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January 11, 2008

Use - not abuse - of apprentices will pay dividends later

HealthSource Saginaw transformation moves to next phase

Kennecott's Eagle Mine wins state's OK

Christmas presents given by building trades, contractors

Local 80's Ingalls accepts IU position

News Briefs


Use - not abuse - of apprentices will pay dividends later

(Second in a series)
By Mark Breslin

This month I would like to provide a lesson in demographic economics. I have no idea if such a thing exists but it certainly sounds important. Never-the-less, as you will hopefully agree, it still makes strategic and economic sense when applied to our business.

Demo-Econ Fact Number One: Our workforce is getting older and grayer day by day. 10,000 people in the U.S. are turning 60 every day. The Baby Boomers' retirement is about to explode on the workplace like never before. In five to ten years you won't know what hit you.

Demo-Econ Fact Number Two: Workforce shortages are already endemic in the U.S. Currently there are 160,000 jobs at car dealerships and mechanic facilities unfulfilled. The railroads are currently short 40,000+. The booming energy business cannot begin to round up enough workers to build the many new plants around the U.S. and Canada. The tip of the wave is already here.

Demo-Econ Fact Number Three: An immigrant workforce cannot be depended upon to backfill the need. Uncertainty with immigration laws and future regulatory actions is the status. Don't tell me that the dirty little secret of a significant undocumented workforce in our current industry is an exaggeration. Contractors might end up short every one of those workers with future employer restrictions and sanctions.

Demo-Econ Fact Number Four: Supply and demand will always dictate price.

And Finally D-E Fact Number Five: It is time for contractors to stop being apathetic, bull-headed, short-sighted and plan-ass-dumb about proactively utilizing apprenticeship. Why? Because they must Invest Now or Pay Later.

Currently we should be developing at least 200% more apprentices in most crafts. To meet current needs. To meet future journeyman attrition. To account for drop outs. To leverage the financial commitment already being made in apprenticeship development. Most contractors look at apprenticeship as a "mandatory requirement." Public works laws and union rules compel them to use the little bastards. Well let's just imagine a different approach then.

Let's just push the fast forward button on your Workforce Tivo forecast and see what happens.

Do nothing = Too few apprentices + increased Boomer journeyman / foreman attrition = increasing shortages of qualified personnel + increases in funding and construction = higher demand for hours worked on existing workforce = more OT necessary + absence of out-of-work status for workers = feeling of entitlement by union members = union politics requiring more money than the overall market will bear + difficulty of maintaining defined benefit pension plans = very difficult bargaining = additional costs, conflict and strife.

Getting proactive about apprenticeship takes looking a small way ahead. In a business full of contractor "firefighters" solving the crisis of the day, that can be very tough. Contractors need to start taking ownership of their own futures. One very smart contractor I know has already done the demographic profile of his entire company. He knows exactly when all of his best workers and supervisors are going to retire and is planning now.

He will be competitively positioned where others will have to beg, borrow or steal as the market will allow. On the other hand, apprenticeship is the key to unlocking that future for our industry. Billions of contractor dollars are going into these programs; what is their current return on investment? They have no damn idea.

This does not mean that the union is off the hook. Business managers need to also do their part and put aside worries about politics in order to increase apprentice indenture rates. Some Business Managers think short staffing the industry is a good way to keep their political environment stable. But in the long term it is a form of self-cannibalism. Keep cutting off a part of yourself to stay alive politically, and soon there is nothing left but the memory of how stupid you really were.

Now one thing I hear pretty regularly is that "the damn union sends me unqualified apprentices." DUH? Who really trains any apprentice? The union, at best, gets their hands on them for four to six weeks total hours per year. Who has them for the other 46 weeks? It is about our industry and our contractors engaging in a long term, highly focused, strategic process of replacing our most valuable commodity and competitive advantage. News flash for my contractor buddies: they don't manufacture them down at the union hall guys, you do.

And so the answers I would give to these contractors? Sponsor apprentices yourself. Handpicked little bastards are better than random ones. When they are dispatched take the time to give them something meaningful to do. When you get a good one, cultivate his or her work ethic and capability.

Talk to your foremen and superintendents about why it is important to treat them better than fecal matter. Match them up with mentors or at least a journeyman likely to pass on some good lessons. Visit the training centers. Get to know the curriculum and the supplemental training available to your journeymen as well. Figure out how to use the money you are paying. You have a financial opportunity to obtain a real and significant return.

Look, in the end it is a team effort. And I say with all the love and respect I can gather to my contractor brethren: it's up to you. You can Invest Now or Pay Later. Demographic economics. Remember, you heard it here first.

Mark Breslin is a trainer and author specializing in labor-management challenges and solutions. He is the author of the recently published Attitudes and Behaviors: Survival of the Fittest curriculum for apprentice training centers. The curriculum is now being used by union training centers, and has been established as standard course programming by other international unions and apprenticeship programs. Instructional material including books, CDs, workbooks, instructor guides and support media information is available at


HealthSource Saginaw transformation moves to next phase

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAGINAW TOWNSHIP - The building trades last month completed the fourth phase of an eight-phase, $44 million construction project that will result in a wholesale transformation of the HealthSource Saginaw facility.

