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February 21, 2003
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.
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:
In the U.S., when work-related death rates are compared, the
entire construction industry has the fourth-highest fatality
By Marty Mulcahy
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."
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."
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.
Construction up 1% in U.S. 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."
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
Bulk drug purchases could save state $
"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.