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December 21, 2001

Consumers Energy new HQ: two buildings for the price of one

Bush's appeal of PLA decision bolsters friendship with ABC

Unemployed still unassisted - state and feds are slow to help

Straight-party voting killed by state GOP

Decision on Carpenters' link with AFL-CIO due in mid-January

A safer site for workers the goal of U-M program

Lions score with new practice facility

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Consumers Energy new HQ: two buildings for the price of one

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

JACKSON - By springtime of 2003, some 1,500 Consumers Energy employees will be working in a new headquarters building that's being constructed downtown - and as part of the construction process, the Old Main Post Office will get new life, too.

Consumers Energy has been headquartered in Jackson since the utility's inception in 1886. In recent years, employees have been scattered in several different buildings in Jackson and Jackson County.

To bring most of the operations together, Granger Construction was hired to manage construction of a new 14-story office tower on the east end of downtown, which will incorporate an unused and historic 1932 post office building that will be restored and become part of the new building's entrance. Ground was broken on the project back in April.

"I think the re-use of the post office is a fantastic idea," said Jim Blum, senior project manager for Granger. "We're taking something that would have been an eyesore, an anchor to the community, and making it a source of community pride."

The old post office building will be made into conference rooms, a kitchen, a cafeteria and other general service areas.

The 12-acre redevelopment will include a new 430,000 square-foot office building, above-grade parking facilities, and a pedestrian mall. The project, which has a price tag up to $100 million, represents one of the largest construction projects even in Jackson.

"We firmly believe this project will play a major role in Jackson's continuing economic revitalization," said Consumers Energy Chairman William T. McCormick.

About 120 construction workers are currently on the project, which is expected to peak out at about 200 Hardhats this summer.

"This is your typical construction site in a city; it's congested and the layout area is pretty cramped," Blum said. "But the job has gone extremely well. The tradespeople out here are extremely productive and the subcontractors are working well together."

RATHER THAN tear down a 70-year-old post office in Jackson, the building will be cleaned up, gutted, and incorporated into the design of the new Consumers Energy headquarters, as shown in this rendering. Consumers Energy has been headquartered in Jackson since its inception in 1886.

A BRICKLAYER uses a masonry saw at the Consumers Energy headquarters project.


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Bush's appeal of PLA decision bolsters friendship with ABC

Early in his administration, President George W. Bush issued an Executive Order prohibiting union labor agreements on federally funded construction projects.

On Nov. 7, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled the Bush's Executive Order "in its entirety is preempted" by the National Labor Relations Act. The judge ruled that Bush overstepped his authority, and permanently halted the enforcement of the executive order.

The next question emerged: would Bush cater to his friends in the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, and appeal the judge's ruling? Or was there a chance that he would hold back on making an appeal, and make an attempt at catering to the building trades unions, who supported the president on oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska.

The verdict: ABC-1; building trade unions-0. The Bush Administration filed an appeal on Nov. 29.

"The appeal is sad commentary that the White House remains under dogmatic ultra-conservative control," said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan. "The action can only prolong the litigation and undermine our efforts to find common ground with the administration."

Many local and state governments make it a policy to use union-only project labor agreements to build taxpayer-funded projects. Those that do regard the agreements as a good business practice, assuring them a ready supply of skilled workers able to bring in projects on-time and on-budget.

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Unemployed still unassisted - state and feds are slow to help

By David E. Bonior
U.S. Representative
D-Michigan

It's been more than three months since the attacks of Sept. 11.

Since that time we've seen over 747,000 lay-offs across the country as our economy has slowed to a pace not seen since the early 1980's.

Here in Michigan, unemployment insurance claims have risen 130% over this time last year. Yet as these numbers soar - and as we pass bill after bill to bail out industries hurt by the attacks - there has been no action at the state or federal level to help laid-off workers get back on their feet.

Through no fault of their own, these workers have found themselves unemployed in a job market with little to offer. And while their jobs have ended, their families' needs continue. They need health insurance, a roof over their heads, and food on the table. Right now, these workers are turning to the state for unemployment insurance and health care - and they're finding that this assistance is largely inadequate.

In the third quarter of 2001, 32,168 Michigan workers unable to find work exhausted their unemployment benefits - an 88% increase over this time last year. Many of these families will now have to go on welfare to make ends meet. Others will have no place to turn.

Furthermore, unemployment compensation in Michigan is hardly enough to support a family. Gov. Engler pushed through Public Act 25 in 1995 which capped the weekly unemployment compensation benefit at $300. Before 1995, unemployment benefits were increased every year to keep up with the cost of living. If Engler had not capped the benefit, the maximum unemployment compensation benefit would be $414 today.

But now, our state's laid-off workers have to support their families on much less than they did six years ago, and they're living hundreds of dollars below the poverty level. Meanwhile, Michigan's unemployment trust fund is currently valued at $3.1 billion. The Governor should remove the unemployment cap and offer laid-off workers a meaningful benefit that will be enough for workers to support their families while they get back on track.

