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December 24, 1999

'Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that they're not out to get you.'

Whose union will be next on the block?

New union hall for Local 636

Contractor charged in trench cave-in death

Plenty of fuel for industry expansion

Motor City Casino ready for action




'Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that they're not out to get you.'

By Tim Hughes
Michigan AFL-CIO
Legislative Director

With their sites on silencing the voice of working men and women within the state political arena, the state legislature passed a number of anti-union legislation bills and even held a number of hearings throughout the state that clearly do no have good intentions of protecting unionized workers.

Gerrymandering legislative districts
At the Republican convention earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow told a district caucus that re-electing a House Republican majority is their top priority.

"If they can make it, we'll redistrict and we'll control the state forever," DeGrow said.

Just in case they don't keep the majority, House Republicans have passed a series of bills that attempt to engineer electoral advantage for the GOP at the expense of the voting rights of thousands of Michigan citizens.

The legislation (Senate Bill 810-814) attempts to set out the rules for drawing new districts for Michigan's congressional delegation, state legislature, Court of Appeals, and county commissioners.

These new rules are unfair and unconstitutional because they violate the principle that every citizen should be equally represented in their government. Rather than requiring that districts have exactly equal populations, these bills pave the way for districts to allow population variances of up to 10 percent among districts.

With the population variance system, district could be redrawn to have a variance of plus or minus five percent.

This system gives the Republican-controlled legislature an opportunity to break up a largely Democratic party voting district, making several smaller groups and packing them into Republican-controlled areas, which nullifies many of our members' voting trends.

The bottom line is that population variance destroys districts in urban areas. The bills also prohibit the use of a statistical tool called sampling in the reapportionment process.

Sampling is a proven, effective tool to more accurately count population, particularly in urban areas. To prohibit its use by law guarantees inaccurate counts, particularly in cities where many of our members live.

Campaign finance: Zero-based reporting
Also passed by the House was HB 5059, legislation that would require reporting campaign contributions of any size. Current law does not require reporting for contributions less than $20.

The bill would create a logistical nightmare, both for candidates and state government, because of the overwhelming amount of paperwork that would be needed to document every $10 contribution to a spaghetti dinner, bake sale or "pass the hat" fund-raising attempt.

This bill is a back-door attempt to undermine political bingo, contrary to the expressed wishes to Michigan voters when they defeated Proposal A at the ballot in 1996 by a 56-44 margin. The bill also undercuts a bipartisan legislative agreement that required reporting of bingo contributions when they exceeded $25 per event.

If there is a problem with money in politics, it is with the huge individual contributions of wealthy individuals, not the $10 that a grandmother spends at a bingo game.

Right to referendum undermined
When the legislature passes a bad bill, the public has a right to seek a referendum on the issue. If a group files enough petition signatures, the bill doesn't take effect unless the people approve it at the next election.

The right to referendum has been used successfully on several bad proposals, including consumer rip-offs sponsored by insurance companies, and the Proposal A issue in 1996.

Under House Bill 5061, recently passed by the state House, a bad law would not be held up until the state Board of Canvassars certified the petition signatures as valid. The board would have 60 days to certify.

What difference does this make? Consider the following two scenario:

House Democrats win a majority in the 2000 elections. Republicans pass paycheck "deception" in the lame-duck session at the end of the year. Lacking the two-thirds vote to have the bill take effect immediately, this anti-union law would take effect April 1, 2001, 90 days after the legislature adjourns for the year.

The labor movement starts a referendum petition drive and turns in more than enough signatures, just before the law takes effect on April 1.

Under current law, this would stop the law until the November 2002 elections. However, under House Bill 5061, the State Board of Canvassers would have to certify the signatures to stop the law. The board is highly partisan with two Democrats, two Republicans. Three votes are needed to certify.

If the Republicans refuse to certify within 60 days - a distinct possibility - the question would go to the courts, which might take a week or more to decide.

Meanwhile, this anti-labor law would be in effect, effectively silencing the voice of working families and causing huge paperwork nightmares for the labor movement.

Sound like a paranoid reaction?

Well, as a wise man once said, "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that they're not out to get you."

And make no mistake about it, John Engler and the Republicans are out to get the labor movement.

The best way to stop him is to register our members to vote, educate them on the issues and make sure that they vote in their own economic interest. Stay tuned.


Whose union will be next on the block?

LANSING - Michigan House Republicans approved legislation on Dec. 8 that would allow the City of Detroit Reform School Board to decertify the school administrators union.

