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December 26, 2003

Republican inaction brings long, cold winter for nation's jobless

'Do no harm?' New Medicare law may be a cure worse than the disease

Defined road work zones strengthen law in Michigan

Trades fix fabulous Fox's fascia

Hand sanitizers and more toilets = a more sanitary jobsite

Industry leaders put construction safety on agenda

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Republican inaction brings long, cold winter for nation's jobless

WASHINGTON D.C. - For the second year in a row, Congressional Republicans are leaving Washington for the year without extending the federal Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program, allowing the program to end on Dec. 21.

Earlier this year, Congress was forced to restore benefits, after much public pressure, in January.

"Once again Republicans are leaving unemployed workers out in the cold for the holidays," said Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, (D-12th District) who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. "No amount of talk about economic indicators by the Bush Administration can erase the fact that we are in a deep job hole in this country, with more than three million unemployed workers scrambling for every available job. And now because of this inaction, there will be no federal assistance during this difficult time for workers and their families."

The extended unemployment insurance program was enacted in March 2002. TEUC provides an additional 13 weeks of federal benefits once an individual exhausts their 26 weeks of state Unemployment Insurance benefits. Additionally, because of Michigan's high unemployment rate, under the TEUC program unemployed workers who exhaust the 13 weeks of federal benefits qualify for a second 13 weeks.

Furthermore, because the Michigan state legislature adopted an "alternative" state trigger (6.5% total unemployment rate), unemployed workers are qualified for a third 13 weeks that is paid 50-50 by the federal and state trust funds. But this state law expires at the end of the year.

Levin pointed out that the national unemployment rate (5.9% nationally) is higher today than it was when the program was established (5.7%). This will be the first time ever that an extended benefits program is scheduled to end when unemployment is higher than when the program started. Without an extension of the TEUC program, as of Dec. 21, approximately 80,000-90,000 Americans a week will lose eligibility for extended unemployment benefits.

"There is no justification with what is going on in the jobs market for the president to refuse to extend this jobs program," said Chris Owens, public policy director for the AFL-CIO.

President Bush has not committed to extending benefits. "We'll continue to work with Congress on that issue," said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. "But I would point out the economy is strengthening."

In Michigan, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation (7.0 percent), this inaction will be very difficult for unemployed workers, Levin said. Under the extended program, Michigan's unemployed workers could access 39 weeks of additional federal assistance - but now they will receive no additional weeks once their 26 weeks of state benefits expire.

"The Congress returns on January 20, 2004," Levin said. "We will of course press them to extend the program at that time. In the meantime, we need to do everything we can to highlight the impact of this insensitivity to unemployed workers."

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'Do no harm?'
New Medicare law may be a cure worse than the disease

By U.S. Rep. John Dingell
Ranking member, Energy and Commerce Committee

When the president signed into law the Medicare bill that barely passed Congress, he performed radical experimental surgery that will cause great long-term harm to one of our nation's most vital health care programs. This new law ends Medicare as we know it, a program that has provided efficient and quality medical care to our nation's seniors and disabled for nearly 40 years.

The most draconian change of all turns Medicare into a voucher program. Known as "premium support" it marks the beginning of the privatization of Medicare with the end goal of giving seniors a set amount of money to pay for health care. When this provision goes into effect in 2010, long after the next election cycle, up to 6.8 million people will be thrown into the world of HMOs and other private insurers, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Before that happens, though, this new law will cause approximately 2-3 million of the 12 million seniors who currently have employer-sponsored retiree coverage to lose that coverage. Millions who would be better off with their former employer's coverage will no longer have it, with most of them likely being herded into HMOs.

As for the long-hailed drug benefit, the law will only provide seniors with mediocre drug coverage. With an average premium of $420 per year and a yearly deductible of $250, the so-called drug benefit will cover a percentage of drug costs up to $2,250. However, for the next $2,850 in costs, there will be no benefit. Zip, zero, nada.

In fact, a Medicare beneficiary who has an annual bill of $3,500 would need to spend $2,475 out-of-pocket to get that $3,500 worth of coverage. That means we are spending billions of dollars to give this beneficiary 30 percent in savings, something that some communities in Michigan are already providing to their seniors in the form of discount cards.

Our nation has tried this prescription for reform before, and it failed. The program was called Medicare Choice, and it was hailed as the answer to seniors who were willing to pay a little more to receive extra benefits, including prescription pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, the private insurance providers that entered this market soon left because they were not making sufficient profit, leaving thousands of seniors in the lurch. Yet, now, we are going to be throwing more money into the same failed policy.

