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January 25, 2008

Construction prospects in Michigan: Maybe not great in'08, but not bad

State sees major drop in fatalities, as job injuries trend downward

Was anyone almost hurt on your work site today?

Trades move quickly to expand, renovate St. John

Trades set up field for Fabiano, others

Time to write the obituary on the union entitlement mindset

News Briefs

 

Construction prospects in Michigan: Maybe not great in'08, but not bad

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Michigan is said to be in a one-state recession, but someone should mention that to the construction industry.

Our annual, completely unscientific poll of construction activity in different regions of the state finds pockets of fairly robust economy for the building trades, with 2008 expected to be an overall good year, after a 2007 that wasn't bad, either.

Some areas of the state have stronger prospects than others in Michigan - but for most trades, jobs are expected to be available if workers don't mind a longer commute.

Here's what's happening in various corners of Michigan:

Ann Arbor - A 15-year run of good - no great - employment for Washtenaw County came in an abrupt end in 2006, with substantial unemployment rearing its ugly head. There was more unemployment into the first quarter of 2007, directly attributable to the closing of Pfizer. The sharp decline in the housing market also hit the unionized building trades, which have had a substantial foothold on the residential market.

"It was definitely a down year for us in 2006," said Greg Stephens, business manager of IBEW Local 252 in Ann Arbor. "We lost jobs for 50 or 60 guys at Pfizer when they announced they were closing, and it took us a while to get back on track."

Employment in the area last year was led by work at Toyota's $130 million technical center in York Twp., the new Ann Arbor Skyline High School, and as always, work at the University of Michigan.

The electrical workers have about 60 on the bench right now, and the pipe trades have even more unemployment. But that situation is not expected to last.

"It looks like 2008 is going to be a banner year," Stephens said. "U of M is ready to bust right open this year. They're setting steel at Mott Children's Hospital ($500 million) now, and when it gets going later this year, we're going to have 200 electricians on that project alone."

Other projects that will be major building trades employers in Washtenaw County this year include the U-M Ross School of Business, expansion of the U-M Football Stadium, the new Kellogg Eye Center, a new patient tower at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital the North Quad project, as well as the $171 million Broadway Village at Lower Town, a mixed-use development.

Bay City/ Saginaw/ Midland area - Building on a good 2006, 2007 was even better and 2008 is "going to be booming" in the Tri-Cities region, according to Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85 Business Manager Scott Garrison.

Right now, in the dead of winter, the local is employing more than 300 travelers. Their primary employers: Hemlock Semiconductor, where a $500 million "Phase II" expansion will wrap up at the end of February - getting ready for a "Phase III" project that will cost about $1.2 billion. Hemlock makes polycrystal components for solar panels.

And at nearby Dow Corning in Midland, raw materials for the Hemlock plant are produced - and a $200 million expansion is ongoing.

In addition, a boiler outage began Jan. 11 at Consumers Energy's Karn Weadock power plant, following up a nearly complete installation of an ash recovery system.

The Fabiano Bros./Marketplace Corporate Center near Midland has just begun. A new middle school is under construction in Saginaw. Major addition/renovation work is going on at HealthSource in Saginaw and Bay Medical in Bay City, as well as smaller jobs at St. Mary's and Covenant Health in Saginaw.

And in the spring, the Midland Co-Generation Venture is expected to install four to six new boilers. Construction on an ethanol plant in Ithaca may start in the spring. Down the road, Consumers Energy has declared it intention to build a new power plant on the ground of the Karn-Weadock site - if state regulations can be changed to make the regulatory environment more fair to established utilities.

"We worked close to 1.5 million man-hours last year, and that was the best in a dozen years," Garrison said. "2008 looks to be good if not better. They keep talking about how Michigan is having these job losses - well, we're booming here in the Tri-Cities."

Detroit/Southeast Michigan - "Cautiously optimistic."

That was the summation of the construction outlook for this area suggested by Andrew Shmina, President and CEO, A.Z. Shmina, Inc., and vice chairman of Associated General Contractors of Michigan.

Focusing on Southeast Michigan, Shmina said despite Michigan's "nine-year-long economic downtown," there is still "a healthy optimism" about prospects for work opportunities.

Shmina said that the national construction economy is expected to grow at a 3-percent rate - "tempered by a whopping 25-percent plunge for single-family housing." He added: "Construction in Southeast Michigan and across our state will lag behind the national picture and, in fact, see a decline of up to 2 percent."

