The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

December 7, 2007

Michigan on the highway to steadily declining roads - and road funding

The problem with the NLRB: It's rolling over workers rights

There's fabrication work in the pipeline at W. Soule

Big House to get bigger, better

OSHA finally orders employers: buy protective equipment for workers

News Briefs


Michigan on the highway to steadily declining roads - and road funding

LANSING - With the state government's chronic lack of money and legislators' inability to pass a balanced budget, we shouldn't be surprised that Michigan's roads - and construction workers' employment opportunities - are going to suffer their share.

According to a report issued last month by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), funding to construct and maintain the state's roads and bridges is expected to decline by 18 percent in 2008 - and that's one of the biggest areas of decline anywhere in the state budget.

"This is a typical case of pay me now or pay me much more later," said Mike Nystrom, vice president of government and public relations for MITA. "The Legislature just adopted a state budget which includes $1.5 billion in new tax revenues without addressing the desperate needs of our transportation network."

The Michigan Department of Transportation has been warning about the funding shortfall for months.
Back in April, MDOT Director Kirk Steudel told Michigan Building and Construction Trades Legislative Conference delegates that the state's current 92 percent "good" rating for the condition of the state highway system will not last without additional revenues.

He said Michigan will spend $1.62 billion on highway work in 2007. That number will drop to $1.3 billion next year, and then decline to about $1.2 billion in each of the years 2009, 2010, and 2011. Those declining expenditures mean that the "good" rating is projected to apply to only 68 percent of the state's highways by 2014. "We're going to need a greater revenue stream to keep it going," Steudle said.

And with the state budget cut to the bone, there's little likelihood that that's going to happen. MITA said the state will have an estimated $700 million annual shortfall in just maintaining the MDOT-managed system, and at least $2 billion in additional needs at the local level.

When it comes to federal dollars, Michigan remains a "donor" state, receiving only 92 cents on every federal gasoline tax dollar it sends to the feds. Political battles by fellow donor states to increase that share in recent years have not been very fruitful.

State spending on roads in Michigan is one-third from federal money and two-thirds generated from the state. And 53 percent of state road improvement expenditures are generated from Michigan's 19-cents-a-gallon fuel tax. High gas prices have lessened usage of gasoline - and lower usage has resulted in fewer taxes collected.

MITA said a report by the University of Michigan estimates that our state will lose 12,255 jobs in many sectors of the economy by 2009 as a result of these cuts. The jobs are being lost not only in construction, but also in manufacturing, professional services and business services, according to the report.


The problem with the NLRB: It's rolling over workers rights

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - The AFL-CIO-led protest against the rulings of the Bush-named three-member majority of the National Labor Relations Board was not just another battle in the seven-year struggle the nation's unions have had to wage to defend themselves against the Republican president.

Instead, the protests, which drew more than 1,000 people marching through downtown Washington to NLRB headquarters on Nov. 15 - and thousands more descending on agency offices in 25 other cities nationwide - were based on a catalog of heavily anti-worker rulings the labor federation says pervert both the agency's mission and the intent of U.S. labor law.

What the AFL-CIO calls "The September Steamroller" is so bad that the 61 rulings it cited led protesters to demand the board shut down until a new president succeeds the present GOP regime and names a new board.

The cases run the gamut from making it harder to win back pay from labor law-breaking firms to making it easier for thinly disguised company-run "de-certification" campaigns to throw unions out of workplaces, to letting firms sue unions in retaliation for virtually anything and get away with it, to letting employers threaten workers with dire consequences should they unionize.

"In case after case, these decisions reverse the course" of the National Labor Relations Act, the federation said. The board's Bush-named GOP majority is turning labor law "away from its original purposes of fostering workplace democracy and redressing economic inequality and towards a regulatory regimen that protects employer prerogatives instead of workers."

"This board is resolving the doubts in borderline cases in the wrong direction," the federation quoted former University of Michigan law school dean Theodore St. Antoine as saying. Among the key cases that not only drove the unionists into the streets but also drove the AFL-CIO to file a formal complaint against the Bush board with the International Labour Organization are:

  • The Dana and Metaldyne cases, involving the Auto Workers and two firms that voluntarily agreed to recognize UAW at their plants after a majority of all workers signed union election authorization cards in the "card-check" process. Normally, when unions are recognized, they have a year of being free from challenge by dissenters, called "de-certification." And de-certification needs signatures from only 30% of workers. The Bush board, by a party-line vote on Sept. 29, said that if the union wins recognition by card-check, the board would send the firm a notice - which the company must post - telling dissenters that if they file a de-cert petition with enough signatures within 45 days of card-check recognition, it's valid. Then the board holds a de-cert election. Often, bargaining hasn't even started within 45 days of recognition.

