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January 21, 2005

22 Michigan Hardhats die on the job in 2004

Trades get workout at Detroit YMCA

Conservative 'working class movement' wins over voters abandoned by Dems

Safety strongly stressed before sewer project starts

Smaller increases for construction wages, benefits

Lost and found: Interlaken shipwreck found by plumber father and pilot son

Meet MITA: merged group represents heavy construction

News Briefs


22 Michigan Hardhats die on the job in 2004

There were 22 construction worker fatalities in Michigan in 2004 - two less than in 2003 but about average comparing year-by-year deaths over the last decade.

The highest number of fatalities in recent years was 37 Hardhats who died on the job in 1997. In the 1960s, before MIOSHA was instituted, an average of 44 Michigan construction workers were killed on the job every year.

Worker fatalities both in general industry and construction have dropped over the years - but construction deaths have gone down at a slower pace. Fifteen years ago, deaths in the construction industry represented 40 percent of all on-the-job fatalities in Michigan. Last year, more than 50 percent - 22 out of the 42 worker deaths in all industries - were in construction.

"That percentage has inched up over the years," said MIOSHA Construction Safety and Health Division Chief Rick Mee. "With construction representing only 4 or 5 percent of the workforce, those numbers are unacceptable."

Of the 22 Michigan construction workers killed on the job in 2004, 10 were from falls, which typically is a leading cause of fatalities. Seven victims were in the "caught-by" category, three were from electrocutions and two were "struck-by."

"We have typically seen electrocution fatalities as numerous as falls, but that electrocution component has gone down somewhat over the past few years," Mee said. "That's a welcome trend, and it appears to be continuing."

On-the-job injury statistics for construction and other industries for 2004 won't be completed until May, said Laurie Lorish, a MIOSHA departmental analyst. But she said job injuries that have resulted in days lost or worker restrictions "have showed a consistent downward trend" in recent years.


Trades get workout at Detroit YMCA

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

When it opens in early December, no doubt it will be fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A in downtown Detroit.

But until then, there's a lot of work to be done for the building trades and construction manager Barton-Malow. They're on a fast track to complete the four-story, 100,000-square-foot facility. About 60 Hardhats are toiling on the downtown project, working in a mostly enclosed building with the elevated People Mover running through the site, and surrounded by traffic and pedestrians on ground that's been alternately frozen and mucky.

Despite the adverse conditions, "we're doing great, things are ahead of schedule," said Barton-Malow Project Manager Loren Luedeman. "The contractors have done a great job and we've had a lot of support from the building trades."

The new $30 million Y at Broadway and John R will have much to offer. A feasibility study conducted in the early planning stages helped determine the features to best meet the community's needs. The result: beyond the fitness center, the building will include a performing arts theater, arts and humanities center/studio, sports arena, child care/family resource center and a natatorium, with lap lanes, a whirlpool and family play areas.

"Every great city deserves a great YMCA," said YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit President and CEO Reid Thebault. "And this YMCA will be one of the best in the country, serving as a gathering place where all are welcome."

The new Y is being erected on a former parking lot. Aside from buried rubble and some old brick foundations, excavators found little of interest when preparing the footings. A problematic leaky water main under the site was eventually repaired.

This will be downtown Detroit's first new YMCA in 90 years. The old YMCA at Adams and Witherell was torn down about seven years ago for the construction of nearby Comerica Park.

The new YMCA is being wedged into place, going right up to the property lines on two sides and never far from active thoroughfares. The presence of the People Mover restricts the use of cranes and the movement of goods.

"Probably the biggest challenge we've had is that the site is cramped and arranging material delivery, and storing materials is difficult," said Sacharissa Suthers, project engineer for Barton Malow. "But we have good people here, we're a good team."

ON THE RISE to work on a bank of ductwork at the Detroit YMCA is Jason Steinbrink of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 and Dee Cramer.

A RENDERING OF the completed Detroit "Y".



Conservative 'working class movement' wins over voters abandoned by Dems

Editor's note: Here's another in series examining the challenges organized labor faces as it contemplates historic changes to reinvigorate itself.

By Barbara Kucera and Michael Kuchta
Workday Minnesota and the St. Paul Union Advocate

ST. PAUL, Minn. (PAI) - The real divide in the United States is not between so-called "Red" and "Blue" states, but between the wealthy corporations who control our lives and the rest of us, author Thomas Frank says.

Frank, who wrote the best-seller "What's the Matter with Kansas?" was the featured speaker at the annual Jobs Now Coalition meeting on Dec. 9 in St. Paul. He also was one of five recipients of its "Working Class Hero" award.

Frank dissected the way wealthy corporations use a conservative social message to advance their economic agenda, causing people to vote against their own economic self-interests. "Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends," he asserted.