The slowdowns in the residential and multi-family housing sectors - not traditional strongholds for union construction - are primarily what's causing the lag. But Shmina said office, retail and general government work are also part of the slump. So to is road and bridge building, expected to drop by $300 million, or 18 percent statewide in 2008.

However, manufacturing and health care sectors are projected to increase by 14 percent and 36 percent, respectively. He said K-12 school construction is expected to see "a robust increase" over 2007, thanks to the passage of bond issues in Southeast Michigan. And spending of $1 billion for state, county and local projects will remain consistent with 2007.

A survey of 24 general contractors found that only two respondents were pessimistic about the prospects for 2008. Others said they expected the level of work to be about the same, others said they feel 2008 will be a good year - "maybe even a strong year," Shmina said.

Nearly every contractor, he said, cited the struggles in the automotive industry as having a negative impact on their business whether or not their firm had ever done work for an auto manufacturer. "You cannot escape the problems of the auto industry if you make your living in Michigan," was the common refrain, he said.

Shmina's said there is "one major pocket of prosperity right now in Michigan that should be highlighted given its significance, and it's the City of Detroit." He said Detroit is experiencing a number of notable new construction projects.

They include the work, much of it completed, at the Motor City and MGM casinos, as well as the ongoing construction associated with the Greektown Casino. There's also the renovation of the historic Book Cadillac and Fort Shelby hotels, and numerous loft project downtown. Marathon Petroleum is planning a $1.5 billion expansion of its Southwest Detroit refinery, and there's health care work at the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Hospital and St. John Hospitals.

Regionally, Ford announced last year it will invest $866 million in its Southeast Michigan plants. General Motors reported it will be investing at least $500 million in plant improvements over the next two to three years. And construction is ongoing at the new $700 million, 26-gate North Terminal at Metro Airport.

"So as we look ahead to 2008 and prospects for more projects in the pipeline and shovels breaking ground across our state," Shmina said, "let's view the economic outlook with the cautious optimism expressed by so many. And given the difficult environment faced by those of us in the construction industry, that's perhaps the best way to be."

Flint - "The Flint area held our own in 2007," said Zane Walker, president of the Flint Area Building Trades and a business agent with Iron Workers Local 25. "We sent a lot of our guys to Detroit, Ann Arbor and Up North last year for work. This year will probably be a little better, but not much better, than '07."

The big news is east of Flint, near Port Huron, where construction of the $730 million Chrysler Maryville Assembly Plant will be ramping up this year. And, at some point, GM has pledged to build a new engine plant at the Buick City complex.

But locally, pickings have been slim. The area has offered some school work, in Swartz Creek, Lapeer and North Branch. Light commercial projects have remained fairly steady, Walker said, but overall, "it's been an ordeal." He said the out-of-area work has been very helpful.

"There's work, but you have to drive to it," Walker said. "I tell people if you want every job to be 10 or 15 minutes from your house, you better have a wife with a good job."

Grand Rapids/Muskegon - Last year at this time more than 1,000 Hardhats were working at the shutdown of Consumers Energy's J.H. Campbell plant. The project ended last spring, but "a lot of work followed the outage," at the plant, said Bruce Hawley, business manager of Iron Workers Local 340 and president of the West Michigan Building Trades Council. "The work there really helped us to have a good year in 2007."

Work at Consumers Energy's B.C. Cobb Plant and the Campbell plant will be significantly less this year, although an SCR pollution control is expected to be installed on Unit 2 at the Campbell Plant later this year.

In 2008, the massive "Hospital Hill" or "Health Hill" development will be the major regional construction employer, and will be in full swing through the year.

"Grand Rapids has never experienced anything near the concentrated magnitude of the medical research, training and patient facility construction now occurring on Health Hill," said an article from last July in the New York Times.

All told, nearly $1 billion in construction is taking place on a hill along Michigan Street. Included is a new medical school, a children's hospital, a biomedical research center, a cancer treatment center, and two medical treatment and office buildings. Also under construction is a seven-level underground parking garage; it will hold 2,300 cars and cost $30 million. The buildings will cover 1.2 million square feet.

Also in Grand Rapids, two nine-story hotels are in the works.

Out at the Gerald Ford International Airport, construction is under way on a new $115 million "parking project," which includes the relocation of roadways and the building of a four-story, 4,900-space enclosed parking structure across from entrances to the terminal.