In other rulings that same day, the Bush majority accepted something less than cards - signed slips of paper - as a de-certification petition, and said that if an absolute majority of workers signed cards calling for a de-certification election, the company could immediately dump the union, without a vote.

  • In an eight-year-old case, St. George Warehouse, from Kearney, Neb., the Bush majority reversed more than 40 years of prior rulings - as it did in the UAW cases - and cut the amount of back pay workers are owed once the board finds they were illegally fired. It did so by saying workers must prove they are owed back pay for all the time they were out after the firings - by proving they sought work. When the precedent rules were in effect, firms had to prove fired workers were not seeking jobs, in order to cut the back pay. In a related case, the Bush board majority also said workers who stalled for two weeks seeking interim work - in hopes the employer would come back to bargaining and settle - would get nothing for those weeks. The board's dissenting Democrats said "requiring this search (by employees) for 'interim interim' employment is entirely without precedent."
  • Again overturning precedents, the Bush board majority ordered that all a Wisconsin employer had to do to remedy its continuous and outrageous labor law-breaking was hold a second election. The employer, Intermet Stevensville, threatened to close the plant, threatened to eliminate jobs, made "widespread statements about the futility of selecting" the Auto Workers, demoted and cut the pay of a pro-union worker, confiscated literature, removed bulletin boards and committed other violations. "This is conduct of a type that the board and the courts have previously found is likely to have a long-lasting impact on the workplace, creating an atmosphere of fear in which there is little or no possibility of a fair election," the AFL-CIO said. The normal remedy for that in the past has been to order the firm to immediately recognize and bargain with the union, here the UAW. The Bush board instead ordered a rerun vote.
  • The AFL-CIO pointed out the long delays in many of the rulings. "Of the 61 decisions… a total of 33 decisions - more than half of those issued - had been pending more than 4 years," it said. One case from Brooklyn, where 202 workers were illegally fired, stretched back to 1989. Those workers have yet to receive any back pay.
  • The board majority gave employers far more leeway to threaten workers, in a Sept. 20 ruling involving Suburban Electrical Contractors of Appleton, Wis., and IBEW supporter Randy Reinders. As two supervisors walked near Reinders, one asked "'Well, Dave, did you 'take care of' our union problem yet?" The other, pointing to Reinders, replied: "What, you mean Randy?" The board's administrative law judge called the exchange "an unlawful threat of adverse consequences" for Reinders. The Bush majority called it "ambiguous" and threw out the case.
  • Even temporary replacement workers can become permanent - and workers forced to strike are out of jobs. In a case involving Jones Plastic & Engineering of Camden, N.J., the three-man Bush-named majority said that "replacement workers can be treated as permanent and given preference over strikers even if they were informed" when they were hired that they would be working at the employer's discretion and could be let go for any reason - including taking returning strikers back.

The 61 rulings are not the only problems workers face, the AFL-CIO noted. It also pointed out a consistent pattern by the Bush-named majority of the board to shrink the numbers and kinds of workers covered by labor law's incomplete protections. And in a case the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago later overturned, the Bush majority allowed a company to lock out strikers who offered to return to work - overturning 40 years of precedents - while still employing those who crossed picket lines.

"Instead of shrinking the (National Labor Relations) act's coverage, protections and remedies, the board should be trying to figure out why virulent anti-union campaigns are still the norm, why workers have such fear and intimidation when they try to form an union, why so many organizing campaigns still involve so many violations of workers' rights and why the rights guaranteed by the act are still outside the grasp of so many workers," the federation concluded.


There's fabrication work in the pipeline at W. Soule

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

KALAMAZOO - Nationwide, there are 115 ethanol plants in operation, and another 80 are under construction.

Relatively speaking, the bio-fuel industry is a just a baby, with technology, hardware and the ethanol plant construction process growing up and maturing only in the last decade.

The building trades in Michigan have been in on the boom in ethanol plant building, with four operating ethanol plants, another two under construction. The ethanol boom has also helped the industry that supplies components to fabricate the plants - and one of the beneficiaries is piping fabricator W. Soule in Kalamazoo, which has operations in two locations in the city employing about 30 tradespeople.

