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February 15, 2002
Workers in our state 'have no idea how good they have it'
By Marty Mulcahy
B.J. Cardwell has been a union organizer in Michigan. And over the past year, he has been a union organizer in southern-tier states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee Arkansas and Alabama.
After knocking on doors of nonunion workers fearful of losing their job, confronting and/or sweet-talking employers, cajoling workers to attend union meetings and bolstering the resolve of workers who have expressed an interest in organizing, Cardwell has come to a simple conclusion.
"People in Michigan have no idea how good they have it," he said. "The pay standards in most of the South are low, and the workers are scared to do anything about it. If workers in Michigan could see what has become of the South and their attitude toward workers, it would make them fight like hell to keep what they have, because it doesn't take long to lose it."
Cardwell, 44, hails from Painters Local 514 in Ann Arbor. He had been a business representative for the local and for Painters District Council 22 for several years when he was given the position of general organizer by International Union of Painters and Allied Trades General President Mike Monroe in April 2000.
Last summer, Monroe directed Cardwell to oversee the Painters Unions' "Southern Initiative," which operated under the concept that a union can't do a good job of organizing outside workers if it isn't organized internally.
The effort put into practice a section of the International Union's Bylaws, which requires individual union members to spend at least one day a year in service of their union, whether it's on a picket line or in attending a COMET (Construction Organizing and Membership Education Training) program, or other service.
The effort to organize - and get organized - utilized union officers and rank and file members in the South. They made house calls to union painters to make sure they understood what the union could do for them, and what they could do for their union. They talked to open shop painters, and made work calls to union and open shop employers. A core group of organizers headed by Cardwell went to various areas of the South to make the union pitch, and motivate the locals.
"We were told that we did more organizing in seven weeks than they did in 30 years," Cardwell said. The result: 2,400 Painters members were visited, 386 new members were organized and 12 contractors were signed to a collective bargaining agreement.
On Dec. 3, 2001, Monroe promoted Cardwell to the position of General President's Representative. Cardwell said the union's efforts will continue in the South -an area that had nearly given up on organizing over the last few decades - and will spread to other parts of the country.
"These people have been beaten down for so long," Cardwell said. "My impression is that they're scared. They know they need help; they just don't know where to get it. The general president has afforded us the opportunity to make some changes and to be more aggressive and help those people."
Cardwell said in many cases, nonunion employers use "favors" to keep their employers in line. One painter who was earning $7 per hour said he wouldn't join the union because he would have to turn his back on his boss, who had done him a favor by paying to have his car repaired when it broke down.
Another painter who stayed loyal to his nonunion employer recalled how his boss bought he and his family groceries when they were short on cash.
"I got really upset with the union leadership in Memphis," Cardwell said. In 1968 the city was the site of a notorious sanitation workers strike, which received nationwide attention in part because of the highly visible support of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was assassinated the day after he made a speech in the city. The workers finally won a contract nearly two-and-half months after the strike began.
"I told 'em at the union meeting that they shut the city
down, then they grabbed their fishing poles and forgot about
it," Cardwell said. "They got lazy. Today they're building
like crazy in Memphis and it's all nearly completely nonunion.
It made me sick."
By Marty Mulcahy
Quick quiz - what state is home to thousands of workers who not only wouldn't join a union - but have never even heard of a union?
(A) Alabama (B) Missouri (C) Michigan (D) Pennsylvania.
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades General President Mike Monroe suggests this answer: All of the above. In a telephone interview last week with The Building Tradesman, he said construction unions and the rest of organized labor have a lot of work to do in Southern states - but organized labor in states like Michigan have a lot of work to do to retain and improve their market share, too.
"It's been my experience that outside of the bigger cities in Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania and other heavily unionized states, we're seeing what has already occurred in the South," he said. "Outside of the cities, sometimes in the next county over, there has been a steady disintegration of market share for unions, and if we don't start to reverse that trend now, we're going to lose everything we've fought for."
In concert with the Painters' International Union's Executive Board, Monroe last year launched the "Southern Initiative," an intensive campaign intended to improve union organizing efforts, and show that the union is concerned with the wage standards, and health and safety of both members and non-members.
"We're basically going back to the original mission of organized labor," Monroe said. "The original labor leaders took on the tough fights, and we're taking on the tough fights. We're going to places where we're not so comfortable. There is a whole generation of workers in some parts of the country who have never known what a union can do for them."
Moreover, Monroe said corporate mergers and worldwide conglomerate companies are completely changing the playing field for organized labor all over the country. In many cases, a construction union that once had a friendly relationship with a contracting company is now dealing with an anti-union corporate parent.
