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February 21, 2003

State opens three more unemployment offices

Miscounted, misunderstood: Welcome to the world of construction statistics

UA becoming part of the landscape at Washtenaw Community College

GOP leader charges unions are exploiting nation's security needs

Lansing trades offer kids HOPE through personal contributions

NEWS BRIEFS

 

State opens three more unemployment offices

Michigan's troubled Unemployment Compensation system is opening three more walk-in centers to help jobless workers who have questions about, or problems with their unemployment claims.

The three new help centers are located in Michigan Bureau of Workers and Unemployment Compensation (BWUC) offices in: Grand Rapids, 3391 Plainfield Ave. NE; Lansing, 5015 S. Cedar St., and Saginaw, 614 Johnson St.

The walk-in offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and are in addition to three offices that opened in the Detroit area in January. They are at the following locations: northwest Detroit: 4321 Oakman; Dearborn, 2901 Gulley Rd., and Madison Heights, 401 E. 13 Mile. Since those offices opened, they have helped more than 24,000 unemployed workers.

The frustration level has been growing in recent months among Michigan 's unemployed workers, who have experienced repeated busy signals on BWUC help lines and inexperienced help at offices. Many of the problems were caused by a lack of staffing brought on by an early retirement program offered in the waning days of the Engler Administration. Last month, the department was down to 700 employees, many of them inexperienced, to handle a higher claims load. Four years ago, the department had 1,300 employees.

Now, recent BWUC retirees have been hired as temps to help straighten things out.

"The staffing at these locations is providing basic unemployment insurance services," said David Plawecki, acting director of the BWUC. "They will check the status of claims and will resolve any problems or issues surrounding a workers' claim."

In addition, the offices can take certifications for weeks of unemployment, inquire about pending decisions and accept protests and appeals of unemployment claims decisions. "We will make every effort to resolve problems and issues on the spot," Plawecki said. "The objective is go do whatever it takes to get a workers' claim on track before the individual leaves office."

Plawecki said those with complex problems might have to wait before they are seen by one of the office staff members.

In case you missed out on our last issue, following are some (hopefully) helpful hints concerning the state's unemployment compensation system.

  • The toll-free help line set up by the state's Unemployment Agency has been swamped by up to 100,000 calls a day, Plawecki said, and only a fraction of the calls get through. The line is staffed evenings, and there's a little better chance that you can get through between 7-9 p.m. The number: (800) 638-3995.
  • As of Jan. 28, workers can go online to file claims for unemployment benefits. Go to: www.michigan.gov/bwuc. The web site is accepting new and additional unemployment claims, but there are some conditions that must be met, including the jobless worker must have worked for only one employer for the last 18 months.
  • Michigan estimates that some 75,000 workers will exhaust their state jobless benefits during the first half of this year. All potential recipients of federal unemployment benefits will have been notified by mail by Jan. 28. Applicants who still believe they are eligible can pick up an application at their local Bureau of Workers and Unemployment Compensation or from the state website, www.michigan.gov/bwuc.
  • If you live north of Cadillac, and you're filing for additional state jobless money, call this number for help: (866) 500-0017.

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Miscounted, misunderstood: Welcome to the world of construction statistics

It's hard to get a handle on Hardhats in the U.S. construction industry.

Workers and job sites are here today, gone tomorrow. Injury statistics are probably greatly undercounted. And with millions of dollars being paid to workers under the table, pay rates are probably out of whack, too.

There are great challenges in attempting to organize a system that resists being counted, yet there are great benefits, too. That's why the Center to Protect Workers Rights, the research and training arm of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, issued the third edition of The Construction Chart Book late last year.

"This book uses statistics in an attempt to characterize the construction industry in the United States," the Chart Book said in its introduction. "This chart book is far from complete. It is difficult to capture the dynamic nature of the industry nationwide using only snapshots, as represented by charts."

Why should workers care about a bunch of statistics? Because good, accurate numbers help government agencies give - or take away - research dollars for health, safety and other matters that are so vital to the construction industry. Unions and contractors can better market and represent their members/employees and do a better job of lobbying.

Workers can have a greater appreciation for the dangerous line of work they find themselves in, and keep themselves updated on injury and fatality trends, as well as how they stand when it comes time to cash their paycheck.

