The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

December 8, 2000

Privatization plan is latest threat to prevailing wage

Political course likely to stay in the middle

Trades establish rushing game to build Ford Field by next year

IBEW training center opens doors to the future

Laborers expand training facility




Privatization plan is latest threat to prevailing wage

By Marty Mulcahy

LANSING - In the months before the Nov. 7 general election, there were dire predictions from leaders in the Democratic Party about the consequences of not bringing a democratic majority back to the Michigan House, and restoring some balance to state government.

The election is over, and state voters continued to hand the reins of state government over to Republicans, and the lack of checks and balances is starting to hit home. The construction industry's prevailing wage protections are among the first on the hit list.

On Nov. 14, the Michigan Senate adopted bills 1356 and 1357, and if they pass the House and get the signature of Gov. John Engler, they would create a legislative mechanism by which school districts can shift the ownership of their school buildings to private developers, in effect privatizing them.

Developers could then perform new construction or remodel existing school buildings without the worker wage protections assured by the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. In this case, furniture giant Steelcase would be the private developer.

"The bill creates a massive loophole to kill prevailing wage coverage in schools," said Michigan Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. He said an attempt to amend the bills to include prevailing wage provisions in the privatization plan failed 17-16, with four Republican senators joining Democrats.

The legislation that passed the Senate specifically applies to the Grand Rapids School District, "but that can change overnight" to affect the entire state, Boensch said.

Michigan AFL-CIO Political Director Tim Hughes said the bills have a good chance of passage in the legislature, but ironically, Gov. John Engler hasn't signaled his approval. His problem with the legislation, Hughes said, is that shifting the ownership of the schools from public to private hands would actually result in a revenue reduction for the state treasury.

The Michigan Building Trades Council was lobbying legislators in the state House last week to make sure prevailing wage protections apply if the privatization plan is implemented.


Political course likely to stay in the middle

We still didn't know at press time who the next president will be, but it's not difficult to speculate what our nation's capital will be like given the evenly divided Congress.

When it comes to lawmaking, working people and their unions probably can expect that not much will change, good or bad. An evenly divided Congress means both Democrats and Republicans are going to have to work together to get anything of significance accomplished. Controversial legislation that strays too far into helping or hindering the business or worker interests is likely to get quashed.

But make no bones about it: it matters a great deal whether we have a Democratic or Republican president.

Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Bray said that when the next president takes office without a decisive majority in Congress, "deals will have to be cut." But, he continued, "a win is still a win - as Bill Clinton has amply proved. With the single exception of welfare reform, Mr. Clinton has managed to dominate Congress and set much of the national agenda."

Speaking Nov. 18 at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies, Frank Swoboda, veteran labor reporter for The Washington Post, predicted labor would continue to defeat GOP anti-worker moves on Capitol Hill: because while such legislation is a low business priority, killing it is a top union priority, and unions showed some clout in the Nov. 7 election. Senate filibusters and President Clinton's vetoes stopped past GOP attempts to push its anti-worker agenda.

However, with legislative inaction looming, Swoboda said "the battle will be in the regulatory area and the stakes will be fairly large."

Especially for the unionized construction industry. The profits and paychecks in construction are always closely tied to the world of politics, and that fact came more into focus after the Nov. 7 election.

Randel Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Patrick Cleary of the National Association of Manufacturers both told the Construction Labor Report that the slim margins in Congress "limit the degree of change that may be achieved."

However, that doesn't mean they won't try hard to get what they want, and their wish list under a George W. Bush administration would be the repeal of a Clinton memorandum allowing federal agencies to use union-only project agreements on large and significant federally funded construction projects.

Business groups will also:

  • Renew their push to allow hourly employees to choose to receive compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay. The sticking point on this proposal has always been that Republicans would allow employers to decide when workers would be able to take their comp time.
  • Continue to try to amend the National Labor Relations Act. Included would be efforts to establish "employee involvement programs," as well as a bid to outlaw the organizing tactic of "salting."
  • Reform the Family and Medical Leave Act - an extremely popular law with the American public - to tighten the definition of a serious health condition and limit the application of the intermittent leave provision.

In reality, Johnson said that any movement on labor issues will take the form of "very narrow changes to the law."

The next president will still have enormous power in having the ability to appoint Supreme Court justices, panelists on the National Labor Relations Board, Equal Opportunity Commission, and numerous other federal agencies. The makeup of the Supreme Court is obviously the most important of those, but the NLRB also interprets a wide-range of labor laws that can affect workers' wages, working conditions and ability to strike.


