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December 10, 1999

New millennium, same old story...Construction boom continues

Trades make more room for Genesee County's sewage

Ergonomics rule 'major step forward' but construction is still on sidelines

'The sad part is that hearing loss is irreversible' ('but it's also easily preventable')

'Sham'-paign finance reform ignores the real problem




New millennium, same old story...Construction boom continues

By Marty Mulcahy

It was a good year for building. Everybody says so.

Our annual year-end roundup of construction activity in the State of
Michigan reveals a nearly universal upbeat attitude among unions and their contractors. This year was expected to be a good one for the building business, and it didn't disappoint.

As for 2000…it looks like more of the same.

"It was a banner year for us in 1999," said Ann Arbor Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190 Business Manager Ron House. "And I expect it will be a banner year again next year."

The list of ongoing projects and jobs getting ready to start in Washtenaw County and environs is as long as your arm. Parke-Davis is consolidating its research into one Ann Arbor building ($200 million). Washtenaw Community College is spending $70-$80 million on new construction and renovations. Major building projects are on the agenda in school districts in Brighton, Dexter, Lincoln and Tecumseh. Even residential work is booming, House said.

"We have about 20 travelers in town, and we've had full employment all year," he said.

"We held our own in 1999," said Bay City Electrical Workers Local 692 Business Manager Tom Ryder. "It was a very good year for organizing, we took in 80 people and now we have about 450 members. We've never had that many."

Ryder said his local hasn't put any travelers to work, but Local 692 has experienced full employment. "We really haven't had any big jobs to speak of," Ryder said. "Just a bunch of small and medium size jobs that have added up. We're looking for 2000 to be a good year with full employment, also."

Construction activity in Detroit and Southeast Michigan has never been better. The tri-county region is in the middle of a three-year period where an astounding $25 billion is being spent on new construction.

Major projects are being sponsored by the automakers, Detroit Edison, Rouge Steel, Metro Airport, Detroit Public Schools, suburban schools, the Detroit Tigers and most recently, the Detroit Lions.

"As far as construction activity, 1999 was as good as we expected it to be," said Mike Haller, executive vice president of Detroit-based general contractor Walbridge-Aldinger. "It was a year filled with challenges, and we'll enter 2000 with the same healthy economy and all the same challenges."

The challenges, Haller said, include shortages in building materials, machinery and personnel. He said the "personnel" category includes more than just craft workers - the industry is also short of people like estimators and engineers, but the lack of skilled workers is getting most of the attention.

"Was there a craft shortage? Yes. But did everybody get though it? Yes," Haller said. "Customers are concerned about our ability to provide a productive, quality workforce, since that is what sets union contractors apart from the nonunion. The ability for us to meet this challenge is what will continue our union dominance. "

Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin said "there's no end in sight to the building boom. It's absolutely amazing how much work is out there, and the labor market is getting tight."

He said it's time for labor, contractors and owners to sit down and talk about scheduling projects so that sufficient trades workers can be provided on future jobs.

"Labor unions and their contractors are going all out to attract more people to the construction industry, but until we can bring enough people on board, we have to talk about orchestrating these projects," Devlin said. "With the accelerated schedules on some of these jobs, the overtime is nice, but I start to get worried about safety and what kind of a family life our people have."

In the Grand Rapids and Muskegon areas, "we've had a very successful year," said Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 174 Business Manager Doug Bennett. "This has been an extraordinary year because we've kept full employment without any really large projects to carry us."

Bennett said the area has employed up to 200 pipe trades travelers during the year. He said school work, manufacturing, residential and industrial work has been providing the paychecks for members and travelers.

"The year 2000 looks like another good year," he said. "There's plenty of bid activity, and again, it looks like we're going to get by without another major industrial project."

"We're looking good in Lansing," said Laborers Local 998 Business Manager Dale Brzezinski. "We started work on the new GM plant in 1999 and by next May it looks like there's going to be about 560 building trades workers out there."

Other projects on the agenda include a new consolidated Ingham County court building in Lansing, ongoing work at the Biochemistry Building on the MSU campus, and a $50 million state office building.

"I've been around here for about nine years, and things have never been better," Brzezinski said.

"We had a slow start in 1999, but it looks like we'll wind up ahead of last year's man-hours," said Asbestos Workers Local 47 Business Manager Greg Revard, based in Saginaw. He said the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven has been a good employer, and most of the 191-member local has been steadily working 140 hours.

"For the most part, we've had full employment," Revard said. "The economy has been good, and that has helped a lot of our contractors get work."

A new auto plant in Lansing, a new headquarters building for Consumers Energy in Jackson and an $80 million air museum in Battle Creek are expected to be major employers in 2000, Revard said.

"For us 1999 has been beautiful," said Traverse City Electrical Workers Local 498 Business Manager Bernie Mailloux. "We still have travelers and we're still using retirees. And 2000 looks like its going to be another good year."

Mailloux said the decommissioning of the Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant in Charlevoix employed more than 40 electricians last summer, and school work in Petoskey, Boyne Falls and Mancelona have and will continue to supply members with paychecks.

