February 13, 2009
initiative blacks out thousands of construction jobs
of business: Obama signs Fair Pay Act
numbers make a significant move up
A northern lodge?
No, it's Henry Ford's new $310M hospital
'Buy American'provision in stimulus bill
Obama serious about supporting union expansion? So far, so good
green initiative blacks out thousands of construction jobs
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - Gov. Jennifer Granholm delivered a body blow to
Michigan's construction industry during her State of the State
address on Feb. 3.
One of the few potential bright spots in the state's economy
has been the anticipated construction of several coal-burning
power plants around the state. About $6 billion to $10 billion
dollars in construction of new plants have been in the planning
stages - until Granholm turned out their lights, for now, in
favor of a green energy plan.
"So here's our next aggressive goal," Granholm said
in her speech. "By the year 2020, Michigan will reduce our
reliance on fossil fuels for generating electricity by 45 percent.
We will do it through increased renewable energy, gains in energy
efficiency and other new technologies. You heard me right: a
45 percent reduction by 2020."
The building trades, Consumers Energy, and other private concerns
like Wolverine Power that are underwriting coal-burning power
plants wish they hadn't "heard her right."
"The governor threw us under the bus," said Patrick
Devlin, chief elected officer of the Michigan Building and Construction
Trades Council. "These were power plant projects that were
in the pipeline, worth billions of dollars, and ready to provide
jobs that we desperately need. Our people are ready to build
them, right now. Where she's coming from with this proposal,
in this economy - it's beyond me."
Granholm's plan doesn't necessarily stop, but will certainly
delay the state permitting process on proposals to build coal-burning
plants in or near Bay City, Holland, Midland and Rogers City.
Three other plants were also being considered. The governor has
basically thrown a new wrinkle into the state permitting process
for coal-burning plants.
According to the Associated Press: "she is slowing down
the permitting process and raising the bar for approval, requiring
regulators to evaluate if Michigan needs more power and if alternatives
to coal-fired electricity would better serve the state. That
ultimately means some plants probably won't be built as Michigan
relies more on electricity from wind turbines and other alternative
Consumers Energy spokesman Jeff Holyfield said a state Department
of Environmental Quality permit to build a new $2 billion coal-burning
plant on the grounds of the existing Karn-Weadock plant near
Bay City was "literally expected here in weeks, or even
days, but now we've been told it's on hold." Construction
was expected to start as early as late 2010.
"We just think it's an ill-advised policy," Holyfield
said. "Anything that delays construction of new baseload
plants means higher prices for customers and importing more energy
from the marketplace. If Michigan is importing energy we're exporting
Granholm offered further details during her speech that are
leaving building trades leaders seething. "Instead of investing
in new power plants," the governor said, "they (utilities
and power plant owners) will invest in the products and technologies
that allow us to use far less energy in our homes. Everything
from fuel efficient furnaces to LED light bulbs will produce
lower bills for Michigan consumers and more jobs for Michigan
She added: "The third way we'll create jobs through our
aggressive 45-by-20 goal is to create the Michigan Energy Corps
to put thousands of unemployed Michigan citizens back to work
this year, weatherizing homes, schools and other public buildings,
installing renewable energy technology, and turning our abundant
natural resources into renewable fuels."
An irate Devlin said an "Energy Corps" need not
apply when it comes to hiring for that work. "Why does every
politician out there think that anybody who is unemployed can
be turned into a construction worker?" he said. "I
know exactly where she can find all the unemployed building trades
workers this state is going to need."
Granholm's proposal came after a successful, exhaustive, bipartisan
effort by a group called "Protect Michigan," which
included building trades unions, utilities and other groups.
Their goal: overturn Public Act 141, a state law adopted during
the Engler Administration which deregulated utility service in
Michigan, but also handcuffed the ability of the utilities like
Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to build new power plants.
Last fall, state Republicans and Democrats came up with a
plan to partially re-regulate state electrical providers, opening
the door for new plant construction. Michigan hasn't built a
new baseload coal-burning plant since 1984.