The Republican Party and the Right Wing have very effectively used issues like abortion, gay rights and prayer in the schools to capitalize on people's frustrations and turn them out to support GOP candidates, Frank said.

At the same time, the GOP and its allies are silent on economic issues, like the impact on the middle class and workers of George W. Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

This cynical approach is all about winning elections and advancing a pro-corporate economic agenda, Frank said. "It'll never bring prayer back to the public schools but it has managed to roll back the economic reforms of the 1960s and the New Deal," he pointed out.

But the GOP also stepped through a door Democrats left open for them, Frank added. He explained the Democrats no longer make workers' issues a priority. Instead, they try to make themselves "safe for corporate campaign contributions."

By abandoning working- and middle-class families in that way, Frank said, the Democrats let the GOP and its right wing allies to charge in and appeal to those voters on social issues, while ignoring those voters' economic concerns in favor of a pro-corporate agenda.

The result is that "It's as if what people want is more power to General Electric and Citibank... It's a working-class movement" created by the GOP and Radical Right "that has done irreparable harm to the working class."

Frank also noted the cultural "decline" the GOP decries still remains to upset the voters it courts. But emphasizing such social issues "is a way of thinking about class that is not based on wealth. It stands the traditional notion of class on its head," he explained.

Frank challenged progressive organizations to expose the "fake populism" of the Right and talk about the hidden corporate agenda. "Today the U.S. has achieved levels of wealth inequality unique among industrialized nations and (levels that) we haven't seen in the United States since the 1920s," he said.

In 1980, the average American CEO made about 40 times the salary of the average worker, Frank noted. Today, CEOs take home more than 500 times what their workers earn.


Safety strongly stressed before sewer project starts

Worker safety will be Job One as the building trades and general contractor Walbridge-Aldinger prepare to build the largest sinking caisson in the world.

The $34 million project, which will begin early this year in the City of Dearborn near Rotunda Drive, is designed to alleviate combined sewer overflows (CSO) in the area after heavy rainfalls.

Perhaps like no other large project in the state's history, safety is being integrated into the core of this job. Representative of building trades unions, Walbridge, its subcontractors, MIOSHA and its parent, the Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG), all signed on to the enhanced safety plan at a meeting on Jan. 12.

Plans call for Walbridge to implement a process to audit the job for safety and involve the partnering of subcontractors in developing and implementing corrective measures. Walbridge will report all incidents and accidents to MIOSHA and will provide monthly safety reports. MIOSHA will conduct compliance inspections and job-site surveys on pre-determined serious hazard issues.

"Walbridge Aldinger in one of Michigan's 'Economic All Stars' and is a true worldwide leader in the construction industry," said state DLEG Director David C. Hollister. "This is an historic agreement not only because of the enormity of this project, but the scope of the partners signing on. Whether you are labor or management, public or private sector - this agreement says we are all on the same team that makes worker safety priority number one. This is collaboration at its best and hopefully the first of many of its kind in Michigan's construction industry."

The project involves the construction of a 350-foot concrete pre-cast diversion channel, and the construction of a 151-foot-diameter sinking caisson that will create a CSO structure. The caisson will be sunk approximately 110 feet into sandy soil and bedrock. By the completion of the project more than 500 trades people will have contributed on various phases of the project

"We're glad that MIOSHA and companies like Walbridge-Adinger recognize there is nothing more important in our business than making sure construction workers spend a safe day at work so they can go home to their family," said Patrick Devlin, Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council. "Intensive planning for safety before a construction project begins is something we'd like to see more often."

Added Council President John Hamilton, who is also Business Manager of Operating Engineers Local 324: "This is a dangerous business, but construction projects can be made safer when there's proper planning."

The 30-month sinking caisson project will be built in stages atop a level work surface constructed of two feet of stone and a railroad tie "launch pad." The initial stage will be seven-foot thick by 14-feet high concrete "cutting edge shoe" consisting of circular steel and a tapered, beveled wall.

The caisson is "launched" into the ground by removing railroad ties. Subsequent concrete pours force the caisson to sink under its own weight until it hits bedrock.

"We share a common vision with our partners to be committed to providing all trades people and subcontractors a healthful and safe workplace and to demonstrate leadership, responsibility and accountability in furthering worker health and safety at all levels," said Walbridge Chairman and CEO John Rakolta, Jr. "The active integration of the safety and health program, along with this partnership with the trade unions, subcontractors, and MIOSHA will endorse the ultimate goal of zero injuries. It is key that the design, through construction with safety polices and procedures, support the quality of life on this project by ensuring that everyone goes home the way that they came to work."


Smaller increases for construction wages, benefits

Construction collective bargaining agreement increases in the U.S. in 2004 averaged 1.36 per hour, or 3.8 percent for the first year, according to the Construction Labor Research Council.