"Detroit's school administrators are first. Whose union will be next on the block?" asked State Rep. Julie Dennis (D-Mukegon), the ranking Democrat on the House Employment Relations Committee. "Which union workers will be the next victims? Whose bargaining rights will be cut off next by the anti-labor movement flourishing under Republican control of the legislature?"

Why just Detroit administrators? The legislation was born as a Republican effort to eliminate all school administrator unions in the state. Because some Republicans representing union constituencies were seen as vulnerable in the 2000 elections if they supported that bill, the legislation mutated from a ban on administrators' unions in Inkster, Benton Harbor and Detroit, into a final bill that only affects the Detroit School District.

Republicans originally argued that the ban on unions was one of principle - that as part of a management system, administrators should not belong to unions. Then, the argument was that the ban was to help financially ailing school districts (specifically Inkster and Benton Harbor) to be more flexible in negotiating wages, benefits, and working conditions of administrators.

The bill then mutated into what Republicans intended it to be - the exercise of authority by the Michigan legislature to bust a legitimate labor organization in a single city predominated by Democrats.

"This bill strips working people of their rights to organize and negotiate fair wages and benefits," said House Democratic Leader Michael Hanley of Saginaw. "This is a despicable, deliberate assault on union families. It proves that no labor organization in Michigan is truly safe as long as Republicans control the House."


New union hall for Local 636

Pipe Fitters Local 636 broke ground Dec. 13 on a new $2.5 million union hall that will give the local a more central location for its membership, and more room to take care of its business.

Originally purchased in 1996, the site at 30100 Northwestern Hwy. in Farmington Hills, just west of Inkster, will have 10,200 square-feet of space, more than three times that of the local's present union hall in Detroit. That will be ample room to serve the needs of the local, which currently has 2,500 members and is growing.

The building will have a burnished concrete base, copper siding, and a gently sloping roof. Construction is expected to be completed by September 2000, when the local will move from its current quarters on Meyers Rd. in Detroit. Some foundation work has already begun. The architectural planners/construction managers on the job are Allen and Laux.

"The new building will give us a lot more room, and we really need it," said Local 636 Business Manager Jim Lapham. "Not only for daily business in the office, but for things like meetings with contractors, negotiations and blood drives. Getting to this point has been a long process, but it will be worth it for our membership."

DIGGING IN to mark the groundbreaking for the new Pipe Fitters, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Local 636 union hall are U.A. International representative Joe Sposita and Local 636 Business Manager Jim Lapham. Surrounding them (l-r) are Business Reps. Dick Dunn, Joe Borgeois and Greg Sievert, Organizer Joe Andrews, Local 636 Vice President Bill Helwig, Assistant Business Manager Tom Devlin, Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Sec. Treas. Patrick Devlin, and Local 636 Business Reps. Chuck Inman and Frank Wiechert.



Contractor charged in trench cave-in death

It's unusual for criminal charges to be placed against a construction contractor over the death of a worker.

But it happened earlier this month, when the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office brought a charge of involuntary manslaughter against contractor William R. Curtis, Inc. in the April 1, 1999 death of laborer Cameron Cook.

Cook, 24, died in Plymouth when a trench he was working in collapsed as he was laying sewer line. According to the Engineering News Record, William R. Curtis, a co-owner of the company, was operating the excavator digging the trench at the time of the accident.

"Cameron Cook's death in April was a tragedy for his family, his fiance and the community as a whole," said state Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith, whose district includes Cook's Ypsilanti hometown. "The investigation clearly shows that his employer, who was overseeing the excavation that day, needs to be held accountable. I hope that this prosecution will do that and serve as a warning to employers across the state that they are responsible for their workers' safety."

According to Smith's office, a state investigation showed that numerous safety regulations were being violated at the time, including requirements that trenches be shored up and banked, and that excavated materials be kept away from the sides of the trench.

The Construction Safety Division of MIOSHA cited and fined William R. Curtis Inc. $18,000 for violations of state safety rules, but did not find evidence of willful violations. But Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Dave McCreedy told the ENR that that had the contractor "even come close to following safety precautions…there is almost no doubt that the death would not have occurred."

The differences in findings by MIOSHA and the Wayne County Prosecutor's office was not lost on Smith.

"In this day and age, it would be reasonable to expect that state regulators are doing all they can to prevent these accidents and punish the responsible parties when an accident occurs," Smith said. "But the Engler Administration has shown utter contempt for its responsibility to enforce regulations, choosing instead to look the other way when businesses break the rules."




