The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index
January 4, 2002
By Marty Mulcahy
The first issue of The Building Tradesman was dated on Jan. 11, 1952 - historically when the strength of the U.S. labor movement was at its greatest.
Publication of the paper, it said in that first issue, "was motivated by the great demand of the rank and file members to build a press of its own, effective enough and influential enough to do justice to this great movement it presents."
No less than three times in that first issue it was mentioned that the general newspapers of the day were "not sympathetic to the ideals of Labor." Another column said "it is folly to expect our daily newspapers owned by anti-labor big business enterprises."
So "The Building Tradesman" was born as a weekly source of information that 40,000 building tradesmen could call their own. Started by The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council as its official publication, the paper is also the official publication of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, as well as that of numerous local unions.
The paper has changed its appearance, its content, its frequency of publication and its personnel over the years, but the Tradesman has never strayed far from its original objectives. (See story below). As we all know, people come and go in the construction industry, and the State of Michigan and the nation have seen some wild swings in economic fortune over the years. And today, the percentage of Americans who are union members is at or near rock-bottom.
But The Building Tradesman has survived - which is remarkable
considering the number of other union publications that have
gone belly-up over the years.
Our mission continues to be to inform and educate Michigan's unionized construction workers - and illustrate and highlight the good work that they do.
Throughout 2001, we have recognized some of the construction
projects built by our "Hardhats" who made Michigan
what it is today. Hopefully, in another 50 years, another editor
will be celebrating The Building Tradesman's 100th anniversary
- and will continue to recognize your work, and in some cases,
the work of your grandparents, parents, and children.
Published in the 1952 Volume 1, Issue 1 of The Building Tradesman, this column outlined the newly formed paper's objectives.
The establishment of a medium of information and education for the many thousands of members of trade unions affiliated with the AFL Building and Construction Trades Department in this area; the presentation of accurate news about the great international movement of organized labor; to state clearly the policies of this movement, and to present its demands with emphasis - these are the aims of the paper whose first issue is herewith presented.
It will not confine its columns to purely local and craft issues but will attempt to acquaint its readers with the national labor and political issues that are the common concern of all organized labor.
The courageous action of the Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council in embarking upon this venture was motivated by the great demand of the rank and file members to build a press of its own, effective enough and influential enough to do justice to this great movement it presents.
Labor has, at all times, had grounds to complain of its treatment by the business-controlled press. All it asks is fair and even-handed treatment, and to let the facts speak for themselves.
It is entirely natural that the best interests of labor should also be the best interests of those of the whole community or the state in which they reside. For the working people who have the most to gain from general prosperity, stability and security; and they are too large a part of the generality to be able to have any anti-social interest from which they might profit at the expense of the general welfare.
The interests of the people are the interests of labor, and the interests of labor are the interests of the people.
The Detroit Building Tradesman, therefore, will take over the function of a paper designed to promote the general welfare of the construction industry worker.
It will champion the cause of those Americans who desire peace, true democracy, economic and political freedom.
It will press for constructive legislation on a local, state and federal level, for those things which will make the United States a better place to live.
It will vigorously support during the forthcoming election campaign those representatives of the people who have fought for labor and those who have not betrayed promises once made to labor voters.
The labor movement is now a movement that has tread into the furthest recesses of American life. The Building Trades are recognized as the foundation of the movement.
So small a paper for so large a movement. That may be the reaction of some who see the first issue.
The Detroit Building Tradesman is modest in size but not in its aims. It aims to be of service to the biggest and best significant movement in America today. And in proportion as it serves this purpose, it will grow.
By John Hamilton
Professionals from all over Michigan's construction industry gathered during the Dec. 14 meeting of the Great Lakes Construction Alliance to review a report card on the Alliance's Safe2Work construction safety training effort. The CD-ROM based program has been winning endorsements from project owners and contractors alike.
Built on a series of 14 modules, the program has already been completed by nearly 40 hard working men and women in southeastern Michigan. Several thousand more have completed at least one of the modules. In December it became part of the apprenticeship training program provided by Ironworkers Local 25. It's being used by other unions and still others are actively considering it. And already letters of endorsement for Safe2Work have been received from two very prominent project owners - Detroit Edison, a DTE Energy Company, and General Motors Corp.
"This gives me a level of assurance that we have a consistent safety training program on our (construction) sites, and that we have a drug-free/alcohol-free work force," Douglas R. Gipson, DTE Energy's executive vice president for power generation and chief nuclear officer, told the meeting's audience. "This is also a way the building trades leadership is providing value to us. . .I think this is going to pay big dividends as you go forward." Gipson is in charge of approximately $400 million a year in construction for his utility company.
Mike Mayra, construction group manager of GM's World Wide Facilities Group, was equally complimentary. He praised the program's "success in bringing us to act together, to do the same things regarding safety" in making progress toward the goal of injury-free construction careers. Deborah Martin of GM's Safety Task Team agreed, saying the automaker has established a goal of having all of the construction trades on its projects enrolled in Safe2Work.
