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February 18, 2005

U.S. union membership numbers drop, so does optimism for rebound

Trades bridge a gap to expand U-M's School of Public Health

Your health and safety matters

Big contractors tapped for two big projects

Grand hotel planned in Grand Rapids

In a 'hissy-fit,' Wal Mart says it will close store about to unionize

News Briefs


U.S. union membership numbers drop, so does optimism for rebound

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Unionists still enjoy a significant wage gap over their non-union colleagues, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average union worker makes $781 per week, while the average non-unionist makes $612. Overall, the average U.S. worker makes $638.

The long downward trend in union membership numbers continued in 2004, as the percentage of union membership among U.S. workers dropped nearly half a percentage point to 12.5 percent.

"The union membership rate has steadily declined from a high of 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available," said a Jan. 27 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

However, at 19.6 percent, the U.S. construction industry continued to have among the highest unionization rates of any job category.

"The construction and manufacturing sectors are in a slightly better position than other unions, but all unions are pretty vulnerable right now," said Dr. Dale Belman, associate professor with Michigan State University's School of Labor and Industrial Relations. He said with competition brought on by globalization, pressure from anti-union lawmakers, stagnant wages and advances in technology that have led to job losses - "there are reasons American workers are not happy campers. And really, I don't see any reason for optimism for unions for the next 10 years."

Michigan continued to have among the top unionization rates in the nation. The BLS said four states had union membership rates over 20 percent in 2004: New York (25.3 percent); Hawaii (23.7 percent); Michigan (21.6 percent), and Alaska (20.1 percent).

Although Michigan's union workforce dropped by three-tenths of a percentage point from 2003 to 2004, the actual number of union members increased by 11,000 to 930,000, according to the BLS.

The BLS said unionists now represent 7.9 percent of all private workers, but 36.4 percent of public workers. For years, the only union growth has been in governments.

As American labor law is currently set up and interpreted, Belman said, "most workers would have to be in a suicidal mood if they want to organize a union at work - there's a very good chance of getting fired. Organizing new workers is getting to virtually impossible in some industries."

Four states reported union membership rates below 5 percent in 2004. North Carolina and South Carolina continued to record the lowest union membership rates, 2.7 and 3.0 percent,
respectively. Those two states have had the lowest union membership rates each year since 1995, when comparable state records began to be kept. Arkansas and Mississippi had the next lowest union membership rates, 4.8 percent each in 2004.

Including independent unions, organized labor had 15.5 million members in 2004. Almost precisely half live in just six states: California, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, in that order.

Belman said that while numbers have continued to show that the American union base has been severely eroded -it's too early to start writing labor's obituary.

"The death of the labor movement has been regularly predicted over the years," Belman said. He pointed out that the U.S labor movement had been "thoroughly crushed" before - for example in the years before World War I - only to emerge with strength. Organized labor has been on a steady downswing since the height of U.S. worker power in the early 1950s, which means, Belman said, "during this period of history it has taken longer to crush it."

What will turn the tide for American workers and their unions - if the tide can be turned? "Every time unions have made a comeback, they have come back with a different movement," Belman said. The movement at various times has been spurred by riots, the Great Depresssion and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City when 146 people, many of them women and girls, were killed in a blaze because of locked exit doors.

In the future, perhaps workers will be moved to unions because of soaring health care costs or stagnant wages - which in real terms haven't increased in more than two decades when inflation is taken into account.

"I'm not an optimist about the labor movement," Belman said, "but history has shown that labor bounces back, and it bounces back in ways that people never expect."


Trades bridge a gap to expand U-M's School of Public Health

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - The building trades and general contractor Walbridge-Aldinger have arrived at a crossroads on the University of Michigan campus as they build the School of Public Health Buildings Addition and Renovation.

The $70 million project will include an addition that spans Washington Heights street. The seven-story bridge-building will connect the Henry F. Vaughn School of Public Health building I (SPH I) with the Thomas Francis Jr. School of Public Health II Building (SPH II). The 125,000-square-foot addition will house modern open laboratories, instructional spaces, student and faculty interaction areas, and offices.

