The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

December 9, 2005

Granholm, GOP OK $1.5 billion jobs stimulus package

MDOT's road funding budget concentrates on 'preserve first'

'A' for effort on DTE-Rouge powerhouse outage

Mason's handy invention - arrives on store shelves

Construction pay fair to middlin' by comparison

The Gangbox

News Briefs

 

Granholm, GOP OK $1.5 billion jobs stimulus package

LANSING - A "21st Century Jobs Fund" was created Nov. 21 when Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed bills that will invest more than $2 billion in diversifying Michigan's economy and increasing employment.

Under the plan, which also received prior approval from the Michigan House and Senate, the state will invest nearly $1.5 billion - an investment that spends a lot of tobacco settlement money that Granholm expects will leverage an additional $1 billion dollars or more. State lawmakers hope the money will spur private investment focused in four key growth areas: life sciences, advanced manufacturing, alternative energy, and homeland security.

"Today is a turning point for Michigan's future," said Granholm, who has pushed this economic package throughout 2005 as the centerpiece plan of turning around the state's flagging economic fortunes. "By investing billions in diversifying our economy, we will create thousands of new, good-paying jobs that won't be outsourced and that will encourage our children to build their futures in Michigan."

The construction industry is expected to be an eventual beneficiary of the allocation, building on existing investments and infrastructure. Earlier this decade, the University of Michigan spent $90 million on construction of its Life Sciences Institute, and the Seaborg Center at Northern Michigan University was also completed at a cost of $46 million.

The building trades in Michigan could further benefit from potential homeland security upgrades associated with its several international border crossings. The building trades are also ready to do the work when it comes to manufacturing expansion.

The plan also includes:

  • Up to $450 million through the Venture Capital Investment fund to help start-up companies succeed;
  • New tax incentives to encourage investors to make and keep their investment dollars in Michigan;
  • Revamped rules which will lower fees and produce less red tape for new businesses in Michigan;
  • New incentives to encourage life sciences companies to use Michigan suppliers and services.

At the same time she passed the jobs package, Granholm also signed targeted tax cuts that would help existing manufacturers keep jobs and facilities in Michigan, encourage consolidation of their out-of-state operations here, and help small businesses by reducing their tax rate and cutting red tape.

However, Granholm also vetoed two tax bills that she said created new tax loopholes for business. Because the vetoed bills were tie-barred to the tax cut bills, the tax cuts were effectively scuttled. State Republicans leaders howled in protest, but then offered a compromise deal on Nov. 29. Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and House Speaker Craig DeRoche announced legislation that will provide half a billion dollars in tax relief for Michigan's "core businesses" - especially the struggling manufacturing sector.

"We must grab every opportunity to show businesses that we mean business," Sikkema said, "that we are serious about wanting to be their partners in success."

The latest package of bills would reduce taxes for Michigan's large manufacturers by more than $500 million over four years beginning Jan. 1, 2006.

A Lansing State Journal editorial said Granholm "was right to veto the legislation," because the loss in Single Business Tax revenues would amount to some $4.7 billion by 2011. "Not sound policy," the Journal said.

TOP

MDOT's road funding budget concentrates on 'preserve first'

The Michigan Department of Transportation on Nov. 16 released its revised version of a five-year plan for constructing and repairing state highways and bridges.

MDOT's "Preserve First" philosophy predominates in the plan, which covers 2006-2010. The five-year program represents an $8.91 billion investment in MDOT's transportation system, with $6.7 billion of those funds earmarked for repairs and maintenance of roads and bridges, rather than new construction. Passage of the federal transportation bill this fall bumped up Michigan's share of road money from earlier estimates by about 5 percent.

The day after that announcement, Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced that the state would "accelerate" $618 million in state road spending, covering 158 highway projects in 2006-2007, as part of her "Jobs Today" initiative.

"The Jobs Today Initiative and the investments we are announcing today will help put more Michigan workers back on the job," said Granholm. "Local communities will benefit from transportation system improvements, and our state will benefit from the significant economic impact of the more than 11,000 jobs supported by these projects."