We also need to take action at the federal level to help those who have found themselves unemployed after Sept. 11. I have fought hard for an economic stimulus package which provides for a one-year expansion of unemployment benefits and health care for laid-off workers. Under this plan, the unemployed would receive an additional 26 weeks of benefits, weekly checks would increase by 25% or $65 (whichever is greater), and part-time workers would be eligible for assistance. The federal government would also cover 75% of health care costs under the COBRA program, enabling far more workers to receive health insurance.

Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in Congress has fought hard against meaningful assistance to laid-off workers. Instead, they rammed legislation through the House of Representatives which was heavily skewed toward wealthy and corporate interests - which need our help the least.

If we are really serious about stimulating the economy, we need to put money into the hands of those most in need. People who are unemployed aren't going to save money: they're going to spend it right away. For each dollar spent in unemployment benefits, the national GDP is boosted by $2.15.

Yet, 89% of the $160 billion House-passed Republican bill would go to large corporations and wealthy individuals in the form of tax cuts. Only 11% would aid laid-off workers.

These are the wrong priorities for our state and nation to have during a time of national and economic crisis. Now is the time to reach out to those among us who were hardest hit by the Sept. 11 attacks and help them in their hour of need. It is my hope that the Senate passes an economic stimulus bill that provides meaningful assistance to our nation's unemployed and that the President continues to show compassionate leadership by signing that bill into law.

Before we act to help any more industries, we need to help those workers who make these businesses profitable. We have to remember the human face of our economy. We cannot leave our working families behind.

(David Bonior is a great friend of organized labor, but The Greater Detroit and Michigan Building Trades Councils have not issued an endorsement for Michigan governor).

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Straight-party voting killed by state GOP

LANSING - Michigan has a tradition of long ballots.

Until this month, Michigan was one of 16 states that also enjoyed the century-old tradition of being able to simplify the voting process by allowing straight-party voting - one punch of the ballot allowed voters to choose all Democrats, or all Republicans.

Not any more. Armed with the knowledge that more Democratic voters use straight-party voting, the Republican-controlled legislature on Dec. 6 did away with it. Now, even with the Florida voting fiasco not forgotten, Michigan's ballots will become more complex, and the state's voters will have to work harder to make sure that they're voting for the candidates who represent their interests.

In the November 2000 presidential election, 78 percent of Detroit voters voted straight-ticket.

State Republicans have argued that requiring voters to make selections for individual races will result in more informed choices, and that too many straight-ticket voters ignore the nonpartisan portions of a ballot, such as Supreme Court races.

Republicans didn't stop there. According to the Michigan Democratic Party, they also rejected several amendments that would assist voters by:

  • Allowing any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot;
  • Would turn Election Day into a statewide holiday;
  • Would expand the hours for people to vote;
  • Creating the opportunity to vote by mail.

"By eliminating straight-party voting and not passing these amendments, the Republican legislature has shown they are working for the biggest special interest group in Lansing - themselves," said state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer. "There is nothing else that explains their contempt for the needs of Michigan's voters."

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Decision on Carpenters' link with AFL-CIO due in mid-January

LAS VEGAS (PAI)--A final decision on whether the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners will return to the AFL-CIO will come by mid-January, union officials attending the AFL-CIO convention in Las Vegas said.

The leaders said Carpenters President Douglas McCarron and AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney are handling all the talks, including closed-door discussions at the Carpenters training center in Las Vegas.

"Talk to Sweeney," Building and Construction Trades Department President Edward C. Sullivan said when asked about progress, or lack of it, in the negotiations.

The Carpenters left the federation earlier this year. Their objections included the AFL-CIO did not spend enough on organizing and did not move employees out of the federation's Washington D.C. offices into the field.

Despite the Carpenters' departure, official AFL-CIO membership as of June 30, 2001, was 13,223,316, up from 12,869,540 the year before. Neither figure counts the Carpenters, which took 324,000 members with them when they left the AFL-CIO.

The Michigan Regional Carpenters Council had previously disaffiliated with the Detroit and Michigan Building Trades Councils in May 1996.

 

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A safer site for workers the goal of U-M program

Editor's note - This article was prepared by the University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center

Trauma is a substantial contributor to death and injury on the job. It is one of the most pressing public health problems in the United States.

Sixteen workers die from a traumatic injury every day. Annually, six million workers suffer injuries that result in either lost time from work, medical treatment, or restricted work activity. The University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center finds these numbers disturbing and unacceptable.

As a level-one trauma center we see first-hand the consequences of a traumatic injury. The ramifications of injury can be measured not only in lives lost, lifelong disabilities and decreased productivity, but also in social and financial losses.

We believe that prevention is the very best way to reduce the number of occupational traumatic injuries. Consequently, we have developed SiteSafe, a progressive occupational injury prevention program. The goal of the curriculum is to reduce the number of high-risk occupational injuries through comprehensive prevention education.

The information presented teaches workers and management about the medical, financial and social consequences of traumatic injuries. Topics include pre-hospital care, social issues, personal protective equipment, job loss, health care costs, disabilities, family roles and injury prevention strategies.

The program features pre-hospital care providers, trauma surgeons, social workers, injury prevention educators, lawyers, representatives from MIOSHA, school of public health professors and demonstrations on personal protective equipment.

