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July 21, 2000

Primary election is easy to ignore - please don't

Trades straighten U.S. 131 S-Curve

Let's restore balance to Michigan Supreme Court

Class act Atkins retires from Cement Masons

Bricklayer King has Unlimited potential

NEWS BRIEFS

 

 

Primary election is easy to ignore - please don't

"So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we'll be called a democracy." - Roger Baldwin

Michigan voters will have the opportunity to go to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 8 to fight for their rights at polling places scattered among the 83 counties of Michigan.
Primary elections always seem to take place at the worst time on the calendar - in August, when people are often on vacation or have their minds on anything but voting.

That's why voter turnout numbers are so lousy for primary elections. In August 1996, the most recent year Michiganians went to the polls to elect a president, only 1.3 million voters voted. But in November of that year, 3.9 million Michiganians went to the polls.

It's still important to go to the polls or send in your absentee ballot for this year's primary election, because in so many communities, the primary election effectively determines the winner of the race.

We urge building trades workers families to exercise their franchise and vote on Aug. 8. On Page 3 of this edition is an endorsement list compiled by the Political Action Committee of The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council.

Four times over the last decade, the school inspection matter has come up for a vote in the state Senate, and each time it was defeated. School districts argued against the cost, and state Republicans have made it a policy not to increase government influence.

Dingell said passage was gained this time in good part because lawmakers had in mind the tragic collapse of a block wall at Flushing High School that killed four building trades workers nearly two years ago. Safety inspectors had not inspected the wall.

Beginning in the 1920s, the task of school inspections fell to the state school superintendent, because lawmakers believed many local building inspectors lacked the expertise to review such major work. Then in 1978, the school superintendent handed off the responsibility to the state fire marshal, whose office still conducts safety inspections.

The problem is, since then, there has been no state-mandated enforcement of other construction codes when it comes to school buildings, and local inspections can be spotty. As a result, rather incredibly, state construction rules have been more stringent for prisons and other state-funded buildings than they have been for schools.

In his first term, Gov. John Engler vetoed a bill that would have required structural inspections of public school construction sites. Two years ago there was some positive movement: Engler's spokesman said the governor was "open to discussing" the bill.

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Trades straighten U.S. 131 S-Curve

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

GRAND RAPIDS - The building trades and Kiewit Western Co. are working hard to improve the city's notorious S-curve.

Dubbed by the state Department of Transportation as "by far the largest and most complex civil engineering project ever launched in West Michigan," reconstruction of the mile-long portion of U.S. 131 that snakes through downtown is moving along on schedule toward completion by Dec. 1 - or earlier.

Instead of closing lanes and shifting traffic on the road, which could have doubled the length of the project, MDOT and Grand Rapids city engineers decided to completely shut down the six-lane S-Curve, the city's major north-south artery.

"People kind of expected doomsday on Jan. 17, the first day the road was closed," said Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong. "But drivers had been given plenty of notice, and it was almost seamless. People adjusted, found a different route, and things came off without a hitch."

The detours "have worked out well," said City Commissioner Jim Jendrasiak, an IBEW Local 275 member. "I think closing the whole freeway was a good decision, and the public has reacted favorably."

The curve is actually a series of six elevated spans, including one that crosses the Grand River. When the S portion of U.S. 131 was completed in 1963, there were fewer vehicles, and few, if any, public hearings to get input on creating such a potential bottleneck - with left-turn exits and no shoulders - on a major highway in the middle of a big city.

Traffic problems have long been a concern, with the S-Curve handling 120,000 vehicles per day, but reconstructing the bridge was placed on a fast track in January 1998 after the span over the Grand River settled. The dissolving of gypsum deposits created a void in the bedrock below the river, causing the bridge to shift on its foundation. MDOT repaired the damage, but it was clear that a new span was needed that took the geologic formations into account.

The design of the new road will shave the curve only slightly. The city has grown around the S highway, and the demolition of buildings (some historic), a higher cost and a greater delay in completing the project would have resulted if a straighter design had been incorporated. "Straightening the S-Curve creates difficulties that are almost inconceivable," MDOT said.

The improvements involve total re-construction of the roadbed with a new 10-inch-thick surface, construction of additional through lanes and shoulders, reconfiguring entrance and exit ramps, and shoring up the bridge foundations. The trades will also be installing a snow melt system with nozzles that shoot a de-icing compound over the road when conditions are icy. All told, MDOT is spending about $165 million on the project.