DTE Energy spokesman John Austerberrry said that utility does
not have plans to construct any new coal-burning plants. However,
he said DTE Energy is in the permitting process (which could
take 10 years) to build a new nuclear plant on the grounds of
the Fermi 2 plant near Monroe. He said that process is not affected
by Granholm's plan.
"That was a major battle to get Public Act 141 overturned,"
said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council President
Patrick "Shorty" Gleason. "We had to convince
the people in Michigan, convince legislators, that what we were
doing would lower electrical rates and bring in more jobs. So
there's a credibility issue here too. I just don't know what
she's thinking right now."
order of business: Obama signs Fair Pay Act
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The first law Democratic President Barack
Obama signed helps workers: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
With the graying gentle grandmother from Gadsden, Ala., standing
just behind, the chief executive on Jan. 29 restored the right
of workers - women, minorities, the disabled, those discriminated
against because of sexual preference, or those of differing religions
- to sue their employers for pay discrimination.
The U.S. Supreme Court took that right away in ruling in 2007
in Ledbetter's case. Near the end of her 19-year supervisory
career with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., in Gadsden, she found
her employer had always discriminated against her in pay on the
basis of sex. She won in lower courts, but lost in the Supreme
The five-man majority, all named by GOP presidents, said the
only time Ledbetter -- or any other worker - could sue was within
180 days of being hired. It threw out her case, and her $360,000
award. She won't get a dime from the case. The new law, passed
over House GOP opposition, overturned that High Court ruling.
Ironically, Ledbetter told Press Associates Union News Service
last year, she suffered huge pay discrimination as a supervisor.
She was unprotected by labor law. Rank-and-file female workers
at the plant suffered far less pay discrimination, she added,
because they were protected by their United Steelworkers contract.
"Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue - it's
a family issue," Obama said. "And in this economy,
when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling
to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each
month's paycheck to simple and plain discrimination.
"So signing this bill today is to send a clear message:
That making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody;
that there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces."
membership numbers make a significant move up
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The number of unionists nationwide rose by
428,000 in 2008 - the largest rise in numbers since statistics
started being kept in 1983 - pushing total union gains among
the nation's workers to almost three-quarters of a million in
the last two years, the Labor Department reported Jan. 29.
Union density nationwide also increased, to 12.4% of all workers,
from 12.1% in 2007 and 12% in 2006 the Bureau of Labor Statistics
added. It called the 2007-2008 increase "statistically significant."
The labor-backed Economic Policy Institute said with the levels
of unemployment declining through 2008, the data "suggests
that unions are making a comeback under very difficult circumstances."
The data cheered union spokesmen.
"The key words this year are 'statistically significant,'"
said Jason Lefkowtiz on Change To Win's website. "Reported
growth for 2007, while encouraging, was small enough that it
could have been just statistical 'noise.' This year's results,
while not huge, are too big to be outside the margin of error."
But he warned the first year BLS gathered the data, 1983,
saw union density of more than 20%. "We all still have a
lot of work ahead of us to rebuild the power of workers in the
but every journey starts with a single step
forward, and this is definitely one of those," Lefkowitz
said. He predicted passage of the Employee Free Choice Act "would
make these first small steps the start of something big indeed.
Added AFL-CIO President John Sweeney: "Today's numbers
confirm what many working people already know: that if given
the chance, American workers are choosing to join unions in larger
numbers. Workers in unions are much more likely to have health
care benefits and a pension than those without a union; in today's
economy, that's the difference between sinking and swimming."
While union density rose in 26 states and Washington, D.C.,
and declined in all but one of the rest, there were some warning
signs among the numbers.
The prime one was half the nation's union members are still
in just six states: California (2.74 million), New York (2.03
million), Illinois, (939,000) Pennsylvania (847,000), Michigan
(771,000) and Ohio (716,000), in that order. But those states
had only one-third of the nation's workers, BLS said.
Another warning sign is that the union movement is gray: The
highest shares of unionization by age were among workers aged
55-64 and 45-54, while the lowest share - 5% - was among workers
aged 16-24, who are the new entrants to the workforce.
