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January 18, 2002

Jobless workers, rights of voters are maligned in Michigan

Trades appeal for help to ease nonunion grip on Borgess Medical Center

Muddy Rochester village takes shape

Union skills expand Wal-Mart

State's construction fatality rate up, but injury rate is trending lower

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Jobless workers, rights of voters are maligned in Michigan

By Tim Hughes
Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Director

LANSING - Partisan politics hit the fan in the closing days of the 2001 legislative session as Republican lawmakers and the Governor attacked voting rights and Democratic campaign sources. And, the Senate failed to take action on raising unemployment benefits. Here's how the deal went down.

Straight Party Voting - Michigan voters have had the option of voting a
straight-party ticket for more than 100 years. But not any more, under the
terms of SB 173. Touted as election "reform" by Republicans, the bill was
a thinly disguised attempt to suppress the vote among Democratic
constituencies, particularly African-American and Latino voters in urban
areas.

The Michigan Association of County Clerks (an organization dominated by
elected Republican clerks) voted almost unanimously against the proposal,
calling it "bad public policy." The clerks told a Senate Committee that the
bill would increase voting time, create longer lines at polling places,
discourage and reduce voter participation, make it more difficult for senior
citizens to cast their ballots and result in a fall-off of voting on the
non-partisan portion of the ballot.

The bill was passed on (what else?) a straight party vote in the House, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. In the Senate, Republican Mike Goschka of Saginaw joined with Democrats against the bill. The bill is now on the governor's desk, where he is expected to sign it.

Unemployment Insurance benefit raise fails in Senate - Efforts to force a bill out of committee that would have raised the maximum unemployment benefit failed in the Senate on a largely party-line vote.

Republicans Mike Goschka of Brant and Joe Schwarz of Battle Creek joined with a solid Democratic caucus in trying to discharge SB 923 from the Human Resources and Labor Committee.

The bill would boost the state's maximum unemployment benefit, which has
been frozen since 1995 at $300 a week, to 58% of the state's average weekly
wage. The bill would raise the current maximum by $114.39 a week.

Bill sponsor Sen. Alma Wheeler-Smith (D-Salem Township), said it was
"unconscionable" that benefits had been capped at $300 a week for six years
while businesses have received six consecutive UI tax cuts because of the
huge surplus in the UI Trust Fund that pays benefits. Business groups have
conditioned their support of a benefit increase on the establishment of a so-called "waiting week," which would actually cut benefits for most unemployed
workers.

Prevailing wage footnote: The state's most important law that affects construction workers - the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act - "seems to be in good shape," Hughes said.

There is nearly always a bill on the Republican agenda to repeal the prevailing wage act, and at the end of 2001, there was such a bill on the books that never went anywhere during the year. Even with total Republican control in Lansing, there has not been a vote on repealing prevailing wage - because, Hughes said, there still aren't enough votes.

"The vote would be very close in the Senate, but there are still half a dozen Republicans who won't support it in the House," Hughes said.

Legislation to outlaw living wage ordinances in local communities has also been unsuccessful, Hughes said, in good part because the bill has been written so broadly that there is an effective argument that it could also be used to repeal prevailing wage. Local lawmakers that establish living wage laws require employers who have businesses in those communities to pay their employees a base amount higher than minimum wage, as a "living wage."

Moreover, Hughes said Republican moves to exempt or separate prevailing wage in order to try and repeal living wage have been quashed by ultra-conservative Republicans in Lansing. Hughes said they are apparently of the opinion that exempting prevailing wage adds legitimacy to the law - something that they are not willing to give.

Reduced campaign dollars - Republicans rammed through on the closing days of last year's session SB 759, a bill that places limits on a campaign contribution practice known as bundling.

Groups that support causes solicit direct contributions from their members for candidates who support their causes, and then send those checks to the endorsed candidates.

Passed by the Republican-controlled House on a party-line vote, the legislation would subject groups like Emily's List and similar organizations to a $34,000 contribution limit for bundled contributions in addition to the $34,000 limit on direct contributions that applies to unions, corporations and other organizations.

Emily's List is credited with raising $1 million for Democratic United States Senator Debbie Stabenow in her successful campaign to unseat former Republican Senator Spencer Abraham last year. Both the straight party voting elimination and the bundling restrictions were passed this year so that they could give an edge to the Republicans in the 2002 elections.

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Trades appeal for help to ease nonunion grip on Borgess Medical Center

KALAMAZOO - Underway at Borgess Medical Center is one of the largest construction projects in Western Michigan - but union building trades are expected to make up only 25 percent of the job.

That low percentage of organized labor is an outrage to the Southwest Building Trades Organizers, a group of union representatives who have tried and failed to get more union subcontractors hired on the project. In the past, union contractors have had a good record of securing work at Borgess.

"This job could be a very big source of employment for the union building trades," said Michigan Building Trades Council Business Rep. Terry Strunk. "But the parties involved have not been willing to sit down and talk with us. We want to make certain that Borgess understands where we're coming from, and why we're taking this to our membership."

