February 2, 2007
'We have to change
the way we do business'
rate continues decline
Labor keeps an
eye on new 110th Congress
for '06 on the level
equipment rule brings union lawsuit
have to change the way we do business'
Mediator suggests renewed focus on pleasing the 'Boss'
By Marty Mulcahy
PLAINWELL - Is the unionized construction industry - and really,
much of organized labor in the U.S. - stuck in a mindset from
the early 1960s?
That's when American industrial might was unchallenged, consumers
were in a buying mood, unions and management controlled their
own destiny and Japan and Europe were still getting their economic
acts together after World War II. Many workers and their employers
continue to operate as if those days of unparalleled American
might are still here today.
Richard Barnes, president of an organizational consultant
firm that mediates labor-management disputes, did his part on
Jan. 24 to pull and prod 80 seminar participants away from that
old mindset. The participants came from construction labor and
employer groups from across the state.
"Habits are barriers to change," he said. "People
resist change. They don't want to work outside of their comfort
Barnes was the headline speaker at a labor-management conference
sponsored by the West Michigan Construction Alliance. A Laborers
International Union representative for 16 years, Barnes has morphed
into a dispute resolution consultant and mediator who has negotiated
more than 300 labor agreements in 35 separate industries. He
is a former director Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
He said the era of working under "your father's social
contract" is "absolutely gone." That informal
but socially ingrained contract said workers traded loyalty and
good performance to their employer in exchange for a secure job
and upward sloping pay. To illustrate his point about the disappearing
contract, Barnes said that his 32-year-old son has already had
What was the agent of change for that contract, and the gradual
ebbing of American economic dominance? "The Boss told American
manufacturers that he wasn't satisfied with their products, with
their price, or with their quality," Barnes said. "And
the Boss is the American consumer."
He said a "little-bitty" foreign car, the Volkswagen
Beetle, appeared on the American scene in the early 1960s, and
Barnes said that opened the floodgates for the importation of
a spectrum of foreign goods. And how did American management
and labor respond? "By pointing fingers at each other,"
Barnes said. "Instead of problem-solving, we had management
telling labor they had to take a pay cut. Then the unions said
we're not taking a pay cut, we didn't design this junk. Both
sides didn't acknowledge that there was enough blame to go around."
Barnes' used a significant portion of his presentation at
the day-long seminar to talk about changing and improving the
mechanics of labor-management communication, including: the proper
use of language, both verbal and non-verbal. The need to communicate
between contract negotiation periods, and the proper verbal and
nonverbal communication to use during those times. Identifying
the various types of managers and employees (there are six categories).
Plus the value and opportunities presented by conflict.
The history of employer-employee relationships "gets
in the way of our communication" Barnes said. "You
have to get rid of the way you did things in the past. What good
does it do to raise your voice at the people who are employing
you?" On the other hand, he questioned the thinking of a
manager, who, during negotiations, questioned a union rep if
unions still had a role in society.
For too long, Barnes said, conflict has been avoided, and
the focus has been put on the employer's needs, or the union's
needs, instead of the customer's needs.
Barnes' presentation made full circle around unions and management,
but came back to winning over the people who wield the checkbook.
"Forget about the nonunion, folks," Barnes said.
"You need to focus your efforts on your customers' needs.
If you want your customers to employ union labor, you're not
going to win them over by telling them not to work nonunion.
"You're going to win them over by being proactive, by selling
your skills, and your safety record. Give customers a reason
to re-think their perception of you."
Then Barnes brought up one of the biggest buzzwords in corporate
America: branding. Unions and contractors, he reminded his audience,
need to promote their brand. Decide what sets union labor and
their contractors apart from the nonunion. Then market the positives.
And in order to maintain their brand, they need cooperation from
workers and management. There must be a focus on improving attitudes,
work ethic, cooperation, reducing absenteeism, embracing technology,
and maintaining an awareness of owners' needs.
One example Barnes used: "Why would you feel the responsibility
to defend the actions of a sorry-ass drunk on the job?"
he asked. "You need to defend your brand."
He said many in union labor, which now controls only about
13 percent of the U.S. marketplace, have been slow to realize
that it is in a very weak position. He said labor and management
and can only improve market share by taking care of their own
house, and then focusing on the customer's needs.
"We can no longer make the demand, 'use us or else,'
" Barnes said. "We cannot continue to do what we have
been doing. We have to change the way we do business."
Comments on the conference:
Bruce Hawley, president, West Michigan Construction Alliance:
"This is a labor management effort through the West Michigan
Construction Alliance and today is the first in a series of events
to educate and get more information to you so that we can go
back and better educate our members."
Bart Carrigan, Executive President, AGC of Michigan:
"The construction industry is tough to work in, we're all
so decentralized," Carrigan said. "So it's important
to hold meetings like this, and learn how labor and management
can do a better job of working together."