MDOT said the five-year plan ensures that the state will "substantially
achieve" the State Transportation Commission's 1997 system preservation goal of 90% of state roads and bridges in good condition by 2008. The commission is expected to

An annual average of $1.36 billion per year will be invested in the highway
program over the 2006-2010 timeframe, which is about what the state spent in the year 2004. While that amount is down from annual state highway spending at the start of this decade, road spending in Michigan is way up from a decade ago. In the three-year period of 1994-1997, Michigan spent a total of $1.7 billion on road work, when public uproar over potholes pushed road spending higher.

TOP

'A' for effort on DTE-Rouge powerhouse outage

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

A new and improved Unit 3 at DTE Energy's River Rouge Power Plant is up and running.

The 275-megawatt unit was shut down and underwent a $28 million outage to replace some aging components. The Washington Group International managed the project, directing its subcontractors and about 280 construction workers at peak employment. Some 78,00 man-hours were worked utilizing two shifts.

"We got an 'A'-draw on the tradespeople, they did excellent work," said River Rouge Power Plant Construction Manager Larry Garrett, of the Washington Group. "We needed to get this pulled off in the time frame allotted to us, and they did it; they did an excellent job."

Garrett said the 12-week outage finished five days ahead of schedule.

The work involved re-tubing of the boiler's re-heater, and the installation of 12 new coal mill feeders, relining and installing a new cap on the exhaust stack, installation of a new main unit transformer, installation of new precipitator controls and power cables and switchgear, and blade replacement in the low-pressure turbine.

"The part of the boiler we replaced really takes a beating," Garrett said, adding that the trades "basically tore out the top half of the boiler" during the project, and installed a replacement. "It wasn't construction, it was re-struction, if that's a word," he said.

Jim Vago of Boilermakers Local 169, the site representative for the Washington Group, said the building trades workers faced the usual difficulties in the powerhouse, including cramped quarters, difficult areas to rig equipment, and a gritty and noisy work environment. "All in all it was a good outage," he said the day before the revamped boiler was set to be re-fired. "The Washington Group and DTE have been good people to work for."

Coal-burning Unit 3, originally built in 1958, is the third of three boilers built at the plant. DTE owns two of the units, the third is operated by another company. DTE's Unit 2, another coal-burner, is scheduled to undergo a smaller-scale outage at the plant next spring.

Major subcontractors on the project include Northern Boiler, Safeway Scaffolding, International Chimney, Duke and Duke, Phillips Services and Nedrow.

THE DTE ENERGY River Rouge Power Plant Unit 3 boiler was extensively renovated by the building trades, the Washington Group, and several subcontractors. The work included relining and installing a new cap on the nearest exhaust stack in the photo.

WELDING A SKIN casing on the Unit 3 boiler at the DTE Energy River Rouge Power Plant is Jamie "Rat" Ratliff of Boilermakers Local 169.

 

TOP

Mason's handy invention - arrives on store shelves

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Eric Gallup has a good grip on the five-gallon bucket market.

As a marble mason, hauling five-gallon buckets, up, down and around job sites is a way of life for Gallup, 40, a member of BAC Local 1 and owner of Advance Terrazzo and Marble. Four years ago, tired of having his hands hurt by the non-ergonomic plastic handles on five-gallon buckets, Gallup invented and patented the "Handsaver Four-In-One Bucket Tool." It provides a comfortable grip and reduces a bucket handle's pounds per-square-inch pressure on the hands by about two thirds.

"Masons and other tradespeople carry mud or their tools all the time in five gallon buckets, and a lot of times the plastic grips break off the handles and the guys use duct tape or whatever to make them easier to carry," Gallup said. "I tried to come up with something better, and here it is."

A first-time inventor, Gallup carved and sanded the first version of his device out of wood. Using it on construction jobs, co-workers were able to test the product and provide Gallup with valuable feedback to make it a more useful product.

What came forth is a molded plastic four-in-one tool that neatly cradles and form-fits the plastic handles found on five-gallon buckets. Other tools on the device include a bucket lid-lifter and screwdriver pry tool on opposite ends of the tool, as well as a blunt-ended lid-pounder to re-seal buckets and cans.