Working for the Alliance, the training program has been developed by Coastal Training Technologies Corp. At the meeting Susan DeLong, its vice president for Safe2Work, presented a new videotape on the effort and demonstrated the newly redesigned Safe2Work web site, accessed at www.safe2work.com. The revamp was influenced by concepts pioneered by Yahoo to speed up the site for those forced to rely on telephone dialups for Internet access.
Using state-of-the-art technology providing both privacy and security, the website not only stores and provides access to workers of the status of their safety training and drug and alcohol tests, it also permits construction employers to confirm it as well. This reduces redundancy. When enrolled in Safe2Work, as they move from construction site to site workers no longer have to sit through safety videotapes they've watched so many times they can recite their scripts from memory. They also don't have to keep taking drug test after drug test for the same reason, having become a participant - under the MUST (Management & Unions Serving Together) program, created by the GLCA - that provides both scheduled and random testing.
To date some 52,090 workers have been registered in the Safe2Work system along with 1,300 employers. Of that amount, over 29,000 have taken drug and alcohol tests during 2001 under the MUST program, with approximately 95% passing them. That's far above the industry's national average passing rate of approximately 88%. It remains MUST's goal, however, to continuously improve its test results.
By providing a centralized and standardized program, MUST eliminates the need for project owners to implement their own for insurance reasons. Experience is already showing that too many drug and alcohol testing programs competing against each other often leads to complicated and confusing situations. In Washtenaw County alone there currently are six different drug-testing programs.
The differences in policies and rules are enough to frustrate both workers and contractors, generating unnecessary misunderstandings and stress.
Safe-2-Work is set up to take some of that frustration out
of the process.
Michigan owes a debt of gratitude to its 2,654 residents who were killed in the Vietnam War.
Now, a permanent memorial is in place in Lansing to honor their memory.
The Michigan Vietnam Monument is now in place at Ottawa and Butler streets in Lansing, two blocks west of the State Capitol building. The monument includes a curved 110-foot steel beam that cradles the names of the 2,649 deceased veterans.
The building trades and Christman Construction built the $3.4 million monument, which went up on 2.5 acres near the Capitol Building and was dedicated in November on Veterans Day.
Project Commissioner Keith King said any future money donated to the project will be used for maintenance of the site. He said project coordinators have learned lessons from other memorials, which have deteriorated because there was no money dedicated to their upkeep.
To make a tax-deductible contribution, send a check payable to the Michigan Vietnam Monument Commission, 611 West Ottawa, Lansing, MI 48913. For more information, call (517) 373-3131 or (800) 492-2649.
By Phillip L. Polakoff, M.D.
Take a close look at this year's calendar. That pair of 2s, one each at either end of 2002, could well stand for the double-digit increase in health care costs some experts see coming your way.
Hewitt Associates, a global management consulting and outsourcing firm, says average increases of 13 to 16 percent, depending on the type of health plan, are likely in 2002.
If you're covered at work, what do these projected cost increases
mean for you?
With the average health plan projected to cost $5,524 per employee nest year - up from $4,778 in 2001 - that pass-along share of the increase means that employees will pay between $186 and $223 more for their health coverage in 2002.
These numbers are based on Hewitt's database of more than 2,000 health plans in 139 U.S. markets, including 300 major employers and more than 16 million health plan participants.
Rate hikes of at least 13 to 16 percent will affect every major U.S. metropolitan area next year, according to the survey. That comes on top of significant increases in 2001.
From the employer standpoint, the consulting firm says "the primary and most reliable means to control short-term cost increases is re-evaluating employee contributions and out-of-pocket cost-sharing strategies."
Jack Bruner, Hewitt Associates' national health care practice leader, adds: "Employers are focusing on ways to structure cost increases in an effort to prompt employees to migrate to more cost-efficient plans, to use spousal coverage, reduce discretionary use, or to select lower-cost therapies."
From the workers' standpoint, and the standpoint of their unions, talk of "migrating" to lower-cost plans, reducing discretionary use, and selecting lower-cost therapies will set off warning bells, calling for close attention and analysis.
Cutting costs must not translate into cutting corners in health
care for workers.
Whenever higher-scoring plans can replace those ranking lower - without impairing the basic purpose of taking care of workers - there can be no quarrel with employers making the most prudent choice.
Companies with employee populations that have a high prevalence of specific health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems are beginning to contract with health plans that offer programs specializing in those areas. Many of these plans place strong emphasis on workers managing their own condition. This trend bears watching.
(Dr. Polakoff is the medical writer for Press Associates)
By Marty Mulcahy
Detroit's long-shuttered Statler Hilton Hotel was not the city's largest, tallest, nor the most architecturally interesting building - but for much of the 20th Century, the half-million square-foot behemoth anchored the city's Grand Circus Park area, and served it well.
Even in its current run-down condition, the historic home for travelers remains a unique symbol of a bygone era. But it may or may not have a role in the city's future.
Union trades workers are currently on the job under the direction of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which is spending $4.5 million in state funds to remove hazardous materials from the 15-story building, which was completed in 1915. The building contains lead paint, asbestos, and 700,000 gallons of PCB-contaminated water to be pumped from the basement as part of the clean up effort, which is being performed on the site by Industrial Waste Cleanup Inc. DLC and Harding ESC are also involved in the project. About 90 building trades workers are on the job.