Several states had big jumps in union density, numbers, or
both. One was California, where 266,000 more workers became unionists,
and density rose from 16.7% in 2007 to 18.4% last year. Another
was Illinois: Union density rose from 14.5% to 16.6% in one year,
and the number of unionists increased by 97,000, to 939,000.
Crashing employment in the auto industry appeared in Michigan,
where the number of unionists declined by 48,000, to 771,000.
Density declined in Michigan from 19.5% in 2007 to 18.8% last
year. The total number of Michigan workers dropped by 104,000.
Unionists maintained a huge wage advantage over their non-union
colleagues, BLS said. The median weekly wage for union workers
last year - the point at which half are above and half below
- was $886, up $23 from the year before. For non-unionists, the
median was $691, up $28.
Union density increased in a wide range of occupations from 2007
to 2008, even though two key sectors, construction and manufacturing,
shed hundreds of thousands of jobs. BLS said there were 1.195
million unionized construction workers last year, or 15.6% of
all building tradespeople. That's up 2,000 from 2007, when union
density was 13.9%. In the meantime, construction lost 909,000
workers, many in the predominately nonunion residential sector.
northern lodge? No, it's Henry Ford's new $310M hospital
By Marty Mulcahy
WEST BLOOMFIELD - It has the look and feel of Northern Michigan
lodge, with natural construction components like stone and wood,
and an interior courtyard that includes trees and wood chips.
With plenty of glass and nice views, it's bright, airy, and
offers wide corridors and many open spaces. The floor plan includes
a coffee shop, a pharmacy, a gift shop, a kitchen area for healthy
cooking classes, a cafeteria, as well as interior storefronts
on "Market Street" offering goods aimed at helping
people, especially women, to maintain a healthy lifestyle
Oh, and it's going to be a modern, full-service hospital,
Construction Manager Turner Construction and the building
trades are winding down the major portion of building the $310
million Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, and moving toward
having the facility ready for patients in mid-March. The new
730,000 square-foot hospital will be attached to the existing
Henry Ford Medical Center, which opened in 1975 on 15 Mile Rd.
west of Drake. Combined, the facility will encompass nearly 1
million square feet, occupying the northern 80 acres of a 160-acre
"We had about 500 tradespeople out here at peak employment,
and now we're down to about 200," said Cliff Kazmierczak,
Turner vice president and project director for health care. "They
have worked long hours and have done a very good job. "
The facility will open with 192 beds. When work on the campus
is complete in 2011, the facility will be approved for 300 beds.
Still to be built this year, Kazmierczak said, are additional
operating rooms, diagnostic treatment areas, and catheterization
Henry Ford Health System, like any other organization building
or remodeling a hospital these days, conducted the usual due
diligence of consulting with patients and looking at other facilities
to get ideas for their building. Architectural work was performed
by Albert Kahn Associates
"Henry Ford West Bloomfield hospital will provide Oakland
County residents the kind of care experience they have told us
they want," said Nancy Schlichting, president and chief
executive officer for Henry Ford Health System, at the building's
groundbreaking. "The hospital will offer the best and latest
in medical care and technology for patients in an environmentally
Kazmierczak said: "It's been well designed, with natural,
high-quality materials, and it's a jewel of a hospital. From
my perspective it's going to be one of the best hospitals in
Michigan or the Midwest."
Right from the start of project, Kazmierczak said contractors
and tradespeople were faced with one of their biggest challenges:
the energy center serving the existing health care facility was
sitting right where the new atrium was going to be built. So
a new energy center had to quickly be built off of the footprint
of the new construction, and when it was complete, all services
had to be transferred seamlessly to it.
One design phase that worked very well, Kazmierczak said,
was use of BIM, Building Informational Modeling. It's a computer
program that's especially helpful on a hospital project, allowing
the routing of the myriad of ducts, conduit, pipes and cables
through the ceilings of the building. Most conflicts showed up
in the virtual world, not the real world, "and helped show
us if everything would fit," he said.