SiteSafe provides tools and resources needed to help both employers and employees make the right safety and health decisions. Our target audiences are construction workers, building trades unions, apprenticeship schools, utility companies, autoworkers, and other high-risk groups. SiteSafe strives to modify the attitude, knowledge and behavior within the workplace. The benefits can be measured by the reduction in employee absenteeism, turnover, insurance claims, injuries and in the number of lives saved.

A program on Dec. 4, 2001 resulted in enthusiastic positive feedback from participants. If you are interested in attending our next program or want more information on SiteSafe contact Michael C. McReynolds at 734-936-9672 or mikemcr@umich.edu or visit our website at www.traumaburn.org.

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Lions score with new practice facility

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

If the play of the Detroit Lions doesn't improve next year, it won't be because of their beautiful new practice facility, which is set to open in March.

The Lions will have training facilities that include an indoor practice field, and two outdoor, full-size regulation fields, plus another half of a field. The $34 million project will not only include practice facilities, it will contain the administrative offices for the entire Detroit Lions operation.

"The Detroit Lions' new headquarters will be a world-class facility that is elite among professional sports teams' training centers," said Lions vice chairman Bill Ford, Jr.

White-Olson is acting as construction manager on the project, which currently employs about 110 building trades workers. Olson Project Supt. Mike Zatroch said project planners toured NFL practice facilities around the country to learn what they want and don't want in the new building.

"We took the best features from the ones we looked at and incorporated them into this facility," Zatroch said. "This has been a design-build project, and things are going very well. The trades have been very cooperative, and the architects and the mechanical and electrical contractors have done a great job and have helped us quite a bit."

The architects are Gensler and the Smith Group. Limbach and John Miller Electric have been the prime mechanical contractors.

Set on 22.7 acres at the Southfield Freeway and Rotunda Drive, the site is dominated by the 220-foot wide, by 440-foot long, by 110-foot high indoor practice field. In addition to staff offices, the building includes a broadcast studio, a theatre to watch game films, a weight room, locker rooms, rehab facilities, a kitchen and dining area, a players' lounge, and an observation area for the indoor field. At this time, the Lions have no plans to allow the general public to view practices.

Zatroch said the Lions primarily plan to practice on the outdoor fields, in order to reduce injuries. The chalk lines on those fields can be reconfigured in order to spread out the wear and tear on the grass. The indoor practice facility will be used when the weather is inclement. Its surface, "Nexturf," will be identical to the one that will cover Ford Field.

Completion of the new training facility on the Allen Park-Dearborn border means the Lions will no longer conduct training camp at Saginaw Valley State University, as they have done the past few years.

ON ANY GIVEN Sunday next season, the Detroit Lions will be playing at their new stadium in Detroit, Ford Field. On other days, the team will be spending most of its time at their new practice facility which is under construction in Allen Park. Here Darrell (Woody) Smith of Glaziers and Glassworkers 357 and Modern Mirror works on the lift outside the indoor playing field.

Ken Reynolds of Laborers Local 1191 sweeps the playing surface.


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NEWS BRIEFS

Fast Track passed in House
One of organized labor's least favorite topics - granting Fast Track trade authority to President Bush - took a big step forward Dec. 6 when the U.S. House approved the legislation by a single vote, 215-214.

There were 21 Democrats who voted for Fast Track, which would let Bush negotiate NAFTA-like trade treaties without worker rights or environmental protections, then submit legislation implementing those pacts to Congress for up-or-down votes, with no amendments.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the vote "an historic low," "disgraceful," and said it "capped a year of punishment for working families" in the GOP-run U.S. House.

The Wall Street Journal said the Senate is expected to pass Fast Track, but Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) said the legislation would not come up until next year, if then.

"The basic facts about fast track have not changed. Fast track costs good Americans jobs," Sweeney said. "A strong majority of the American people oppose fast track trade legislation and they will hold lawmakers who voted against their interests responsible."

Teamsters win limits on Mexican trucks
Labor's legislative victories this year have been sporadic, but the Teamsters are entitled to crow about one of them - the ban on unsafe Mexican trucks from U.S. roads.

With little help from other unions, but a lot of shoe leather and grass-roots pressure, the union overcame opposition from Republican leaders, including President Bush, to the ban.

The final plan, in Transportation Department funding legislation approved in late November, confines the trucks to a zone within 20 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. They can travel beyond that only after a study and certification of whether they meet safety standards.

"We're proud of the fact that we worked to make highways safe in America," Teamsters President James R. Hoffa said during the AFL-CIO convention in Las Vegas in December.

Increased training for World Trade workers
OSHA has signed an agreement with union construction workers and contractors at the World Trade Center site in New York stipulating ways to protect workers.

The Construction Labor Report said the partnership represents a commitment "to exercise leadership in preventing occupational fatalities and serious injuries and illnesses."

The WTC site had recorded a remarkable 5,000 workplace injuries at the site through early November, including 40 "near-miss" cases in which workers were almost killed. A site-specific safety training program has been developed, which will include an initial three-hour class.

There are up to 1,500 Hardhats on the site at any given time.

 

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