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January 24, 2003

Construction fatalities decline in 2002

New HQ for Consumers Energy brings together old and the new

Jobless insurance extended, but a million are left behind

Feds ready to embark on important prevailing wage survey in Michigan

Shedding some light on the auto show

The Gang Box



Construction fatalities decline in 2002

By Marty Mulcahy

LANSING - Construction fatalities in Michigan fell to 24 in 2002 - a welcome drop of four compared to 2001 - according to information compiled by the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services.

Over the last five years, construction worker deaths have ranged from a low of 23 in 2000 to a high of 34 in 1997. And from 1990-1997, an average of nearly 23 Hardhats died on the job.

As is the case in the great majority of years, in 2002, falls were the biggest cause of fatalities, claiming eight lives

"One of the things that our program is focused on is fall protection," said MIOSHA Construction Safety Division Chief Rick Mee. "The biggest single difference we could make in saving lives of construction workers is to get the falls under control."

Mee said state construction safety inspectors write more violations of the state's fall protection standard than for any other transgression.

The year 2002 was typical in that the second-leading cause of death was electrocution, followed by struck-by incidents.

Mee said about 80-90 percent of MIOSHA Construction Safety Division investigations consist of unannounced, "proactive" inspections. He said reactive responses to jobsite accidents tend to take place when employers have already corrected the problem. MIOSHA currently has 16 construction safety inspectors on staff, and will soon be hiring two more.

MIOSHA was started up in 1974, and it has saved lives in the construction industry. In the 1960s, an average of 44 Michigan construction workers were killed on the job every year.


New HQ for Consumers Energy brings together old and the new

By Marty Mulcahy

JACKSON - A mixture of the old and the new awaits some 1,350 Consumers Energy employees as their $70 million new headquarters building nears completion.

The new is a 13-story, 360,000-square-foot office tower that stands as a modern, commanding presence in the east end of the downtown area. The old is an attached 60,000 square-foot post office that was built in 1932, which is being modernized and incorporated into the project.

"We're in the last-minute, panic mode of activity," said a smiling James Legault, project manager for Consumers Energy. The first move into the new headquarters will take place the first of March. Employees of the gas and electric utility will be moving out of four existing locations, including the company's current headquarters in Dearborn.

"Yes, we're making a statement with the building," Legault said of the imposing tower. "But what's most important is this building gives us modern office space at a cost-effective price that will give us infinite flexibility and optimize the space that's used per employee." Granger Construction is acting as construction manager on the project, which is currently employing some 150 building trades workers.

Ground was broken on the new tower in April 2001, 69 years after the Old Main post office opened on the site. Unused for a number of years, the old post office was incorporated into the new project, and will include a conference center, training rooms and a kitchen and cafeteria.

Mike Kissane, Granger's project manager for the post office portion of the project, said the building offered the typical challenges and unknowns of a 70-year-old building renovation: the need to safely remove lead paint, the extent of the asbestos removal, and having to make adjustments when a 10-inch-thick concrete slab is found, rather than the expected 6-inch slab.

He said the old post office offered a pleasant surprise two months ago: underneath the decades-old grime in the lobby was a beautifully painted ceiling, which only needed a few touch-ups. And you'll never guess what they used to wipe off the dirt. "They used bread to clean it," Kissane said, "thousands of loaves of bread."

Before construction began the cleanup for the entire headquarters complex was a little more extensive, and most assuredly didn't involve bread. The "brownfield" location near the Grand River was the site of a number of industrial buildings that were built over the years. When the snow is gone and with some nice landscaping and the erection of parking decks, there will be no trace of what had occupied the 10-acre site.

The office tower's exteriors are curtainwall and precast concrete. The building is a structural concrete frame supported by drilled piers. Inside, adaptability is the name of the game, where space in the building can be easily transformed by ever-changing business and market strategies. It would be easy, for example, to install a call center where none existed.

"Maybe the biggest challenge has been the fast-track, design-build aspect of the project," said Granger's Glenn Simon, the project manager for the main tower. "We started construction before the design was even halfway complete. But things have turned out OK."

Consumers Energy, the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy Corporation, has been headquartered in Jackson since the utility's inception in 1886. It is the nation's fifth-largest natural gas utility and the country's 10th largest electric utility. Consumers Energy provides electric and natural gas service to more than six million of the state's 9.5 million residents in all 68 counties of the Lower Peninsula.

Perhaps appropriately, the utility will be using both natural gas (for heat) and electricity (to run the chillers) to set the climate inside its new headquarters building.

"It's been great working with Granger and the building trades," said Legault. "They haven't missed a major milestone, we've had a safe job, and we're within the budget. As far as the workers go, I would build a building with them anytime. They're that good."

OPERATING A LOADER in front of the new Consumers Energy headquarters building is Tim McCann of Local 324, The low-level building on the left is the 1932 post office that's being renovated as part of the project.