Plans also include a 600-foot-long canopy between the parking structure and the terminal, a gateway plaza, elevators and escalators from the upper parking levels to the terminal's main level.

"Overall in 2008, it looks like activity is going to be down a bit from last year," Hawley said, "but it should still be good. We've got some real good prospects in the works."

Kalamazoo/Battle Creek - "All in all a good year," said Southwest Michigan Building Trades Council President Hugh Coward, about 2007. "In '08, there are a number of jobs that should keep us busy."

Among the highlights: some 450 Hardhats are upgrading the USG paper mill in Otsego. The D.C. Cook Nuclear Power Plant has scheduled a 45-day shutdown starting in March, and the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant is expected to have a shutdown in the fall.

Construction on the $270 million Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek could begin as early as March. The Gun Lake Casino, if a lawsuit holding it up is settled, could start just about immediately. That's also the potential start-up month anticipated for a new ethanol plant in Watervilet. A Monsanto seed production facility is expected to start in Constantine. Kellogg's is expected to expand its research and development area, to the tune of $40 million in Battle Creek.

Battle Creek Public Schools are expected to undertake $69.7 million in building renovations and expansion this spring. And a number of smaller job, including school projects in Kalamazoo, are keeping the trades busy.

"In the New Year, things wound down pretty quickly, and we have people around Michigan and in Milwaukee and Chicago," Coward said. "But it won't be long this year, first the iron workers followed by the other trades, that we're going to come out of the chute like gangbusters, and we're going to be pretty busy."

Lansing area - "Last year was somewhat of a down year for work for us," said Scott Clark, business manager of IBEW Local 665. "And through this spring, there doesn't look like a lot of relief."

But in the good old summertime and into the fall, work should be picking up in mid-Michigan. The Accident Fund has chosen the historic Board of Water and Light's Ottawa Street Power Station in downtown Lansing to house its new $182 million headquarters building.

Delta Dental is planning to expand their operations in Okemos by 115,000 square-feet of office space in two buildings - to the tune of $85 million. The Michigan State Police are expected to build a $45 million post in downtown Lansing. Auto Owners Insurance Agency is expected to build a new $45 million data retention facility in Delta Twp. Jackson National Life, which built its Alaeidon Township headquarters in 2000, is already looking to expand, in a project that may cost $60 million.

The Capitol Club Tower could break ground next month. It would likely be a 20-story building whose developer expects would cost up to $40 million. On the site of the old Lansing City Club, the building would have 80 residential units, restaurants, a gym, and maybe a grocery store and swimming pool.

Michigan State University has a few major projects being planned, including a new recycling facility and an art museum.

"Unfortunately, I see the beginning of this year a lot like last year, with the chance for a turnaround for the greater Lansing area taking place in the summer," Clark said.

Monroe - "Last year wasn't bad - everyone who wanted to work, could work, if they were willing to drive," said Ron Sweat, business manager of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 671. A number of area trades workers were able to find work in Washtenaw County or in Toledo.

This year a flue gas desulferization project at DTE Energy's Monroe Power Plant is expected to improve job prospects significantly, especially towards the middle of the year.

"There's going to be work at the Monroe plant, but not a lot else," Sweat said. "But during the summer and through the rest of the year, that project should employ everybody we have and then some."

The Fermi 2 plant underwent a refueling outage in November, and won't see much significant work until the next refueling outage in 18 months. There will be ongoing work decommissioning Fermi 1, however.

Light commerical and residential work is slow, Sweat said, but with workers traveling, "we're not in too bad a shape for this time of year."

Traverse City/NW Lower Peninsula - "We didn't have quite as good a year in 2007 as we did in 2006," said Jeff Bush, business manager of IBEW Local 498. "This year is expected to be slow to start, but may turn out well if the jobs I'm hearing about go union."

A "Main Street America" amusement park has been proposed for Grayling, although approval of the $160 million plan is on hold. The state wants more proof from developers that they have the money to proceed. Also on hold is the McBain ethanol plant

New Meijers stores are being discussed in Petoskey and Grayling.

Casino work in Petoskey and Manistee kept the trades working in '07, and work is ongoing at the $80 million Turtle Creek Casino along M-72 in Williamsburg. The trades also did a significant amount of work at the Merritt Energy Gas Plant in Kalkaska in '06 and '07.