Patricia Thornton, a DEQ project manager, said removal of the hazardous materials should be complete next year. After that, the hotel will be ready for redevelopment - or demolition. A spokesman for the city's Planning and Development Department, which owns the building, said the city has no developers for the hotel lined up. The most recent proposal for the building included parking on the first three floors and lofts on the floors above, evaporated in September.
"I hate to see anything torn down," Thornton said, "but the building is not an architectural gem of any sort, and if you were to walk inside you'd say, 'eew.' The inside is just a mess, and it's very dangerous. It would take a lot to redevelop the building." Urban scavengers and water from the leaky roof have been the primary culprits.
How the mighty have fallen. The builder of the 800-room hotel was Ellsworth M. Statler, who envisioned it as his third "complete hotel." The first two, in Buffalo and Cleveland, were so successful that numerous cities clamored for him to build in their city. Buffalo's hotel, built in 1907, was the first in the nation to have a private bath in every room.
Statler's Detroit design included that amenity. He also introduced the innovation of "plumbing shafts" through the building, to reduce costs and make service easier. Plumbers gained access to the shafts by removing medicine cabinets in the guest rooms. Statler placed kitchens near the facilities they serve. He also catered to traveling salesmen by building "sample rooms," where they could show their wares in a public area.
The Statler was said to raise the standard of Detroit's hotels, with Statler himself making surprise inspections to ensure quality. A complete medical department was installed on the 18th floor, including a clinic and surgical area. As is usually the case with buildings of this period, the best woodwork and marble were installed throughout the lobby, ballrooms and dining areas. It was a first-class hotel, and business proved so good that a new wing was added in 1916, creating an additional 200 rooms - making the Statler the first 1,000-room hotel in the Midwest.
The hotel underwent major renovations in the 1930s, when the Statler was the first hotel in the world to offer air conditioning, but only in the public areas. After World War II, the hotel actually participated in a campaign to encourage people not to travel, because of the lack of hotel rooms. One other sidebar: in 1926, magician Harry Houdini collapsed on stage at the Garrick Theater and was carried to his room at the Statler before being rushed to Grace Memorial Hospital where he later died of peritonitis resulting from appendicitis.
In 1954, Hilton Hotels bought out the Statler chain. A massive renovation of the hotel took place in 1963, with the removal of a bar and restaurant and addition of three restaurants.
In 1974, the facility was renamed the Detroit Heritage Hotel. In October 1975, with the City of Detroit in full decline and the building at 20 percent occupancy, the hotel was closed for good. All sorts of goods, including silverware and beds, were sold at bargain prices.
In 1988, the City of Detroit placed awnings on the building's lower level, in an oft-criticized way to improve its appearance for visiting journalists for the North American International Auto Show.
Today, Thornton said, "everything of value" has been stripped from the old hotel, and it will need to be further stripped to its core if it is to be refurbished. Fran Quiroz, contract administrator for Industrial Waste Cleanup, said the first order of business over the last two months has been to remove the general debris piles from the building.
"It's amazing how much different the building looks today than it did in September," she said. "It actually looks like a hotel again."
AFL-CIO faces deficits, hiring freeze
In an interview with Press Associates during the AFL-CIO convention in Las Vegas, the chair--UFCW Vice President Sarah Palmer Amos--added, however, that the federation does not plan to increase per capita payments from its member unions.
"The key factor in the finances is our unsureness of the depths of the recession, and especially (its impact) on our manufacturing unions which are facing difficult times. Now is not the time for a per capita tax," she said Dec. 6. 6.
Other uncertainties she cited include whether the recession and layoffs after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would cut federation membership, and whether the Carpenters would rejoin the federation. That decision is expected later this month.
Amos told the AFL-CIO convention the day before that the recession could cut membership, now 13.22 million, by 400,000. If the Carpenters rejoined, approximately 324,000 members would return.
Amos told delegates the federation "probably would see significant deficits" of $5 million next year and $7 million in 2003. The federation's official financial report showed a $43.9 million surplus in 1999, and a $17.7 million deficit in 2000.
It did not include figures for this year, but Amos told PAI the deficit "would be less than $1 million."
The hiring freeze, instituted last year, left approximately
25 jobs unfilled on the total 500-550 person AFL-CIO staff, Amos
said. "I would assume we're going to use attrition to focus
our resources," with decisions made on whether to fill new
openings job by job, she told PAI.
The primary election will take place on Monday, Jan. 8; but the more important general election will be held Tuesday, Feb. 5. Inman is running on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Republican area, which includes Clarkston and portions of Waterford and Independence Twp.
A 32-year member of Local 636, Inman has been an elected union official for the past 14 years.
"I am proud to be a part of the success my local has accomplished in keeping the membership of our union well informed on our issues," Inman said, "while providing a voice for the working men and women of our local."
If you can help by posting a lawn sign or in any other way,
Inman can be paged at (248) 523-1841.