Saginaw County voters approved a 2004 bond issue to renovate and expand the HealthSource facility, which includes psychiatric care, substance abuse treatment and medical rehabilitation services. The building trades and general contractor Spence Brothers are expected to complete the project in December 2008.

In completing the fourth phase in mid-December, Spence Brothers handed over the new psychiatric portion of the facility to the hospital. The new Behavioral Medicine Center includes 41 inpatient psychiatric beds and 27 inpatient chemical dependency beds, and the new Behavioral Professional Services office suite included construction of 150 of the facility's 213 long-term care beds.

More than 100 Hardhats have worked on the project at peak employment.

"The workforce has done a good job," said Bob Beythan, who is managing the project for Spence Brothers. "It's been a challenging job, with a lot of different phases, and it has required a tremendous amount of planning."

The next phases in the project, which starts this month, will result in the demolition of the five-story central resident wing, as well as an existing psychiatric wing and offices. Phase 6 constructs the 38 inpatient bed Medical Rehabilitation Center, room for the remaining 63 long-term care beds, the "Main Street" corridor to connect the entire facility, as well as the interior construction/renovation of the administrative bank, therapy areas and main dining room.

When work is complete, the facility will operate on a single level on space currently occupied by the to-be-demolished five-story hospital building - it's the victim of having rooms that are too small and a layout that's inadequate for modern health care. The entire project consists of construction of approximately 169,310 square feet of new patient/resident/client care facilities and renovation of an additional 47,630 of existing square feet.

INSTALLING TEMPORARY steam lines in a corridor at the HealthSource Saginaw facility is Andre Alexander of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85, working for Remer Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc.

REMER, a steadfast union contractor, is in its 50th year. One of its service trucks is shown outside the new HealthSource building.

BUILT IN THE late 1920s, the original four-story hospital on the HealthSource Saginaw grounds will be demolished.


Kennecott's Eagle Mine wins state's OK

On Dec. 14, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved three principal environmental permits that will allow the construction of the Kennecott Eagle nickel and copper mine.

The decision came after a lengthy and somewhat controversial public hearings process, in which over 3,500 public comments were received. Many individuals and groups - most noteably, the Natural Wildlife Federation - expressed concerns about the mine's impact on the natural environment. DEQ officials, however, said plans for the mine met the standards set by Michigan's new and more stringent mining laws, so the permits had to be approved.

Environmental groups are threatening to take the decision to court. The mine is to be located under the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River in northwest Marquette County, not far from Big Bay on the southern Lake Superior coast.

Unless postponed by legal action. construction of an estimated $150 million in support facilities for the mine is currently planned to get underway this year.


Christmas presents given by building trades, contractors

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Building trades workers and contractors displayed a generous spirit this holiday season, volunteering a considerable amount of time, money and materials to help two schools in Southeast Michigan.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, C.A.S.S. Sheetmetal donated a new $42,000 metal gym roof to St. Damian Church and School in Westland, and 20 Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 members donated their time to do the installation.

And in a several day project that began after school let out Dec. 21, several Plumbers Local 98 members donated their time to renovate a boys' bathroom at Holy Trinity Elementary School in Detroit.

"Union members and our contractors show their generous side all the time by doing this kind of volunteer work, without getting recognized for it," said Patrick Devlin, CEO of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, who volunteered time to help with the work at Holy Trinity. "Their work is appreciated, and it just goes to show how union workers and contractors come through time after time for their community."

At St. Damian, maintenance director Timothy Hoste last summer began seeking help with a general letter to area metal roofing businesses, seeking not a handout, but any assistance that could be provided in replacing a badly leaking asphalt shingle roof covering the school's gymnasium. The leaky roof caused numerous basketball games, gym classes and other activities to be cancelled. The existing roof was improperly installed in 2002, and the company that did the work was unavailable to perform repairs because they had gone out of business.

C.A.S.S. Sheetmetal owner Glen Parvin received the letter, and pledged to help with a substantial amount of the project's cost. It took the company a few months to clear out the time to do the work - but the time came in December. Some prep work by C.A.S.S. a couple days ahead of time allowed the full crew to do the work in less than four hours on that Saturday morning.

"Some of the guys came from as far away as Port Huron and Midland," Hoste said. "They were great, and they knew what they were doing. I'm still amazed at how well they worked together. A few people from the church were there to help, too. When they were finished, Glen just told us, 'Merry Christmas, it's free, no cost.' We were very happy. There are very few people who would do that. They did a huge service to our school and our parish."

More than 20 Local 80 C.A.S.S. sheetmetal journeymen donated their time along with about 10 church volunteers, and gave St. Damian their new gym roof. C.A.S.S. Sheetmetal donated all the roof material, trim, and the preparatory labor to get the project underway and in position to support the larger crew that turned out. They installed 6,200 square feet of new metal roof. It was put on in the nick or time, as the area was blanketed with eight inches of snow that night.