Given the difficulty in getting any new product to market, it's a real testament to Gallup's product that none other than Home Depot is currently test-selling the Handsaver at 70 selected stores around the country.

The process of getting the tool made, and then to market, has been long and difficult.

"One of the first things I did was go to a patent attorney, and he asked me if I was absolutely sure I wanted to go through with this," Gallup said. "He estimated it would cost me $10,000 to $25,000. I said I've carried enough buckets to know that there's a need for it."

Gallup found an injection molding company to build the plastic prototype of the Handsaver. After forming and reforming the mold more than 20 times, perfecting the product, Gallup has his Handsaver ready for market.

His first relationship with a company hired to place his product with vendors fizzled after two-and-a-half years. He then hooked up with a product marketing/sales representative with better connections, who suggested that the product's name be changed from its original moniker Lagpull ("it was a variation of my last name but no one could figure out what the product was," Gallup said) to the Handsaver Four-in-One Bucket Tool.

Gallup's agent, Bob Cumings, was able to get the tool onto shelves at ABC Supply and at Team Equipment stores. Cost: $6.99. Then, earlier this year, the Handsaver was seen by a honcho at Home Depot, who was sufficiently impressed by the product that it led to an order for 10,000 to be put in the stores' paint department at 70 West Coast locations for product testing.

The Handsaver is a versatile product, Gallup said, in that it can be displayed in seven different areas of the store.

During this holiday season, Gallup is keeping his fingers crossed that the Handsaver will be a big seller at the selected Home Depots and at other stores in Michigan. But he believes in his product.

"Until the product takes off, it's a battle," Gallup said. "But it's all starting to come together. It's finally going into the hands of the right people."

(The Handsaver 4-In-1 Bucket Tool can be ordered online at www.praziusa.com 1-800-262-0211) or for more information, go to www.buckettool.com)

THE HANDSAVER, invented by BAC Local 1 mason Eric Gallup, cradles the handle of five-gallon bucket, making it easier to carry. It can also be used for prying open the bucket lids and then pounding them back into place. The Handsaver is available at stores or online.

TOP

Construction pay fair to middlin' by comparison

Construction workers, as a group, are about in the middle of all wage packages compared to other occupations, says a new report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Spread among 39 construction crafts - that number is inflated with the government's inclusion of groups like "septic tank servicers" and "fence erectors" - construction workers earned an average of $13.91 per hour, or $28,920 per year in 2004. That placed construction workers No. 10 out of 22 wage occupations.

The top-paying occupational area is (surprise!) "chief executives," earning $140,880 per year. At the bottom: "food preparation and serving-related: they earned $8.47 per hour.

Among all U.S. construction workers, including union and nonunion, the highest paid were "elevator installers," earning $28.40 per hour. They're followed by boilermakers ($22.50 per hour); "pile-driver operators" ($21.60); structural iron workers ($20.39); electricians ($20.30) brick masons ($20.14) and plumbers/ pipe fitters/ steamfitters ($20.13).

The disparity between overall U.S. construction workers' wages, and the higher incomes for union-weighted paychecks in Michigan, is obvious. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2004, all union workers earned an average of 21.6 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. Michigan's 21.6 percent unionization rate in 2004 for all workers was the third-highest in the nation.

TOP

The Gangbox

No minimum wage in Congress. The Republican-controlled Congress, which has blocked a raise in the minimum wage three times this year, voted Nov. 18 to give itself its eighth pay raise since the federal minimum wage was last raised in 1997.

While millions of minimum wage workers continue to struggle on $5.15 an hour, the
Congressional pay raise, approved as part of the fiscal year 2006 Transportation-Treasury Appropriations bill, will give lawmakers a $3,100-a-year pay hike.

Minimum wage workers who work full-time earn just $10,700 a year. Members of Congress, though, will be making $31,600 a year more than they did in
1997.

Family leave threatened. The Department of Labor is widely expected to cut back protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that has helped tens of millions of workers since it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The AFL-CIO reports that big business groups - including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers - are pressing to limit workers' ability to take time off without pay for the birth or adoption of a child and to care for a sick loved one or for their own illness.

