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August 8, 2008

Rally seeks to spark new attention for Employee Free Choice Act

Obama: 'I'll sign EFCA'

'Broken business model'? Contracts need new focus on training, market share

Pipe trades workers set sail on Lake Huron

Trades on track for Fabiano

News Briefs


Rally seeks to spark new attention for Employee Free Choice Act

By Joe Hoshaw
Staff Writer

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 workers' rights."

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 union representation.

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


Obama: '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.



'Broken business model'? Contracts need new focus on training, market share

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 to it."

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 over time.

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 share.

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 density
· 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 readers.

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


Pipe trades workers set sail on Lake Huron

'Optional' crew works the Port Huron to Mackinac race

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

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," Lowe said.

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 great experience."

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 Race.

THE ANEMONE under its colorful spinnaker sail on Lake Huron had a crew that included two plumbers and two pipe fitters.



Trades 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.


News Briefs

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 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.


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