"There wasn't much school work in '07 and we'll see a little more in '08," Bush said. "We're doing some service work, and some work in small stores, but it's slow right now."

Upper Peninsula - Last year was one to forget in the U.P., with most union trades down 25-35 percent in man-hours, reports Tony Retaskie, executive director of the U.P. Construction Council. "Some projects just didn't materialize, or were delayed into '08, which of course, is good for us this year," he said.

As a result, a variety of projects are in the pipeline for 2008. "We're sitting on about $1 billion in work, especially as we move into late '08," Retaski said. "I'm very optimistic about our prospects for work."

Northern Michigan University in Marquette has been a dependable employer, as usual. It has been renovating dorms in the summer on a regular schedule in recent years, and in '08, the trades will be converting the campus' Ripley Heating Plant from a gas-burner to a coal and bio-fuel burner.

The Empire and Tilden iron ore mines, also traditionally dependable employers, are looking into converting to a nugget production process for high-grade iron. Construction of the $150 million Kennecott Eagle Nickel mine near Marquette is expected to start this year, unless it's stopped by legal action.

A new Bell Memorial Hospital in ongoing in Ishpeming, and will go through the summer of '08. There is also a new Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital to go up in Manistique, and a new Emergency Department at St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba.

Also in Escanaba, a new Besse Fine Arts Building will get under way at Bay College.

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State sees major drop in fatalities, as job injuries trend downward

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - On-the-job construction industry fatalities in Michigan took a remarkable drop last year, from 26 in 2006 to 11 in 2007. The 11 fatalities marked the lowest number of construction industry deaths in a year ever recorded by MIOSHA.

In recent years in Michigan the single-year high was 37 construction fatalities in 1997, and the lows were 17 (both in 1995 and 2005).

Falls are the perennial leader in causing worker deaths, and last year was no different. Five Hardhats were killed by falls, three were "struck-by," two were electrocuted, and one was "crushed by."

"We're just very pleased to see the drop in fatalities," said Patty Meyer, safety manager for the MIOSHA Construction Safety and Health Division. "The injury and illness rate is declining, too - a lot."

Figures released by MIOSHA found that in 2000, there were 9.2 construction workers per 100,000 who suffered a recordable on-the-job injury/illness. Those incidents have dropped every year during this decade, to 6.0 in 2005, to 4.7 in 2006. Last year's numbers have not been completed.

"These are phenomenal numbers," Meyer said. "I think a lot of good contractors are realizing that working with MIOSHA and the unions to make safety more of a priority is saving lives. And working with groups like MUST (Management and Unions Serving Together) is making for a more educated workforce. The whole industry is buying into safety, and that's very important to what's happening here."

Meyer said she doesn't think it's a coincidence that those numbers are dropping at the same time MIOSHA has been actively seeking safety partnerships with owners and large general contractors on major projects. Some of those contractors include Barton-Malow, Walbridge-Aldinger, and Skanksa.

On those projects, MIOSHA, owners, contractors and union representatives sign a pledge to work together on safety, moving away from traditional enforcement methods to collaborative agreements. The philosophy: zero tolerance for unsafe acts and conditions.

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.

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Was anyone almost hurt on your work site today?

By Scott Schneider
Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America

Have you ever been walking and a truck pulls out right in front of you? A few steps quicker and you might have been hit. Have you lost your balance at heights and caught yourself or been saved by a safety harness or guardrail? Has something fallen from a crane overhead and nearly hit you? A close call could easily have been a serious injury or a fatality. Close calls are accidents waiting to happen.

Each year, almost 240,000 construction workers lose work time due to injuries on the job. For each person injured, probably four or more are almost injured. We call these "near misses" or "close calls." In total, approximately one million close calls occur each year. A 2003 study of almost 700 construction Laborers in the Northwest found that 56 percent had zero to one, 29 percent had two to five and 14 percent had six or more close calls during the previous year.

Like real safety incidents, close calls are caused by a variety of production pressures and safety hazards. Everyone may be rushing to get the job done and not paying close attention to where they are going or their work. Close calls can also be caused by unsafe conditions that have been ignored (e.g., guard rails left unfinished or trip hazards not corrected) when workers feel they do not have the time or the responsibility to correct them. Whatever the cause, an assessment of why a close call occurred is the best way to take necessary action so that the next similar incident is not a serious injury accident.

What should be done to prevent close calls?

