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January 23, 2004

'I don't think they care…' Levin assails GOP for not extending jobless benefits

Trades restore Hill Auditorium's lost luster

Granholm signs road worker safety laws

State decides it is better to receive than to give away federal highway money

Big job, big crane at Ford Rouge



'I don't think they care…' Levin assails GOP for not extending jobless benefits

Congressman Sander Levin acknowledged that the agenda for his Jan. 14 visit to the IBEW Local 58 hall in Detroit was a blatant attempt to shame President Bush and Republicans in Congress into extending unemployment benefits.

"When we attempted to have benefits extended in December, Republicans refused to do it," Levin said. "Two of the reasons they used is that the economy is getting better, and that if unemployed workers got the extension, they would be less likely to look for work. I'd like them to visit this hall, and talk to these unemployed workers, and see who wants to work. It's obvious that President Bush and the Republicans in Congress have no idea what it's like to have to survive on unemployment benefits, and I don't think they care."

Congress, which has a majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate, adjourned in December without providing an extension of the federal Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program, which ended Dec. 21.

The extended unemployment insurance program was enacted in March 2002. TEUC provides an additional 13 weeks of federal benefits once a person exhausts his or her 26 weeks of state Unemployment Insurance benefits. Additionally, because of Michigan's high unemployment rate, under the TEUC program unemployed workers who exhaust their 13 weeks of federal benefits qualify for a second round of 13 weeks of benefits.

Furthermore, because the Michigan state legislature adopted an "alternative" state trigger (6.5% or higher unemployment rate), unemployed workers are qualified for a third set of 13 weeks that is paid 50-50 by the federal and state trust funds. But this state law expired at the end of last year.

All state and federal benefits for some 90,000 workers have expired in Michigan, and the construction industry has been hit especially hard. As we mentioned in our last issue, unemployment in some local unions in Michigan ranges from 20 to 33 percent. That was one of the reasons Levin visited IBEW Local 58. He handed out a petition for members to sign and send to the president and members of Congress, asking them to restore another round of jobless benefits.

Local 58 members came to their union hall on Jan. 14 to collect supplemental unemployment pay. But Levin collected comments, names and contact information from about 20 unemployed electricians and pledged to use their comments during a media campaign to nudge Republicans into extending benefits.

Their comments were distressing. "My income has stopped, I have no more unemployment benefits with the exception of SUB pay," said one electrician.

Said another, who refinanced his home so that he would have interest-only payments in an effort to keep his property, "I borrowed gas money from my mom to get here," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

Added another, "I don't understand why we're sending billions over to Iraq, when we've got so many people suffering here."

Several workers pointed out that unemployment compensation only covers a quarter of their income, and one electrician found it ironic that once they can no longer collect jobless benefits, they are statistically no longer considered unemployed by the federal government. "That makes the numbers look better during an election year," he said.

Jim Deluca, IBEW 58's Political Action Committee co-chairman, said it would be bad enough if the Great Lakes area was the only place in the nation without work - "but there just aren't any jobs to travel to anywhere in the country," he said.

Levin said his campaign is directed at changing the hearts and minds of Republican members of Congress. "Don't waste your time contacting the Democrats," he said. "They're already with the program. I can't imagine why people would want to vote for President Bush and Republicans in Congress when they treat working people this way."


Trades restore Hill Auditorium's lost luster

By Marty Mulcahy

ANN ARBOR - A 20-month renovation project by the building trades and the Christman Co. has restored Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus to its original grandeur.

Designed by famed architect Albert Kahn and completed in 1913, the four-story Hill has undergone only one major renovation over the years, in 1949, which did more harm than good to the interior by whitewashing some of the original paint scheme and changing other architectural details.

"The renovation exceeded our expectations," said Eric Hill, vice president of Albert Kahn Associates, successor to the original Kahn firm which served as project architect for the renovation. "We appreciate the fine craftsmanship of the building trades people who worked on this project."

The University of Michigan showed off the $40 million renovation project at Hill Auditorium with a Jan. 8 open house. There were scant traces of the extensive construction activity that had taken place, which included a shelling of the interior and much exterior and underground work, too.

"The University and the community treasure Hill Auditorium, the site of so many memorable performances and rites of passage," U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said. "This project preserves the best of the original, conserves the building for the future and brightens this jewel of our cultural assets. I extend a most heartfelt invitation to the campus, and to the community, to join in celebrating this grand new chapter in the history of Hill."

Modernization work at the Hill has included:

  • The addition of noise dampers and sealed doors to keep outside noise out of the auditorium. An inner lobby was added on the first level. With the introduction of the building's first air conditioning system, mechanical ventilation equipment was moved from the basement to an addition on the north side of the building to further quiet the auditorium.
  • To improve barrier-free access, the building trades installed two new elevators, and seating for wheelchairs was increased from six to 38 spots. The alterations, including the new lobby, reduced the house capacity from 4,169 to 3,710.
  • A sprinkler system and fire alarm system were installed, as were audiovisual systems, and the trades replaced performance lighting, house lighting, power and communications systems.
  • The organ display pipes at the back of the stage have been restored to the gold bronze color of their first installation.

