The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index
December 6, 2002
LANSING - The lame-duck legislative session - the period after the Nov. 5 general election and before the swearing-in of new lawmakers on Jan. 1 - came in like a whimper through last week. But whether it will go out with a bang remains to be seen.
"Not a lot has happened so far," said Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Director Tim Hughes. "But we'll see what happens. They'll do what they think they can get away with."
"They" are state Republicans, who will keep control of the state House and Senate for the next two years, but will lose control of the state governorship on Jan. 1, as Democrat Jennifer Granholm prepares to take office.
There are a number of anti-labor items on the legislative docket, including introducing a waiting week before unemployed workers can start receiving jobless benefits, and the reorganization of the Board of Directors and possible privatization of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Legislation has also called for banning living wage laws passed by local communities, banning construction project labor agreements with municipalities, and re-drawing district lines to make it easier for Republicans to win state university board of trusteeships.
The legislative session is scheduled to end Dec. 13, but that could be extended.
"There's a lot of stuff out there, and it's mostly bad," Hughes said. "We'll see. The problem with lame duck sessions is legislators vote for things that they normally wouldn't vote for."
By Marty Mulcahy
The largest capital improvement project ever on the campus of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak is currently one of the largest construction projects in Michigan.
The 656,000 square-foot South Hospital project will include 430 beds, surgical services, radiology, nursing units, a pharmacy, offices and other support departments. Beaumont is spending $227 million on the nine-story project, which is scheduled for completion in September 2004.
On Nov. 12, iron workers from Local 25 and Douglas Steel topped out the structure - which brought out a mixture of the men and women from the trades wearing hard hats and Carhartts, and the men and women from Beaumont wearing white coats, suits and ties.
"It has been the great work by the men and women who work here, and the work of construction manager Barton Malow and the 42 subcontractors who have contributed their time and talent to in getting us to this point," Beaumont Senior Vice President and Hospital Director Jim Labriola said during the ceremony.
More than 3,500 tons of steel will frame the South Hospital project, which will give Beaumont doctors and medical personnel newer, modern space for serving the public. The new wing was attached to the first two floors of the existing Central Tower via a slip connection - "kind of tricky when there are medical operations going on nearby," said Dave Hannah, general field superintendent for Douglas Steel. Hannah expressed particular pride in the work of iron worker apprentices on the project.
A full breakthrough and integration into the Central Tower will take place between 12 and 18 months from now.
"That will be more of a scheduling thing than anything else," said Barton-Malow Project Manager Gary Simmons, who said the tie-in area is where the labor and delivery and neo-natal testing areas currently are located. "We just have to make sure hospital workers and patients are away from the action."
Health care has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years, Beaumont press materials said, that its existing 47-year-old main hospital building "is no longer adequate to accommodate modern medical technology and the demands of today's patients." The health care provider says its patient rooms are too small, and the size of today's hospital beds and medical equipment can make patient care difficult.
Many of the operations of the existing Central Tower will simply be moved to the new wing. The Central Tower isn't going anywhere: a Beaumont spokeswoman said the interior space would be refurbished and reconfigured, some of it into classroom space for educating staff.
"If there have been any pleasant surprises during this project, it has been that there have been no unpleasant surprises," Simmons said. "We're working on getting closed in for the winter, and things are moving along nicely." The most important part of that equation is the early December installation of a 16,460-square foot skylight in the middle of the building, which will shed natural light throughout the building's interior.
The rapidly growing hospital in Royal Oak was the nation's busiest in 1999, admitting 51,359 patients.
There are about 220 construction workers on the South Hospital
project, and Simmons said the workers and subcontractors are
"top of the line - we have the very best trades people and
subs and they're doing a great job."
Three building trades labor leaders have been appointed to Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm's transition team.
Granholm has appointed Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch, Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin and IBEW Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski to the team, "to help us implement our blueprint for protecting families and educating children," stated a letter from Granholm.
The primary responsibility of transition team members will be to identify the "best and brightest" candidates for appointments to positions in state government.
"It's an honor to be named," Radjewski said. "And this isn't some rubber stamp position, there's a lot of work involved. I look at it as being a point man for union members around the state, keeping an eye out for the interests of working people and hopefully getting a government that will be friendlier toward us."