The building trades and their contractors made sure everything
did fit in the new hospital:
- All 300 beds will be in private rooms, with some windows
overlooking a pond and landscaped courtyards.
- All rooms will have a bed for a family member to spend the
- Called "smart rooms," each patient room will be
fitted with a flat panel television where patients can access
patient education shows related to their particular illness.
All patients will have Internet access. Computerized patient
information systems will be located by each bedside, at each
staff station outside patient rooms and at a central control
station located on each unit.
- Noise will be reduced by eliminating overhead paging. All
health care professionals will carry special cellular phones
- Upon arrival at the hospital, patients go directly to their
- Patients will be able to order meals and beverages of their
choice at any time.
- Each floor of the four-story hospital will have family-oriented
rooms (beds, tables, kitchen facilities) for those families who
need to stay for extended periods of times.
Total staffing on the West Bloomfield campus will increase
from the current 700 employees to approximately 2,300, creating
1,600 new jobs.
The hospital will offer full-service medical and surgical
services that include specialties like orthopedics, obstetrics
and gynecology, neurosurgery and back surgery, cardiovascular
services, women's health, cancer services and emergency care.
In addition, a new emergency department will be constructed.
PAINTING A BEAM inside the atrium at the Henry
Ford West Bloomfield Hospital is Frank Cleere of Painters Local
42 and Madias Painting.
WORKING ON the tile floor of "Market
Street" at the Henry Ford-West Bloomfield Hospital are Chris
Ferber, Noel Meredith, Doug Gardiner, Hank Smithand Artan Gjergji.
They're members of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local
1, employed by Eldorado Tile and Marble.
keeps 'Buy American' provision in stimulus bill
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)--By a 65-31 vote, the Senate decided on Feb
4 to keep a strong "Buy American" provision in the
ever-growing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise
known as the stimulus bill. But senators modified the item.
The vote defeated a move by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., last
year's GOP presidential nominee, to strip the Buy American plan
from the now-$900 billion measure. The Senate's "Buy American"
language covers all the spending in the stimulus bill, but said
the Buy American provision should be "consistent with U.S.
obligations under international agreements."
The House let agencies using steel, concrete and other materials
on stimulus-paid construction projects to buy materials abroad
only if they could not find enough at home. With U.S. steel plants
at 45% capacity, foreign purchases were unlikely.
The vote - and the modification - came after Europe and Canada
objected to it as a violation of international trade and government
procurement rules the U.S. agreed to in the treaty creating the
World Trade Organization. And President Barack Obama (D), in
a news clip aired on public broadcasting stations, seemed dubious
about "Buy America" with no exceptions. "It's
something we need to look at," he said.
That prompted AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka,
on the same program, to tell PBS that the Buy America provision
just reiterates a point that has been part of government policy
since 1933 - and that it protects U.S. workers and other nations
which have even stronger buy-from-their-own-companies provisions.
Added David Foster, a former Steelworkers vice president and
now director of the BlueGreen Alliance of unions and environmental
groups: "It's taking American taxpayer dollars and using
them to put American taxpayers back to work."
But whether the entire stimulus bill, which includes $148
billion for "shovel-ready" construction projects and
billions more for energy efficiency programs which could create
jobs for Electrical Workers, Steelworkers, building trades workers
and even teachers, survives is another matter. Senate Republican
leaders are - again - threatening a filibuster and need only
41 votes to talk the bill to death.
Steelworkers President Leo Gerard's response, voiced at the
Good Jobs Green Jobs conference this week in Washington: "If
they want to filibuster it, I say bring out the cots" into
Senate corridors for a round-the-clock talkathon. "Let them
stand up against reviving the American economy."
Obama serious about supporting union expansion? So far, so good
By Robert Kuttner
Co-Founder of The American Prospect
I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem,
to me it's part of the solution.
- President Barack Obama, Jan. 30, 2009
The great union leader John L. Lewis, who headed the United
Mine Workers from the '30s through the '50s and helped organize
millions of workers into the CIO, used to declare in organizing
drives: "President Roosevelt wants you to join the union."
