what to do about rising unemployment and foreclosures.
"It's a simple idea" that Obama wants the unionists
to advocate: "We have mutual obligations towards each other"
economically and elsewhere. "I am my brother's sister, I
am your sister's kids." By contrast, the GOP idea is "you're
on your own," he said.
Obama got a rousing ovation at the start of his call from
a crowd jammed into the large hall at AFL-CIO headquarters, and
Sweeney introduced him by saying that "it would be nice
to look across the street" at the White House "and
see we have a friend there" after eight years of GOP President
George W. Bush.
business model'? Contracts need new focus on training, market
By Mark Breslin
(Another in a series)
The time has come for labor and management to get real. Across
this country union construction has lost most of its market share,
and still some contractors yawn and some business managers just
count votes. As a partial cure and strategy I would like to suggest
we all take a new look at that blessed institution: the collective
bargaining process and its by-product, the union agreement.
As the vehicles that drive training resources and priorities,
they really need special scrutiny and attention.
Now seeing as I have negotiated over 100 Master Construction
Agreements (that currently cover in excess of 120,000 local union
craft workers) I may sound a bit jaded when I say that from a
competitive standpoint, they are generally worth less than a
bucket of cow (urine).
This colorful description accurately describes most collective
bargaining agreements which read as an amalgamation of "sins
of the past." They are filled with language and provisions
that run from "gotchas" to "never-agains"
to "we've always had it in there but never paid any attention
Frankly I cannot think of any other business contractual relationships
governed by documents so generally complex, outdated or irrelevant
to the competitive market. Always reactive vs proactive. They
generally read and reflect a time when the threat was an exploitive
union employer who had the market sewn up. Now, decades later,
they often just look old and tired. And the market threat is
more savage and consuming than ever before.
Up until now, all the thousands of us going to the bargaining
table across the U.S. and Canada have been in denial about this
reality. Frustrated and often indignant, we go to the table with
our little wish lists (2/3rds B.S.) and play the posturing game
for several dollars and work rule changes. Often, foolishly,
ignoring training entirely. An age-old game of trading something
(as small as possible) for something (as small as possible).
And while we have been trading in each of our local "feudal
kingdoms," the empire of union construction has fallen.
The protective walls have come down. What we had has been taken
and pillaged. The hordes have prevailed. And yet we play at it
like nothing has changed. Even worse, in some cases, training
strategies, resources and staffing have been shortchanged due
to a process that does not take into account the cumulative benefit
The future of bargaining cannot be about trading anymore.
It has to be about competitive relevance. It has to be about
productivity and market share; including how training and training
monies can be increased and maximized. Every negotiation has
to be focused on the new Golden Rule "How do we compete
most effectively to expand our mutual economic interests?"
Anything that stands in the way of this must be eliminated.
Anything that must be done to improve our economic interests
must be done. Training cannot be a pawn or an area afflicted
by negotiation union politics or contractor indifference. It
has to be a prime answer to the Golden Rule question; based on
market needs and a progressive vision of the future. Bottom line:
a union agreement should be a document of mutual opportunity
and strategy. If you disagree then give me a better alternative.
The current broken system governing our contractual and operational
relations has directly resulted in a loss of more than 80% market
Contractors cannot think that marginal work rule changes are
going to get it done. There is not time enough to incrementally
recover the market by trading for a competitive position a dollar
at a time. If they wait for this they will eventually be put
out of business or go non-union. Union leaders also have to realistically
assess how they are going to: a) meet the ever increasing financial
obligations and expectations of their members; b) maintain the
last of the nation's defined benefit plans; and, c) keep their
golden geese (the union contractor) alive and thriving to lay
those golden eggs.
Stonewalling on the basis of tradition is how we got here.
If they think the status quo will do it, they are betting their
personal union pension on a proven market losing model for the
next 25 years. Simply put, how we've been doing it, simply won't
get it done.
There are many labor and management people as tired as you
and I of this transparent game that consumes much and delivers
little. Especially when it often ignores the needs and priorities
related to training and market share. The new strategies that
I am seeing at a best practices level include:
· Interest-based bargaining
· Facilitated bargaining
· Union strategic planning
· Training focus groups
· Owner-end-user training partnerships
· Joint labor-management strategic planning
· Adoption of business principles rather than politics
to manage union enterprises
· Joint organizing / market development for union employer
· Market focused rather than contract focused bargaining
· Direct rank & file involvement or heavy communication
concurrent with necessary contract change
· Contractors not bringing micro items or single contractor
issues to the table
· Elimination of the wish list / "strike-off one
at a time" process
· Creation of national model bargaining agreement templates
· Creation of mandatory nationwide value-added policies
(i.e. Codes of Conduct / Excellence)
· Incentive / productivity bonus programs replacing targeting
funds (to incentivize vs. subsidize)
And these are just a few. In low union density areas the ideas
are nothing less than shocking in their embracing of innovation
and risk (mainly because there are few union political obstacles).