After all the drastic changes that will take place over the next few years, one reform that would have made sense was conspicuously left out: using market forces to negotiate lower drug prices for those in Medicare program. The bill signed by the president yesterday actually prevents the Medicare program from negotiating lower prices for our seniors the way the Veterans Administration successfully does for veterans.

I presided over the Medicare debate when it originally passed the House and my father was the architect of the program. Our goal was to ensure that seniors could receive quality, affordable medical coverage where and when they needed it. For more than three decades we have kept the promise of Medicare. Enactment of the new law yesterday marked the beginning of the end of that promise. Whatever happened to the first rule of medicine: "Do no harm?"

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Defined road work zones strengthen law in Michigan

In Michigan, state lawmakers are answering the question, where does a construction zone begin?

That question has never been an issue until earlier this year, when a Macomb Township woman was acquitted of killing a road worker and severely injuring another. The driver's defense: there was no clear indication where the construction zone started and on the stretch of I-94 in Harrison Township where the accident took place.

The 31-year-old driver, who was said to be speeding and operating with a suspended license, swerved onto a shoulder to avoid a vehicle in front of her, striking the workers.

The driver was the first to be prosecuted under the state's tough new law which imposes a prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of $7,500 on motorists found guilty of killing a road worker, and up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines for drivers who injure a road worker.

Unfortunately, "Andy's Law" (named for a road worker who was made a paraplegic after an on-the-job injury) contained a legal loophole which did not define a work zone. That's where the new law steps in: it requires signs to state "work zone begins" before stationary jobs or "work convoy begins" to be posted before groups like rolling patching crews.

"If a prosecutor couldn't get a conviction in the case in Macomb County, what other prosecutor would attempt to try a case in the future?" said Gary Naeyert, spokesman for the Michigan Road Builders Association. "It was clear that the law had to be fixed, and it was relatively easy."

The law has also been strengthened in another way: previously Andy's Law only allowed for prosecution of work zone drivers who hit a worker if they were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, had a suspended or revoked license, or were driving "recklessly." The new statute now allows prosecution under Andy's Law even if a motorist hits a worker while speeding or driving "carelessly" in a work zone.

The bill to strengthen the law has passed the Michigan House and Senate and Gov. Granholm has said she would sign it.

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Trades fix fabulous Fox's fascia

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The interior of Detroit's Fox Theatre was magnificently renovated in the late 1980s. Now, it's the exterior's turn to shine.

BAC Local 1 masons and support crafts from restoration contractor Grunwell-Cashero are in the process of repairing or replacing tons of the Fox Theatre's terra cotta in what is the largest and most significant exterior restoration in the 75-year-old building's history.

"They say the Fox Theatre is one of the most photographed buildings in the Midwest," said Grunwell-Cashero co-owner Scott Cashero. "And it is a beautiful building. We're restoring it and cleaning it to make sure that it looks beautiful for another 80 years."

Terra cotta is a hard, fired-clay building material used in ornamental architecture. Over the years at the Fox, joints have failed, water has made incursions, and rust has affected supporting steel, causing some of the building's terra cotta panels to become loose from their moorings, necessitating the restoration work. The job will also entail cleaning the building's exterior and re-glazing its windows. Last week, about 10 building trades workers were on the project, mainly setting the job up with tarps for cover from the winter.

The most extensive part of the terra cotta renovation involves replacement of panels on the parapet wall's roofline, and above the second story.

"When we're done in the fall, the most important thing that we will do is make this building look like we were never here," said Grunwell-Cashero foreman Ed Raymond of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1.

The 5,000-seat, 10-story Fox Theatre is the nation's largest surviving movie palace of the 1920s, and among the most opulent. Built by 20th Century Fox owner William Fox and designed by famed Detroit architect C. Howard Crane, the facility's opening event took place on Sept. 21, 1928 with the showing of Street Angel, a silent film.

Over the years, in addition to hosting major motion pictures, the Fox hosted singers like Frank Sinatra and Sammie Davis Jr., stage shows like the "Motown Review" with Diana Ross in the 1960s, Broadway productions like "Cats," and in recent years, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

The Fox was fortunate because it never closed - and never suffered the fate of other historic Detroit theatres that had leaky roofs or were destroyed by vandals. The interior of the theatre, ornamented wall-to-wall with spectacular Asian elements featuring lions and elephants, had become run-down down by the 1960s, but was resurrected by a 2 ½-year restoration project that began in 1987. Fox owners Mike and Marian Illitch made the $12 million investment, and union trades performed the work at the time.