Over at Holy Trinity in the Corktown area of Detroit, a handful of Local 98 volunteers gave their time to tear out and replace some 1960s-era urinals in a first-floor boys bathroom.

After nearly 50 years of use by students at the school, the urinals "were trashed," with some of the urinals cracked, said Principal Kathleen McBride. With no money budgeted for repairs, the school asked for help, and got it. Help came from Cougar Contracting, which provided tools to cut the floor, Bill James Mechanical, Mechanical Contractors Association-Detroit, and Local 98.

The new urinals were installed in a week, along with a new wall to hide the new plumbing and new tile to cover the wall and floor.

"These are just great people," McBride said. "It's a lot of work, but it really needed to get done. We're very grateful for everything."

INSIDE A boys' bathroom at Holy Trinity School with the old urinals torn out are (l-r, standing) Principal Kathleen McBride, Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council CEO Patrick Devlin, Aaron Dunn, Jeff Kleimola, Mark P. Teets, Larry Delehant, Local 98 Financial Secretary Treasurer Rich Gaber, Chris Buffa, and (kneeling l-r) Jason Bachman and Mark Little. Also helping but not pictured were Clay Hawthorne of BAC Local 1, Jim and Joe Barnhart and Local 98 BA Mike McIlroy.

THE C.A.S.S. SHEETMETAL and Local 80 crew donated time and materials to put a new metal roof on the gym at St. Damian Parish in Westland.




Local 80's Ingalls accepts IU position

Harold "Tom" Ingalls, 57, business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 for the last 12 years - and serving for 12 years prior to that as local Business Agent - has been appointed International Representative for Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, effective Feb. 1.

Ingalls graduated from the Local 80 apprenticeship school in 1974. He was elected the local's Warden (1978) and SUB Trustee (1982), and then was elected Business Agent in 1984, serving in that capacity until he was elected Business Manager in 1996.

He also currently is serving as first Vice President of the Sheet Metal Workers Great Lakes Council, President of the Michigan State Joint Apprentice Committee and member of Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Board (12 years). He is serving as Trustee on the International Officer Pension Fund and has served on several other International committees through out his tenure as business manager.

As business manager, Tom said he is particularly proud of the apprenticeship orientation seminars he developed in which speakers are brought in to educate graduating apprentices on union history, and the struggles of earlier workers in the trade to obtain the benefits now enjoyed.

Ingalls said he also initiated retirement awareness meetings to explain the steps needed to prepare for retirement. Another source of pride: The expansion of the local's Targeting Fund together with the use of TV ads, rebate programs and the highly successful truck logo program where a uniform Union/SMACNA logo appears on company trucks along with their individual names. He said they all have helped increase man-hours.

"It's been an honor to know that the membership has had the confidence in me to keep me in office for the last 24 years as a BA and as Business Manager," Ingalls said.


News Briefs

'Wrong for Michigan' says anti-RTW effort
A proactive effort to inform and sway Michigan residents about a potential right-to-work law for our state began a few weeks ago with a television and radio ad campaign.

Sponsored by the Union Laborers Community Investment Fund, the goal of the ads is to blunt an effort that's widely anticipated to start on primary Election Day - Jan. 15. Over the last few months, the Michigan AFL-CIO has sponsored a number of meetings informing organized labor communicators and affiliated unions about the anticipated effort to implement a right-to-work law in Michigan.

With the state House and governor's office currently controlled by Democrats, a legislative right-to-work effort has no chance of getting off the ground - in fact, it never got off the ground when the state was under the complete control of GOP Gov. John Engler and a Republican House and Senate.

But with the state's economy in the tank - and conservative pundits pushing the anti-union legislation as an economic cure-all in the state's newspapers just about every week - the National Right-to-Work Committee sees an opening.

One of their publications said last year "that the committee would do everything possible to assist the efforts of right-to-work advocates in Michigan, who are currently in the process of establishing a new state organization dedicated to prohibiting forced union dues and fees."

"Obviously, passing a right-to-work law in Walter Reuther's old stomping ground won't be easy," said Matthew Leen, vice president of the National Right-To-Work Committee. "But we are prepared to give our support to pro-right- to-work Michiganians for as long as it takes them to succeed."

Right-to-work laws basically gut the ability of unions to represent their members by allowing workers to opt out of paying union dues - while still enjoying the benefits of union affiliation. According to the state AFL-CIO, Michigan workers are paid an average of $7,601 more than workers in the average right-to-work state.

In addition, the percentage of people without health care coverage in right-to-work states is almost 33 percent greater than in Michigan. Seventy percent of Michiganians younger than 65 have employer-provided health insurance, compared with only 62 percent in "right-to-work" states.

The national groups behind the right-to-work effort in Michigan aren't known for sure, but it's expected that the money will come from big business groups. In addition to the TV and radio ads, union workers will be going to the polls around the state on Jan. 15 and urge voters not to sign petitions as part of a "decline to sign" campaign.

The unions' anti-right-to-work effort may be premature - no one is sure about the extent of the petition campaign or their specific plans. But organized labor is determined to be on top of the issue - and public education is the first step.

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