That increase was significantly lower than wage and benefit increases in 2003, which amounted to 1.42 per hour or 4.3 percent in the first year. And this is in an industry whose leaders acknowledge that construction wage and benefit levels are too low and have not kept up with inflation.

The CLRC via the Construction Labor Report, said second- and third-year wage and benefit levels - at 3.8 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively - have changed little over the last six years.

The national hourly wage and benefit package for all union building trades workers in the U.S. is $38.07 per hour, the CLRC said.


Lost and found: Interlaken shipwreck found by plumber father and pilot son

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

MUSKEGON - The shifting sands on the bottom of Lake Michigan moved aside long enough in September 2003 for Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Service Trades Local 174 member Doug Freye and his son Jonathon to make a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

Flying on a clear day, Doug was in the back seat of a Piper Warrior piloted by Jonathon, then a 16-year-old student pilot, along with his flying instructor Mike Jensen. They spotted a long, dark object below the surface of the clear Lake Michigan water, about 400 feet off shore. A shipwreck perhaps?

A few hours after spotting the object from 2,000 feet in the air and noting the location with GPS, Doug and Jonathon took their boat out for a closer inspection. Peering down through a scuba mask from the lake surface, they confirmed they were looking at a shipwreck. As licensed scuba divers, both Jonathon and his dad were uniquely qualified to investigate.

A few days later, they dove on the hulk, resting on its side in 20 to 30 feet of water. They took a few measurements, and with some old newspaper, library and Internet research by Doug's wife Melissa, determined that they had found the Interlaken, a 170-foot vessel that sank just north of Whitehall in 1934. The whereabouts of the sunken ship were unknown - or at least forgotten - until the aerial discovery.

Freye said. "I couldn't wait to get down there to see what history is going to let you take a look at."

Added Jonathon: "After seeing it from the air, and then diving on it, and then knowing you're the first people to see the ship after all these years - that's really something."

The Muskegon Chronicle made the discovery of the shipwreck front-page news on Dec. 15. Research by the Freyes found that the two-masted Interlaken was built as a schooner in 1893 in Algonac. It was owned and operated by A.W. Comstock of Alpena and sailed the Great Lakes moving shingles and lumber. The schooner was converted into a barge in 1913.

The Chronicle said one reference had the vessel being used as a construction platform during the building of the North Manitou Shoals Lighthouse.

On Oct. 4, 1934, the Interlaken and a flat scow were being towed to White Lake for the winter when the tugboat ran out of coal about four miles north of the White Lake Channel. The tugboat made it through heavy seas into port, but the Interlaken sank with four crewmen aboard, who were saved by a Coast Guard rescue party. The barge, the scow and their cargoes were valued at $75,000. The Freyes believed the scow washed ashore. An attempt by the owner to salvage the Interlaken failed.

Doug and Jonathon have dived on the wreck several times. Depending on the shifting sands at the bottom of the lake, Doug Freye said they have spotted the ship's retractable center-board keel, wood-block pullies, a small boiler and a great deal of chain. "The sand on the bottom changes what you see all the time," he said. The hold is filled with sand, he added.

Even before publication of the Muskegon Chronicle article, word had gotten out in the local dive community about the wreck. "People are watching you from the shore with binoculars, and the dive shop is wondering why you're going out more often," Doug Freye said. "It's hard to keep any secrets."

A union member since 1977, Doug Freye works for Pressures and Pipes Mechanical, and is currently working at Hackley Hospital in Muskgeon. Doug said he enjoys flying with his only child, and even though flying lessons aren't inexpensive, he and Melissa are trying to help Jonathon along in his career path.

"I'm proud of my son," Doug said. "He's skilled as a pilot and focused on a career in aviation. He could fly before he could drive a car."

Jonathon, now 17, is a senior at Muskegon Catholic Central. He is now a licensed pilot and plans on studying in an aviation program at Western Michigan University this fall for the purpose of becoming a commercial pilot.

Having spotted the Interlaken from the air and being the first to dive on it since it sank, Doug said he and his son feel a connection with the lost ship.

"Having been there when it was discovered it, and then being the first to dive on it, you do feel a sense of ownership," Doug Freye acknowleged.

State law forbids removal of any artifacts from shipwreck sites. But Doug Freye figures some items will eventually go missing by light-fingered divers. His hope is that the state will allow a few artifacts to be taken up and put on display in a local museum. "I'd love to find an anchor or something substantial that we can salvage and put it in a museum," he said. "Hopefully the state DNR will allow that at some point."

PILOTING A PIPER WARRIOR, Jonathon Freye, above, and his dad Doug Freye of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters & Service Trades Local 174, spotted the previously undiscovered ship "Interlaken." They then dove on the shipwreck, whose whereabouts had been unknown since 1934.