Borgess Medical Center is a 426-bed hospital, with 1,742 full-time employees. Last year, Borgess announced its intention to undertake the three-year renovation project. Plans are to spend $76.9 million on a three-phase project that will include a new parking structure, consolidation of outpatient diagnostic and treatment services, and miscellaneous campus improvements, including converting most semi-private rooms into private rooms. Work began in July, beginning with the parking structure.

Borgess hired American Village Builders (AVB) of Kalamazoo to manage the project as the general contractor. The firm has had a less-than-stellar record of hiring union, and has set dual union-nonunion gates at the hospital site. Based on the subcontractors listed on the signs at the gate, the project is expected to go about 75 percent nonunion.

"We polled most of our local unions and insurance administrators and found that union building trades members spent $2.5 million for medical care at Borgess, and that was just in 2000," said Southwest Building Trades Organizers President Larry Tolbert of Asbestos Workers Local 47. "We have a good record of work with Borgess, and we think that if our members give that kind of money to the hospital, we deserve a lot more consideration when it comes time to do their work."

Union reps have continually been frustrated in attempting to turn the situation around. Randall Stasik, president and CEO of Borgess Health Alliance, referred inquiries to Eric Buzzell, the executive director, general services and property management at Borgess.

Buzzell's written response to the Southwest Michigan Building Trades Council dated Sept. 26 stated: "To ensure this project is efficiently and effectively managed, Borgess has contracted with AVB Inc. to manage this project. Consistent with their recommendation, Borgess has opened the bidding to qualified local contractors, both union and nonunion, to ensure that a high quality of work is performed at a reasonable cost." Buzzell reaffirmed Borgess' stance in a Nov. 30 letter to Strunk of the building trades.

Union reps have written other letters and made phone calls to the Ascension Health Board of Trustees, a Catholic organization headquartered in St. Louis that serves as the corporate umbrella for Borgess and 37 other health systems. At least one board member was somewhat helpful, but the trustees ultimately have been unwilling to put any pressure on the leadership at Borgess to hire more union contractors.

"Basically, we're at a point where we're appealing to our members who use Borgess Hospital to approach the people in charge at the hospital, and urge them to hire union contractors," Strunk said.

The goal of the Southwest Michigan Building Trades Organizers is to send a message to leaders at Borgess and Ascension Health that their decision to use nonunion contractors has a severe, negative impact on working people who live in the community - people with health care insurance plans made possible by their union affiliation.

Borgess and the building trades unions have enjoyed a good working relationship for decades. The hospital has been built and maintained by fairly paid skilled trades workers who do the job right the first time. The building trades workers who do work at Borgess and on other projects are paid a fair, collectively bargained wage that allows them to earn a decent income, with a pension and health care insurance that covers them into their retirement years.

Shunning union workers on this project will help erode community pay and benefit standards. It will deprive the hospital of a skilled workforce. And the hospital's cold shoulder is likely to garner ill feelings from workers and family members who are quite often patients at the hospital. Borgess may or may not save money in the short term by hiring nonunion workers - but it is likely to cost them in the long run.

If you live in a community served by Borgess Medical Center or one of its satellite facilities, or if you utilize medical services at Borgess, we're providing an opportunity for you to express your feelings about this $76.9 million project that only has a 25 percent union workforce.

If you wish to share your feelings about Borgess' decision to hire a general contractor that is so supportive of nonunion contractors, you can write a letter to the people named below. Feel free to clip out this article and send it along, also.

It's a simple way to get their attention, and we think it will be an effective method to let them know how their decision could affect the long-term health-care provider choices of consumers in the building trades unions.

VIEW OF Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo.

Donald Brennan
President/CEO
Ascension Health Board of Trustees
P.O. Box 45998
4600 Edmundson Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63145

Randall Stasik
Borgess Health Alliance
1521 Gull Rd.
Kalamazoo, MI 49048

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Muddy Rochester village takes shape

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The "Village of Rochester Hills" is coming out of the muck and mire at Adams and Walton roads, and it won't be long before a new streetscape is in place that is part of the latest trend in retail shopping.

Not unlike the Fountain Walk in Novi that we featured last month, the Village of Rochester Hills will be an open air mall with "Main Street" style stores and nearby parking. The mall will have sidewalks, lampposts and architecturally distinctive storefronts to create a downtown look. The village is expected to include 49 stores and 376,000 square-feet of retail space, including anchor stores Parisian and a Farmer Jack Food Emporium. The entire project will cost about $40 million.

The developer said storefronts will share similar building materials, including stone, brick, wood and stucco, and will be "unique, yet complementary."

Mud has dominated the site in recent weeks, and moving it and putting in foundations has recently been the primary job of building trades workers on the site. Jesco Construction Inc. of Mississippi - a typically nonunion contractor that has hired union workers on this project - is in charge of the Parisian store, and Clark Construction is handling the rest of the project, except the Farmer Jack store.

Clark Project Manager John DeBrabander said last month that rain has complicated the construction process, as has the necessity of working around three existing restaurants at the site

"As you can see, there's a little mud out there," DeBrander said in an understatement. "The rains in November set us back a bit. But we're still on course for a grand opening in September 2002."

The project involved demolition of the existing 25-year-old, one-story MeadowBrook Village Mall that had been built on farm land.