Much of the early discussions among transition team members has been how to blend the operations of the state government in with that of the new federal Department of Homeland Security. Devlin and Radjewski have also been asked for input on the operations of the Department of Consumer and Industry Services, and the office of the state fire marshal, which has authority over some building codes.
"I'm surprised at how much work there is to be done," Devlin said. "But you have to consider there have been 12 years of a Republican administration in Lansing, and people in state government have been used to doing things the way Republicans wanted them done. It's nice to be part of the process of promoting the causes of unions and working people."
Added Boensch, "I think it's great that she's reaching
out to all segments of the state, especially to organized labor."
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners have rejoined the organized labor community - sort of.
Last month, a memo from AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan to affiliated local unions and councils said that the Carpenters would re-affiliate with the department effective Dec. 1.
However, almost at the same time came a memo from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who said the Carpenters' issues with the AFL-CIO are still unresolved, leaving the union's role in organized labor up to further talks and a future AFL-CIO Executive Council decision.
"Discussions between the AFL-CIO and the Carpenters have proceeded, and some issues must also be addressed, especially jurisdictional issues," Sweeney wrote. "And any tentative agreement must go to the Executive Council and it will not be submitted until those issues are resolved."
The AFL-CIO constitution says that a member of a department must also be a federation member. Thus in order for the Carpenters to rejoin the building trades they also have to resolve their issues before they re-affiliate with the AFL-CIO.
Jurisdictional problems were one reason Carpenters President Douglas McCarron cited for his union's withdrawal in March 2000. The AFL-CIO formally ejected the Carpenters for not paying dues, but talks continued. McCarron also questioned the benefits his union got from the $4 million per year the Carpenters sent to the AFL-CIO. And he charged the federation spent too little on organizing.
McCarron's action prompted major changes, approved Oct. 17, in how the building trades unions handle jurisdictional disputes.
While the jurisdictional issue was settled, the others were "tabled," Operating Engineers President Frank Hanley told Press Associates in a telephone interview. "They've been all put to the side - tabled is the best word," he explained.
Sullivan said in a letter to affiliate locals Carpenters unions "are to be encouraged and welcomed" into state and local district councils.
Carpenters officials in Washington did not return calls seeking comment on the re-affiliation. And last week, it was still not clear how the decision in Washington affects the Carpenters in Michigan, who dropped out of the Detroit and Michigan Building Trades Councils several years before the UBC split with national building trades and the AFL-CIO.
A key development was the Building Trades Department's re-write of rules for handling jurisdictional disputes. "The plan for settlement of disputes in the construction industry needs to be modernized to take into account actual conditions in the industry," McCarron said in a Feb. 21, 2002 letter to Sullivan.
The re-write that followed is the first since 1984. It says "area practice" will be "a major determining factor in dispute resolution" on job sites. Until now, "decisions of record" governed jurisdictional disputes, and Sullivan said some of those "dating back to the 1900s" were used to solve present disputes "and may not be relevant to today's construction industry."
Now, decisions of record will be used, but a challenging union may cite area practice in trying to overturn them.
Withdrawal of the Carpenters on the national level deprived the AFL-CIO of membership that federation per capita records put at 324,000, but which McCarron says is 525,000.
Ironworkers President Joe Hunt said in a statement to Press Associates that McCarron now "recognizes we need every craft in the building trades standing shoulder-to-shoulder in these difficult times, on the job, in the political arena or organizing the unorganized."
By Marty Mulcahy
MARQUETTE - Just like pioneers of the old West, Pioneer Surgical Technology has had to become innovative and reliant on its community in order to survive and grow.
Only 10 years old, the home-grown company has already added to its building four times, and together with Boldt Construction and the building trades, the firm is now involved in its fifth and largest expansion.
Lawrence Mosca, Pioneer's vice president of administration and new product development, said the $7 million addition will add about 30,000 square-feet to the company's building. The addition will allow the 80-employee firm to add personnel and equipment, and improve its research and development capabilities and product packaging.