The Interlaken, in an undated photo. After being converted to a barge, it sunk in Lake Michigan in 1934. Photo: Bowling Green State University


Meet MITA: merged group represents heavy construction

LANSING - The membership of Associated Underground Contractors - Michigan's Heavy Construction Association (AUC) and the Michigan Road Builders Association (MRBA) have approved a merger to form the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA).

The groups said the merger, one of the first of its kind in the nation, strengthens the industry's lobbying clout and creates a strong voice for transportation and infrastructure-related issues in Michigan. Both groups represent contractor-members who are significant employers of building trades workers.

"AUC and MRBA have long shared the common goal of creating a world-class transportation and infrastructure system in Michigan," said AUC President Steve Jackson of Jackson-Merkey Contractors, Inc., of Muskegon. "As the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, we will bring our considerable talents and expertise together to make our vision a reality."

MITA officials said the new group would immediately focus on:

  • Ensuring Michigan receives an equitable share of increased funding to come from the reauthorization of the federal highway bill, which expires on May 31, 2005.
  • Securing adequate and increased levels of state transportation funding.
  • Making sure communities use Michigan's existing $1 billion bond program to repair and replace municipal sewer systems. Voters approved the program in 2002, but only $1.5 million of the revolving loan program has been spent to date.

The goal of AUC and MRBA leadership is to establish one authoritative source of expertise on infrastructure and transportation issues. MITA was officially unveiled at the First Annual Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association Conference held Jan. 13-14 at the Soaring Eagle Resort in Mt. Pleasant.

Since 1950, AUC - Michigan's Heavy Construction Association has represented more than 500 members across Michigan, including those companies involved in underground construction, road and bridge building, and various specialty trades.

Since 1928 the MRBA has represented the interests of road construction companies, support service firms and suppliers.

Board members chose to include infrastructure in the new organization's name because of the importance these industries play in Michigan's overall economy. Both AUC and MRBA have also been integral members of Michigan's Transportation Team - the coalition dedicated to bringing Michigan's fair share of federal funding back to the state.

"Investment in infrastructure and transportation projects will remain a key topic in the critical budget debate in the upcoming legislative session and beyond," said Robert Patzer, MITA executive vice-president. "This reorganization puts us in a strong position to make sure our members not only have a seat at the table in these discussions, but that we will continue to lead the effort of identifying solutions to the challenges we face."


News Briefs
China gains as U.S. loses jobs

The U.S. lost 1.5 million jobs to China between 1989 and 2003, the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute said in a report released this month.

"Most of those lost opportunities were in the high-wage and job-hemorrhaging manufacturing sector," the EPI said. "The number of job opportunities lost each year grew rapidly during the 1990s, and accelerated after China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001."

The study said where the largest impact for job losses was once felt in labor-intensive, lower-tech manufacturing industries such as apparel and shoes, the fastest growth in job displacement is now occurring in highly skilled and advanced technology areas once considered relatively immune, such as electronics, computers, and communications equipment.

The EPI said the loss of job-supporting production due to growing trade deficits with China has more than doubled since it entered the WTO in 2001. The 1.5 million job opportunities lost are distributed among all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with the biggest losers, in numeric terms, being California (-81,800), Texas (-36,700), New York (-35,200), Pennsylvania (-26,700), Illinois (-25,700), North Carolina (-24,400), Florida (-22,900), Ohio (-21,200), Michigan (-19,800), and Massachusetts (-18,700).

The report also said that China's exports to the United States of electronics, computers, and communications equipment, along with other products that use more highly skilled labor and advanced technologies, are growing much faster than its exports of low-value, labor-intensive items such as apparel, shoes, and plastic products.

In addition, China is also rapidly gaining advantage in more advanced industries such as autos and aerospace products.

"The assumptions we built our trade relationship with China on have proved to be a house of cards," said EPI senior international trade economist Robert Scott. "Everyone knew we would lose jobs in labor-intensive industries like textiles and apparel, but we thought we could hold our own in the capital-intensive, high-tech arena."

Alliance set for MIOSHA, Mi-AGC
MIOSHA and the Michigan Chapter Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America last month announced the renewal of a strategic alliance to protect the health and safety of Michigan's construction workers.

The key goals of this alliance include: promoting enhanced awareness of worker safety and health to AGC members; promote worker safety through education and training opportunities at job sites; promoting increased implementation of accident prevention programs at members' sites; and promoting regular and unscheduled CET safety and health hazard surveys.

While participation by individual employers is voluntary, MIOSHA anticipates that contractors, who embrace the goals of the partnership and who strive to provide a safe and healthy workplace, will experience a decrease in workplace accidents and illnesses, and a decrease in workers' compensation costs.

"By combining our resources, Michigan AGC and MIOSHA can have a significant impact on safety and health prevention efforts at construction worksites," said MIOSHA Director Kalinowski. "This strategic alliance will give Michigan AGC's contractors the necessary tools to protect their workers and commit to safe and healthy work practices."


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