The Fox has been given the designation as a state and national historic landmark. The state landmark notes that the theatre "is the largest and most exotic eclectic Hindu-Siamese-Byzantine theater of the golden age of the movie palace (1925-1930). The Fox stands today, along with its 1929 twin, the St. Louis Fox Theatre, as one of the relatively few remaining movie palaces in the country. It epitomizes the opulence and grandeur that characterized the era."

With the historic landmark designation, architects from the Fox, together with the craftsmen from Grunwell-Cashero, are required to take pains to make sure as much as possible of the loose and damaged original terra cotta is repaired and re-set on the building. That which must be replaced is being manufactured by a company in New York state.

"Terra cotta isn't used as much as it used to be, but it's a great material to work with," Cashero said. "Architects love it because they can use it in different colors and mould it into whatever shape they want. The Fox is very ornate, and it's great to be on a project that's helping to preserve the exterior. It's almost an art form to repair and replace terra cotta, but we have absolutely the best and most skilled guys in the area on this job to do the work."

As recently as the 1970s and 80s, the Fox Theatre was reduced to showing (bad) Kung Fu movies - but now the theatre building has come full circle, and it is the No. 1 box office theatre venue in the nation. The skills of the building trades, both in the 1920s, 1980s, and today, have helped make the building what it is today.

"The Detroit Fox is the most spectacular, over-the-top movie palace ever built," said Ray Shepardson, a theater preservationist who oversaw the Fox's renovation, told the Detroit News. "It goes way beyond gaudy and hits magnificence."

TARP TO ENCLOSE the second-story working area at the Fox Theatre is installed by Darrell Quick of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1. The lift operator is Mike Krayewski of Operating Engineers Local 324. They're working for Grunwell-Cashero.

A TERRA COTTA section of "water table" or ledge from the second story of the Fox Theatre exterior is removed by Tom Schmidtke, Herbert Strong and Tom Zawol of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 and Grunwell-Cashero.

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Hand sanitizers and more toilets = a more sanitary jobsite

Editor's note: An article we published last month said that with the worker-friendly Gov. Granholm Administration in place, appointees to the Michigan Construction Standards Commission may be more receptive to improve sanitary conditions on construction sites.

An improved federal OSHA sanitation standard came close to passage in the Clinton Administration, which would have simply required employers to install sanitizing gel dispensers near portable toilets on construction sites so workers could clean their hands, while lowering the ratio of toilets-per-worker to one in 10 from one in 40.

That didn't happen - but Michigan can pass its own such rule, and we're hoping it does. Following is a response to that article.

By F. Jay Brendel, owner
Brendel Septic Tank Service, LLC
President, Michigan Septic Tank Association

I have just finished reading your article in the November issue of The Building Tradesman regarding portable sanitation services on job sites. I myself am an owner of a portable sanitation company and felt compelled to respond to your article.

I agree that sanitation on construction sites definitely needs improvement. That is why I started my company in the first place, to improve worker conditions, not harm them. I don't agree with the portion of the article that seems to allude to sanitation being bad due to the lack of service from service providers.

Most sanitation service providers, my company included, provide all types of sanitation equipment. Not just the base construction rental units. Among the types of equipment available for rental are portable (free standing) sinks and hand sanitizers, which attach easily to the inside of the portable restroom units. The problem comes into play not so much from lack of laws, enforcement or even the equipment currently on the market for rent. The true issue stems from the contractors on job sites who are unwilling to make such a small investment in their workers' health and sanitation needs.

The cost of having a hand sanitizer included in a portable restroom is minimal. For this reason it never fails to baffle me just how few contractors are willing to have them available to their workers.

That is not the only issue. If some contractors could avoid the issue of sanitation, they wouldn't keep portable restrooms on the job site at all. Though MIOSHA might mandate that sanitation be provided for workers on job sites, enforcement is not readily pursued for these laws (when available). Therefore many contractors either skip the portable restroom equipment all together, requiring the worker(s) to fend for themselves, or simply place one unit on a job site that would require many more to accommodate the amount of workers and subcontractors on the job.

It is not unusual to see only one unit at a job site servicing some 50-plus workers, which in no way can do the job.

The rule of thumb that we use when renting units to customers is one unit for every 10 workers on the job site. And though the contractors are made aware of this, the answer is invariably, "I know, but I've done this before. I only need one unit."

When you get into the hand sanitation portion of the conversation they don't even want to discuss it.

I guess in the end, I just wanted to make you aware that really no matter what is done to improve the conditions for the workers on the job site nothing will really change until requirements placed upon the contractors start becoming more strictly enforced.

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Industry leaders put construction safety on agenda

LANSING - Michigan's construction workers may not know it, but they have a day dedicated to their safety.