The book uses information collected up until 2000, and the data is sometimes later than that. We don't have room for the colorful graphic charts provided by the Construction Chart Book, (they can be found at www.cpwr.com, and click on "what's new") but following are some of the highlights in text:

  • Nearly 1.4 million construction workers were union members in the U.S. in 2000, accounting for 19.4% of the entire 7.2 million union and nonunion wage-and-salary workforce. Of those 1.4 million unionized construction workers, 69,000 did not pay dues to a union in 2000 - but they still enjoyed union representation at their place of work. Those workers live in the nation's 21 right-to-work states.
  • Iron workers are easily the most unionized of all the crafts. The chart book reports that 70 percent of all iron workers in the nation are union.
  • Michigan is consistently among the top states in terms of unionization. Our state is again listed in the top 10 states in terms of construction union density with more than 30 percent of the state's construction workers working union.
  • Construction employment through 2010 is expected to rise, although not as quickly as in the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2000, wage-and-salary employment in construction grew by a 2.7% annual average, while such employment is projected to increase at an average of 1.2% between 2000 and 2010, adding 825,000 wage-and-salary jobs.
  • Employment of sheet metal workers is projected to grow faster than any other trade, adding 43,400 new jobs through 2010. The other trades at the top of the list for growth (the rankings are in proportion to current workers in the trade) include 84,800 new jobs for electricians, and 106,480 jobs for construction laborers.
  • For construction overall, work-related death rates remained steady from 1992-2000, while reported nonfatal injury and illness rates showed a decline. The reported rate of serious nonfatal injuries and illnesses in construction dropped 14% in the years 1996-2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, compared with other goods-producing industries, construction continues to have the highest rate of injuries and illnesses.
  • Worker growth in construction has been most striking among the Hispanic workforce, now at 1.4 million, triple the level of two decades ago. Female employees were 9% of the U.S. construction workforce in 2000, up from 8% in 1980.
  • Minority-owned construction companies totaled 264,227 in 1997, accounting for 11.5% of all construction companies. Hispanic companies had $21.9 billion in business revenues; a clumped-together minority group including Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans had $12.9 billion in business income, and African-American owners had $7.7 billion in business revenues.
  • Construction workers, like everyone else, are getting older. In 2000, the median age of construction workers was 37 years; in 1980, it was 34 years. For all occupations, the median age grew from 35 to 39 years old during the same period.
  • Wage-and-salary employment increased markedly in construction and faster than in industries overall from 1992 to 2001. But "real" wages, adjusted for inflation, increased only slightly, starting in 1997. As of 2000, U.S. construction workers' wage and salary levels were still more than $3 per hour lower than in 1973 when inflation is taken into account.
  • Pension participation among union members working in construction is much higher, at 76%, than pension participation among the nonunion workers, at 28%.
  • If you've ever wondered whether U.S. construction workers have a better or worse safety record compared to other countries - keep wondering. In five industrial countries, reported work-related death rates for the construction industry in 1998 ranged from 5.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in Sweden to 14.2 in the U.S.
    But there are large differences in how nations keep their statistics. You can see how the fatality figures for Germany might be a bit skewed - they exclude ironworkers, electricians and sheet metal workers.
  • Within construction, the fatality rate for ironworkers was six times higher than the rate for all construction occupations during the years 1997-99. There were 131 iron workers killed on the job. The fatality rate for construction laborers was roughly half as high because there are so many more laborers - but there were still more laborers than any other occupation killed on the job during that period (989).

In the U.S., when work-related death rates are compared, the entire construction industry has the fourth-highest fatality rate.

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UA becoming part of the landscape at Washtenaw Community College

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

YPSILANTI - Every August for the last 13 years, more than 1,800 United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters members from across the U.S. and Canada have flocked to facilities at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) during the week-long Instructors Training Program.

Beginning this year, the campus facilities are getting bigger and better, as many of the functions for the annual training program - as well as some new features - will be made a permanent fixture at the school, housed in a 20,000-square-foot addition that is now under construction.

Substantial construction began at the end of November, "and we have be ready by July 25 for the big jamboree," said Wally Whims, who is running the project for general contractor J.M. Olsen. He was referring to having the facility up and running in time for the next UA Training Program.