Monroe tapped Michigan-man B.J. Cardwell to lead the IUPAT's Southern Initiative, which will eventually spread to western states, too.
"I chose B.J. because he's very able, and he has impressed me with his initiative," Monroe said. "These efforts aren't easy, and they require proud, stout-hearted union folks like B.J. to show people a better way of living."
Monroe, elected to the IUPAT's General President post in 1998, emphasized the union's commitment to organizing by also taking on the title of "director of organizing."
"Whether you're in Michigan or in the South, unions have
to commit to a sustained effort to get their people involved
in their unions, and involved in organizing," Monroe said.
"So many nonunion workers know one way of life - and that's
attached to an employer. They've never heard of a union. If we
can go in to an area, and show workers that we're committed to
them for the long term, and if we show them some energy and some
heart, then they're going to move in our direction."
By Marty Mulcahy
Suddenly, there's a lot more room to work on the playing field at Ford Field, the future home of the Detroit Lions.
On Feb. 5, iron workers and operating engineers topped out the structure, lifting the final major roof support section into place, a 50-ton, 150-foot long bridging truss. Like the rest of the roof support elements, this section was assembled on the future playing field, and lifted into place 180 feet over ground level. The lift took place directly over what will be the 50-yard line, and culminates the placement of some 16,000 tons of iron on the project.
During 2001, the field was dominated by the iron truss sections, but the iron is nearly all in place now.
Si Stroia of Iron Workers Local 25 was coaxed out of retirement late last summer to act as superintendent and complete the project for the steel erector, SCI/SteelCon. "I'm glad I came back, for me, this really fulfilled my career," he said. "The workers can be proud; they did a helluva job." Stroia worked with Local 25 general foreman Mark Maracle and steward Robert "Jeep" Eldridge.
This wasn't the last section of steel to be placed at Ford
Field - some much-smaller roof sections still needed to be erected,
and there is still some significant work to be done on an atrium
adjacent to the stadium. But this is a project that featured
some of the heaviest truss lifts in U.S. history, and SCI/SteelCon
and the iron workers wanted to top it off with a major section.
This project included two of the heaviest lifts in the history of the State of Michigan, and one of the heaviest ever in the U.S. The first took place on Nov. 2, when a 450-foot-long, 2,764-ton roof truss section was lifted into place using a strand-jack system.
Now the rest of the project will race to completion in August, to open in time for the final two games of the Detroit Lions preseason schedule. The project manager at Ford Field is Hunt-Jenkins.
"There will not be a finer football facility in the whole NFL than Ford Field. I guarantee it," said Lions President Matt Millen. "I've been in them all of them. They don't compare."
The old Hudson's warehouse will anchor the south side of the $375 million, 65,000-seat stadium, and contain most of the facility's 130 luxury suites. An eight-story glass wall at the corner of an end zone will bring in natural light and remind visitors what city they're in.
"We want a uniquely Detroit facility," said Tom
Lewand, Lions' vice president for stadium development, "and
with the amount of glass and sunlight coming in you can see glimpses
of other buildings and know you're in Detroit. You look at this
and its some of the neatest and coolest space in the city."
Kmart Corp.'s suppliers and lenders haven't given up on the bankrupt retailing giant, and Michigan's building trades workers are being asked to help, too.
The troubled Troy-based retailer is down, but not yet out, after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month and its corporate leaders started to initiate plans to make the company solvent again.
Kmart Chief Executive Charles Conaway said: "We are committed and determined to complete our reorganization as quickly and smoothly as possible, while taking full advantage of this chance to make a fresh start and reposition Kmart for the future." The nation's second-largest retailer has more than 2,114 stores, including 121 in Michigan. They employ 250,000 nationwide, including more than 10,000 in Michigan.
Michigan's building trades unions have long had a good relationship with Kmart. That's why our readers are being urged to shop at Kmart during the company's time of need.
"Overall, Kmart has been good to building trades unions over the years," said Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin. "I can't say that every store they've ever opened or remodeled has gone 100 percent union, but they have a very, very good record of hiring union construction workers. I think it would be a shame to see them go under. Hopefully, we can help them by shopping at their stores."
Kmart has had a difficult time competing in the retail marketplace because of aging stores, unstocked shelves, and a reputation for poor service. But the retailer has obtained a $2 billion line of credit and is expected to close hundreds of under-performing stores. Many analysts say the company has a decent shot of surviving bankruptcy.
With Kmart having such a large impact on the state, radio stations and politicians are getting on the bandwagon to support their stores.