In July, W. Soule expanded its operations and began fabricating stainless steel applications in the former Sprinkle Road General Motors Stamping Plant in Kalamazoo. In recent months a crew of about 15 Soule workers has been is toiling in a corner of the cavernous plant, manufacturing stainless steel components for the construction of ethanol plants in Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois and Marysville, Michigan.

The move to the abandoned GM plant gives the Soule workers room to maneuver their products with a 50-ton crane and the capability to fabricate stacks that are up to 125 feet tall. W. Soule's Quality Control/Project Manager Ned Hawkins, said the company has "seen a major boom in the last few years," with the burst of new ethanol plants in the Midwest, as well as increased work in other sectors in the Gulf Coast region.

"We do a lot of fabrication for the ethanol, chemical and power piping industries," said Hawkins. "We're doing a lot in Michigan, but we're fabricating for plants all over the country."

Diversification in the industry will no doubt prove helpful. Even though there are five more ethanol plants that are proposed or in the permitting process in Michigan, the bottom may have started to fall out on the ethanol construction boom here and around the nation.

"Lower ethanol prices, higher construction costs, and higher feedstock costs are causing some ethanol plants to slow down or halt construction of new facilities while other companies in the industry are seizing the opportunity for consolidation," the BioFuels Journal said in October.

Hawkins said Soule is well positioned for the future: new machinery at their plant has helped improved welds on their products, as well as speeding up production. "Welding technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years," he said. And of course, having a quality workforce helps, too.

"We have a great crew here," Hawkins said. "There's a lot of production through here and the quality is second-to-none."

CLEANING UP A WELD on a stainless steel stack under fabrication at a W. Soule shop in Kalamazoo is Mike Emmons of Sheet Metal Workers Local 7. He's working in a massive building that once housed a General Motors stamping facility.

LEVELING A THREE-INCH carbon steel pipe in W. Soule's shop is Dan Inman of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and HVAC Service Local 357.


Big House to get bigger, better

ANN ARBOR - With the University of Michigan having completed a disappointing 8-4 regular season on Nov. 17 with a loss on their home turf to Ohio State, attention now turns to Michigan Stadium itself, where a three-year, $226 million renovation project is coming off the sidelines.

The renovations will address a number of needs at the Big House. Most visible will be multi-story, 400,000-square-foot additions on both the east and west sides of the stadium. Approximately 83 suites and 3,200 club seats will be added, and a renovated press box will be created. Two smaller buildings at the north and south end zones will house additional restrooms and concessions and support functions such as first-aid, police/security and will-call.

The work will also improve various mechanical and electrical systems, and increase the number of restrooms and concessions. The stadium will also get wider aisles, additional handrails, more entry and exit points, and additional handicapped seating.

"The project will improve the safety and overall game-day experience for all fans and provide a strong financial foundation for the competitiveness of Michigan athletics in the future," said U-M Athletic Director William Martin.

Construction, led by Barton-Malow, will start this month and be phased to accommodate the 2008 and 2009 football seasons so that football can continue to be played at the stadium. Completion of the project is anticipated in August 2010.

The big additions on the east and west sides of the stadium will stand 10 feet higher than the current scoreboards at their highest point, and are expected to direct crowd noise back onto the field, "providing a greater home-field advantage," according to U-M. And a few more fans will be able to make noise: renovation work will remove some seats for aisle-widening and adding handicapped-access seats, but with the addition of suite and club areas, the stadium will see a net increase of seats from its current 107,501 to more than 108,000.

Since its construction by Fielding Yost in 1927, Michigan Stadium has undergone many major changes and renovations. According to the U-M, in 1949 it was expanded from 85,000 to 95,000 seats, and in 1956 it was renovated again to a capacity of more than 100,000. In 1957 the current press box was added. In 1998, more seats were added and the video scoreboards were put in place. This renovation will include the conversion of the screens from the current incandescent bulb components to light-emitting diode (LED) technology, providing a "more reliable and clear display, the university said.

And should the next two largest college football stadiums in the land - Penn State's Beaver Stadium (capacity 107,282) or the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium (capacity 104,079) wish to expand and challenge Michigan Stadium as the nation's largest - this renovation will not limit the Big House's capacity to expand in the future. The stadium was designed to allow a capacity of 150,000 seats.