THE ORIGINAL WARM colors of the parabolic-shaped stage at the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium were restored during this renovation. (U-M photo)

PAINTER Scott Kayser applies glazing atop gold leaf on the ceiling of the Hill Auditorium's lobby.

PULLING LIGHTING WIRE just below the Hill's stage are IBEW Local 252 electricians Rick Whitehead, Ryan Husse, Ron Nance, Russ Hammon and Andy Summers.


Granholm signs road worker safety laws

LANSING - Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Jan. 9 signed a legislative package that is designed to strengthen road worker safety laws.

Granholm signed into law House Bill 5089, which gives a clearer definition of "work zone" in existing laws to help distinguish accidents from felony driving incidents. Under the new law, a work zone begins with a "Work Zone Begins" sign in a road construction area and ends with "End Road Work" sign.

For work involving more than one moving vehicle, the work zone will begin with a "Begin Work Convoy" sign and end with an "End Work Convoy" sign. The new law also clearly defines work zones involving vehicles with rotating beacons or strobe lights.

In addition, House Bill 5173, which Granholm also signed, makes changes to penalties for traffic accidents that occur in highway work zones, adding as many as three points to the person's permanent driving record if convicted of killing or injuring a highway worker.

Granholm said the aim of the new law, combining the fines for speeding though a construction zone with points on the driver's record, is to compel drivers to slow down while traveling through a highway work zone.

The legislation was introduced in response to an Aug. 9, 2002, traffic accident on I-94 near Joy Road in Macomb County. A driver traveling at nearly 80 miles per hour through a highway work zone hit and killed one road construction worker while seriously injuring another. The driver was acquitted of all charges in part, prosecutors say, because Michigan's highway work zone safety laws lacked a clear definition of work zone.


State decides it is better to receive than to give away federal highway money

LANSING - Michigan needs to spend an additional $700 million a year on its highway system to improve road and bridge conditions, expand key routes to relieve traffic congestion and improve critical highway links to support economic growth, according to a report released this month by a national nonprofit transportation research group.

The problem is, Michigan expects to spend $34 billion on major roads, highway and bridges between 2003 and 2025 under current state and federal revenue projections, while the estimated need during this time period is $50 billion.

A report by the Road Information Program (TRIP) said Michigan has historically been a "donor" state for transportation funding, sending more money to Washington than it receives back to pay for roads and bridges in other states. The state currently ranks 47th in the nation in terms of rate of return for highway funding, getting back 88 cents for every dollar contributed.

"It's crucial that Michigan's members of Congress bring back more money for Michigan," said Rich Studley, vice president of government affairs, Michigan Chamber of Commerce. "Michigan is losing millions of dollars for every month that goes by without a long-term federal transportation bill in place. Our message to them is simple: Don't come home without a long-term bill with greater equity for donor states, and get the job done by February 29."

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) - a key source of transportation funding - expires Feb. 29, 2004. Proposals for a new six-year federal surface transportation program range from a small increase in funding to increases for Michigan of more than 50 percent per year.

In 2002, approximately 17 percent of Michigan's major roads were rated in poor condition and are in need of resurfacing or reconstruction. In contrast, 12 percent of the nation's major roads are in poor condition. The percentage of major roads in Michigan that are in poor condition is 42 percent higher than percentages of major roads nationally that are in poor condition.

Additional vehicle operating costs borne by Michigan motorists as a result of poor road conditions is $2.2 billion annually, or $318 per motorist.

The Michigan Transportation Team (MTT) is a coalition of more than 70 public and private organizations fighting to strengthen Michigan's transportation infrastructure through lobbying and getting the word out.

"For every $100 million invested in road and bridge construction, 4,200 jobs are created," said John Hamilton, business manager of Operating Engineers Local 324 and MTT co-chair. "Michigan's members of Congress need to fight for more funding because Michigan badly needs the jobs created by highway and bridge construction. I can't think of a better way to help an ailing economy than by creating jobs and improving our nation's transportation system."


Big job, big crane at Ford Rouge

By Marty Mulcahy

The installation of a utility trestle in a hard-to-reach area at the Ford Rouge plant brings to mind a tune that's on a popular children's construction video - "if you've got a big job, you'd better get a big machine."

General contractor Walbridge-Aldinger and steel erector Midwest Steel decided to do just that last month, when they employed a Manitowac 2250 "Maxer" on a project that involved lifting sections of a utility trestle above the roof of the Dearborn Engine Plant inside the Ford Rouge complex. The "Maxer" was fitted out with 280 feet of main boom and 240 feet of jib for a total of 520 feet.

"That would easily be the tallest crane I've ever worked with," said the crane's operator, Dennis Lamb, a 35-year member of Local 324. Said Walbridge Project Manager Henry Werner, "I've never heard of any cranes around here that are bigger."

