The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

December 20, 2002

Election 2002 - Union members went with Dems, even with Dems' weak message

Foreman given jail time after worker is electrocuted

Pollution control project brings droves of trades to Consumers plant

The Gangbox Assorted News and Notes

Trades care about Care House

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Election 2002 - Union members went with Dems, even with Dems' weak message

A nationwide election night poll of union members found that 68 percent of union members voted for a Democrat in the U.S. House races and 70 percent voted for a Democrat in the Senate races.

The votes came despite the finding that 47 percent of those union members polled said Dems did not have a clear plan for strengthening the economy and creating jobs.

"The reality of the economy is clear to working people, and they made it their priority (on Election Day, Nov. 5)," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "But in our survey, union members said they do not think either party has a plan to strengthen the economy. There's a clear message coming out of this for Democrats: they have to have a strong economic message for 2004."

Democrats lost control of the Senate and failed to win a majority in the U.S. House on Nov. 5.

"Democrats," said the Washington Post, "need a strategy and a message for 2004 - not to mention a (presidential) candidate. For months, the party tried to make the economy into a catalyzing national issue that would lift their candidates across the board to victory in close races. The party tried mightily to play down the national security issues - Iraq and others - that voters placed near the top of their list of concerns. Given that supposed rage over Election 2000 did not materialize, and the Democratic issues did not galvanize voters, the party faces a serious internal debate over how to challenge Bush during the next two years."

When asked about their top voting issues for a candidate for Congress, 44 percent of those union members surveyed said "economy and jobs," followed by health care and prescription drugs (34 percent) and Social Security (25 percent). "Gun issues" were cited by 12 percent of union members in the survey. Another question asked "what members were saying with their vote," and 37 percent said they wanted to "support action against Iraq."

"Our major concern is on the issues that impact our members," said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan. "Davis-Bacon protection, growth of good jobs in the construction industry, protection of Social Security, and reductions in prescription drug costs. To this end, we have friends on both sides of the aisle who stand with us on these critical matters."

In battleground Senate races, the poll found that even more union members - 72 percent - voted for the Democratic candidate, with similar results in U.S. House races. This margin is consistent with voting trends for union members in 1998 and 2000, according to Hart Research, which did the polling.

"We don't believe Republicans have any plans to restart the economy - their agenda is the agenda of special interests in Washington, not the interests of working families," said AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, chair of the AFL-CIO Executive Council's political committee.

When union members were asked the two top issues affecting their choices in House races, pocketbook issues prevailed. Forty-four percent surveyed named the economy and jobs, followed by health care and prescription drugs with 34 percent and 25 percent naming Social Security. Terrorism and national security ranked fourth with 24 percent.

When asked whether "unions need to invest time and money in politics and legislation today, to counter the influence that corporations and wealthy special interest have," 73 percent of members agreed, up from 69 percent when that question was asked in 2002.

"Corporate interests have been salivating at the prospect of seeing their entire agenda enacted," says McEntee. "Their wish list includes possibly speeding up tax cuts, substantial nationwide limits on the amount of damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases, plus a major overhaul of the tax code to reduce the 'burden' on corporations."

Unions and their members handed out nearly 17 million worksite leaflets, made 5 million phone calls to fellow union members, sent 15 million pieces of mail and put 4,000 political coordinators in the field. On Election Day nearly 225,000 union members volunteered to get out the vote.

TOP

Foreman given jail time after worker is electrocuted

For the first time in 27 years in Michigan, a construction worker has been given jail time for being responsible for a fellow worker's death on a job site.

Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm and Monroe County Prosecutor Mike Welpert announced that James Morrin, Jr. 45, was recently sentenced to one year in jail and three years probation for the death of Robert Sorge, a 24-year-old truck driver. Morrin's employer, J.A. Morrin Concrete Co. of Toledo, was ordered to pay more than $200,000 in court costs, restitution and investigative costs to MIOSHA.

State investigators found that Sorge was electrocuted to death at a strip mall job site in Dundee when he raised the bed of his gravel truck into a 7,600-volt electrical line located directly over the work site. Morrin Construction and James Morrin had been notified on two separate occasions, two days before Sorge's death and again on the day of his death, that the electrical lines were too low and that no workers should be allowed to work under them.

According to the complaint, on Aug. 9, 2000, a Detroit Edison employee advised Morrin that he was to cease work under the power lines and request a service call from the utility to have them moved. On the same day, the Village of Dundee Building Inspector notified both Morrin and the company's owner that no workers were to be allowed under the power lines and that the low-hanging lines should be moved or taken down.

According to the Attorney General's office, on Aug. 11, Detroit Edison officials again warned Morrin not to work under the power lines. Sorge was killed later that same day when Morrin directly instructed him to raise the bed of his gravel truck under the power lines.

The company and Morrin, who was the company's foreman, were charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and criminal violation of a MIOSHA safety regulation causing employee death. Charges were filed in the 38th Circuit Court in Monroe.

"Given the potentially dangerous nature of their business, construction companies and their managers have an absolute responsibility to ensure that work sites are safe and secure," Granholm said. "Unfortunately, when construction companies do not abide by the law, it is the hard working men and women who suffer the consequences."