He cited a recent statement by Service Employees International
Union President Andy Stern in the Wall Street Journal, who pointed
out that there are simple tenets to follow in such relationships,
like not placing blame and "learning to disagree without
Patrick "Shorty" Gleason, President of the Michigan
Building and Construction Trades Council: "I think we
need to do a better job of pointing out our common characteristics
to owners and the rest of the public. People don't realize that
we don't rely on anything from the government. In the building
trades we have the best training anywhere, and collectively we
spend about $25 million a year on training, and turn out about
4,600 apprentices a year. We can do a lot better job of talking
Gleason also pointed out that Michigan is well ahead of the
nation in terms of producing for owners a "well-qualified,
MEDIATOR AND ORGANIZATIONAL consultant Richard
Barnes gets warmed up in talking to 80 construction labor-management
attendees at a Labor Management Conference on Jan. 23.
By Marty Mulcahy
- Michigan's hospital construction boom has been relentless
in recent years, with the St. John Providence Park Hospital campus
a typical example.
The 500,000 square-foot, $224-million hospital will include
200 beds and a full emergency department designed as a Level
1 Trauma Center. The hospital and campus will also include new
operating rooms, a dedicated pediatric unit, a fitness center,
retail shops, a hotel and a wildlife trail.
Construction began in January 2006 and is scheduled for completion
in July 2008. Between 220 and 250 Hardhats will work on the project
at peak employment. The construction is being managed by the
joint venture of Barton Malow-White.
David Martin, project director for Barton Malow, said the
biggest "constructability" challenge so far has been
working with the building's exterior panels. The glass segmented
curtain wall is segmented, curved, and must be installed in sequence
in an atypical counter-clockwise fashion from left to right.
"We had to decide on the sequence very early in the construction
process, because the panels are being made in order," Martin
said. "There has definitely been a learning curve on the
installation; you have to pay a lot of attention to detail."
Gary Hatter, Barton Malow's general superintendent on the
project, said the seven-story building will be dominated by a
six-story atrium. He said the first two floors of the new hospital
will include ambulatory/emergency care, radiology/MRI and surgical
suites. "Compared to the rest of the building, the first
two floors have a lot of complex utilities, and requires a great
deal of coordination with the architect," Hatter said.
The new hospital at Grand River and Beck is being constructed
near the existing 250,000 square-foot St. John Providence Park
medical center, and the buildings will be connected via an enclosed
Once complete, the new campus will have about 300 physicians
- double the current number at the medical center. When the new
hospital is open and the hotel and retail operations are running,
a total of 1,000 new employees will be brought to the campus.
"We've researched approaches to care across the country
the last few years, looked at some innovative approaches, and
picked what we think are the best ones," said Rob Casalou,
president of St. John Providence Park Hospital to an health industry
publication. "All the ideas will come together in this new
hospital. Our care will be unique in that our patients will benefit
from a collection of the latest thinking in healthcare."
Casalou told the Detroit News: "If you make a point,
starting at Beck and Grand River and draw a seven mile radius,
in that seven-mile area there were 70,000 admissions to hospitals
last year and they went to 11 different hospitals," he said.
That tells you why there is a need for this hospital."
The case for new hospitals - and their construction - is being
made across Michigan, as more patient-friendly amenities are
being designed into the new buildings.
GOING UP TO TAKE the measure of a plumbing
fixture at theSt. John Providence Park Hospital is Frank Cousino
of Plumbers Local 98 and Western Mechanical.
THE NEW $224 MILLION St. John Providence Providence
unionization rate continues decline
The nation's unionization rate continued to fall in 2006,
as 12 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union
members, compared to 12.5 percent at the end of 2005.
The nation's unions had hoped that the decline in membership
would bottom out last year - the numbers for both 2005 and 2004
were flat - but that didn't happen.
The numbers were reported by the U.S. Department of Labor
on Jan. 25. In 2006, the total number of persons belonging to
a union fell by 326,000 to 15.4 million. The union membership
rate has steadily declined from 20.1 percent in 1983, the first
year for which comparable union data are available.
Following are a few other highlights from the report:
- Michigan had 916,000 union members (or a 21 percent unionization
rate) in 2005. No surprise that that number dropped significantly
in 2006 to 879,000 (19.6 percent). Still, Michigan has the sixth
highest union penetration percentage in the nation. Hawaii (24.7
percent) and Alaska (22.2 percent) top the list. Just under half
(7.5 million) of the 15.4 million union members in the U.S. lived
in six states (California, 2.3 million; New York, 2.0 million;
Illinois, 0.9 million; Michigan, 0.8 million; New Jersey, 0.8
million; and Pennsylvania, 0.7 million).