"I contacted a number of our affiliates around the state,
and no one had any opposition to urging our membership to support
Kmart," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council
Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "I think we're all of the
opinion that we should buy Michigan, and we should support stores
that support us."
Health care costs up? No problem! Wal Mart suggests tapping 401(k)s
Wal-Mart stores have done it again.
Just when you think they couldn't possibly add to their reputation as a lousy employer, we learn that the nation's largest retailer has raised employee payments for health insurance by 30 percent this year from 2001, to $100 bi-weekly for family coverage.
But don't worry - Wal Mart employees will be taken care of. Just ask Wal Mart. According to the Wall Street Journal, the retailer is offering their employees the "opportunity" to dip into their 401(k) retirement accounts to help pay for the increase. Wal Mart contributes the equivalent of 2 percent of workers' pay to their 401k plans.
"A recent company announcement hails the new policy, but doesn't mention that using such assets carries tax liabilities," said a front-page Journal article on Feb. 5. "Workers are grumbling, but some say they have no choice but to rob their nest eggs."
A company spokesman said other literature points out the tax liability. "We want to give our associates as much flexibility as we can," he told the Journal.
The company is hardly cash-strapped: WalMart earned $6.3 billion in income in 2000, and income rose another 4 percent through the first three quarters of 2001, according to Forbes and USA Today. The average Wal Mart employee earns $7.50 per hour or $12,480 per year, based on an average 32-hour work week, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
The building trades and general contractor Walbridge-Aldinger are giving Compuware what they want: a headquarters-in-a-hurry.
The first steel beams were placed on their 15-story, $350 million Detroit headquarters building last July, and by next month, the frame should be topped out, said Walbridge Project Manager Dean Reader.
By the end of the year, Compuware employees are expected to be working in the lower levels of the building at Woodward and Monroe, while the trades complete the upper floors.
The entire project, which includes two parallel towers in a v-shape and a 2,300-space parking deck, is expected to be complete by mid-2003. The headquarters building and adjacent garage will include about 53,000 square feet of retail space.
"We've been pushing the schedule, but we're doing it safely and we're doing quality work," said Reader. "We're happy, and the owners are happy."
The one million square-foot Compuware headquarters building stands atop the old Kern Block, just south of the old Hudson's building. The new headquarters building will consolidate the operations of nine existing Compuware facilities in metropolitan Detroit.
The Compuware building will anchor approximately $2 billion in planned new development in the area. Practically outside the Compuware building's front door will be a 2.5-acre park, the focal point of the mixed-use Campus Martius project, which will include five buildings and cover five blocks.
Compuware Corp. is a computer technology firm that employs
more than 12,000 information technology workers worldwide.
Union construction population higher
In recent years in the construction industry, the union density for building trades unions was as low as 17.7 in 1995 and as high as 19.1 percent in 2001.
As we reported in our last issue, there were 16.3 million unionized workers in all industries in the U.S. in 2001, which was about even with the year before.
According to the BLS, membership in building trades unions
increased by 44,000 to 1.264 million in 2001. No wonder: union
construction workers in the U.S. earned an average of $864 per
week in 2001, compared to $569 per week for nonunion workers.
According to the F.W. Dodge Division of McGraw Hill, the 3 percent increase in construction followed jumps of 5 percent in 2000 and 11 percent in 1999.
"The construction industry slipped back during the first half of 2001, but then proved to be one of the more resilient sectors of the economy as the year progressed," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for F.W. Dodge.
The Midwest region, which includes Michigan, and the nation's
South Central region registered five percent gains, the highest
in the nation.
Bubba Chiles' sister needs help
Carolyn, 35, was recently diagnosed with Esophagial, a very aggressive type of cancer. She was referred to the Cancer Treatment of America Clinic in Zion, Ill., where they have given her reason to hope. She must travel to the clinic once a month, and remain three or four days each time. Carolyn is the mother of Nathan, 8, and Kelsey, 7.
To help her with travel and lodging expenses to and from the treatment center - as well as expenses which are not covered by insurance - monetary donations would be greatly appreciated.
A mostaccioli benefit dinner will be held Sunday, Feb. 17 from noon to 5 p.m. at the St. Stephen Activity Center, 18800 Huron River Dr., New Boston, MI. For more information concerning the benefit dinner, contact St. Stephen School at (734) 753-4175.
To make a monetary donation, please make checks payable to
Carolyn Collins, c/o 19250 Middlebelt Rd., Romulus, MI 48174.
If you have questions, call Becky Chiles at (734) 753-4061 before
8 p.m. Or, Jodi Rec (734) 941-4995 or Patti Showler, (734) 753-3363.