Roosevelt never said that in so many words, but FDR did strongly
back the Wagner Act, giving workers the clear right to organize.
During World War II, Roosevelt's War Labor Board made clear
that corporations seeking war contracts needed to have good labor
relations. In practice, that meant unions; and it meant "pattern
bargaining" in which workers for different companies in
the same industry got the same wages, so that companies could
not play workers off against each other.
Roosevelt's wartime contracting policies, the Wagner Act,
and the militancy of the labor movement laid the groundwork for
the golden age of American unions during the postwar boom. Not
coincidentally, this was also the one period in the past century
when the economy became more equal, and more secure for working
So, while Roosevelt's words never quite urged workers to join
unions, his deeds spoke volumes. John L. Lewis was well within
the bounds of poetic license.
On Friday Jan. 30, President Obama, a onetime organizer, had
more words to say about unions, and they were the kind of explicit
endorsement that we literally haven't heard from a president
since FDR's day.
"We need to level the playing field for workers and
the unions that represent their interests, because we know that
you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor
movement," the President said. "When workers are prospering,
they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive
and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers
are thriving in this country."
And Obama offered deeds to match. This stunning declaration
of support came at the White House announcement of a Task Force
on Middle Class Working Families headed by Vice President Biden,
with Jared Bernstein as its executive director. The idea was
proposed last summer by Change to Win unions, who endorsed candidate
Obama early in the primary season. He embraced the concept, and
it was a commitment he kept. His remarks and actions were a dazzling
example of the transformative power of a president to shift public
opinion and the political center of gravity.
The task force, and the effusive and genuine embrace of the
labor movement, came as a huge relief to union leaders, who have
watched anxiously as nearly all the key economic posts went to
centrist veterans of the Clinton administration, and the job
of secretary of labor was not announced with the other senior
economic officials. As it turned out, the appointment of Hilda
Solis, a very pro-union member of Congress, was delayed because
others had turned down the job first, but the delay sent an unfortunate
Labor activists have also been worried about whether Obama
will keep his pledge not just to sign the Employee Free Choice
Act (EFCA) guaranteeing the right to join a union, but to work
hard on its behalf with legislators, especially in the Senate.
Since the election, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and allied anti-union
business organizations have mounted a furious publicity and lobbying
offensive with one message: Mr. President, you don't need this
bruising fight right now.
But the Chamber's allies in the Republican House Caucus have
beautifully undercut that logic. The Chamber's premise was that
EFCA would be highly divisive, at a time when the new president
was seeking unity. With the wall-to-wall Republican stonewalling
on the Obama recovery package, that premise is up in smoke. And
the Chamber's other allies, on Wall Street, have also done a
service by inviting some salutary class warfare. Obama responded
last week, calling Wall Street bonuses in the face of government
bailouts "shameful," and seems to genuinely view the
growth of unions as a necessary counterweight.
The task force itself will be a welcome counterweight to the
outsized influence of Wall Street inside the Obama administration.
Several weeks ago, Jared Bernstein, then a senior economist at
the Economic Policy Institute (a union-backed think-tank), wrote
a joint op-ed piece for the New York Times with Robert Rubin
pointing out where they agreed. One issue where they pointedly
disagreed was on the Employee Free Choice Act, which Rubin explicitly
refused to endorse.
The Biden operation now looks to be the go-to place for progressives
seeing access to Obama's priorities. The Task Force will serve
as the White House center to review all proposals, legislative
and administrative, for their impact on the effort to raise wages
and rebuild a middle class.
Without Obama's strong personal engagement, EFCA will be anything
but a legislative cakewalk. Democrats may have a working majority.
But at least five business-oriented Democrats are not considered
certain votes for EFCA, and Obama will need to let them know
that the White House considers this bill a top priority.
Our last two Democrats went out of their way not to get close
to organized labor. Jimmy Carter did not lift a finger when the
last big push to put some teeth back in the Wagner Act's right
to unionize went down to defeat by just two votes in the Senate
On Friday, Jan. 30, announcing the Task Force, Obama signed
three executive orders. One will prevent federal contractors
from discouraging their employees to join unions. Another will
assure that workers keep their jobs when a contract changes hands.