IN THE CHILLER ROOM at the Consumers Energy headquarters building are the plumbers and pipe fitters who helped build it. Working for John E. Green, they are (l-r) foreman Chuck Bunce, Troy Wyatt, Shane Bunce, Blain Lysher, Rob Kenney, Ron Berkshire (all of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333) and Castle Picklesimer (Local 190).


Jobless insurance extended, but a million are left behind

By U.S. Rep. Sander Levin
D-12th District

WASHINGTON - Congressional Republicans left Washington last year without acting to extend the temporary extended unemployment benefits program. As a result, 800,000 individuals abruptly stopped receiving benefits on Dec. 28, and new applicants were prevented from entering the program.

The President remained silent while this happened, and only after the faces of the hardworking Americans (unemployed through no fault of their own and unable to find work in the stagnant economy) began hitting the front pages of newspapers around the country, did he announce during the holidays that Congress should act to reinstate the program.

On the first day of the 108th Congress, Congressional Democrats introduced legislation to provide temporary extended unemployment benefits to all workers who need them: those cut off on the 28th, those reaching the end of their regular benefits, and those who have reached the end of the extended benefits program, using funds which have accumulated in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Unfortunately, House and Senate Republican leaders rejected this comprehensive approach, and instead passed legislation to address only part of the growing unemployment crisis.

Under the recently-enacted bill, those 800,000 workers will have their benefits reinstated and will be able to receive the rest of their 13 weeks of extended benefits. The bill also allows workers who exhaust their regular unemployment benefits between now and June of 2003 to receive up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits if they are unable to find work.

However, the bill provides no help at all to over a million workers who have already exhausted their 13 weeks of temporary benefits but have not yet found work. Democrats protested the decision to leave the workers who have been out of work the longest out completely, but their effort to amend the bill to include them was turned back on a party-line vote in the Senate and Republican leaders did not even allow them to offer their amendment in the House.

The case to cover those who have exhausted all of their regular and extended unemployment benefits will continue to be pressed by Congressional Democrats in the economic stimulus debate.

Rep. Levin (D-Royal Oak) serves on the U.S. House Ways and Means committee which has jurisdiction over unemployment insurance.


Feds ready to embark on important prevailing wage survey in Michigan

Prevailing wage rates determined by the U.S. Dept. of Labor have a profound impact on construction. In 2003 they'll gain an even greater significance as the DOL conducts the first intensive federal wage survey of all Michigan's skilled construction trades in all segments of work.

The survey will have a direct impact on the take-home pay of thousands of Michigan's building trades workers. The process will get started with two meetings slated this month. They will be led by DOL representatives, and include contractors and building trades representatives.

"Every facet of construction in the state will be covered by the survey," said Ed Hartfield of the Operating Engineers Local 324 Labor-Management Education Committee. "The survey is including - but not limited to - heavy, highway, building, mechanical, electrical, and residential. It will be far more extensive than federal wage surveys conducted in the past."

Hartfield said nothing this comprehensive has ever been attempted in Michigan. Its results will be crucial because contractors often rely upon the prevailing wage rates published by the DOL in assembling their bids for projects. Having DOL prevailing wage rates that properly reflect union wage and fringe benefit levels not only puts money in the pockets of unionized building trades workers on federal jobs, it helps to assure that union wages and fringes will be the basis for bids.

Experts say Michigan probably will not have a chance to obtain another DOL wage survey of this scope for a decade, if not longer. Mistakes caused by insufficient or inadequate information may go uncorrected for a very long time.

Organized labor and their contractors are being asked to work together in collecting information for the survey. Sufficient data must be submitted to document that at least 51% of the wages and fringe benefits in a given region are union scale. If the organized construction industry can't do that - and if its data doesn't hit or exceed the 51% mark - the DOL's published rates will not reflect current collective bargaining wages and fringe benefit levels. As a result, both signatory contractors and local union workers will be negatively affected.

Even organized contractors who specialize in commercial or industrial projects, and avoid bidding federally funded work, will be affected because they play an important role in the survey process. The DOL first uses nonfederal work to determine a region's prevailing wage schedule. This includes private as well as publicly funded work. Data from federal public works projects are only used if data from non-federal projects in a specific construction category is unavailable.

The survey's conclusions will impact all organized contractors no matter what kind of construction they perform. Prevailing wage and benefits rates that are mistakenly set too low will distort the construction market, often to the benefit of open shop competitors. It will become increasingly difficult to assemble contract-winning bids.

The meetings were scheduled Jan. 23 in Livonia and Jan. 24 in Perry. We'll keep you updated on how the building trades can help themselves by making the prevailing wage survey better.


Shedding some light on the auto show

LIGHTS FOR A DISPLAY case at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit are installed by Nick Murray and Dave Odell of IBEW Local 58 and Trade Show Electric. They were working on the second level of the two-story GM Court. Both were working the auto show for the first time. "We love it here," Murray said. "It's totally different from what we normally do. You can take your coat off, and the toilets are inside. It's great." According to auto show organizers, in the ten weeks it takes to prepare the NAIAS for the media and public, more than 1,500 carpenters, iron workers, electricians, stagehands, teamsters and riggers are employed full time (12-14 hour days; some double shifts) until the job is done. Times have changed, so has the show - 16 years ago the "Detroit Auto Show" could be built in four days. The total value of the exhibits in the NAIAS is in excess of $200 million, not including the vehicles.