Most companies do accident investigations, but these only focus on the tip of the iceberg. Yet, any close call could have been an accident if conditions had been slightly different. In fact, real injury incidents are just a tiny portion of the total incidents that might have caused a serious injury. Realizing this fact, some companies do close- call investigations as well. Then, they can get a true picture of the major hazards on their site and where corrective actions are needed.

The first step is a company and union commitment to reporting close calls. Company safety personnel or a joint health and safety committee should establish and publicize a reporting procedure. Each reported incident, then, should be investigated the same as incidents that actually cause injuries or illness. Based on the investigation and its assessment, corrective action should be implemented.

Safety is no accident. A safe work site requires paying attention to close calls. They reveal the major problems and result in effective prevention. Close call analysis is the best way to uncover potential problems and make changes before injury occurs.

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Trades move quickly to expand, renovate St. John

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT - The largest expansion project in the history of the St. John Hospital and Medical Center is moving quickly to the end of its first phase. The fast-paced work is part of $161 million in construction work that will transform the east-side facility's delivery of care - and its footprint.

This month the first three floors of the new 250,000 square-foot Van Elslander Pavilion were open, 15 months after construction began, and the job is about three months ahead of schedule.

"All this was done in 15 months, and the quality of work didn't suffer, said Stephen Tertel, senior project manager for St. John Health. "The trades have bought into the commitment to quality and getting the work done. It was a very aggressive schedule, but I never heard 'I can't get it done.' It's always been, 'we'll find a way.' "

When the hospital's transformation is complete in about a year, the Emergency Department will go from 30,000 square feet to more than 54,000, and will accommodate more than 85,000 patients per year. The expanded department will include 72 private treatment rooms.

In addition, 144 new private rooms will be added, some existing rooms will be made modified, giving the facility more than 200 private rooms.

The new construction will create a new heart and circulatory center, and upgrade and consolidate all cardiovascular and vascular services in one area. A Diagnostic Imaging Center will bring all imaging services together in one location adjacent to the new lobby. And, a new main entrance on the north side has been created.

There are about 150 Hardhats currently working on site, and down from a peak of about 500 las
t year. The project is being led by the construction management team of Skanska/L.S. Brinker. New construction/renovation affects about 307,752 square feet of space. "The tradespeople and contractors have done an excellent job," said Dimitris Bitzarakis, St. John Health's corporate director, design and construction services. "I didn't think it was possible to finish so far ahead of schedule, but they showed it is possible."


THE NEW MAIN entrance at St. John Hospital and Medical Center is part of the new 250,000 square-foot Van Elslander Pavilion.

PAINTING A WALL in the new Emergency Center at St. John Hospital and Medical Center is Anthony Elliot of Painters Local 213 and Duross Painting. The area was formerly the radiological department.

 

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Trades set up field for Fabiano, others

MONITOR TWP. - The 70-acre lot at the southeast corner of U.S. 10 and Mackinaw Rd. near Midland still had the appearance a farmer's frozen hayfield last month, but part of it is rapidly being transformed into a hub of commerce for a major beer, wine and liquor distributor.

Fabiano Brothers Inc., established in 1911, is a beverage distributor to the eastern, central and northern counties of the Lower Peninsula. Last fall, they broke ground on their new 200,000 square-foot building, which will anchor the "Marketplace Corporate Center" business park. They're building on about 21 acres of the property.

"The frozen ground is a bit of a challenge, but it's going great, we're getting ready to start the tilt-up," said Robert Kitchen, project director for CSM, which is managing the project. Tilt-up refers to the insulated cast-on-site concrete panels which will form the walls of the new distribution center/corporate offices.

About 25 Hardhats were on site last month, installing pipe, electrical conduit and preparing for foundation work. Contractors included Fisher Contracting (excavating), Nelson Electric, Remer Plumbing and Heating, and Christman Construction (footings/concrete).

PLACING A 12-INCH STORMWATER drain at a new corporate park new Midland are (l-r) Jim Brink and Kevin Russell of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85.


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Time to write the obituary on the union entitlement mindset

A dirty little secret? Hardly. More like a tattoo on our forehead that everyone can see easily but us.

Union Entitlement Mentality is killing us in the marketplace. Union Entitlement Mentality is slowing production, retarding change and eroding work ethic. It is a highly paid welfare program for some of the blue collar union members across all crafts in the U.S. and Canada.

I would define it as a belief that union affiliation automatically comes with considerations and entitlements that do not correlate to personal output, work ethic or contribution.