"It's going to be a knockout project, said developer Bruce Aikens. "I think it will be a national pacesetter."

OPERATING ENGINEER Jake Pagnani of Local 324 places soil in the back of a tandem trailer at the future Village of Rochester Hills. The building going up in the background is a new Parisian store.


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Union skills expand Wal-Mart

MARQUETTE - The first major expansion of the first Wal-Mart in the Upper Peninsula is going union - mostly.

The vehemently anti-union retailer is in the process of expanding its store along US 41, which will just about double its size to 150,000 square feet. General Contractor Weis Builders of Minneapolis is overseeing the project, which will employ an estimated 100 Hardhats.

"When all is said and done, the store will be built about 90 percent union," said Michigan Building Trades Council U.P. Business Rep. Jack LaSalle. "I guess that's not bad for a Wal-Mart store, but we would like to have seen it 100 percent."

The project will add a 74,000-square-foot "superstore" grocery to its existing department store. Construction began in October and the move-in is expected this fall.

This store is one of 53 Wal-Mart locations in Michigan and among four in the U.P. Over the years, construction unions have had varying degrees of success in securing work on Wal-Mart stores.

AN EXTERIOR block wall at the Wal-Mart store in Marquette goes up with the work of Duane Carlson of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 6.

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State's construction fatality rate up, but injury rate is trending lower

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Fatal accidents involving construction workers in Michigan took another jump up in 2001, as 28 construction workers were killed on the job, according to figures released by the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services (CIS).

That number is a slight improvement over the years of 1997 when there were 34 deaths; 1998 (29 deaths), and 1997 (34 deaths). In 2000, there was a drop to 23 deaths, and hope that a downward trend was beginning, but the fatality numbers rose again.

Top MIOSHA representatives have told contractors that there's better news on the construction injury front, although the 2002 numbers weren't available at press time. The construction injury rate dropped six straight years through 2000, one MIOSHA rep told the Michigan AGC, that "statistical people will tell you that (injury rates are) much more of an indicator of what we're doing in Michigan than fatalities" because fatality rates tend to go up and down in an unpredictable pattern.

In 2000, MIOSHA performed 4,127 inspections on construction sites using 20 field inspectors. At the top of the list of citations were contractors who had inadequate accident prevention programs.

Workers were much less safe on the job before OSHA came into existence in 1970 and MIOSHA was started up in 1974. In the 1960s, an average of 44 construction workers were killed on the job every year.

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NEWS BRIEFS

Bush rescinds responsibility rule
When it comes to presidential executive orders, what Bill Clinton giveth, President Bush can taketh away.

In the Dec. 27 "Federal Register," the Bush Administration cancelled a Clinton Administration rule that barred firms from federal contracts if they had recently violated labor, environmental or other laws.

Clinton instituted the executive order in the waning days of his presidency, and it took effect on Jan. 19, 2001. Clearly, it was an outgoing gesture of friendship by Clinton to labor unions. The federal government issued a stay in the regulations in April.

The AFL-CIO said the regulations were based on the "simple, common-sense proposition that the government should take a company's track record of complying with the law into account before giving that company a federal contract worth millions of dollars." The federation called Bush's action "an outrage."

The rule made it clear that complying with federal labor, consumer, tax, antitrust, workplace safety, environmental and civil rights laws is part of the test for being a "responsible contractor."

Numerous business groups, including the Associated General Contractors, Associated Builders and Contractors, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hailed President Bush's action. Some called the contractor responsibility rule "blacklisting."

636 BA Inmanrunning for commissioner
Building trades workers and their families are urged to vote for Pipe Fitters Local 636 Business Agent Chuck Inman, who is running for Oakland County Commission, 4th District, in a special election.

The primary election will take place on Monday, Jan. 8; but the more important general election will be held Tuesday, Feb. 5. Inman is running on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Republican area, which includes Clarkston and portions of Waterford and Independence Twp.

A 32-year member of Local 636, Inman has been an elected union official for the past 14 years.

"I am proud to be a part of the success my local has accomplished in keeping the membership of our union well informed on our issues," Inman said, "while providing a voice for the working men and women of our local."

If you can help by posting a lawn sign or in any other way, Inman can be paged at (248) 523-1841.

Scholarship available through building trades
A five-year renewable scholarship to attend Western Michigan University is available to current Michigan Building Trades Council-affiliated building trades union members, their spouses or dependents.

The single five-year renewable scholarship is valued at $5,500 per year and can be used to pay for tuition and fees. It is intended for students seeking an undergraduate degree at WMU. Scholarship renewal is based on Western's Satisfactory Academic Progress policy.

One renewable scholarship is awarded per year. As part of the scholarship application process, the applicant must complete a 250-word essay that answers the question, "How will this scholarship help you achieve your goals at WMU?" Applicants will be judged on the basis of the essay and academic history. The member submitting the application must have the form signed by his/her local union business manager.

This is the third year that the scholarship has been awarded. The origin of the scholarship came from the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Michigan Building Trades Council against Western Michigan, which was in violation of the state Prevailing Wage Act.

To obtain a scholarship application and to learn more about the process, contact your local union.

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