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February 16, 2007

Bush seeks fast-track renewal

Senate passes minimum wage hike, adds tax breaks

America's workers need the Employee Free Choice Act

Tribe appreciates union skills at Four Winds Casino

Construction industry study: New strategies needed to win recruits

Trades, contractors send message to MSU: thanks

News Briefs


Bush seeks fast-track renewal

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Pursuing his determination to create free trade pacts without worker rights, President George W. Bush on Jan. 30 asked the Democratic-run 110th Congress to renew his "fast-track" Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). He got a cautious reaction from Congress and outspoken opposition from union leaders.

TPA, which expires June 30, would let Bush bargain trade pacts and then subject legislation implementing them to up-or-down votes in both houses of Congress, with no amendments. That lets Bush bar labor standards from the pacts and the legislation.

Fast track will be one of the major fights between Bush and Congress this year.

Bush and his predecessors used TPA to push through the job-losing trade treaty NAFTA, along with Chinese accession to the World Trade Organization and - most recently - CAFTA through Congress. He has sent proposed trade pacts with Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and South Korea to Congress. All lack labor rights.

Bush's fast track renewal demand drew a response from committee leaders who will handle fast track that is sure to disappoint organized labor. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) called fast track "vital to U.S. trade," then added that renewing it "is a legitimate opportunity to address Americans' legitimate concerns on trade."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). Rangel called fast track "a valuable tool" but warned "it requires a great deal of trust," which has been lacking between Congress and the White House. However, there were numerous other lawmakers elected to Congress last November who strongly question the benefits of free trade agreements.

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney and Teamsters President James Hoffa blasted Bush. Hoffa said Bush's fast track proposals "showed workers everywhere that he remains out of touch with their reality."

"Bush highlighted Caterpillar" - the president made his demand at a Cat plant in Illinois - "as reaping the benefits of U.S. trade policies. But for a majority of Americans, jobs have been destroyed, wages and benefits are stagnant, and communities have been stressed and terribly impacted," Hoffa said. He called Bush "blind to this reality."

Sweeney said Bush's fast track proposal shows he "isn't listening to the real or serious concerns" of the country on trade, and ignoring the message of the November election.

"Extending fast track would hamstring Congress' ability to fix our broken trade policy at a time when working families are in dire need of a correction in course," Sweeney said. "Misguided trade policies exacerbated stagnant wages and growing insecurity. We have lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2001, many to offshore outsourcing, while an increasing number of white-collar service-sector jobs are also at risk," he stated.

Added Hoffa: "Fast track has proven to be nothing more than a mechanism to rush through a patchwork of bad, rubber-stamped free-trade agreements to fill the pockets of multinational companies with the profits made by taking advantage of cheap and exploitable labor."


Senate passes minimum wage hike, adds tax breaks

WASHINGTON (PAI) - By a 94-3 vote on Feb. 1, the new Democratic-run Senate approved the first raise in the federal minimum wage in a decade. But to get enough GOP votes that successfully stopped a Republican filibuster two days before, senators festooned it with $8 billion in tax breaks for "small business."

The Senate vote sends the minimum wage bill back to the Democratic-run House, which approved a raise in the wage early in January with no strings attached. Unions and their allies who lobbied for it vowed to continue to fight to strip the Senate measure of the amendments with business tax breaks.

"Do you have such disdain for hard-working Americans that you want to pile all your amendments on this?" Sen. Edward Kennedy, on the Senate floor, asked Republican lawmakers. "Why don't you just hold your amendments until other pieces of legislation? Why this volume of amendments on just the issue to try and raise the minimum wage? What is it about it that drives you Republicans crazy? What is it? Something. Something! What is the price that the workers have to pay to get an increase? What is it about working men and women that you find so offensive?"

Union presidents, including AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney and AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, also blasted the Senate's tax breaks.

"It's just plain wrong to ask these working families to wait even longer to receive a minimum wage increase while many of our nation's leaders shower big business with additional tax perks," Sweeney said.

If finally approved, the minimum wage would rise in three steps in slightly more than two years, from its present $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour in 2009. The labor-backed Economic Policy Institute calculated the hike would help 13 million workers directly and indirectly, with 60 percent of them women, 40 percent minorities and four-fifths adults.

Besides the tax breaks, Republicans tried to attach many "poison pill" amendments to the minimum wage, including flextime. All failed. But they stalled the debate.

The outlook for the measure is uncertain: The House margin for the clean minimum wage - 315-116, including 83 Republicans - signals there could be a deadlock over the tax breaks. And President George W. Bush says he will not sign a minimum wage hike without those business tax cuts he demands.

Those tax cuts would add to $36 billion in tax cuts passed for "small business" during Bush's reign and $276 billion in business tax cuts overall.