Two weeks ago, ongoing work included construction of 70-foot-deep concrete caissons for the new river bridges, concrete pours, placement of re-rod, and forms.

"More than anything, the challenge on this project is the fast timing and the environmental concerns of working over the river," said Karl Koster, assistant city engineer. "Overall the job is moving along well."

Some 300 building trades workers are on the project. Kiewit can earn a $50,000 per day bonus - up to $3 million - for each day the project finishes ahead of the deadline.

The Grand Rapids Press caught up with Norman Cobb of Holland, watching the construction process from a restaurant parking lot. "These guys sure know what they're doing," he said. "It's not easy work."

IBEW LOCAL 275 member Jeff Looman working for contractor John R. Howell installs conduit on the S-Curve in downtown Grand Rapids. Paying a visit to the jobsite is Grand Rapids City Commissioner and Local 275 member Jim Jendrasiak.

LABORERS Jeff Featherly and Ramon Ypatzi of Local 1191 fold up a section of protective canvas following a concrete pour on the S-Curve. Just over a million cubic feet of concrete will be poured during the project.

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Let's restore balance to Michigan Supreme Court

By John Hamilton
President
Detroit Building
Trades Council

For me, the month of January 1999 was the start of my three-year term as president of The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council.

It has been a great experience, and it has been a pleasure working with Secretary-Treasurer Pat Devlin, who works on behalf of all the building trades unions and really has the council moving in the right direction.

For all the working people in the State of Michigan, things haven't been so great since January 1999. That's when the balance of the state Supreme Court shifted from 4-3 Democratic to a 5-2 Republican majority. We anticipated a dramatic change, but the speed of the change has truly breathtaking, and the new makeup of the court has been almost completely negative for working people.

In cases that have gone before the Michigan Supreme Court:

  • Workers' compensation claimants have lost four out of four cases.
  • With personal injury cases - which are of tremendous importance to construction workers - plaintiffs have lost 12½ cases out of 13.
  • Insurance companies are batting eight for eight in terms of cases they have won.
  • In cases that have involved legal action by Gov. John Engler or the Republican-dominated state legislature: no surprise, the Republicans have won four out of four decisions.
  • Corporations are two for two in utility deregulation wins.
  • Civil rights plaintiffs have lost their only case before the court.

So, we know which way the majority of the court is leaning. Supposedly, judges are nonpartisan, but the Republican, anti-worker agenda of the majority of the court is the state's worst-kept secret. It is no coincidence that the five judges have voted together in 95 of the 98 decisions rendered by the court since 1997.

The court's conservative bias could not have come at a worse time for working people. In the next legislative term, Democrats and Republicans are going to reapportion how district lines are drawn throughout the state.

They will each try to redraw the boundaries to their own advantage, and their arguments will almost certainly wind their way up to the Michigan Supreme Court. A continued Republican bias on the court would allow the state GOP to have its way, which means they could redistrict the boundaries and keep Democrats in the minority for the next 10 years.

Voters will have the opportunity to vote on three state Supreme Court seats, and it so happens that they all belong to current justices who have anti-worker agendas. Here's the rap sheet on each:

Justice Robert Young has voted to force employees to give up their rights to file lawsuits over claims of unemployment discrimination on the basis of race or sex as a condition of getting a job. He approved of Engler's removal of the State Board of Education's responsibilities. Young served as a GOP lawyer when legislative and congressional lines were reapportioned in 1990-92. He served as general counsel to AAA-Michigan when the company attempted to take away consumer rights in 1992 and 1994.

Justice Cliff Taylor has an anti-employee, anti-civil rights, anti-consumer, anti-taxpayer and anti-consumer record. He has ruled to restrict consumers' ability to recover damages from injuries, prohibited a union from suing to protect the health and safety of its members, repeatedly upheld the denial of workers' comp benefits, and refused to apply protections of the Whistleblower Protection Act to a terminated employee.

Stephen Markman has a similar anti-worker, anti-consumer record. He has overturned jury verdicts for injured workers, restricted the rights of injured individuals to recover damages for their injuries, and like Young and Taylor is an active member of Federalist Society, an extremist group funded by Republicans and right-wing activists.

The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council has endorsed Thomas Fitzgerald, Marietta Robinson and Edward Thomas for the three state Supreme Court seats up for re-election. The Michigan Supreme Court has never been so out of balance - help us to tip the scales by going to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 7.