Trades establish rushing game to build Ford Field by next year

By Marty Mulcahy

Faster than Desmond Howard returns kickoffs, the building trades and construction manager Hunt-Jenkins are moving on an accelerated schedule to complete Ford Field, the new home of the Detroit Lions.

More than 200 Hardhats are currently on the project, which is now scheduled to be ready in time for the 2001 season. If all goes well, this will be the last season for the Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.

"We're working under a very, very aggressive construction schedule," said Greg Price, superintendent for the project's construction manager, the Hunt Construction Group. "The biggest challenge is coordination among all the trades and contractors."

Ford Field is being constructed just east of the new Comerica Park. A structural-steel supported permanent dome will cover the facility, and the entire south wall of the stadium will be made up of two shelled-out J.L. Hudson's warehouses. The 80-year-old buildings will be renovated to include about 120 luxury suites on three levels facing the playing field, along with other uses like retail, restaurants, and possibly a hotel.

The playing field will be dug 45 feet below street level, so the stadium will appear smaller and more in keeping with Comerica Park and other nearby buildings. Also included in the design of the 65,000-seat stadium is an indoor street with shops and restaurants. A six-story atrium will bring in natural light to the facility.

The Smith Group designed and engineered both Comerica Park and Ford Field. Carl Roehling, the company's president of design and engineering, said the master planning for both stadiums was done together. Planning, he said, "incorporates the conservation of property, and being pedestrian-, not auto-oriented. We wanted to put it in the context of a human community so that people could walk to it. We wanted to make sure that everything around it wouldn't be paved over. We wanted to make going to the ballpark fun."

Two months ago, the NFL announced that a lot of people would be having fun in Detroit on Feb. 5, 2006, when the 65,000-seat stadium will host Super Bowl XL.

Approximately 400 Hardhats will be employed on the project at its peak, probably next summer.

THE SHELLS OF two J.L. Hudson's warehouses will house luxury suites at Ford Field, which is beginning to take shape east of Comerica Park in Detroit.

BRICKS FROM a column at one of the Hudson's warehouses are removed by Mike Webb of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1. They will be reused and brick-work will be a prominent feature in the renovated structure.


IBEW training center opens doors to the future

The new training facility underwritten by IBEW Local 58 and National Electrical Contractors Association-Southeastern Michigan is open for business.

The 51,000 square-foot building along the I-696 service drive in Warren opened its doors on Nov. 6, just over a year from when ground was broken on the project. The facility is five times the size of the previous 33-year-old training center in Fraser.

"This building is a showcase for electrical worker training, and it's really a building in which our members and our contractors can be proud," said Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski. "Every member has made an investment in it. This building gives us the space to take on whatever training needs our contractors may have now or in the future."

The single-level brick structure is one of the top three or four largest electrical worker training centers in the nation. The building houses offices for the local's trust funds, and has space for 14 classrooms, including three large shops, a large and a small conference room, and numerous bright, open common areas.

Training Director Mike Hogan said additional space is the most important feature of the new building. Seven full-time instructors work in the building, and now they have the classroom space to serve the needs of apprentices and journeymen without having to rely on evening courses. More than 1,000 apprentices are currently in the local's apprenticeship program.

The curriculum includes everything the industry has to offer, from electrical theory to programmable logic controls. The new building will provide much-needed space for a new line of courses in the industry's burgeoning telecommunications industry. It will also facilitate the old art of conduit bending - long sections of pipe could not be bent in the old location because of the low ceiling height.

A.J. Etkin acted as general contractor on the project, which incorporated as much American-made material as possible. In fact, last week, some lighting fixture ballasts were awaiting a changeout because they were made in Mexico.

"This building is a great organizing tool, in that it shows the rest of the electrical industry just how committed we are to the industry," Hogan said. "This building is far superior to anything the nonunion has to offer."

Southeast Michigan Chapter NECA Executive Director Dan Tripp said the Associated Builders and Contractors spent $300,000 nationwide to implement their "Wheels of Learning," program, "while we spent $8 million on this building alone. This shows the organized electrical industry is making a real commitment to the future of our industry, and we're not using a nickel of government money."

IN FRONT of the new IBEW Local 58/NECA Training Center are (l-r) Local 58 President Joe Abdoo, Training Director Mike Hogan and Business Manager Jeff Radjewski.


Laborers expand training facility

The Michigan Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Institute (MLTAI) has completed a two-year expansion and renovation of its Wayne training facility to meet the growing manpower needs of the construction industry.