Plenty of fuel for industry expansion

By Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is vice president of the Board of Directors for the Greater Detroit Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). He presented the Year 2000 Construction Industry Economic Outlook at the Economic Club of Detroit forecast luncheon on Dec. 13 at Cobo Center. He is president of O'Brien Waterford Construction Co. Inc.

First…an overview of the construction industry. It is an industry that directly employs over five million people. Furthermore, about 2 million people are self-employed in the construction industry. Construction is truly the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit. Our industry accounts for over 7 percent of the gross domestic product.

Construction in Detroit will continue to be defined by the Detroit Region "Mega" Projects. These projects are as follows:

  • Wayne County's Metro Airport work.
  • Temporary casino work.
  • The new Compuware headquarters and related development.
  • Sustained investment by automotive manufacturers and suppliers in our area.
  • Comerica Park, the new home of the Detroit Tigers.
  • Ford Field, the new home of the Detroit Lions.
  • Development of the old General Motors world headquarters in the New Center area into the new State of Michigan regional government complex.

This list of mega-projects does not even include the enormous amount of K-12 school district bond issue work which has been strong for more than five years and still has a large backlog of work nor the enormous volume of work scheduled by the city Water Department.

Obviously, Detroit's local economy and developments are booming.

Strong new construction and renovation projects in the metropolitan Detroit area are contributing to the overall economic strength of our region. With all the significant construction projects underway, our industry is also looking at ways to minimize the impact of such growth, to avoid gridlock and other growth problems as much as humanly possible.

The AGC, Greater Detroit Chapter, is a supporter of the "Smart Growth Coalition" formed by the Building Industries Association. Collectively, we are looking at proactive approaches to the problems associated with growth.

Hopefully, working together with the growth opponents, and local, state and national governments, we can development intelligent, workable and livable solutions to this problem. Look for this to be one of the predominant construction issues in the Year 2000 and beyond.

With the construction of the new Comerica Park and Ford Field projects, and the relocation of General Motors to the RenCen and Compuware's new headquarters, we will have some unique challenges moving people to and from the games and work via the freeways.

For the average driver the real question for 2000 is not how much work, but do we the drivers have the patience to survive the construction! The State of Michigan is telling us that 2000 will be less stressful than 1999, with a drop in the number of projects by about 30 percent.

The impact of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, passed by Congress in 1998, will continue to pour huge amounts of money into state coffers throughout the country. Federal grants for highways will increase 6 percent, transit aid will increase 7.5 percent and airport grants will remain the same as 1999. This all follows 1999's grants that had double-digit increases from the previous year.

According to a recently published Construction Outlook 2000, "the well-paced expansion for the (national) construction industry continues to roll along. Since 1982, total construction value has grown 8 percent per year on average, maintaining a steady upward trend that is in sharp contrast to the boom and bust pattern of earlier decades."

The report further states, "…recent years have not seen much in the way of deceleration. Updated figures show 1998 with a 10 percent gain, and it is now projected that 1999 will advance between 7-9 percent. This will result in a real growth rate of about 4.5 percent after inflation."

We expect that our local rate of growth in the non-residential construction sector will continue to grow at an 8-9 percent growth rate, 4-5 percent adjusted for inflation. The mega-projects mentioned earlier, while large and glamorous, are only the tip of the iceberg for the upcoming projects in the metropolitan Detroit area.

Strong new construction and renovation projects in the suburban Detroit area are contributing to the overall economic strength of our region. With all of the significant construction projects underway, our industry is also looking at ways to minimize the impact of such growth, to avoid gridlock as much as humanly possible.

The AGC, Greater Detroit Chapter, is a supporter of the "Smart Growth Coalition" formed by the Building Industries Association. Collectively, we are looking at some proactive approaches instead of just reacting to the cyclical no-growth proponents.

Looking at the prospects for the residential construction sector in the Detroit area for the year 2000, we find many exciting residential projects underway and on the near horizon. Included is a 100-condominium townhouse project in Detroit's Brush Park. Three hundred or more condominium units are planned for Brush Park by 2003.

This and the other 27 major residential projects under construction around the city represents one of the biggest home building booms in the Detroit area since the 1920s.

On the infrastructure front, with the construction of the new Comerica Park and Ford Field projects, we will have some unique challenges moving people to and from the games via the freeways. I guess these are the kinds of challenges that we'd like to see as Detroit truly becomes a sports and entertainment hub.