The 13th annual Michigan Construction Safety Day will be held Tuesday, Jan. 20 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in E. Lansing.

Michigan Construction Safety Day is a program designed for key leaders of Michigan's commercial construction industry including CEOs, managers, safety directors, field engineers, supervisors, foremen and tradesmen. Owners or representatives of the construction user community are also encouraged to attend the daylong program that expects an attendance of more than 400.

Attendees will take part in four of 15 key safety-training sessions offered during the day.
Topics include: fall protection, pre-task safety analysis, excavation safety, electrical safety, crane safety, rigging safety, concrete construction safety, truck safety-hazardous transport regulations, MIOSHA Update 2004 and best safety practices for highway construction.

It has long been recognized by industry experts that construction safety programs are only effective when totally supported by top design and construction professionals as well as project owners. Therefore the Michigan Construction Industry Professional Education Council will present a special executive safety forum - sponsored by the Laborers & Employers Cooperation & Education Trust - that will relate their successful safety programs.

This will be followed by a discussion of the "cost" of a construction project fatality from Dan LeVeque, president of Gundlach-Champion in Houghton. And then the group will be challenged to work safely with a report from the field by MIOSHA Safety Inspector Tony Allam. Doug Kalinowski, director of the Michigan Occupational Safety Program of the Department of Consumer and Industry Services, will give an annual state-of-the industry address.

The conference also offers an opportunity for safety professionals to talk with exhibitors, inspect safety equipment and see demonstrations of the newest safety devices at vendor exhibit booths. The booths will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and booth space is available.

The Michigan Construction Safety program is sponsored exclusively for Michigan's construction industry employees by the Michigan Chapter Associated General Contractors (AGC); Associated General Contractors of America, Greater Detroit Chapter; Michigan Road Builders Association (MRBA) and the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services, Bureau of Safety and Regulation. Safety Day is co-sponsored through an education and training partnership with the Michigan Construction Industry Professional Education Council.

The cost to attend the program is $95 per attendee. A continental breakfast and registration opens at 7:30 a.m. and the event runs to 4 p.m.

For registration or exhibitor information contact Pete Anderson, AGC Safety Director petea@mi.agc.org or Cathy Kester cathyk@mi.agc.org. or call the Michigan Chapter Associated General Contractors, Lansing (517) 371-1550.

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NEWS BRIEFS

Book-Cadillac work expected to resume
Construction workers are expected to be back in the Book-Cadillac hotel beginning the week of Jan. 5.

Hazardous materials abatement work started at the historic Detroit hotel in October, then stopped because of site problems and concerns. Dan Somenauer, business manager of Asbestos Abatement Workers Local 207, said some union representatives met with the project's abatement contractor on Dec. 17, and issues seem to be resolved. Future meetings with Local 207, the laborers and the contractor are planned to ensure a timely and safe project.

"It looks like a go," Somenauer said.

The $146.8 million renovation will feature 483 guest rooms, 76 apartments and a 186-car parking deck. The deal to undertake the renovation of the hotel, built in 1924, was made with a very complicated financing plan. Walbridge-Aldinger is the project's general contractor.

Somenauer said that in order to finish the project in time for the Super Bowl in January 2006, plans now call for hazardous abatement crews to release abated areas to the rest of the construction trades as they are complete. Ideally, abatement workers would get the entire project completed before the rest of the trades follow.

Building trades seek pension relief
The AFL-CIO Building Trades Department is lobbying Congress in an effort to provide some relief for union pension plans.

Even with the upswing this year in the stock market, Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan said three straight years of negative investment performance has created a situation where "even the best-funded plans are at the risk of failing to meet their minimum funding requirement."

Possibly one-third of all U.S. multi-employer pension plans are expected to encounter a funding deficiency sometime in the next few years, he said. Sullivan added, "the implications of such an event for our contributing employers are dire, including the imposition of excise taxes and the need for fund trustees to pursue and collect additional contributions - above and beyond those agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreements."

Such plans cover 9.5 million Americans. The plans are typically conservatively invested - but the three straight years of losses in the stock market from 1999-2002 have been the longest such streak since World War II.

When the U.S. Senate reconvenes on Jan. 20, they will be considering pension legislation designed to help single-employer plans - but not the multi-employer plans that cover building trades unions.

The Building Trades Department is seeking an amendment that would allow fund managers to amortize losses over an additional period of time - three years - in order to give both side of the bargaining table additional time to negotiate contribution increases, reductions in future accruals (benefits already earned cannot be reduced) or a combination of the two, "to address the problem before it reaches a crisis state," Sullivan said.

A rebounding stock market would help, too.

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