Following an investigation, J.A. Morrin Concrete Construction Company was cited by MIOSHA for willful and serious violations of MIOSHA including failing to inspect a work site to ensure that unsafe conditions were eliminated, failing to ensure that power lines in the construction area were de-energized or removed, allowing employees to work closer to power lines than allowed by law, and directing truck drivers to unload gravel directly underneath an energized power line.

As part of its sentence, J.A. Morrin Co. was also placed on five years probation and is required to perform community service work for organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

"When you are told four or five times there is a dangerous condition that exists, companies need to take note of that and protect workers at the jobsite," Monroe County Prosecutor Mark Weipert told the Construction Labor Report. "It could have been avoided, and it should have been avoided."

TOP

Pollution control project brings droves of trades to Consumers plant

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

ESSEXVILLE - The Karn-Weadock Generating Complex hasn't seen this much construction activity since the D.E. Karn plant first came on line in 1959.

Owner Consumers Energy, general contractor Babcock and Wilcox, its subcontractors and the building trades are in the midst of finalizing preparations for a major outage affecting D.E. Karn Unit 2, a coal-fired boiler that is being retrofitted with federally mandated pollution control upgrades.

Some 450 Hardhats are currently on the project doing a substantial amount of "preliminary" work before the outage, and more than 900 workers, mostly on two shifts, are expected to toil on the site for the 77-day period beginning Jan. 11 when Unit 2 will be taken off line.

"We started planning for this outage two years ago," said James Ross, outage manager for Consumers Energy. "It's similar to planing for a party. You want everything in place before everyone gets here." The 77-day outage should be some party, but the prep work would be a challenge to any host.

The outage is necessary in part because the federal government has implemented more stringent emission standards for the nation's coal-burning power plants. To meet those standards, Consumers Energy has opted to install a Selective Catalytic Reduction reactor (SCR) in both of its coal-burning Karn units in order to reduce pollutants in the flue stream. The utility declined to reveal the cost of the retrofit.

Installation of the SCR on Karn Unit 2 began in June 2001, and the work is currently about 90 percent complete, said Consumers Energy Program Manager John Gose. More than 2,600 pieces of steel and 74 major duct sections have been installed to support the operation of the SCR, which will be completed and tied in during the outage period.

"The planning has been important, because we've never done anything like this here before," Gose said. "The SCR is a unique piece of equipment." Added Project Manager Ted Webster: "We're working in a 1950s-vintage plant. The designers 50 years ago had no idea we'd be shoehorning in an SCR and the related equipment today."

Working with old drawings on an aging plant, there were bound to be some surprises during such a huge project. "We've had to work around all sorts of obstructions," Gose said. "The best example is a major fire protection water line that supplies the entire complex. We had to dig very carefully around that pipe, because if we broke it or had to shut it down, we would have to shut down the entire complex."

Constructing the SCR has involved the construction of a multi-story support structure, induction draft fans, duct work, and a significant upgrade to the plant's existing electrical system, which couldn't handle the increased load of the SCRs. The building trades are also constructing a urea-to-ammonia manufacturing facility on the site for a vendor, Chemithon. Ammonia - and a lot of it - is used to chemically react with the SCR's catalyst as part of the emissions reduction process, so it makes sense to build a plant on site.

The outage work will also include a partial overhaul of Unit 2's two turbines, installation of a dust removal system, upgrades to the plant's digital control system, installation of a 4160 bus extension and transformers, condenser tube replacement and replacement of reheat inlet tubing.

Outage manager Ross said 3,000 handbooks detailing the project have been printed for distribution to Hardhats. Meetings have been held regularly with the contractors and trades, "so we all understand what's on the agenda," he said. "Everyone is treated as an employee. We're asking the workers to perform on a high level, and we want them to feel comfortable with our goals."

There are 376 Consumers Energy employees at the Karn-Weadock plant, which occupies a small portion of a sprawling 1,000-acre site at the mouth of the Saginaw River on Saginaw Bay. The plant's four coal-fired boilers, two combination oil/natural gas boilers and combustion turbines (peakers) can generate up to 2,138 megawatts of electricity - about one-third of Consumers Energy's capacity.

"We've had a great relationship with the Tri-County Building Trades," Gose said. "The cooperation and quality of work of the building trades workers here has been outstanding. My hat's off to the workers and the contractors out here, there's a lot of people paying a lot of attention to detail, especially when it comes to safety. Our safety record has been phenomenal."

In fact, 260,000 man-hours had been worked without a recordable safety incident.

"There has been a lot of planning for this project," said Chuck Westphal, a BA for Boilermakers Local 169 and president of the Tri-County Building Trades. "I think they've thought of everything - even down to having a snow removal company on call to make sure we have a place to park. A lot of companies talk about teamwork, but Consumers Energy actually practices what they preach. We couldn't have asked for a better situation."

Speaking of planning, there's already an 86-day outage scheduled for retrofitting the Karn Unit 1 boiler - the tie-in is scheduled for the spring of 2004, and building trades union members expect to be back to do the job.