The $1 million-plus expansion and renovation includes an 8,000 square-foot addition with a 26-foot ceiling clearance, adding much-needed space to the Laborers' existing 14,000 square-foot training center.

The floor is sand in order to allow excavating training activities, and the high ceiling will allow training on equipment such as forklifts and scaffolding. The facility also includes new high-tech classrooms and a lunchroom for students.

"MLTAI programs give union laborers an understanding of the skills, materials, equipment and the attitude needed to work in the construction industry," said Jerry Hall of the Michigan Laborers District Council. "The new addition will allow us to increase the number of training classes held, and increase the types of classes offered."

The Laborers in Michigan have two other training facilities, in Perry and in Iron Mountain. Since 1971, the institute has trained more than 17,000 construction craft laborers. Graduates job descriptions include highway construction, demolition, underground construction, hazardous material abatement, excavation, and mason tending.

"Highly trained, skilled union laborers are critically important to building contractors," said Forrest Henry of the Associated General Contractors of America, Greater Detroit Chapter, Inc. "They enable us to compete our projects on time and on budget."

THE RIBBON IS CUT on the expanded Laborers training facility. Present were (l-r) Mike Eckert, Trustee, Mich. Road Builders; Rob Coppersmith, Mgt. Trustee, AGC; Bob Chwalek, Union Trustee, Local 1076; Jack Hartupee, Union Trustee, Local 1098; Robert Malcolm, Union Trustee, Local 959; Gary Fountain, Union Trustee, Local 355; Barb Strachan, Mgt. Trustee, Mich. Chapter AGC; Terry Roster, Site Director, Jerry Hall, Union Trustee, Mich. Laborers District Council; Mark Pulice, Union Trustee, Local 1191; Geno Allessandrini, Union Trustee, Local 1191; Bob Fontana, Management Trustee, Mich. Chapter AGC, Vern Covington, Union Trustee, Local 334.



Employers get a break; Workers get the shaft
"Michigan to slice state jobless taxes in 2001 - Employers to save $200 million," trumpeted a recent press release from the state Unemployment Agency, which said the state's employers will see a 10 percent cut in their state unemployment taxes in 2001.

"As we enter the 21st Century, Michigan's economy continues on the same strong note that it has enjoyed for most of the 1990s," said Gov. John Engler. "And that tune is one of low unemployment and low unemployment taxes for our employers. In fact, next year will be the sixth straight year that we have cut state unemployment taxes."

Note than you won't find anything in Engler's comments or in the press release about giving unemployed Michigan workers a similar break.

In 1995, Engler and the Republican-dominated state legislature imposed a permanent 3 percent rate cut for Unemployment Insurance benefits for all workers, and eliminated all cost of living increases by capping maximum weekly benefits at $300. There is no adjustment for inflation - and unless the Michigan legislature passes a law to increase that benefit level, the state's jobless workers could be earning that $300 maximum for the next 10 years.

The 2001 cuts in the Unemployment Tax were triggered by a substantial cash reserve in Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Most of the state's 217,000 employers will benefit, but the same can't be said of the state's unemployed workers.

Building trades featured in calendar
Detroit and Michigan's rich labor history will come to life in a new wall calendar issued by the Michigan Labor History Society. The calendar includes some rare photos of Detroit building trades workers.

Produced in observance of Detroit's 300th birthday in 2001, the 16-month calendar, "We built this city," is available at Book Beat in Oak Park and at Paperbacks Unlimited in Ferndale.

Local unions can order bundles of the calendar with their own imprint, at a special price. More information is available from Dennis McCann at IBEW Local 58, (313) 963-2130.

Proceeds will help fund a major downtown labor legacy monument and interpretive walkway planned as a gift to the city. The monument is planned to honor, inform, and inspire viewers with its look at Detroit's history and vision for the future. Surrounding the monument will be a landscaped area highlighting labor's contributions to the Detroit community.

Plans call for the display, to be placed along Jefferson Avenue with a related kiosk in the lobby of Cobo Center or the UAW-Ford Training Center.

Take a gander at a new store
"Gander Mountain…hunt, fish, camp!" chants the radio commercial, appealing to Michigan's outdoor lovers as a place to purchase sporting goods.

The store has taken a while, but now it is making its first appearance in the Upper Peninsula, with a 20,000 square-foot facility that's going up in Marquette. The $1.5 million building will be the 11th Gander Mountain store in Michigan. "It's a small store, but we're glad to have it," said Michigan Building Trades Council U.P. Field Rep. Jack LaSalle.

The store is being constructed 100 percent union, with the job being managed by Construction Aspects and Closner.


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index