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December 23, 2005
LANSING - There's yet a new package of bills from Michigan's Democratic House members that would increase unemployment benefits and extend those benefits by 13 weeks when the state's unemployment rate reaches 5 percent.
Michigan's unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in October, the most recent numbers available from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. It hit a high of 7.4 percent in February.
"We need to stand up for our workers, especially when wealthy corporations outsource their jobs to other states and countries, or downsize their jobs out of existence," said House Democratic Leader Dianne Byrum (D-Onondaga). "Our working families are the backbone of our state. When they fall on tough economic times, we must stand up for them. Expanding unemployment benefits is the right thing to do for our workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own."
House Democrats have raised the issue of raising and extending unemployment benefits in past years - but have met with little success in getting their legislation past the Republican-led state House and Senate.
The legislation would:
Still, Democrats may be able to swing some kind of a deal.
Michigan's unemployment benefits were last increased in 2002 from $300 to $362. If benefits had kept pace with inflation since 2002, unemployed workers would have received a maximum of $396 this year and a maximum of $408 in 2006.
"Low-wage earners are hit the hardest when they lose
their jobs," said State Representative Doug Bennett (D-Muskegon),
who proposed a bill to increase the multiplier. "Many of
these workers have little to no savings because they're already
scraping to get by. Increasing unemployment benefits for people
who earn the least will help our workers survive until they find
This, the second in a series of articles about the fair enforcement of Michigan's Prevailing Wage law, discusses some of the coverage issues that have changed.
By David Plawecki,
Since taking office in 2003, one of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's objectives has been to improve the health, safety and welfare of Michigan workers. To this end, the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth has sought to strengthen enforcement of the state's Prevailing Wage law and to protect our skilled construction trades workers and responsible contractors.
Under the previous administration, Michigan's Prevailing Wage law seemed to discourage complaints and encourage potential abuses. Today, the Prevailing Wage law is being reinvigorated, and Michigan's Wage & Hour Division is working with contractors and workers to ensure fair and equitable enforcement of the act.
90-Day escape rule. Prior to the letting out of bid requests for a contract for a state-backed construction project, the Wage & Hour Division establishes the prevailing wage rate for each classification of construction mechanics requested by a contracting agent. If the contract is not awarded or construction does not start within 90 days from the date the rates are issued, the contracting agent must request a re-determination of rates. Prevailing wage rates remain in effect for the length of the construction project.
In the past, the Wage & Hour Division did not assert jurisdiction when prevailing wage rates for a project were more than 90-days old and the contract was either not awarded or construction had not started. Consequently, a contractor could inadvertently or intentionally delay a project's start date beyond 90 days of a rate request and, thereby, escape any enforcement by the division.
The Wage & Hour Division has now changed the policy, giving the division jurisdiction when rates are issued for the project.
Jurisdictional improvements. In the past, the Wage & Hour Division did not have jurisdiction at a construction site, if the letter requesting bids did not specifically refer to the project as a prevailing wage project. Now, however, the Division will take jurisdiction if there is significant evidence that a project is a prevailing wage project. Such evidence could include enclosing prevailing wage rates in bid specifications.
Community colleges now clearly covered. The prevailing wage coverage policy for schools and institutions of higher education now specifically includes community colleges. In the past, K-12 schools and institutions of higher education were identified as being covered by the state's Prevailing Wage law. The law, however, was silent about coverage for community colleges, which was then interpreted to mean they were not covered.
MDOT improvements. The Wage & Hour Division has worked closely with the Michigan Department of Transportation to ensure that prevailing wage rates are paid on road construction projects, to improve contract language for these projects, and to strengthen the bidding process.
Debarment policy. The Wage & Hour Division implemented the policy to debar employers for violating the state's Prevailing Wage law. Contractors who are found to be in violation of the law could be debarred for up to eight years from being awarded any contract for goods and services with the state of Michigan.
The Division has also computerized the tracking of prevailing wage violations to help determine if and when potential debarment actions should be initiated.
Filing complaints. If you believe you have a complaint about a prevailing wage issue, please contact the Wage & Hour Division. You can contact the main office in Lansing at (517) 322.1825 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The Division also has an office in the Detroit metropolitan area at (313) 456-4906.
Staff is available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those in the Upper Peninsula can contact our UP-based investigator at (906) 482-3602 between 8 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on weekdays. Messages can be left for the investigator at any time.
For more information about Michigan's Prevailing Wage law
and the Wage & Hour Division, please visit the division's
website at www.michigan.gov/wagehour.