THE EXPANSION OF the University of Michigan football stadium will be most visible with the addition of two 400,000 square-foot structures on the east and west side of stadium that will allow for the construction of luxury boxes. One is shown in this rendering.



OSHA finally orders employers: buy protective equipment for workers

WASHINGTON (PAI) - It took an AFL-CIO lawsuit, congressional intervention and an appellate court ruling, but the Bush government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its final rule requiring employers to buy personal protective equipment - such as hard hats and protective garments - for workers, on Nov. 15.

The rule, OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke said in a telephone press conference, would cover approximately 5% of employers whom OSHA regulates who do not now pay for their workers' equipment, but should. The other 95% do, he said.

"This rule covers only who pays, not the type of personal protective equipment" involved, Foulke added. That is set by other OSHA rules and by paperwork firms file with the agency, detailing hazards at workplaces and injury prevention measures.

Foulke said the rule, which takes effect in six months, should cut yearly job injuries by 21,000, and save millions of dollars. It will cost those businesses who now do not protect their workers $85 million.

AFL-CIO Occupational Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario said "we're glad the rule has finally been issued. But it did take the (AFL-CIO) lawsuit and congressional intervention" to get it. "We'll be looking at it in detail to see if it provides the level of protection required by law," she added.

"This is going to be a codification of what the policy had been," she added. She noted OSHA will now require companies to pay for replacing workers' equipment when it wears out and that the equipment must meet the agency's safety standards.

Federal judges ordered OSHA to issue the rule - it had done everything but that - after the federation sued early this year. OSHA delayed its last step (issuing the final rule) since 1999. One reporter, in the press conference with Foulke, noted Bush's Office of Management and Budget's regulatory affairs office briefed the Chamber of Commerce behind closed doors about the workers' equipment rule, without OSHA there. Foulke said OSHA's absence from that meeting was due to a scheduling conflict.

"It should have never taken the threat of a lawsuit and legislation to get the Department of Labor to take these simple steps to protect workers from everyday jobsite hazards and prevent thousands of workplace injuries each year,'' said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The rule has some exceptions. One is if a worker bought equipment beforehand - at a firm that did not have to provide it - the firm does not have to repay the worker for it. And if it's ordinary clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, work pants and work boots needed to protect workers on the job anyway, the employer doesn't have to pay.

"But if ordinary rainwear is not sufficient to protect a worker" from outdoor storms, "the employer has to pay" for special gear, Foulke said. The same rule applies for a worker who needs a heavy coat to work in a freezer, he added.


News Briefs

Construction drops 10% from '06 to '07
New U.S. construction starts in October stayed essentially the same as September, but dropped significantly in the first 10 months of 2007 compared to a year ago, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, in a Nov. 21 report.

While total construction was unchanged, there was a varied performance by construction's main sectors. Nonresidential building showed renewed growth after retreating in September, but a loss of momentum was reported for residential building and public works.

During the first ten months of 2007, total construction on an unadjusted basis came in at $530 billion, down 10% from the same period of 2006. However, excluding residential building, new U.S. construction starts in the first ten months of 2007 advanced 4% compared to last year.

"Homebuilding has weakened steadily over the course of 2007, but nonresidential building through October has held up fairly well," stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "For 2007 as a whole, nonresidential building should be able to register its fifth straight year of expansion, when viewed in current dollar terms. Tighter lending conditions and slower employment growth have not yet had much of a negative impact on nonresidential building,
although some dampening is likely to become more discernible in the coming year."

By geography, total construction in the January-October period for the Midwest region was down 8 percent.

IBEW Local 58's Jerry Carney dies
Gerald James "Jerry" Carney, a retired IBEW Local 58 union member and business agent, passed away in his home on Nov. 25, 2007. He was 68.

Jerry served his country as a Marine during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and worked as a journeyman electrician beginning in 1970. He was a business agent with IBEW Local 58 in Detroit from 1983 to 1997. He was involved with the Local 58 Political Action Committee as well as the PAC for the Detroit Building Trades Council.

He is survived by his wife Carolyn, children Michael, Mark and Eileen (Crider) three grandchildren, and siblings Jane (Mackey), Jim Carney and , Janet (Stapleton) and Joseph Carney, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.

"Doing the political stuff wasn't easy, but he knew it had to be done, because he knew how important it was to working people," said his brother Joe, a fellow Local 58 member. "Jerry was always looking out for workers and the labor movement."


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index