"The year 1999 was the fourth year in a row with full employment for the Upper Peninsula," said Michigan Building Trades Council Business Rep. Jack LaSalle, "and 2000 looks like it will be the fifth."

The Seaborg Center at Northern Michigan University, the Peter White Library and Marquette General Hospital are a few of the projects that have kept the U.P. trades employed in 1999.

"Public school projects and university work have really helped keep our people steadily employed," LaSalle said. "Based on the projects that have been bid, next year looks like another good one."


Trades make more room for Genesee County's sewage

By Marty Mulcahy

LINDEN - Population growth = more toilets flushing.

That simple equation in growing Genesee County has brought about a $19.5 million expansion of the Linden Wastewater Plant.

About 30 Hardhats are currently on the project, working for general contractor Sorenson Gross and several subcontractors. The project, which began in August, will upgrade the plant's ability to process sewage from three million gallons a day to five millions gallons a day. The upgrade is expected to meet the needs of the area until at least 2015.

The to-do list for the trades at the Wastewater Plant includes six new filter beds, two new trickling filters, one 70-foot clarifier, three aeration tanks, a new preliminary treatment building, and a new blower building to feed the aeration tanks. The project includes about 20,000 feet of new piping - anywhere from 6 inches to 36 inches - in addition to the thousands of feet of pipe already in the ground.

"You can't drive a wood stake into the ground around here without hitting a pipe," said Rich Taylor of Sorenson Gross.

John E. Green Supt. Leo Hebert said the plant remains open during the construction process, with any shutdowns taking place in the wee hours of the morning.

PIPES AT THE LINDEN Wastewater Plant are serviced by (l-r) John E. Green Supt. Leo Hebert, Local 85; Berton Russell, Local 370, and Bob English, Local 495, Cambridge, Ohio.

A WIRING DUCT brace gets cut by electrician Floyd Edwards of IBEW Local 948 as Roy Scott of Local 460 (Midland, Texas) looks on.


Ergonomics rule 'major step forward' but construction is still on sidelines

For now, construction workers are excluded from a sweeping ergonomics rule that OSHA proposed for use in general industry on Nov. 22.

Public hearings have yet to be held on the proposed rule, "which relies on a practical, flexible approach that reflects industry best practices and focuses on jobs where problems are severe and solutions well understood," according to OSHA. The agency defines ergonomics as "the science of fitting jobs to people."

Protection would be provided to about 27 million workers toiling at 1.9 million workplaces - about one-third of all workplaces. The proposals face opposition in Congress.

According to Compliance Resources Inc., which assists companies with OSHA regulations, Michigan employers will not immediately be affected if the OSHA regulations pass. Since it has its own safety program - MIOSHA - the state has up to six additional months to adopt the OSHA standard or implement a program which would be substantially similar.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the proposed rules "a major step forward in the fight to end crippling workplace injuries." He urged that if and when the rules are finalized by Congress in 2000, they should be expanded to the construction, agriculture and maritime industries.



'The sad part is that hearing loss is irreversible' ('but it's also easily preventable')

Hard of hearing?

Maybe you are, maybe you aren't, and maybe you don't know it yet.

Hearing loss is yet another bullet on the long list of hazards that can affect construction workers. Now, federal OSHA is looking to reopen the subject and get it off the top-ten work-related health problems in the U.S.

In recent years, OSHA has directed its enforcement efforts at updating standards for fall protection and confined spaces.

Ignoring a beefed up hearing protection standards means "OSHA allows us to be exposed to more noise than the rest of the world," said Eric Patton, training manager for Dalloz Safety, a maker of hearing protection devices in Reading, Pa. He told the Engineering News Record that while current OSHA standards permit exposure of an average of 90 dBs during an eight-hour day, Canada and Europe limit exposure to 85 dBs.

OSHA will post an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register this month, ENR said, which is a preliminary first step that could lead to a tougher construction noise standard.

There has been progress in limiting hearing loss. Heavy equipment manufacturers have lowered the decibel levels of their equipment. Makers of hearing protection devices have improved the comfort of their products.

A 1998 University of Michigan study said construction craft workers are still exposed to excessive noise levels on the job, and unfortunately, far too many aren't taking precautions against hearing loss by wearing ear plugs or ear muffs.

Professor Sally L. Lusk, a nationally renowned nurse researcher in occupational health, specializing in the prevention of hearing loss, said even general sound on construction sites creates "a high enough noise level that it is harmful and will have an impact on hearing."

Her recommendation: "Why not wear hearing protection all the time? The sad part is that hearing loss is irreversible, but it's also easily preventable."

OSHA's current general industry standard requires a program with noise exposure measurement, worker hearing tests, record keeping, training and noise control - muffling the sounds at their origins.

Federal construction noise rules have general requirements for a hearing conservation program, "but it doesn't say what it is and no one pays attention," said Alice Suter, an Ashland, Ore., consultant who studied noise and hearing loss for OSHA. Of the 18,000 construction inspections carried out in 1998, only 79 noise-related citations were issued, according to a review by Suter.