By Marty Mulcahy
Sheet metal worker Dave Reginek calls his second job at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena "a really cool gig."
The legions of Detroit Red Wings fans around the state would probably agree.
Since the 2003 hockey season, on game nights, Reginek has led a dual life: at the end of the regular work-day, he puts aside his hard hat and detailer drawings and picks up his hockey helmet and three substantial cameral bags, on his way to work as the Red Wings team photographer.
"Being a sheet metal worker pays the bills, but this is the kind of moonlighting job you dream about," Reginek said.
The work isn't easy, but it's every bit as good as it sounds, said Reginek, who has dabbled with photography since he was 11. The job includes a cramped rink-side spot unprotected by Plexiglass to facilitate shooting photos, regular contact with the players, and a pass to roam all the corners of Joe Louis Arena to get the action angles he wants.
A 27-year member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, Reginek is currently employed in his day-job by Danboise Mechanical, mostly doing computer-aided design work. He said his bosses, Carl Pistolesi and Steve Gordon, "have been absolutely great" in giving him time off on the occasions when his photography work conflicts with his sheet metal work.
He got the job as the Red Wings photographer during the 2003 season. Dave had been doing freelance photography work for groups like the Michigan Hockey paper. When his predecessor had a falling out with the Red Wings management, his editor at the MH paper recommended him for the job. Dave was given a four-game trial to shoot Wings' games. "It was a little overwhelming, and at the first game, my heart was pounding and I was pretty nervous. But they must have liked my work." He passed the test and was hired on as team photographer.
Photographing professional hockey action is a bit more involved than shooting sunsets. Reginek has more than $30,000 invested in his camera equipment to capture images in the fast-moving game, and his own pre-game warm up is quite extensive.
We followed Reginek around when the New Jersey Devils came to Detroit on Dec. 6. Detroit won, 5-2.
He gets to park in the players lot, which helps since he had to lug 60 lbs. of photography equipment. At least an hour before game-time, Reginek ambles along the catwalks among the roof trusses of Joe Louis, turning on and testing his strobes. He said the use of six strobe / flash units near the roof can make the difference between a good photo and a great photo.
During games, when he's taking photos, he uses a digital transmitter on his camera to trigger the strobes which illuminates the entire surface of the rink. Players and the 20,000 fans never notice the flashes.
Between periods, due to limited space, Reginek and photographers covering the game from newspapers, magazines and wire services rotate where they take their photos. The best spot is a tiny little "office" on the center red line between the players' benches, where Reginek dodges an occasional puck, as well as flying spit from players, and enjoys the sights and the sounds of being so close to the action.
"It's a whole different perspective down there," he said. "They're always yelling to each other, and everybody has a nickname. Drapes, Malts, Shanny, Langer. One of the funniest things I've seen was when LA was in town, and (former Red Wing) Sean Avery kept leaning over me where I was at, yelling at the Wings bench. He has a reputation for being a pest. It was constant. He just wouldn't shut up."
Reginek doesn't think twice about putting on a hard hat at construction sites, but he didn't bother to wear a helmet while working rink-side - until the San Jose game this year. A wayward puck hit him in the head in the first period.
"I bled like a stuck pig, but they gave me a towel and I kept shooting," he said with trace of a smile. "The Wings doctor gave me four stitches, and I was good to go." Lesson learned the hard way: Dave now wears a helmet when he's rink-side.
Other vantage points for Reginek during games are in the corners of the rink or at center ice, halfway up the stands. No helmet required.
Reginek does more than take on-ice action shots. Before the Wings-Devils game, he was asked by team representatives to take photos of some soon-to-be retirees who work for the NHL, as well as some "grip and grins" with team dignitaries. That's common, he said, and he never says "no" to anyone.
In between periods and after the game, Reginek rushes back to a small room near the Zamboni entrance of the Joe and drops off a compact flash disk containing the digital photos he has just taken - he shoots between 100-150 images each period. A Red Wings employee, using a laptop computer, stores his shots and then immediately uploads the best of the photos to update the team's web site in-between periods and after each game.
Reginek's photos are also printed out and used for a variety of purposes. Team members autograph enlargements. The Red Wings mutually share action photos with other NHL teams. Advertisers seek shots of players near their logo on the boards. Sometimes players want copies of a particular shot. Reginek is also the Wings' go-to guy for duties like taking pre-game photos of players getting recognized for a league milestone.
Reginek also takes off-ice player publicity shots for items like team calendars and Inside Hockeytown Magazine, but most of his work is done rink-side at Joe Louis Arena.