I am now, at 47, starting to hear from many business managers
and contractors younger than I. And they are much more practical
and aggressive. They are a lot less concerned about what was
done way back when.
They are aggressively courting new ideas because they are
being handed the reality of a broken business model, a decimated
market share and 20 more years in the business staring them in
the face. Most of them have had training mentors who have guided
them to this progressive vision. Many of these mentors are you
If the market rewards of embracing change are to be fully
realized, it is time for all of us responsible for tens of thousands
of union businesses and millions of lives and families to take
a deep breath and decide; do we do what is necessary and strategic
or do we just fill that bucket of cow (urine) one more time.
Mark Breslin is a strategist and author specializing in
labor-management challenges. He is the author of Survival of
the Fittest, Organize or Die and coming in 2008 Alpha Dog. He
addresses more than 50,000 labor and business leaders each year
in North America. Coming soon a new Breslin Book for apprentice
instruction : Million Dollar Blue Collar: Managing Your Earnings
for Life and Work Success.
More on his work and profile is available at www.breslin.biz.
trades workers set sail on Lake Huron
'Optional' crew works the
Port Huron to Mackinac race
By Marty Mulcahy
PORT HURON - Strong winds made for some fast times in the
84th Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Sailboat Race held on July
12-13, and along for the ride on two boats were sailing crews
comprised of several pipe trades workers.
Plumbers from Local 98 and Pipe Fitters from Local 636 manned
crews on two boats in the race, the 36-foot Legend, and the 32-foot
Anemone. The Legend, co-owned and co-skippered by Dan Shriner
of Local 98, took first place in its class with an elapsed time
of 31 hours, 7 minutes. The Anemone, captained and owned by Doug
Lowe of Local 98, came in sixth place (out of 14 boats) in its
class, with an elapsed time of 43 hours, 53 minutes.
Overall the race was fastest since 1984. There were a total
of 265 boats and about 3,000 sailors in the 252-mile race, with
crews battling winds of up to 35 miles per hour, that churned
up eight-foot Lake Huron waves - and churned some stomachs.
Shriner sailed with a crew of eight on his vessel, which beat
six contenders in the "Beneteau First 36.7" class,
which refers to the manufacturer and type of boat. A 38-year
member of Local 98, this was his first win in the Port Huron
to Mackinac race. He was the only pipe trades worker on the boat.
"We finished about an hour ahead of the competition,"
said Shriner, a member of the Albatross Yacht Club. "We
pushed harder and faster to maintain the lead, and that's a pretty
big lead. It was really astonishing and hard to believe that
we won. We finished with the big boats."
Shriner said this race would go down as one of the "rougher"
Port Huron to Mackinac competitions because of the high winds
and waves. He said a number of other boats sustained sail damage
or crew injuries. "I was hoping the boat would stay together,"
he said. Near Rogers City, the Legend sustained a snapped lanyard,
which is a line used to raise and lower a sail. The crew used
an alternate lanyard to keep the boat going.
Doug Lowe, a 39-year plumber out of Local 98, captained the
Anemone, a boat he has owned for eight years. His deckhands for
his first Port Huron to Mackinac race included both plumbers
and pipe fitters, and was called an "optional" crew
- an inside joke that refers to a contractual option contractors
have to hire either plumbers or fitters for some jobs.
The crew was comprised of people he had worked with and who
had an affinity for sailing. They worked together on the boat
over the last two years.
"Oftentimes it's hard to get guys to work together well,
but this was a very good crew," Lowe said. "For our
first attempt, I think we did quite well, and we're looking forward
to next year."
Lowe said crew members traded off duties during the race.
Shifts to steer the boat - the most tiring task - were limited
to about two or three hours.
He said the biggest challenge during the voyage took place
in the middle of the night, about 60 miles from shore, with the
wind blowing hard. The captain woke up crew member Rick Nelson,
who was trying to get some sleep, to help haul in the boat's
spinnaker sail. At that time, they heard over the radio that
another boat in the race called in a mayday to the Coast Guard,
requesting help because some rigging broke and a deckhand went
overboard (he was rescued).