As a community that virtually created the American freeway system, I think we have great roadbuilding and engineering talent in our own backyard to design traffic systems to meet the increased ebb and flow of traffic in and out of the Motor City.

Now, about the Associated General Contractors, Greater Detroit Chapter involvement.

The AGC, Greater Detroit Chapter, founded in Detroit in 1916, is at the forefront of forging strategic alliances with other key groups and agencies whose goals are to help address the challenges of a dynamic and growing construction marketplace in the Greater Detroit Region.

Our association works very close with, and contributes support to, the Detroit Regional Economic Partnership, the Detroit Works Partnership, the Great Lakes Construction Alliance and others who are committed to growing in our area.

We have been working closely with trade unions to find and train men and women of all ages to help fill the gap in the labor pool. We feel that together we have done a fairly decent job. If you listen to the radio at all or if you've listened to any of the Lions games this year you know the trade unions have undertaken a huge program to improve the status of the construction tradesman.

Along with other programs developed by the AGC we expect the labor shortages to remain manageable in the short term.

We see the year 2000 as another in a series of strong years for the building industry. For construction, 2000 will prove to be a great entry into the new decade, the new century and the new millennium.



Motor City Casino ready for action

The old Wonder Bread bakery has never looked better.

The building trades have spent the last year or so transforming the red-brick bakery buildings - empty for the last 14 years - into Detroit's second "temporary" gaming palace, called the Motor City Casino. The first, the MGM Grand, opened last July.

The new casino opened quickly on Dec. 14 after the Michigan Gaming Control Board approved its license. An estimated $160 million was spent on the project, transforming the four-story Wonder Bread bakery and the former Continental Baking building on the site. Motor City also built a huge adjacent 3,000-car parking structure and is still adding parking.

The inside of the buildings were totally gutted, and new floors were poured, and new plumbing, heating and mechanical systems were installed. There are 2,600 slot machines and 136 table games in place.

"It's a new building in the old shell," said Jack Barthwell, spokesman for MotorCity. The casino can hold 9,100 people.

CONCRETE FOR a light post base is placed by laborer Ray Martinez of Local 1075, working in the parking lot of the Motor City Casino at Grand River and the Lodge Freeway in Detroit.



Generals getting picky, picky
General contractors can afford to pick and choose.

The Engineering News Record reports that the latest trend in the U.S. construction industry is for general contractors to jack up their price for services or simply refuse to bid on work they think poses a financial risk.

Such jobs include those "on public and institutional jobs with complex and politically charged atmospheres," or on projects that have been promised to taxpayers at outdated and unrealistically low prices.

The ENR said history has shown stadiums and arenas are prone to cost overruns, litigation and other "messy" conflicts, which lead to higher prices.

Coia resigns from Laborers
Laborers International Union President Arthur Coia announced earlier this month that he will retire Jan. 1 after serving for nearly seven years in the top post of the 700,000-member LIUNA.

He noted that LIUNA "has become a model of innovation, widely acknowledged for its diversity, progressiveness and strength."

Laborers International Vice President Terence O'Sullivan, 44, was elected by the union's General Executive Board to take over leadership of the union. He pledged that the union "would continue its devotion and focus on organizing."

Coia has been dogged by a government probe into allegations that the union and top officials had ties to organized crime. In February 1995, the union began an internal reform program under an agreement with the Justice Dept. An independent hearing officer cleared Coia of having any ties to organized crime. Coia says he believes history will judge the internal reform program "as my greatest contribution."

Thanks…for what, Senator Abraham?
You may have seen the latest round of warm and fuzzy ads where people thank Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham for his "work" on health care.

Here's Abraham's real record on health care:

In both the 105th and 106th Congress, Abraham voted to kill the bipartisan Patients' Bill of Rights. He voted to protect insurance companies in July and October with a sham "health reform" bill that leaves 113 million Americans unprotected and with no ability to hold HMOs responsible for decisions that harm or kill patients.

Abraham also voted twice, in September and October, to allow doctors to be prevented by insurance companies from offering the best care.

Sponsoring the ads are The Business Roundtable, part of the so-called Health Benefits Coalition whose main objective is to defeat a real Patients Bill of Rights which would ensure that medical decisions are made by doctors, not insurance companies.

From 1993 to 1998, Abraham's voting record earned him almost $250,000 in campaign contributions from insurance and pharmaceutical companies.


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