Ground was broken on Oct. 23, with the "crossroads" metaphor prominently used.

"From the beginning, we have conceived the school's new building complex as a crossroads of intellectual activity, of research and teaching, of academe and community," said Noreen Clark, school of public health dean. "This concept reflects the school's longstanding tradition of interdisciplinarity and heralds our future direction."

There are currently only 35 Hardhats currently working on the project - a number that will ramp up significantly in the next two years. The project is expected to be complete in the fall of 2007.

"We're only about 20 percent through the project; we have a long way to go," said Walbridge Project Supt. Al Bortolon. "We're tying into two existing buildings and we're going to make sure everything comes together. So far the big challenge has been the wet weather. And of course we all have to get used to the lack of room."

In a four-block area near the School of Public Health project, more than $1 billion in construction activity is ongoing. A single tower crane in the middle of all the activity hasn't moved and has served no less than three buildings. All told, there are numerous construction sites on the U-M campus, and few have much room for a lay-down area or anything besides the buildings.

The university said in a statement that "the new School of Public Health facility will allow for greater collaboration among departments, research centers, faculty, students, and communities of all kinds, and will enable students across departments to exchange ideas with each other and with colleagues throughout the world. Shared teaching spaces will be more centralized, and opportunities for research will multiply."

SPH I was constructed in 1942, and a series of additions were completed in the 1940s and 50s. The renovation portion of this project will provide a modernization of building systems in SPH I including new mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and life safety systems. Other improvements to SPH I include a new roof and air conditioning of all spaces.

The addition will house modern laboratories formerly in SPH I, and that space in the existing building will be converted to office and dry lab research space. Only minor renovations will be made to SPH II.

Sponsored research at the U-M School of Public Health has doubled over the past five years to $67 million.

"This is one of the strongest schools of public health in the nation," said Glenn Fosdick, University alum and member of the School of Public Health Board of Governors, in the Michigan Daily. "They desperately need not only the additional space but also the renovation."

A CEMENT TRUCK driven by Michael Powers of Teamsters Local 247 emerges from the new seven-story "bridge" that connects the two U-M School of Public Health buildings over Washington Square Street.

A RENDERING OF THE NEW $70 million School of Public Health Addition on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.



Your health and safety matters

OSHA is union blind.

Because union companies, as opposed to non-union, often have larger projects and worksites that remain active over long periods of time, some union contractors suspect their sites are inspected more often by OSHA than their non-union competitors.

The data does not support that suspicion, reports the Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA).

OSHA conducted 22,362 inspections of construction worksites in 2004. About a third were the result of fatalities or complaints. Two-thirds (64%) were "programmed," meaning they were randomly-generated from the total list of employers.

Union sites were inspected 4,051 times - 18 percent of the total. Data is unavailable on the percentage of construction companies that employ union labor, but 19.6 percent of construction workers are union members.

"Larger companies probably are more commonly union than smaller ones," said Noel C. Borck, Management Co-Chairman of the LHSFNA and Executive Vice President of the NEA - the Association of Union Constructors. "So the percentage of union companies is probably somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. Judging by that, union sites do not appear to be inspected more often than non-union sites."

The most common OSHA inspection was for fall protection (4,870 inspections), and these produced the second most citations (5,552). The most common citation was for scaffolding (8,658).

Citations for excavations and requirements for protective systems resulted in the highest average cost ($2,748) per citation. Fall protection/steel erection ($2,585) and cranes and derricks ($2,128) citations had the next highest average cost.

Driving is dangerous.
What's the most common cause of workplace fatalities?

You may be surprised to learn that it is highway crashes. About one in four workers killed on-the-job in 2003 (the most recent year for which data is available) - 1,350 workers - died in a highway incident.

This is just the number of workers killed while driving a vehicle at work. It does not include 120 workers killed each year while working in roadway work zones.

The plague of health care costs.
In the latest summation of health spending in the U.S., a study in the January/February journal Health Affairs indicates that, in 2003, for the first time ever, more than 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GNP) went to health care.

That is 20 percent more than the next highest industrial nations, Switzerland and Germany.