- The union membership rate for government workers (36.2 percent)
was substantially higher than for private industry workers (7.4
- Among major private industries, transportation and utilities
had the highest union membership rate, at 23.2 percent, followed
by construction (13.0 percent). Construction has dropped from
14.7 percent in 2004 and 13.1 percent in 2005.
"The most important thing the numbers show is how critical
it is to pass the Employee Free Choice Act," to level the
playing field between workers and management, AFL-CIO Organizing
Director Stewart Acuff told Press Associates Union News Service.
keeps an eye on new 110th Congress
WASHINGTON - Three months after organized labor played a big
part in helping Democrats take control of Congress - and two
weeks after House Dems successfully pushed through their "first
100-hour" agenda - unions are rightfully asking, what's
Without a doubt, it's way early in the legislative process
in the new Congress, with Democrats controlling both houses of
Congress. But unions leaders are not far in the background, prodding
Democratic legislators that they helped put into office to start
moving the legislative focus away from corporations, and more
in favor of working men and women.
Anna Burger, chairwoman of Change to Win - the breakaway labor
group - said workers expect "newly elected members will
do their part to restore the American dream. Union volunteers
devoted their time, energy, and hard-earned dollars in the last
election cycle to send representatives to Washington who promised
to fight for ordinary Americans, not corporate America. And across
the country, voters joined them in taking action at the polls
because they, too, want change."
Here's a sampling of what's going on in Washington, as organized
labor and Dems get their bearings in the 110th Congress.
Minimum wage: On Jan. 10, the House, on a 315-116 vote
(including 82 Republicans voting in the majority) approved a
$2.10 increase in the minimum wage. The hike would raise the
minimum wage to $7.25 in just over two years. A minimum wage
increase would directly raise the pay of 5.6 million workers
With House passage, the matter moved to the Senate, where
a majority of senators, including a handful of Republicans, on
Jan. 25 voted to raise the minimum wage. But the Republican opponents
of the measure filibustered the bill, and 60 votes are needed
to override a filibuster.
Republicans and President Bush have said they would only pass
a minimum wage hike if it includes some small tax breaks for
"It's time Congress stopped playing politics with the
lives of our nation's low-wage workers," said AFL-CIO President
John Sweeney. "The mostly Republican opposition to a 'clean'
bill is an affront to our nation's low-wage workers."
100 Hours: Other items on new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's
list for the first 100 legislative hours included new ethics
rules and to pass legislation to implement the 9/11 Commission
recommendations, expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell
research and negotiate lower prescription drug prices. They were
all passed by a majority of House members. Plans to cut interest
rates on student loans and end oil subsidies were also scheduled
for a vote last week.
Trade adjustment assistance: Also emanating from the
Senate Finance Committee by Baucus and Sen. Norman Coleman (R-Minn.)
was a reintroduction, for the third straight year, their legislation
to renew and expand the trade adjustment assistance (TAA) program.
TAA gives extra jobless benefits, retraining payments and health
care subsidies to American workers who lose their jobs to subsidized
Their new bill, however, would also let entire industries
hit by imports and service workers - such as computer techs who
lose their jobs to India - seek TAA payments.
The difference between this Congress and the last was also
summed up by two new features of the TAA issue: One is the bill
will at least get a hearing, because Democrat Baucus now runs
Mexican trucks: The Teamsters outlined their agenda on Jan. 8.
One cause will be a new attempt to get dangerous Mexican trucks
off U.S. roads. NAFTA lets the trucks roll nationwide, even though
their brakes don't often work properly, the drivers are over-tired
and the trucks frequently lack safety inspections south of the
border. Federal courts turned down past Teamster efforts to block
the trucks. The union had some success in Congress.
No child: Three top unions, led by the National Education
Association, upgraded and expanded a coalition formed in prior
years to lobby for rewriting Bush's education law. That measure,
the No Child Left Behind Act, comes up for renewal this year.
NEA--the nation's largest union, with 3.2 million members--says
it is drastically flawed.
Employee Free Choice Act: AFSCME stepped up its lobbying
for the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act. Pelosi told the
1.4-million-member union's executive board earlier this year
that EFCA, designed to level the playing field between workers
and bosses in organizing and contract negotiations, would come
to a House floor vote in the spring.
construction for '06 on the level
New U.S. construction starts increased 2% in December to a
seasonally adjusted annual rate of $626.9 billion, according
to a Jan. 25 report by McGraw-Hill Construction.
For the full year 2006, total construction came in at $663.0
billion, essentially the same
dollar amount as 2005. This marked a change from the double-digit
growth of 2004 and 2005, when the value of new construction starts
climbed 11% and 12%, respectively.
"The 2006 pattern for total construction was shaped by the
single-family downturn, a notable change compared to the lift
that single-family housing provided during the first half of
this decade," stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of
economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "Last year
also featured growth for such nonresidential structure types
as hotels, offices, and schools, combined with a brisk pace for
the public works sector.