The Gang Box - Assorted News & Notes

Crystal ball. Another prognostication for the future of the nation's construction industry has weighed in.

Construction consulting firm FMI expects new construction in the U.S. will increase by 3 percent during 2003 to $873.9 billion, up from $846.9 billion in 2002.

The group expects the residential market to pick up by 2 percent, nonresidential building to go up by 4 percent, non-building construction to go up 3 percent and highway work to rise by 4 percent.

"Overall, our analysts are optimistic about opportunities in the construction industry for 2003," FMI said. "Despite continuing anxieties over the war on terrorism and tight budgets for public projects, the interest rate stimulus and pent-up demand in many areas should help kick-start the economy in 2003. It is a cautious optimism, however, that is tempered by the fact that cost-cutting measures continue and many companies will struggle to find new markets and differentiate their services in a highly competitive arena."

Fewer sick and injured. The construction industry experienced declines in the total number of nonfatal injuries and illness in 2001, with the rate falling to 7.9 cases per 100 full-time workers.

In 2000, the rate was 8.3 cases per 100 full-time workers; and in 1999, the rate was 8.6 cases.

The numbers were released by U.S. Department of Labor at the end of 2002 - obviously it takes some time to compile the statistics.

The construction industry was second on the injury/illness list to manufacturing, which experienced 8.1 cases per 100 workers.

In the overall U.S. economy, the rate of nonfatal injuries and illness fell to an all-time low in 2001 to 6.5 cases per million workers.

Better attention through strobes. The Pennsylvania governor has signed into law a measure that requires contractors to install flashing strobe lights along signs that alert drivers to active road construction sites.

According to the Construction Labor Report, the motivation for the new law took place on Oct. 11, 2001, when five workers were struck and killed when a truck driver lost control of his truck and drove through a work zone while a work crew was patching asphalt in western Pennsylvania. And in one six-month period in 2001, three state transportation workers were killed on the job.

The law also requires motorists to turn on their lights when driving through work zones, limits the length of work zones and lane restriction, and removes the 5 mph "cushion" that state police officers often use before writing a ticket.

California appreciates sanitation. California has managed to mandate what federal OSHA and MIOSHA have failed to do: require constructors to provide hand-washing facilities on job sites.

According to the Construction Labor Report, by February 2003, one hand-washing facility is required for every 20 workers, in a new standard approved by the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.

Toilet facilities have been mandated in California, Michigan and around the country - but provisions to require employers to provide hand-washing facilities are rare.

Two years ago, federal OSHA dropped plans to require hand-washing sites on construction projects after President Bush came into office, claiming such a standard was not "doable."



First drop since '94 for contract settlements
Wage-benefit settlements in newly negotiated 2002 U.S. construction labor agreements averaged $1.37 or 4.1 percent for their first year, the Construction Labor Research Council (CLRC) reported last month. The percentage increase dropped by about three-tenths of a percent compared to 2001.

The average second-year increase for multi-year agreements was $1.51 or 4.0 percent. The figures, said the CLRC, "represent a halt to the slow, but long-term upward trend in average annual settlement amounts that had been occurring beginning in 1994."

Average settlements in terms of dollar amounts were unchanged from 2001, but the percentage increase dropped. New agreements most commonly resulted in increases of between three and five percent. One-quarter of all newly negotiated construction labor agreements were for four years or more.

Faber moves from MIOSHA to AGC
Jerry Faber, an iron worker, was recently named director of safety for the Associated General Contractors, Greater Detroit Chapter.

In his role, Faber will plan and implement safety training programs and on-site consulting for AGC member companies located in Southeast Michigan.

"Safety is a top priority among AGC contractors and Jerry is the right guy to help our members meet this important goal," said AGC Chapter Chairman James E. Like, vice president of Aristeo Construction. "With 30 years of experience in safety education and training with MIOSHA, Jerry will add great value to AGC members' training programs and other efforts which protect the safety of workers on the construction site."

Prior to joining the AGC, Faber served as occupational safety consultant for MIOSHA. He developed the training manual for the MIOSHA 10-hour construction safety seminar used across the state by thousands of construction workers.

State 'CIS' department tossed on scrap heap
What's in a name? Maybe not much, but it's good to have the role of Michigan's workers recognized once again in a major state department.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, according to a published report, is ready to open a new "Department of Labor and Economic Growth" to link to the "Michigan Economic Development Corp." and replace the "Department of Career Development" and the "Department of Consumer and Industry Services." The latter group, with the acronym "CIS," was created during the Engler Administration to replace the Labor Department, and was widely seen as a not-so-subtle slam by the former governor against organized labor.

"There's an opportunity here," Granholm said, "for labor and business to stop doing this Kabuki dance around one another and actually work together on growing jobs. Everybody wants to see results."

Former Lansing Mayor David Hollister has been chosen to run the new department.


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