The 2003 increase in health spending was only 7.7 percent, after a 9.3 percent increase in 2002. Still, health spending in 2003 averaged $5,670 per person, up $353 from 2002. Hospital care accounted for about a third of all expenditures.
The 2003 percent increase was greater than the growth in the U.S. economy as a whole. That means health spending rose faster than federal revenues and crowded spending on other priorities.

(Information for this article was provided by the Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America)


Big contractors tapped for two big projects

Two of Michigan's largest general contractors - Barton-Malow and Walbridge- Aldinger - were tapped earlier this month to oversee construction of two of the state's largest construction projects. The jobs have a combined price tag of $850 million.

A new GM engine plant is being constructed in Flint that will be part of a $450 million re-investment in the Van Slyk Road Manufacturing Center. The 442,000 square-foot plant will be constructed by Ideal Contracting in association with Barton-Malow and together with their subcontractors and the building trades.

The GM Flint Global V6 Engine Facility broke ground Dec. 17, 2004 and is scheduled for completion by Oct. 28, 2005. The fast-track project is being designed using computerized 3D Virtual Factory tools, in order to eliminate field conflicts and reduce overall schedule and cost as part of the integrated design-build process.

The design-build team, along with the GM project team, are both located in the
Barton Malow Headquarters, to expedite the design and decision-making process, said Alex Ivanikiw, Barton-Malow Senior Vice President. "This integrated approach to bringing the team together for 3-D design and engineering will greatly streamline the process, reducing costs and accelerating the pace of construction."

On Feb. 3, Wayne County Airport Authority Board approved the hiring of Walbridge-Aldinger and Barton-Malow to build Phase I of the Detroit Metro Airport North Terminal Redevelopment Project.

Under Phase I, Walbridge/Barton Malow, LLC will provide pre-construction services for the project, a planned 25- to 27-gate terminal complex which will replace the airport's existing Davey & Smith terminal complex.

When complete, the $403 million North Terminal complex will be used to accommodate
airlines that are currently operating out of the aging L.C. Smith Terminal (American Airlines, America West, Southwest, Spirit, United, US Airways, and others). The contract duration is estimated at 46 months.

"There has been very positive interaction with the staff and there is a real enthusiasm for this project and Walbridge/Barton Malow as our Construction Manager," said Metro Airport Authority CEO Lester Robinson.

Walbridge-Aldinger and Barton Malow have both performed significant work at
Metro Airport. Barton Malow served as a lead member of the program management team for the $2.2 billion Capital Improvement Program that built the infrastructure, sixth jet runway and a host of projects to prepare for the Midfield Terminal Project.

Walbridge-Aldinger has performed over $700 million worth of construction as contractor, design-builder or construction manager on portions of the Capital Improvement Program, on a number of airline maintenance hangars, for various air freight and rental car companies, on terminal renovations and additions for both the airport and for airlines, and currently on the expansion of the McNamara Midfield Terminal.


Grand hotel planned in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS - The city's downtown will soon get an impressive addition to its skyline, in the form of a 24-story, 340-room hotel. The hotel will have the Marriott label and will welcome its first guests in the fall of 2007.

Hotel owner Alticor unveiled the design of the high-rise hotel on Jan. 31.

"Today is another big day," said Alticor chairman Steve Van Andel. "The design unveiling of the new Marriott is the latest chapter in the continuing revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids. We are introducing a modern and sophisticated structure that will grace our skyline for decades to come."

The hotel will be located along the Grand River at the southwest corner of Pearl Street and Campau Avenue. An adjacent 700-space parking ramp will be located just south of Louis Street. The hotel's design includes a ballroom that will comfortably seat a thousand
guests - one of the largest in the region. The design features also include a restaurant, lounge, indoor pool and fitness facility.

Each of the guest rooms will have a panoramic view, thanks to the curvature of the tower that gives it a football-like shape from above.

The hotel is being built in a joint venture between Rockford Construction Company, Inc.
of Belmont, Mich., and Pepper Construction Group of Chicago. Construction is expected to begin this summer. A price tag for the hotel was not released.