Down the road is an executive order to promote project agreements
on construction contracts.
If Obama is serious, he can take a leaf from FDR's book, and
use government's extensive contracting power to actively promote
unions. Late in the Clinton administration, then Vice President
Al Gore led an effort called the Responsible Contractor Initiative.
The idea was to reward federal contractors who took the high
road by providing good jobs and not standing in the way of unions.
It remains to be seen just how much real power Obama will
give Vice President Biden. But the task force is a superb beginning.
If government can just use its influence to make sure employers
stay neutral, it will be a new day for the labor movement - and
for American progressivism.
Robert Kuttner is Co-Editor of The American Prospect. His
new book is "Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis
and the Power of a Transformative Presidency." The article
was originally printed in the Huffington Post, and is reprinted
Green light for Gun Lake Casino
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Feb. 5 denied a request to
stop the U.S. Department of the Interior from taking into trust
147 acres for the proposed Gun Lake Casino in Wayland. The decision
appears to remove the last obstacle to the $200 million project's
The 193,000 square foot Gun Lake Casino has been the dream
of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians,
also known as the Gun Lake Tribe for nearly ten years. It's to
be located at a site at US-131 and 129th Avenue, near Bradley,
midway between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. The tribe is proposing
initial construction of the gaming complex on the property of
the former Ampro factory
In 2003 the tribe announced an agreement with Station Casinos
of Las Vegas, Nevada, to develop and operate the casino. The
facility is to house 2,500 slot machines, 75 gaming tables, an
entertainment center, restaurants, and a buffet.
Construction is expected to take from 12 to 16 months. The
tribe has declared union labor will be used during its construction.
It has also said it will release details about the casino's design
and construction team at a later date.
-From Michigan Construction News.com
Jobless numbers: they're not good
January was part of a long, cold economic winter for Michigan
and the rest of the nation.
The federal government reported on Feb. 6 that U.S. employers
laid off 598,000 workers last month - the most during a month
since 1974 - and the nation's unemployment rate rose to 7.6 percent.
The U.S. construction industry, the Associated General Contractors
reported, has suffered job cuts totaling 747,000 during the last
12 months - representing more than a fifth of all workers who
have lost jobs during the last year.
"Today's report on job losses underscores the urgency
of implementing a job-boosting economic stimulus package focused
on infrastructure," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for
the AGC, commenting on the Feb. 6 Bureau of Labor statistics
report. "Construction workers have suffered far more than
their share of that pain."
Simonson pointed out that the job destruction is no longer
confined to homebuilding. "In the past 12 months,"
he said. "nonresidential builders and specialty trade contractors,
along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms, have
had to lay off 309,000 workers, or nearly 7 percent of their
workforce. Many of these workers would be re-employed within
weeks if Congress passes a stimulus bill with at least $150 billion
of construction spending."
The Center for American Progress reported that the spike in
unemployment in January brings the total number of people out
of work to 11.6 million - 4.1 million more than a year ago. The
unemployment rate has not risen this fast over a three-month
period since the recession of the early 1980s, and there have
only been two months since 1948 when there were more unemployed
workers in the United States, both during the recession of the
"There are no indications that employers are going to
hire workers anytime soon," the Center said. "The temporary
help industry, which provides a leading indication of demand
for workers, lost 76,400 jobs in January and is down by 695,000
since its peak in December 2006."
Michigan's unemployment rate last month, 10.6 percent, led
the nation and was the highest it's been since December 1984.
The unemployed are finding it increasingly difficult to get
back to work. The typical unemployed worker has been out of work
and searching for a job for 10.3 weeks, and nearly one in four
(22.4 percent) unemployed workers have been out of a job for
at least six months. The problem is that there are many more
job seekers than jobs to be had. There were 2.8 million job openings
on the last business day of November (the latest data on job
openings), but there were 10.5 million unemployed workers.