The key Senate votes on the minimum wage were not on final passage, but to break GOP filibusters. On the second 88-8 vote, all the naysayers were Republicans. That second filibuster was against the bill that combined both the minimum wage hike and the tax cuts. An earlier filibuster, against the minimum wage alone, was kept alive when 43 GOP senators voted for it. They need only 41 votes to keep any talk-a-thon going.


America's workers need the Employee Free Choice Act

By Tula Connell
via the AFL-CIO

If your employer tries to cut your health care and pension by 98 percent, what do you do?

As a rule, not much. Unless you're in a union.

When 2,800 workers at the Harley-Davidson plant in York, Pa., were faced with that appalling ultimatum earlier this month, the members of Machinists Local 175 knew they didn't have to keep their mouths closed and swallow whatever the employer dictated. As union members, they spoke with their feet and now are walking the picket line. The company closed the plant after the last shift Feb. 2.

Analysts disagree on the cost of the strike for Harley. One predicts the walkout could cost $11 million a day; another estimates $3 million per day. The York plant assembles the most profitable Harley-Davidson models. Other plants in the Milwaukee area and Kansas City make parts for assembly in York.

But let's face it. Most workers aren't in unions. In fact, the percentage of U.S. workers in unions declined last year, from 12.5 percent in 2005 to 12 percent in 2006. Yet some 60 million workers say they would join a union if they could.

So why don't they? The primary reason is that our nation's labor laws are outdated and so full of holes some employers get away with illegal actions like firing workers who express an interest in joining unions. U.S. labor laws, which date back to the 1930s, are skewed in favor of corporate giants who spend big bucks to harass and intimidate workers. And their techniques work - after all, how many people want to lose their jobs? It's illegal to fire workers for forming unions, but management does it anyway, counting on the fact that it often takes years for a worker's appeal to wind its way through the regional and national labor boards and even the courts.

Workers represented by unions earn, on average, 30 percent more than nonunion workers: $833 in median earnings a week compared with $642. Some 80 percent of union members have employer-provided health insurance, compared with 49 percent of nonunion workers.

And as for those pensions, 68 percent of union members have guaranteed (defined-benefit) pensions - and only 14 percent of nonunion workers.

The nation's middle class - and increasingly, professional and technical workers - worry about their economic future as jobs become less stable or more difficult to attain and the quality of work life slides downhill. A growing number of professionals find their middle-class life threatened by economic forces that, without a union voice at work, they can't control.
Yet when they try to form unions, the deck is stacked against them. Why is Harley- Davidson willing to lose millions of dollars in profits instead of trying to negotiate a contract that doesn't decimate pension and health benefits?

AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff puts it this way:

(There is a) direct correlation between 25 years of stagnant, flat-lined wages and the assault on unions. Forty-seven million of us are without health care and 40 million with inadequate health care, (and) 20 percent more of us (live) in poverty now than when this decade started.

A few years ago, we in the union movement began pushing for a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act that would level the playing field for workers and help rebuild America's middle class and restore the freedom of workers to choose a union. It would restore workers' freedom to choose a union by:

  • Establishing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations.
  • Providing mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes.
  • Allowing employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.

Even in the unpleasant 109th Congress, we got 215 co-sponsors in the House and 44 in the Senate. But with a new, worker-friendly Congress, we now have 231 House co-sponsors - and the bill, H.R. 800, was introduced Feb. 5.

The last time legislation to change U.S. labor laws was introduced was in the late 1970s, and it didn't get very far.

The Employee Free Choice Act isn't just about unions. It's about raising the standard of living for all of us in this nation. By leveling the playing field for workers seeking to form unions, the Employee Free Choice Act will improve the wages, working conditions and job security for workers who want to sign on.

We stand a good chance to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed in the House. The harder part will come in the Senate. But we're making progress getting co-sponsors there as well.


Tribe appreciates union skills at Four Winds Casino

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

NEW BUFFALO TWP. - A new hotel and casino are blowing into the extreme southwest corner of the state, in the form of the Four Winds Casino Resort, which is currently under construction.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is sponsoring the construction project, which has put some 500 Hardhats to work at peak employment. Building trades workers on the job hail from Michigan, Indiana and even Chicago - the same areas that the casino and connected hotel hope to draw from when the gaming begins in August.

"It's astonishing to see the level of craftsmanship on this project," said John Miller, tribal chairman and president and CEO of the Four Winds Casino Resort. "It's the first time that I've had the experience of working with union labor, and the skill of the workers is obvious. They're really doing a nice job."

Located on a mixture of former cornfield as well as a wooded, 675-acre site near I-94, Phase 1 of the construction includes a 225,000 square-foot casino and 165-room, six-story, all-suites hotel and parking structure. A small conference area and seven different areas for "eating opportunities" including cafeterias and restaurants will be on site, Miller said.