Alticor - the parent company of Amway - also owns and operates the nearby Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

The new hotel will be located between the city's two tallest structures, the 32-story Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the 34-story Plaza Towers building. A skywalk system will link nearby hotels to the city's new DeVos Place Convention Center.

THE NEW 24-STORY hotel will be built along the Grand River in Grand Rapids, as shown in this rendering.


In a 'hissy-fit,' Wal Mart says it will close store about to unionize

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Wal Mart Stores Inc. announced on Feb. 9 that they will close a Canadian store whose employees were on the verge of being the first in North America to win a union contract from the retailing giant. The jobs of 200 employees will be lost.

One United Food and Commercial Workers representative told CBS News that this was Wal Mart's way of throwing a "hissy-fit" because the union was finally going to win an organizing battle.

A bargaining unit was certified by the Province of Quebec in September after workers at the Jonquiere Wal Mart store voted to bring in the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Later, workers at a second Quebec store were granted union status. But contracts between the union and Wal Mart were never reached.

Wal Mart claims that coming to an agreement with the union would have made the Jonquiere store unprofitable.

"We were hoping it wouldn't come to this," said Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada, to the AP. "Despite nine days of meetings over three months, we've been unable to reach an agreement with the union that in our view will allow the store to operate efficiently and profitably."

Several years ago a group of meat cutters at a Wal Mart store in Texas voted to unionize. Wal Mart's response was to do away with meat cutter jobs and only sell prepackaged meat in all of its stores.

"This latest action by Wal-Mart demonstrates, once again, the company's systematic abuse of working families," said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. "This is a company that prefers to spend millions and millions to dress up its image on TV, rather than treat workers with respect."

The company, which operates more than 3,600 Wal Mart and Sam's Club stores in the U.S., has never failed to successfully beat back a union organizing attempt in this country.


News Briefs
Bush ups road budget pledge

President Bush has upped how much he is willing to spend on the nation's roads.

Under the budget he proposed last month, the federal government would spend $284 billion over the next six years for road and bridge construction. Previously, he said he was determined to hold the line on spending at $256 billion during that period.

The House ($275 billion over six years) and the Senate ($318 billion) have proposed different spending packages, and a compromise still needs to be worked out with the White House.

Michigan would receive about a 7 percent increase in road funding under Bush's plan. However, our state has lost some $480 million and other states proportional amounts due to the inability of federal lawmakers to come to a final decision on road funding since 2003.

And with separate legislation, Michigan lawmakers are continuing to try and improve our state's chronic status as one of the 25 "donor" states. Michigan only gets 90.5 cents returned on every $1.00 in taxes sent to the federal government for road funding.

Sprinkler Fitter Tom Devlin dies
The building trades mourn the Jan. 30, 2005 death of long-time Sprinkler Fitters Local 704 Business Manager Tom Devlin.

Mr. Devlin, who died at age 92, served as Local 704's business manager for 23 years until his retirement in 1977. He started in the union in 1947.

He was the father of Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin, IBEW Local 58 member Kevin, and Tim of Sprinkler Fitters Local 709 (Los Angeles). He was also uncle of Tom Devlin, business manager of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Service Trades Local 636.

Mr. Devlin is also survived by his wife of 63 years, Mary Josephine and daughters Margaret and Kathy.

During his career he served as chairman of the USA Sprinkler Fitters Business Managers and president of the Michigan Pipe Trades Association.

Butch Stewart, a retiree who served as Local 704's president, said Mr. Devlin "had a good reputation and was honest and well-liked. He was instrumental in starting the local's health and welfare and pension funds. I told the younger members who never had chance to meet him that they missed an opportunity to know a great man."

Local 704 Business Manager Bob Rutan said: "Local 704 was fortunate to have Tom Devlin, a man of integrity and foresight, as its leader for over 23 years. He was respected not only locally but on a national level as well."

Scholarship apps now available
Applications for the Michigan Building Trades Council Scholarship for Western Michigan University are now available at local union halls.

It is a five-year renewable scholarship for Michigan trade unionists, their spouses or dependents. Applications must be returned to WMU by April 15.

Qualified students must be enrolled full-time into a degree-granting program at Western Michigan.


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