Dubbed the Great Lakes Regional Training Center, the $4.2 million, 22,000 square-foot facility will become the centerpiece of the UA's growing distance learning program, which currently links more than 100 apprenticeship schools in North America. It will contain three heavy equipment labs, computer labs equipped with the latest technology, UA offices and classroom space.

"We've built a strong and lasting partnership with the UA," said WCC President Larry Whitworth. "To my knowledge, it's the only one of its kind in this country among the skilled trades. The UA places a tremendous value on continuing education for its members, and commits a great deal of effort and expense to keeping them aligned with emerging technology. WCC is extremely proud to help in that effort."

The new regional training site will be one of five located across the country. It will augment, but not replace, the instructor training program.

The plumbing foreman on the project for Allor Mechanical is Steve Carson of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190. He said the trickiest part of the job has been to tap into the mechanical equipment in the existing building. Numerous holes have been cut though existing classroom block walls and pipes have been routed through the ceilings of various rooms and hallways "We've been directed not to interfere with any of the activities of the school or cut off the heat or the water, but it's not always easy," Carson said. "So right now, at this time of year, we figured we'd be pretty safe if we put the chillers in."

THE UNITED ASSOCIATION of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters will be utilizing their new Regional Training Facility in Ypsilanti by next August - but first, UA members and the other building trades will have to build it.

PLUMBING AND HEATING foremen Mark Weber, left, and Steve Carson of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters 190 and Allor Mechanical start to lay out rough plumbing in the Regional Training Center.

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GOP leader charges unions are exploiting nation's security needs

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Thomas Delay (R-Texas) drew strong responses from organized labor, after the House majority leader alleged that "union bosses" were sanctioning worker actions that allegedly brought harm to the U.S. and the nation's security after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Union bosses have only just begun exploiting the war effort and America's security needs," DeLay said, in a political fundraising letter on behalf of the national Right-to-Work Foundation.

Delay claimed that the International Longshore and Warehouse union "exploited urgent economic and national security needs last fall by forcing a crippling shutdown of West Coast ports." Delay's claim came even though port managers locked out the longshoremen on Oct. 1-11, and let workers re-enter only when President Bush invoked the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act and got a court order to do so.

DeLay, Congress' ruling Republican, also alleged that union leaders used the 9-11 attacks unpatriotically, to push pro-union bills. Unions, for example, pushed strongly to grant union protection to Homeland Security Department workers.

The prime bill that DeLay cited would legalize efforts by police, fire fighters and EMTs to seek collective bargaining rights in states that do not allow it - right-to-work states such as Delay's Texas. A Senate GOP filibuster killed the bill.

Fire Fighters President Harold C. Schaitberger blasted DeLay for questioning the patriotism of unionists. Schaitberger not only demanded an apology from DeLay but also wrote House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R- Ill.), nominally DeLay's boss, asking if DeLay's position "represents the consensus of your (GOP) caucus?"

Schaitenberger continued in his letter to Delay, "I can forgive someone - even the House Majority Leader - for being confused about a legislative issue. I can even look past a creative interpretation of the facts. What I cannot and will not forgive is the outrageous way your letter attacks America's fire fighters and other trade union members.

"How dare you question the patriotism of the nation's fire fighters and their elected union leaders?...Have you forgotten so soon? On Sept. 11, 2001, my proud union lost 343 fire fighters at Ground Zero" when the Trade Center's twin towers collapsed after the terrorist-commandeered jets hit them.

"Are you aware that many of these American heroes were actually off-duty, working off the clock? Those fallen fire fighters didn't stop to read a union contract or worry about overtime entitlements. They responded. They served. And they died saving tens of thousands of other Americans."

DeLay did not respond to Schaitberger. He blamed the Right-to-Work foundation's staff and said he never actually read the letter. Reports also said DeLay wants to meet Teamsters President James Hoffa - not Schaitberger - to discuss it.

"Your attack on me and my colleagues in the labor community only serves to harm the Teamsters' goal, which I thought you shared, of putting issues ahead of partisan politics," Hoffa warned, while demanding an apology. "By going beyond the specifics...and attacking us personally, your letter creates a significant impediment for our developing relationship."

