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February 2, 2007

'We have to change the way we do business'

Providence Park progresses

Nation's unionization rate continues decline

Labor keeps an eye on new 110th Congress

U.S. construction for '06 on the level

Sluggish protective equipment rule brings union lawsuit

News Briefs


'We have to change the way we do business'

Mediator suggests renewed focus on pleasing the 'Boss'

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

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 zones."

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 five jobs.

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 being disagreeable."

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 about that."

Gleason also pointed out that Michigan is well ahead of the nation in terms of producing for owners a "well-qualified, drug-free workforce."

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.


Providence Park progresses

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

- 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 walkway.

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 Park hospital.


Nation's 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 percent).
  • 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.


Labor 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 next?

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 small businesses.

"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 foreign imports.

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 the committee.
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.


U.S. 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 12%.


Sluggish 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."


News Briefs

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 Payments."

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 numbers.

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 project.

"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 development.
(From Michigan Construction



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