Future expansion, depending on "how the market develops," would include an addition atop the existing hotel and expanded gaming and conference space, Miller added. Currently only 51 acres of the site are being developed.

Ground was broken on June 3. The project is being managed by a joint venture of Christman-Kraus -Anderson. A project labor agreement covers the construction process, which includes the hiring of several tribal members as building trades apprentices. "This is a very, very fast job," said Roger Prince, general foreman for Metro Pipe, Inc. "For the area, it's also a big job, and from start to finish, you really get a sample of every phase of construction. It's been a great project for us."

The casino and hotel will have a "north woods lodge feel," the tribe says, built with elements like heavy logs, cedar and stone. The casino will include 3,000 slot machines, 90 table games and 20 poker tables.

Leaders of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi studied the design of a number of casinos and worked with the Urban Design Group to make their plans to come life. They had some time to prepare: legal hurdles delayed the start of the project for much of this decade. Miller said it was important to the tribe to get the community involved, with local hiring for construction and local hiring when the casino and hotel start to operate. The casino and hotel are expected to create about 2,000 jobs and draw more than four million visitors a year to the New Buffalo area.

"We don't get a lot of big projects down in this area, and we want to do it right," said Gary Gunberg, business manager of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and HVAC Service Local 357. "The tribe has studied the market, they know what they want, and they have been very involved in the construction process. We've enjoyed working with them."

THE FOUR WINDS CASINO, under construction in New Buffalo, includes a gaming space with the grand entrance in the foreground and a hotel in the background.

ACCESSING A STORM drain cleanout at the Four Winds Casino is Ron Flagel of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and HVAC Service Local 357, working for Metro Piping.


Construction industry study: New strategies needed to win recruits

A "radical change" in how workforce development is conducted - including a blunt suggestion to start recruiting a more non-white workforce - is needed to fill employment needs in the U.S. construction industry, says a new study released Jan. 16 by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association.

With approximately 40% of the construction workforce and 42% of the sheet metal workforce eligible to retire during the next ten years, combined with strong anticipated work opportunities, "demand for skilled construction workers will be strong for the foreseeable future," the study said.

The U.S. construction industry will need to attract 185,000 new workers in each of the next 10 years just to offset the wave of industry retirements.

"The future of the unionized sheet metal industry depends upon its ability to recruit a workforce from population groups it has historically neglected: women and minorities," said the study's author, William F. Maloney, Ph.D., of the University of Kentucky. "To do so requires a radical change in the way in which workforce development is conducted."

Historically, "absent strong external pressure for change," the study said, the construction industry has historically focused its recruiting attention on "what it knows best: young, white males."

That has led to recent industry demographics, which the study said illustrates how the construction industry has become "a bastion for white males," who made up 73.8 percent of the sheet metal industry in 2002. That year the industry was also 17.2 percent Latino, 3.6 percent female, 3.5 percent African-American and 2.4 percent Asian.

The study suggests that traditional union recruitment efforts - participating in career fairs and running ads in local papers, and accepting applications within a given time frame may have been adequate in the past. But "societal bias against blue collar jobs" and a negative image of the construction industry and unions is expected to lead to a skills shortage.

The study offered 71 recommendations to change the way workforce development is conducted in the unionized sheet metal industry. Two are "critical," Maloney said.

  • Contractors, must become more actively involved in the workforce development process. Too often, he said this process is left to the union, which, for the contractors, is allowing someone else to pick their workforce. It is time for the contractors to return the "joint" to joint apprenticeship committees.
  • A full-time director of outreach and recruitment position should be created within each JAC. He suggested this individual should be a human resources professional with appropriate training.

Other suggestions on the list:

  • Establish a mechanism for removing unprofessional and unproductive workers from the membership rolls to free up available hours for the hard-working professionals in the union and create opportunities for new members. "Co-workers can no longer stand by and let customer perceptions be determined by the slackers," Maloney wrote.
  • Establish a formal five-year apprenticeship with the first year designated as a
    probationary period. A one-year probationary period will allow an in-depth
    assessment to be made of the first year apprentice in terms of work ethic, integrity, character, and potential to become an excellent sheet metal worker. During the first-year probationary period, the apprentice would be subject to employment at will, i.e., a contractor would not need reasons to let the apprentice go.
  • Re-design the apprenticeship program to reflect time served and proficiency. There is a significant difference in the time in which people acquire proficiency in a set of tasks and in the actual proficiency attained. A minimum proficiency level should be established for a specified set of skills.