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Lansing trades offer kids HOPE through personal contributions

LANSING - Lansing area building trades union members will help children facing personal and economic obstacles attend Lansing Community College by donating five cents per hour, per worker, to the Helping Other People Excel (HOPE) Scholarship Program.

The workers toil on any City of Lansing project that includes a Project Labor Agreement.

"Our members believe in giving back to the community they serve," said Jeff Cole, field representative for the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council. "Mayor Hollister championed the HOPE Scholarship Program to give all of Lansing's kids a chance for a successful future, and the hardworking men and women of the building trades are proud to help Lansing's kids succeed."

Lansing Mayor David Hollister recognized Cole and all members of the Lansing area building trades on stage during Hollister's State of the City address held Monday, Jan. 27, saying, "Our friends in the skilled trades have agreed to dedicate five cents per hour, per worker on any City project that includes a Project Labor Agreement. Our union workforce has created a perpetual funding source for HOPE."

The HOPE Scholarship Program is a partnership between the Lansing Police Department, the City of Lansing, the Lansing School District and Lansing Community College in which 500 students per year facing personal and economic obstacles - identified by Lansing School District administrators - receive two year's free tuition at Lansing Community College provided they graduate from high school. Through an endowment fund at the Capital Region Community Foundation, program officials have raised $1.9 million of the $2.5 million required to allow the program to continue in perpetuity.

THE HOPE Scholarship contributions from the building trades were recognized at Lansing Mayor David Hollister's State of the City address. Shown here (l-r) are Dennis W. Fliehman, president of the Capital Region Community Foundation, Jeff Cole, field rep. for the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council, HOPE scholars T'Shara Lynch and Timothy Newby, Lansing School District Supt. Dr. E. Sharon Banks and Mayor Hollister.

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NEWS BRIEFS

Construction up 1% in U.S. in 2002
The final figures are in: total U.S. construction for 2002 advanced 1 percent over the year before to $498.7 billion, according to information released Jan. 31 by the McGraw-Hill Construction Information Group. The increase follows growth rates of 5 percent in 2001 and 6 percent in 2002.

"Total construction in 2002 essentially stabilized close to its 2001 level, as contracting continued to decelerate from the brisk pace of expansion several years ago," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for Dodge. "While the rate of growth has diminished, the overall level of construction has held up reasonably well against the backdrop of the 2001 recession and the economy's fragile recovery in 2002."


Tax-man wants cut of jobless benefits
Michigan's jobless workers may have been pulling their hair out after any recent dealings with understaffed and underfunded Michigan Bureau of Workers and Unemployment Compensation (BWUC), as we reported in our most recent issue.

Now, the state agency is providing Michigan's jobless workers another kick in the pants - but this time, don't kill the messenger. They're reminding workers that when it comes to jobless benefits, as is the case every year, Uncle Sam wants a piece of the action.

"Unemployment benefits are taxable, and those who received benefits will need these statements in order to do their taxes," said David Plawecki, acting director of the BWUC. The 1099-G or "Statement for Recipients of Unemployment Compensation Payments" reports how much individuals received in jobless benefits in 2002. The state mailed 623,200 forms to Michigan claimants, with the final batch of statements going out on Jan. 20.

The number of 1099-G forms mailed last year was the highest total since 1992, when 693,000 forms were mailed. The 1099-G information is also sent to the IRS and the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Bulk drug purchases could save state $
One of the items that may have been overlooked during Gov. Granholm's State of the State address is her proposal to tap into a multi-state prescription drug-buying program that could save big bucks for Michigan's ailing budget.

"We expect to cut tens of millions of dollars from our Medicaid drug costs this year," Granholm said in her State of the State message on Feb. 5. "We will not wait for Washington to act. We will get it done, now."

Discussions are already under way with Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Vermont and Tennessee. This is one of several mult-state coalitions that are combining their resources with volume purchases in order to lower the bottom line on drug purchases.

The annual price tag for prescription medications for Michigan's 187,000 Medicaid recipients is about $430 million - and an estimated 10 percent discount would save $43 million. The federal government has been slow to act in arranging volume discounts, so states are taking matters into their own hands.

"Over time, you'll eventually see every state enter into a compact or some relationship with surrounding states because there's no sense not to," said John Thomasian, director of the Center of Best Practices at the National Governors Association, in a published report.

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