"In the past we've added space as we've added a particular process," Mosca said. "But now we're to the point where we're at capacity again, and now our plan is to build a space large enough that it will meet our needs over the next five years."
Pioneer has a unique niche in the Upper Peninsula's largest city. The company invents, manufactures and markets highly specialized medical devices, including implants and instruments. Mosca said what Pioneer does "is not native to this part of the world" - but partnerships with Northern Michigan University and Michigan Technological University, as well as the tremendous quality of life in the U.P., have allowed the company to attract and retain talented people.
"We thought we would have trouble finding people in an area that's so removed from the traditional pool of skilled workers," Mosca said. "But this is a great place to live, and with our university partnerships, we've had great success attracting workers."
Pioneer Surgical Technology was founded in 1992 by Matthew N. Songer, a practicing orthopedic surgeon with the Marquette General Health System.
One of the company's key innovations is the use of multifilament stainless steel, titanium and cobalt chrome cable as an alternative to monofilament wire for a variety of surgical applications, including small- and long-bone fractures. The multifilament cable system is an advantage over traditional stainless steel wire applications because it's easier to use, more flexible, offers superior strength and is easier to remove.
Surgeons and medical products purchasers from around the world use Pioneer products, and often visit the Marquette facility for demonstrations. The need for additional space for those demonstrations is another reason for the firm's expansion. And the construction of that expansion has hit the ground running, said Dave Pelto, project manager for general contractor Boldt Construction.
The structural iron was up and the underground mechanical work was set to begin last month, but the start of deer season left him with only a handful of workers.
"There's a clean room going in, and there's some unconventional framing because it's a pre-engineered building," Pelto said. "But aside from that, it's a pretty straightforward job." Located in the River Park Industrial Complex, future expansions should be no problem because there's plenty of adjacent land and the building is set up for adding on, Pelto said.
The Pioneer project is a relatively small job, but there aren't many that are larger in a slow market for construction in the U.P.
Upper Peninsula Labor-Management Council Executive Director
Tony Retaskie said his wife's back was improved by two surgeries
by Dr. Songer. "We put a lot of faith in him, and he helped
her, so I have a personal interest in Pioneer," Retaskie
said. "I pushed hard for that building to be built union."
Show support for St. Clair Co. PLA
The project was to be built under a project labor agreement between the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners and the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council, but the November elections changed the makeup of the commission.
Trade union members who live in St. Clair County are asked
to attend one of the meetings. One will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday,
Dec. 10 at Goodell's Park, the other will be held Thursday, Dec.
12 at the St. Clair County hall.
For the first time, the Associated General Contractors reached the million-dollar level in contributions to its PAC.
As of Sept. 9, the ENR said construction unions contributed
$12.8 million for this year's political cycle - with about a
quarter of that being contributed by the Carpenters. Union contributions
to Republican candidates had increased from the 1998 elections,
the report said.
They will not receive an anticipated extension to their benefits because the U.S. House of Representatives adjourned for the year on Nov. 22 without resolving a dispute with the U.S. Senate over the number of benefit weeks.
The resolution would have extended benefits for 13 weeks of coverage from the standard 26-week limit. The Republican-controlled House only wanted to implement a five-week extension in benefits, while the Democrat-controlled Senate was pushing for a 13-week extension.
Given the economic downturn that has caused a 6 percent national unemployment rate - and the healthy $24 billion in the federal unemployment benefits account - lengthening the benefit for the full 13 weeks would seem to be a reasonable decision to help jobless workers.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who is retiring,
said the GOP-controlled House and Senate will consider the issue
when the 108th Congress convenes in January.
"To say we will come back here several weeks later is
not an answer to the 800,000 people who will lose their benefits,"
Levin said. He tried to bring up the unemployment insurance bill
passed by the Senate for a House vote, but was ruled out of order.
Homeland win is bad for unions
The bill will merge 22 agencies with 170,000 workers into one giant department.
Bobby Harnage, President of the American Federation of Government Employees - many of whose workers will be transferred to the new department -says that not only does it not enhance security but that it is "a Trojan Horse...to strip federal workers of the right to defend themselves in the workplace."
Bush won the right to abolish unions in the new department,
remove whistleblower protections and dump civil service rules.