The entire study in on the Internet, at



Trades, contractors send message to MSU: thanks

EAST LANSING - At a reception with Michigan State University officials held Thursday, Jan. 18, Mid-Michigan Construction Alliance (MMCA) members thanked the University for its utilization of the union construction industry and celebrated MMCA's ongoing partnership with the university.

MSU officials in attendance were President Lou Anna K. Simon and Board of Trustees Colleen M. McNamara, Dorothy V. Gonzales, Faylene Owen and George Perles.

Thousands of union construction trades men and women have worked on MSU projects over the years, including the University's College of Law and Business Library, Biomedical and Physical Sciences building, Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health, upgrades to the T.B. Simon Power Plant, the luxury boxes at Spartan Stadium, and many more.

MSU has one of the top four labor and industrial relations schools in the country, and has an exceptional Planning, Design and Construction Management School, producing the next generation of construction industry leaders.

Officials of the MMCA, a consortium of organized construction contractors and their union building trades organizations located in the greater Lansing tri-county area, thanked university officials for their utilization of the union construction industry and educating the construction leaders of the future. MMCA officials also touted its own worker training and scholarship programs.

"I'd like to thank MSU for letting us build your facilities," said Mike Crawford, MMCA president and National Electrical Contractors Association Michigan Chapter director. "We are proud to have an excellent relationship with the university, and we greatly support your work educating the next generation of construction leaders and for the leadership MSU is showing on economic development in the region."

"Michigan State University and the unions affiliated with the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council have enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship, and it is entirely appropriate to say thank you," said Pat Devlin, Chief Elected Officer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

"We know our future lies in the students of MSU and for more than 30 years, the AGC has provided many scholarships and summer internships to those in the Civil Engineering and Construction Management Departments," said Barbara Strachan, Director of Workforce Development for AGC of Michigan. "The AGC looks forward to continuing to provide financial support to MSU students. Likewise, as participants in the Mid-Michigan Construction Alliance, we will continue to do whatever we can to support the University."


News Briefs

Low trend for trade unions
Long-term trends for union penetration in the construction industry may be stabilizing, but they're still not good.

In our last issue, we reported that the overall unionization rate in the U.S. fell from 12.5 percent in 2005 to 12.0 in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In the construction industry, the year-to-year drop was slightly smaller: 13.1 percent in 2005, slipping to 13.0 percent in 2006.

However, the long-term trend for unionized construction is more disturbing: when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first started keeping comparable unionization statistics in 1983, union workers performed 29.4 percent of all construction work in the U.S.

That number has steadily declined: since 2001, when BLS statistics showed construction union workers with 18.1 percent of the market, unions have lost 5.1 percent of the market.

In a Jan. 29 statement to the Construction Labor Report, AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan took a positive approach to the numbers, saying that the building trades unions' initiatives to increase membership are working "to reverse a negative trend and are having a positive result."

He also said the lower unionization numbers are taking place during a negative political and economic climate, and looked forward to improvement with the nation on the verge of "an historic construction boom" and a more favorable construction climate.

O'Reilly endorsed for Dearborn mayor
Jack O'Reilly has been endorsed by the Political Action Committee of the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council for mayor in the City of Dearborn.

The Dearborn City Council president for the last 17 years, O'Reilly is seeking to replace the late Mayor Mike Guido, who died in December.

"I have been a lifelong Democrat and support collective bargaining," O'Reilly wrote in a letter to the council. "I understand the tremendous challenges facing cities and am prepared to meet them in a manner that is respectful of the employees that are essential to serving our residents."

The special election for Dearborn Mayor is Tuesday, Feb. 27.

All-Trades tourney set for May 19-20
The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council will sponsor its 18th annual All-Trades Softball Tournament May 19-20 at Gier Park in Lansing. At least 20 building trades teams from across the state are expected.

Last year the tournament raised $37,400. Since 1990, the tournament has raised at total of $457,852. Proceeds from the event go to "Blueprint for a Cure," a nonprofit fundraising organization that has helped build and equip a diabetes research center at the University of Miami. The research and treatment facility was entirely union built and was dedicated in 1994.

If your local's ball team participates, save the date. For more information, or to take out an ad in the tournament's program book, call the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's Lansing office, (517) 484-8427.

Bush proposes slight hike in OSHA budget
WASHINGTON (PAI) - President George W. Bush's budget for the year that starts Oct. 1 proposes a slight increase - about 4 percent - in the budget of the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration.

If approved by the Democratic-run 110th Congress, OSHA's budget would rise by $18 million, to $490.3 million. And, in the aftermath of the Sego Mine disaster in January 2006, the budget for the Mine Safety and Health Administration would increase by $36 million (13 percent) to $313.5 million.

New OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke said his agency would concentrate even more on the most-hazardous worksites, especially those with high proportions of immigrant workers, in industries led by meatpacking, poultry processing, nursing homes and construction.



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