"That was probably the biggest nervous moment,"
Both captains said much of the voyage was uneventful, with
crews eating, working and taking rests in shifts. Both stressed
the safety measures used on their boats, with the use of life
jackets when necessary and safety lanyards.
For his part, Nelson, also a Local 98 plumber, said the big
waves made it an "uncomfortable" voyage - but well
worth it. "There was a lot of leaning over the side until
you got your sea legs," Nelson said. "But it was a
THE LEGEND catches a breeze. The 36-foot boat,
co-captained by Plumbers Local 98 member Dan Shriner, finished
first in its class in the Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Sailboat
THE ANEMONE under its colorful spinnaker sail
on Lake Huron had a crew that included two plumbers and two pipe
on track for Fabiano
MONITOR TWP. - Some 200,000 square-feet of concrete has been
poured for the floor, the concrete walls are up, and the new
Fabiano Brothers Inc. beverage distribution facility is on track
to be complete on Dec. 31, 2008.
The construction management firm CSM Group, its subcontractors
and the building trades are building the new $16 million facility
on 21 acres of the "Marketplace Corporate Center" business
park at U.S. 10 and Mackinaw Rd. near Midland.
"Things are going great, everybody is working well together,"
said Robert Kitchen, project director for CSM, which is managing
the project. "There are some really great trades workers
on this site."
We first visited the site in January, when the trades were
just coming out of the frozen ground - a former hayfield.
Fabiano Brothers Inc., established in 1911, is a beer, wine,
and liquor distributor in the eastern, central, and northern
counties of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. They will be the anchor
facility at the site, and are moving their corporate headquarters
here, consolidating locations in Saginaw and Mt. Pleasant. Their
new location will give them easy access to U.S. 10 and I-75.
WELDING A TRUSS section at what will be the
Fabiano Brothers warehouse is Tom Froncek of Iron Workers Local
25, working for Mean Erectors.
Maintain pressure on sanitation bill
LANSING - The state's lawmakers are on their summer hiatus,
but that doesn't mean they don't check their e-mail, read letters
or get phone messages.
As we have reported, one of the last pieces of legislation
taken up by the Michigan House before lawmakers went on the break,
House Bill 5064, failed to get enough support from Michigan lawmakers,
both Democrats and Republicans.
HB 5064 would increase the ratio of portable toilets on Michigan
construction sites to one for every 10 workers, increasing the
availability of the toilets, as well as the odds that they will
be kept clean. The bill would also require the use of alcohol-based
hand santizers or hand-washing stations near portable toilets.
State law currently has no such requirements.
Democrat and Republican lawmakers are getting pressure from
the Michigan business community, claiming that this legislation
is "anti-business," even though the costs involved
are minimal. And the lack of support for the bill is clearly
a slap in the face to Michigan's construction workers, who are
basically being told that they're not worthy of a halfway decent
place to relieve themselves and to clean their hands afterward.
Last month, we urged our readers to contact their state House
representatives and support House Bill 5064. If you haven't done
so yet, and you have Internet access, go to www.house.mi.gov.
Click on the "Representatives" tab in the upper left
corner. There is a statewide district map and a zip code search
to help you find your rep. If you don't have Internet access,
ask a neighbor or relative to get the name and number of your
representative for you, or call your local city or township clerk's
office to get the information.
Nice hike for industry wages
U.S. construction industry wage and benefit increases in the
unionized sector averaged $2.30 per hour in the first year of
contracts to date in 2008, according to the Construction Labor
Research Council, as reported by the Construction Labor Report.
The 4.9 percent increase compares to a hike of 4.7 percent
or $1.90 per hour in 2007.
Driving the considerable leap in hourly pay and benefit levels:
a whopping $2.77 per hour average first-year increase for unionized
construction workers in the "East North Central Region,"
which includes Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio,
West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The high number of contract settlements
in our region vs. the rest of the nation during the first half
of 2008 pushed the U.S. settlement numbers higher.
The average settlement numbers are even better in the second
year of "East North Central" contracts: construction
industry wages and benefits will go up an average of $3.03 or
5.4 percent, according to the CLRC and Construction Labor Report.
CLRC Executive Director Robert Gasperow told the Construction
Labor Report that higher volumes of work, especially in the industrial
sector, helped move the bargaining increases higher.
Blood drive set for Labor Day
On Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 1, a blood drive will be held from
6 a.m. to noon in the basement of the IBEW Local 58 union hall.
Labor Day marchers from all trades and their family members
are urged to give the gift of blood before or after the festivities.
The American Red Cross reports that during this annual collection,
30-40 pints of blood are collected, and its sorely needed this
time of year.