In its recently released regulatory agenda, the Labor Department said FMLA changes are among its regulatory priorities and could come as early as December. But unions and
other groups have urged the Labor Department to keep the current FMLA regulations intact.

Date set for hearing on defense rules. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has set Jan. 24, 2006, as the hearing date for a lawsuit by 10 unions challenging new Department of Defense work rules, issued by the Bush Administration, which basically gut union protections for 600,000 federal workers.

"We are very pleased that the court has agreed to hear the case in timely manner," said American Federal Government Employees (AFGE) President John Gage. The unions filed suit Nov. 7 to stop the personnel system, which would allow Defense officials to override provisions in collective bargaining contracts.

On the border. The Bush Administration has outsourced the manufacturing of U.S. Border Patrol uniforms across the border - to Mexico.

"I'm embarrassed, not only as a Border Patrol agent but as an American citizen that our government has decided to outsource the production of these uniforms with no regard for
the safety of the process or the security of our country," said Joseph N. Dassaro, president of the National Border Patrol Council/AFGE Local 1613.
Agents are concerned about the possible theft and misuse use of the uniforms. Several members of Congress have indicated they will introduce legislation when Congress reconvenes requiring the Border Patrol uniforms be made in the United States.

Holiday shopping? The Union Shop Online (www.unionshop.aflcio.org/shop/index.htm) has holiday cards, plus ornaments, games, clothing, caps, music, books and many other great gift ideas. All are union-made-in-the-USA and many carry pro-union, pro-worker messages.

TOP

News Briefs

Building rate remains steady
The value of new U.S. construction starts in October was valued at a seasonally
adjusted annual rate of $668.5 billion, unchanged from September.

That's according to a Nov. 29 report by McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

In addition, a Dec. 1 report by Associated General Contractors Chief Economist Ken Simonson said overall U.S. construction spending set another record in October, rising "a hefty" 0.7 percent from September.

The McGraw-Hill report said there were gains for nonresidential building and non-building construction (public works and electric utilities), that offset a moderate decline for the housing sector. Through the first ten months of 2005, both the AGC and McGraw-Hill said U.S. total construction spending was up 9 percent over the same period in 2004.

"The recent strength for total construction has been helped by a healthier pace for nonresidential building, combined with what is still an exceptionally strong amount of homebuilding," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "But with mortgage rates now edging up, there's the growing sense that single-family housing may be rounding a peak. For total construction to stay close to current levels, further expansion will be needed from both the nonresidential and public works sectors.

"The higher cost of building materials, especially in the aftermath of the September hurricanes, makes it more difficult for this to occur. On the plus side, nonresidential building will derive some benefit from improved market fundamentals such as rising occupancies, while the new federal transportation bill should aid the public
works sector."

The Midwest was up 2 percent during the first 10 months of the year - the smallest increase among all U.S. regions.

Construction jobs still male-dominated
Career counselors have traditionally steered high school girls away from construction and other traditionally male jobs - and that's a trend that continues today.

So says a report released Oct. 27 by the National Women's Law Center called Tools of the Trade, which looked at 12 states, including Michigan, and examined girls' participation in career and technical education programs that are nontraditional for their gender.

The report found that in spite of the 33-year-old federal Title IX law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, girls still represent the vast majority of students in traditionally female fields and boys are nearly all the students enrolled in traditionally male programs - a pattern virtually unchanged over the last three decades.

For example, a 1977 study by the federal Office for Civil Rights found that girls made up 14 percent of students in trade and industrial courses. Today, girls represent only 15 percent of students taking classes in traditionally male fields such as carpentry, automotive, masonry and welding.

"The hard truth is that most carpenters and electricians simply earn much more than health care workers and cosmetologists," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center and report contributor. "Breaking down the barriers that prevent girls from enrolling in nontraditional courses is not just a fairness issue, it's an issue of dollars and cents."

Specifically in Michigan, the numbers were worse for women: the report found that females comprise only 6 percent of career and technical education courses under the "construction and repair" category.

 

TOP

The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index