Carl Heinlein, director of safety and health for the Associated General Contractors of America, told the ENR that contractors would fight "tooth and nail" any proposal to strengthen the noise standard. OSHA, he said should focus on the causes of accidental injury and death with more education and industry outreach.

A 1998 survey found Hardhats wear ear plugs or ear muffs only 36 to 61 percent of the time they should be worn.



'Sham'-paign finance reform ignores the real problem

By Rep. Michael Hanley
House Democratic Leader

Whenever a statewide or national election draws near, media attention and public interest focuses on the outrageous sums of money spent on campaigns. These amounts keep escalating year after year, with no end in sight.

Although most citizens do not contribute to political campaigns, the impact of money in politics can not be underestimated. The agenda in Lansing this year has been dominated by tax breaks for the rich and give-aways to corporations, who put the Republicans in power last November with millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

In recent weeks, House Republicans passed what can only be called "sham-paign" finance reform legislation. Instead of dealing with the real problem of big money, the Republicans aimed their guns at a straw man: bingo. Throughout Michigan, many politicians and local political parties use bingo to raise funds in small amounts (under $25). Since most, though not all, of the bingos are run by Democrats, Republicans tried to ban political bingo in 1996.

The voters of Michigan overwhelmingly rejected this partisan attempt to shut out small contributors, but the party of special interests and big money is at it again.

The Republicans are trying to ban bingo by using something called "first penny reporting." Under current law, if you make a contribution of $20 or less, the contribution has to be reported, but not your name and address. This allows a candidate to sell bumper stickers or campaign buttons, or run a small stakes bingo, without keeping track of everyone who buys a $1 button or a 50-cent bingo card. Republicans want the Secretary of State to have the name and address of everyone in Michigan who plays political bingo or buys a bumper sticker.

The sad thing is that Republicans had an opportunity to deal with the real problem of the corrupting influence of big money. However, Betsy DeVos, chair of the Michigan Republican Party, brags that her family is the number one contributor of "soft money" in the country. "Soft money" is the millions of dollars that DeVos and other billionaires contribute in unlimited amounts to the Republican Party every year.

The party turns around and gives the money to Republican candidates, making a sham of the laws that restrict how much one person or political action committees can give to individual candidates.

My colleagues and I will continue our efforts towards true campaign finance reform, including: limiting soft money contributions to $50,000 and expanding disclosure requirements for committees which accept soft money; requiring electronic filing of campaign finance reports for candidates for state elective office whose committees take in or spend more than $20,000;
extending reporting requirements to political web sites; requiring public disclosure of contributions to foundations affiliated with politicians, and requiring candidates for state elective office to publicly file a financial disclosure statement listing income, assets and liabilities, or furnish a copy
of their income tax return.

The contrast between the two approaches is stark. Democrats want to limit the power of big money. Republicans want to harass bingo players. Which party stands for real campaign finance reform?




Wage gains to remain flat
Construction industry wage gains will continue in the 3.5 to 4 percent range over the next six months - not great, but not bad when you factor in an overall inflation rate that has moved little from around zero over the last two years.

The Bureau of National Affairs' "wage trend indicator" revealed that the range has been about the same since the middle of 1998.

Moyle found guilty by NLRB
MARQUETTE -Thomas J. Moyle Contracting, Inc., of Houghton was found guilty of violating federal labor law when he threatened an employee's work status because of the employee's support and activities on behalf of the union, and by threatening and interrogating a different employee about letting a union organizer on a job site in Marquette.

The decision was handed down by National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge, Bruce D. Rosenstein, pursuant to several Unfair Labor Practice charges brought by the U.P. Building Trades Council after an election with Moyle employees November 6, 1997. Moyle had until Nov. 26 to appeal the decision and chose not to.

"Moyle is not appealing because he is guilty and we have proven it," said Jack LaSalle, an agent with the U.P. Building Trades Council. "In fact, many of us think Judge Rosenstein was much more kind to Moyle than his actions against his employees deserved."

Moyle, one of the largest nonunion general contractors in the U.P., will be required to post a "Notice to Employees" that the company will cease and desist from threatening and interrogating employees in the exercise of their rights under federal labor law and will not commit any other violations of employee rights.

Shortages haven't been too serious
Throughout 1999, we've reported the shortage of skilled workers. We've mentioned the shortage and high cost of materials like drywall, PVC pipe and wall insulation. But that hasn't pushed too many folks out of the building business.

Dun and Bradstreet last month reported that according to a survey of U.S. 1,000 construction executives, "order books for construction jumped back to near-record levels in October, again postponing the anticipated slowdown in the construction industry."

Shortages of workers and materials exist in some markets, said D & B Chief Economist David Kresge, but few construction executives said that their production was seriously hampered. Only 23 percent of the executives said they were unable to hire enough skilled workers, and only 5 percent reported shortages of material and equipment.


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