Union entitlement and the apprentices. Every day we strive to instill a value system into tens of thousands of young men and women; and to remind them that their future opportunity hangs in the balance. We have a very limited window of time to influence them.

On the other hand, the vast majority of their time is on the jobsite with all kinds of peers who exhibit varying degrees of commitment. This is not to say that the majority they are exposed to are problematic; just the opposite.

However, when an apprentice sees an individual not contributing and perhaps detracting from the team effort, being paid the same as other workers, and the union and contractor standing by and doing nothing… that is a message we can ill afford to continue.

Having made presentations to tens of thousands of rank and file members this past year, I can tell you that our apprentices are having a very difficult time standing up for themselves on the jobsite. They see the old-school Entitlement Culture and want no part of it, but do not know how to address it without conflict. The "don't rock the boat" factor kicks in and they passively accept what they do not agree with.

Both labor and management need to be pro-active in assisting and supporting them as they develop their initial workplace value system. Codes of Excellence and Conduct as they are being implemented across North America are a great start, but they only form a framework for behavior and values; the rest is always up to the individual.

The demise of union entitlement. Many union leaders and business managers are afraid to take on this sacred cow. It can be a real political hot potato. But from the feedback I am getting, vast numbers of the quiet rank and file members are waiting for their leaders to take it on at a local level and stand up FOR THEM. Just because they are quiet does not mean they don't care.

On the other hand the contractors need to hitch up their pants and stop whining. You hear them moan about the quality of the workforce and lack of work ethic - but how many will terminate a bad apple vs. lay-off, and send them back to the hall and into the same system that perpetuates support of a marginal personal effort.

Bottom line, it is a team-based solution. Political courage on the part of the union leadership and pro-active filtering on the part of the contractors.

In summary, the Union Entitlement Mentality has evolved in a vacuum. When you don't clearly define who and what you want as your final outcome, those with the most dominant personalities or opinions will generally fill the void. And often it is those with the my-ticket-is-punched entitlement mentality.

It is time they read their obituary. Union Entitlement is Dead. Long live responsibility, self-pride and work ethic.

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 www.breslin.biz.

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News Briefs

Detroit to host union industries show
Detroit has been selected as the site to host the 2008 America at Work Union Industries Show at Cobo Center.

The event, scheduled the weekend of May 16-18, showcases union-made automobiles, motorcycles, sporting goods, clothing, housewares, appliances, foods, glassware, computers, and furniture.

The show moves from city to city every year. The last time it was in Detroit, in 1995, scores of vendors handed out free union-made goods to show-goers, and had displays that illustrated which goods were made in by union members.

This year, a significant change to the show includes allowing the sale of union-made made-in-the-USA products. In addition, unionized building trades contractors will be invited to market their services, in areas like painting, roofing electrical masonry and plumbing.

"We're looking forward to working with the Michigan State AFL-CIO and the Detroit Central Labor Council to make this show a breakthrough for our exhibitors and the department," said Union Label and Service Trades Department President Charles Mercer.

Nonresidential stays strong in 2007
Exclude residential construction, and the value of U.S. construction starts in 2007 jumped 11.2 percent over 2006.

So said a report issued Jan. 17 by Reed Construction Data, one of a handful of groups that keep an eye on trends in the U.S. building industry.

Reed reported that construction starts rose 5.2 percent in the month of December after two weak months in November and October. However, the last quarter of 2007 was down 17.6 percent from the same period in 2006.

Partisan divide seen in voting records
Michigan's two U.S. senators, Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, were among the most labor-friendly lawmakers in the U.S. Senate, combining to vote 67-1 in agreement with key positions taken by the AFL-CIO in 2007.

Stabenow was one of only five senators with a "perfect" labor-friendly 34-0 score. Levin's only vote that contradicted the AFL-CIO was on immigration.

Some of the key legislative items that were compared included the Employee Free Choice Act, limiting guest worker programs, and funding children's health care.

On the House side, Michigan Republican Candice Miller (Harrison Twp.) had one of the top pro-labor voting records among all GOP lawmakers, voting with the AFL-CIO by a 21-12 margin.

Among Democratic presidential contenders who are current federal lawmakers, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was 27-1, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was 23-1 and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich was 23-4.

On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain's AFL-CIO voting record was 3-14, while Texas Rep. Ron Paul was 4-23. Other major candidates not listed are not current federal lawmakers.

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