"For 2007, it appears that the worst of the single family
slide is over, but the climate for nonresidential building and
public works may not be quite as favorable as last year."
The annual statistics for total construction in 2006 showed
reduced activity in three of the five major regions - the West,
down 2%; the Midwest, down 3%; and the South Atlantic, down 5%.
The two regions that were able to show growth for total construction
in 2006 were the Northeast, up 2%; and the South Central, up
protective equipment rule brings union lawsuit
The United Food and Commercial Workers and the AFL-CIO sued
the U.S. Department of Labor in a federal court last month to
force the agency to complete rulemaking governing personal protective
equipment (PPE) for workers.
The lawsuit came about because OSHA has rules requiring employers
to buy PPE for workers who deal with specific hazardous substances,
lead among them. But it does not have a rule requiring all employers
to buy PPE for all workers when dealing with all hazardous substances.
OSHA first promised such a rule in July 2000, the suit says.
But OSHA kept missing its own self-imposed deadlines, and meantime,
50 workers have died and 400,000 have been injured due to a lack
of safety equipment on the job, added UFCW President Joe Hansen
and AFL-CIO President John J, Sweeney.
"The new rule would not impose any new obligations on
employers to provide safety equipment. It simply codifies OSHA's
longstanding policy that employers, not employees, have the responsibility
to pay for it," UFCW and the federation said.
"Nothing is standing in the way of OSHA issuing a final
personal protective equipment (PPE) rule to protect worker safety
and health except the will to do so. It is long overdue that
the agency take action on protective equipment. Now, we are asking
the courts to force OSHA to act," Hansen said.
In so many words, union and the federation want to force the
agency, and specifically the Labor Department's Occupational
Safety and Health Administration, to carry out its promise made
more than four years ago to write, in plain language and in black-and-white,
a requirement that all employers must buy those gloves and goggles
and other personal protective safety equipment for all their
workers in all cases where it's needed.
"Too many workers have already been hurt or killed,"
said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "The Bush Department
of Labor should stop looking out for corporate interests at the
expense of workers' safety and health on the job."
A Labor Department spokesman told the Construction Labor Report
that the lawsuit "clearly deals with complicated issues
that will affect different employers and employees in a variety
of ways. The Department takes pride in its excellent safety and
enforcement record for workers, but on this issue a number of
public comments we received took issue with the factual assumptions
in our proposed rule."
Jobless claims are taxable
With tax season approaching, the Michigan Unemployment Agency
reminds those who received jobless benefits in 2006 that those
earnings are taxable.
"Unemployment benefits are taxable, and those who received
benefits will need these statements to prepare their 2006 state
and federal tax return," said Lisa Estlund Olson, acting
director of Michigan's Unemployment Agency. The statements are
1099-G or "Statement for Recipients of Unemployment Compensation
This year the Unemployment Agency will send out about 570,000
of those forms, by Jan. 26. Those who have not received their
forms can call a UIA office. For telephone filed claims, call
(866) 500-0017, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The UIA's customer relations
hotline is (800) 638-3995, staffed M-F from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Higher pay/benefits for union trades
The final numbers are in, and first-year collectively bargained
wage and benefit increases in 2006 averaged $1.73 per hour, or
4.5 percent. The jump represented the largest one-year dollar
and percentage increase since 1989-90.
The information comes from the Construction Labor Research
Council (CLRC), via the Construction Labor Report.
In 2005, first-year increases averaged $1.53 or 3.9 percent.
The news is even better for the latter years of multi-year
contracts that were hammered out in 2006. Second-year wage and
benefit levels average $1.99 per hour and third year levels will
jump to $2.01. By area, the "East North Central Region,"
which includes Michigan, was within a few cents of the national
The CLRC said the average wage and benefit package for union
building trades workers across the nation is $41.75 per hour.
Moch's 'Icon' project recognized
Each year the Grand Rapids Business Journal announces
the top ten organizations that it considers to be the "Newsmakers
of the Year." At a Jan. 15 luncheon sponsored by the Economic
Club of Grand Rapids the property development firm of Moch International
was a newsmaker finalist with two construction recognitions.
The first was the Icon On Bond development located at 538
Bond St., NW. It's a 110-unit, nine-story residential condominium
"Without the support of the labor unions and their signatory
contractors," stated Joe Moch Sr. of Moch International,
"the development would not be what it is today." With
nearly half of the complex sold, he said he expects residents
to be moving in by April.
John Cobe, president and regional division director of Operating
Engineers Local 324, was instrumental in assisting Moch with
initial start-up financing, with the Chicago Capital Management
Group facilitating the remaining construction loan.
The other recognition for Moch is that the company is one
of three seeking to develop the Grand Rapids "Mystery Project."
Approximately 40 acres on the Grand River may be available for
(From Michigan Construction News.com)