But he can't be everywhere. After the Devils game, Reginek expressed disappointment at being out of position when Steve Yzerman scored his fourth goal of the season - this was the best of the bunch for the Captain - which included a nice move on the Devils' goalie. "That's the way it goes, I was shooting at the other end of the rink," he said.
On occasions when he works the locker rooms, Reginek said there are a number of unwritten rules of etiquette in dealing with players, especially after a loss or during the pressure-filled playoffs. "It's all about being respectful," he said. For example, when he sees an opportunity to take a player's photo, he catches the player's attention and will look down at his camera and then at the player, giving the player the opportunity to decline the photo op.
He said the players have gradually grown comfortable with him, and he has nothing but positive things to say about the Red Wings and hockey players in general. "You run into some egos every now and then, but I've always found them to be down-to-earth, really nice people," he said.
Reginek, 46, still plays hockey two nights a week in a "beer league" and has been a life-long Red Wings fan. He knows he won't get much sympathy, but he said he "really misses being able to go to a game and watch a game in a seat."
Without prompting, he managed to draw parallels between sheet metal work and professional hockey photography.
"I think I've had some success in the in the sheet metal
industry and in photography because of good preparation,"
Reginek said. "And you can't expect to be successful at
any job unless you have the right tools. Plus I've always felt
that if my name is going to go next to the photo, or if it's
duct-work I've designed that's going in, I want it to be the
best it can be."
GRAND RAPIDS - A former foundry is the site of the new Icon on Bond project, a nine-story, $55 million condominium development that's just coming out of the ground.
Funded in part with union pension money, the project is expected to be built with union labor. The footings are now being installed under the 118-unit development at Bond and Trowbridge streets.
The units at Icon on Bond will be built with open space floor plans, and residents will have access to a gymnasium, personal theatre and a covered, heated parking garage.
"This is a landmark project, but there's a lot going on in the area," said BA Buck Geno of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Service Trades Local 174.
The Grand Rapids Press estimated that the city is expected to see a number of developments take hold next year, to the tune of $450 million in construction in the downtown area alone.
Included are a $120 million medical office complex near Spectrum Health on Michigan Street and Spectrum's neighboring $78 million Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, Alticor Inc.'s new $100 million, 23-story Marriott hotel tower and conference center and the conversion of an old YMCA into condominiums ($13 million).
Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has pushed to allow for brownfield tax credits to spur developments as part of her "Cool Cities" program, hailed the new projects.
"Bringing business and residents back downtown is vital
to creating vibrant cities and good-paying jobs," Granholm
said. "These developments will make Grand Rapids an even
more inviting place to live, work, play and invest for a brighter
GOP rejects hike in minimum wage
House Democrats introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.15 an hour, up from the federal rate of $5.15 an hour, which has been unchanged since 1997.
"By raising the minimum wage, we're showing that we value hard work and that we want to help young families get a start in life," said state Rep. Marie Donigan (D-Royal Oak), who sponsored the minimum-wage amendment. "A higher minimum wage will help many working men and women better care for their families and improve their quality of life."
In Michigan, a $7.15-an-hour minimum wage would directly benefit more than 460,000 workers, Dems said. To date, 16 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages that are higher than the federal $5.15 an hour.
Supreme Court tests urinalysis case
The question puzzled the U.S. Supreme Court justices, who heard testimony on a federal worker's case that he was excessively - and unconstitutionally - repeatedly subjected to drug tests on the job
The justices wrestled with Federal Aviation Administration worker Terry Whitman's claim that 14 urinalysis tests he took from 1996-2002 - he passed them all - violated his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The government responded by claiming that federal civil service law bars Whitman from going to court at all. (And some building trades workers here in Michigan might claim that providing 2.3 urine samples a year sounds about average for them).
Whitman's case, which he lost in the lower courts, is important to the two million federal workers. Two of their unions, the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, filed legal briefs supporting him. "It may seem odd, but he wasn't challenging a personnel action. He was challenging a warrantless search - the repeated drug tests," Whitman's attorney, Pamela Karlan, told the court.
The Bush Administration's argument is that federal civil service law, as passed in 1978 and amended in 1994, virtually bars federal workers from taking almost any of their conflicts with supervisors to court, except in cases of racial and sexual discrimination, or "major personnel actions" greatly affecting a worker's career.
Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was skeptical of the constitutional issue. "When I first looked at this, I thought it was something that should have been resolved at the arbitration level, not even through grievances, if he thinks he's being picked on." she said. That led Karlan to point out the arbitration and grievance process for federal workers covered only personnel matters - not drug testing and not constitutional issues.
No rulings were immediately issued. (From PAI)