LOCATING SOME TOOLS in a gangbox on the Consumers Energy Karn-Weadock project is a bundled-up Gavin Brandon of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85, working for Babcock and Wilcox. Behind him is the framework for the new selective catalytic reactor being installed on Karn Unit 2.

TOP

The Gangbox Assorted News and Notes

The nation's unemployment rate jumped 0.3 percent in November, to 6 percent, the Labor Department reported. The number of unemployed Americans rose by 299,000 in one month and the jobless rate ties an 8-year high it set earlier this year.

The construction industry lost 5,000 jobs last month, on top of 27,000 the month before.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said 8.508 million people were jobless in November. Just over one-fifth - 20.4 percent - were jobless at least 27 weeks, and have lost jobless benefits.

The GOP-run Congress killed a jobless benefits extension (see below).

Overall, there were 2.552 million more jobless in November than when George W. Bush took over the Oval Office in January 2001. Unemployment then - compiled in the last weeks of President Clinton's term - was 4.2 percent.

Federal unemployment benefits for more than 800,000 jobless Americans, including 32,900 in Michigan, will cease on Dec. 28.

As we reported in our last issue, that's because the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives adjourned for the year on Nov. 22 without resolving a conflict with U.S. Senate over the number of weeks to extend benefits. Dems were pushing for a 13-week extension; Republicans wanted a five-week extension. The full Senate, controlled by Democrats, unanimously adopted a 13-week extension.

"There is no legitimate reason for the House not to pass a Senate bill that every single senator approved. Giving minimal assistance to people out-of-work in this difficult job market should not be controversial. The Republican leadership should not allow any member to use as a bargaining chip the well-being of tens of thousands of American families," said Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), a senior member on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.

Added Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee: "This is a difficult time to find any kind of job and it makes no sense to deprive families of the minimal assistance of extended unemployment benefits."

The excavation and trenching standard was revised by federal OSHA for the construction industry in 1990, in an attempt to lower the rate of fatal injuries. A recent report said the new standard appears to be working.

According to a report in the October Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, from 1984 to 1989, before the new trench standard was implemented, the fatality rate from construction industry cave-ins was 13.5 deaths per million workers per year.

But between 1990 and 1995, the study found that the fatality rate was 6.8 deaths per million - a 50 percent decrease. The study said this decline was significantly larger than the 27 percent decline in all other fatal injuries in construction during the same time period.

Top construction industry executives enjoyed robust increases in compensation in 2001, with a 31.6 percent average increase compared to 2000 pay, according to a Conference Board survey released last month.

Individual construction workers in the U.S. typically received raises in the 3-4 percent range.

In second place among executives was the energy sector, where CEOs saw their median compensation rise 21.5 percent.

Occupational exposure to respiratory health hazards has led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 19 percent of the U.S. workforce, reports a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. And construction leads the list of high-risk occupations in getting the affliction.

The disease includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and is the fourth-leading cause of death for people over age 45.

TOP

Trades care about Care House

Building trades unions, union representatives and employees passed the hat once again this year to help the families who benefit from the services of Care House in Mt. Clemens.

After $750 was raised last year, nearly $4,000 was contributed this year to the Care House, a private non-profit organization that provides a child-friendly, family-centered facility that coordinates the complex investigation, prosecution, and treatment services to victims of child sexual and physical abuse.

The money was contributed in the form of Meijer gift certificates, which can be used to purchase items like juice boxes, food and toys for the children. "These contributions help a lot," said Dana Peterson, the founding director of the facility. "We really appreciate it."

GIFT CERTIFICATE donors include (l-r) Dave Bremerkamp of Asbestos Workers 25, Charlie Colo of Bricklayers Local 1, Tom McVicar of Painters District Council 22, Judge John Foster of 41-B District Court, Tony Caleca of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, Rich Hutchinson of Operating Engineers Local 324, Greg Herman of Sprinkler Fitters 704, Harry McCloskey of Plumbers 98, Joe Bolchi of IBEW 58, Frank Wiechert of Pipe Fitters 636, Duane Robinson and Eric Robinson of Laborers 334 and Skip Sullivan of Plumbers 98. At right is Dana Peterson of the Care House.

TOP


NEWS BRIEFS

Bush courts unions with terrorism insurance
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Repeatedly saying "it's time to get our hard-hats back to work," GOP President George W. Bush used the signing ceremony for a new terrorism insurance law to court the nation's construction workers.

The Nov. 26 ceremony inaugurated a law to provide federal taxpayer guarantees for the first several billion dollars of insurance losses after future terrorist strikes, such as the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Insurance companies, real estate interests and several construction unions, led by the Carpenters, lobbied for the law. Consumer groups, usually labor's legislative allies, denounced it as an unneeded giveaway to business at taxpayer expense.

Bush rarely speaks with union officials or invites them to the White House, except for the Carpenters. But he pointedly praised the construction unions for their support. The unions' leaders "put the interests of their membership right on the line" in lobbying for the law, he said.

TOP

The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index