At first, the trestle sections above the engine plant were lowered into place by a helicopter, but that set-up proved cost-prohibitive. So for several weeks, general contractor Walbridge-Aldinger and steel erector Midwest Steel opted to employ the Maxer to lift the steel trestle sections, which were assembled on the ground and averaged about 15 tons.

For safety sake, the sections were placed when the Dearborn Engine Plant was in its normal December shutdown phase, and the south side of the plant underneath the area where the work was taking place was closed for another week.

When it comes to operating a 50-story crane, Lamb said the boom tends to drift more than on a shorter crane, and on a heavy lift, the extra weight of the cable can tighten up the boom, "deflecting" it, which means the operator has to compensate for the extra movement. "I guess you just have to pay a little closer attention to what you're doing," he said with a laugh.

It took 20 semi-trucks to deliver, and then remove the crane after it had done its job, said Walbridge Project Supt. Bob King.

When the installation of the remainder of the entire two-mile-long trestle is complete at the end of this year, it will allow buried utility lines like electric, water, compressed air and natural gas service to be brought above-ground, to make the process of servicing them safer and more efficient. The pipes and wires on the trestle will service the entire 1,100-acre Rouge complex's 1.7 million square-feet of buildings.

Werner said coordinating the efforts of the construction contractors and workers with the occupants of those buildings is the biggest challenge on this project. The trestle moves over or around the Ford Rouge's engine plant, frame plant, tool and die works, stamping, paint, assembly and other facilities - and the contractors and managers at those plants need to know what each other are doing, and when they're doing it, in order to make the environment as safe as possible.

"Midwest Steel and the tradespeople have done a nice job for us here," Werner said.

The installation of the trestle is a small but vital part of the $2 billion Ford Heritage Project, which is transforming Henry Ford's original sprawling manufacturing center, which opened in 1917, into a modern, efficient, ecologically-friendly place to build cars and trucks

There are no records that we know of record crane lengths, but there was at least one longer in Michigan history. In August 2002, we noted that a Manitowac 21,000 employed a 640-foot boom at DTE Energy's Monroe Power Plant, which was said to be one of the seven longest crane set-ups in the world at the time.

THIS "MAXER" crane rises more than five stories at the Ford Rouge plant.



Race to the bottom extends below Mexico
TOLEDO, Ohio (PAI) - Shouldn't we have expected this?
Faced with their jobs being sent from Mexico to China, the 10,000 union workers at Volkswagen's plant in Puebla, Mexico, plan a worldwide meeting - and possible strike - of VW workers, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) says.

The Toledo Union Journal reports Kaptur told UAW retirees in mid-December that many Mexican autoworkers who got jobs due to NAFTA are paid $25 daily "but they're scared their companies will downsize them because they're getting paid too much."

Chinese workers with similar jobs earn 20 cents an hour. The Mexican VW union, which is independent, wants a worldwide meeting of VW workers to plan their next moves to counter the trend of moving to lowest-cost nations.

Jobless rate ends 2003 at 5.7 percent
WASHINGTON (PAI)- The nation's unemployment rate ended 2003 at a December figure of 5.7 percent, with 8.398 million people out of work, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

The figures continued the high-unemployment trend seen since the George W. Bush took over the Oval Office. As of December, the number of additional jobless during his reign totaled 2.442 million.

The number of unemployed in January 2001 - the last data gathered under President Clinton - was 5.956 million and the adjusted jobless rate that month was 4 percent.

The number of unemployed dropped in December, in good part to a huge one-month decline in total numbers of people in the workforce. BLS said 309,000 people left the labor force in December. Of those, 255,000 disappeared from the jobless rolls and 54,000 disappeared from employment rolls.

Many of them became "discouraged" and aren't seeking work, or have accepted part-time work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in reality, 9.6 percent of the U.S. workforce is jobless, discouraged or forced to toil involuntarily part-time when they really want full-time work.

And 23.5 percent of jobless workers have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks, meaning that for many, their benefits have run out. Those people are left without any income because the GOP-run Congress refused to extend federal jobless benefits, which ended Dec. 31.

Detroit does well in union density
A study on urban sprawl looked at construction union density in several cities, and Detroit turned up in the top five.

Chicago led all U.S. cities in construction union density, at 49.5 percent of the market, followed by Milwaukee (45.7 percent), New York (34.4 percent), Detroit (31.1 percent) and Philadelphia (30.8 percent).

Detroit, the study said, was unique in that it maintained its relatively high level of density despite being the only city of those five that is in a "sprawl" area, where there is a lot of urban growth and work available beyond its borders.

Dallas (4.2 percent construction union density) was at the bottom of the list, and also had a high level of urban sprawl.

"There is a strong suggestion that sprawl creates conditions that are not conducive to the ability of construction workers to gain union representation," the report concluded, which was prepared by Good Jobs First, a labor-backed economics institute.


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