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Class act Atkins retires from Cement Masons

"Class." "Dignity." "Integrity." "Decency."

Those were among the words used by business associates to describe Cement Masons Local 514 Business Manager Elvin Atkins, Sr. on the occasion of his July 8 retirement banquet. Elvin, 61, retired last month after serving as business agent and business manager for that local for an astounding 30 years.

"Elvin Atkins did his job well for 30 years, but being business manager was only part of the job," said Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Rep. Daniel Rauch. "He was involved in negotiating, bargaining contracts and dealing with trust funds. I tip my hat to him; it's a remarkable achievement."

Atkins became a cement mason on Jan. 1, 1964 and worked with the tools for six years. In 1970, he ran for business agent and won. In 1976, after the retirement of John Messico, Atkins stepped into the position of Financial Secretary-Treasurer/Business Agent of the local union, and his title later became business manager. He was always re-elected.

He expressed a great deal of pride in improving the pay and retirement plan for members, and has joked all along that he fought for the improvements because some day, he too would be enjoying those benefits. For him, that day has arrived.

"Integrity describes everything about Elvin Atkins," said Tom Hayden of trust fund administrator Paine-Webber. "Any of his fellow trustees will tell you that he was quiet at times, but he always let his presence be known, and he worked for the benefit of his membership."

OPCMIA International President John Dougherty lauded Elvin for his service both to the International Union and to Local 514. "He and the local went through some hard times, but the membership always had the foresight to elect a dynamic labor leader."

Added Ann Neydon of the legal firm Sachs Waldman: "Elvin had a deep understanding of what brotherhood and sisterhood are all about."

Atkins didn't forget his family during his tenure. He and wife Connie parented six children, and he always made time for them. "I remember my father coming home from work being bone tired, but never too tired to play with us," Elvin, Jr. told the gathering of well-wishers.

In retirement, Elvin will have plenty of time to do whatever he wants to do, but in the warmer months, he will probably be found out on the links. He has become an avid golfer in recent years. The only jurisdictional disputes he can expect to be involved in will be where to drop his penalty shots.

"The reason Elvin has endured for 30 years is that he always placed the needs of the membership above his own," said Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin. "Elvin, we wish you a healthy and enjoyable retirement."

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Bricklayer King has Unlimited potential

Some tradesmen golf, fish or play softball in their spare time.

Others - well, only one that we know of - climb into a high-tech boat cockpit and competitively race at speeds up to 200 miles per hour

We refer to Jimmy King, a Bricklayers Local 1 member and owner of King Masonry. For about 10 weeks out of the year, he puts down his trowel and races in unlimited hydroplane events around the country. On July 6-9, King drove the yellow Llumar Window Film boat in the 2000 Chrysler Jeep Detroit APBA Gold Cup race. Choppy water damaged the boat during the elimination heats, so King and the Llumar craft weren't in the water on race day. Miss Budweiser took the crown.

"We'll try again next time," King said. "It's great fun. For me it's a change of pace from humping block."

King, 39, has been racing boats 25 years. He drove Grand Prix-class boats for most of his career, winning two world championships. In 1994, he moved up to the unlimited class, and was named UHRA Rookie of the Year in 1994.

In 1998 he entered only six of the 10 races and still achieved fifth place in national high points. He took third place in the 1998 Detroit hydroplane race even with extensive damage to the bottom of his boat. King has 20 career victories in boat racing.

The Llumar boat, like other Unlimited hydroplanes, is 30 feet-long, 14 feet-wide and weighs about 6,400 lbs. Up until about 1990, unlimited hydroplanes were powered by piston aircraft engines designed in World War II, but they gave way to the 2,650 horsepower helicopter turbine engines that drive the boats today.

Once a hydroplane comes up to speed, it "hydroplanes" on top of the water using airflow beneath the boat to decrease the boat's drag on the water. Hydroplanes fly more than they float, and the ideal stance is for the boat to have just half of its prop in the water,

King said the differences between competing boats are slight: successful racing teams do the best job of tweaking their boat's propeller and aerodynamic configuration. "Every team has their own system," he said. "Most people would never see the difference in the boats."

So it often comes down to the driver's skill, and King has had his share of success. But he's also had his share of mishaps behind the wheel, having broken both knees, an elbow and his collarbone. But those injures were sustained in older boats. King said it's been a decade since he's been in the hospital, in good part because the cockpits of today's boats are modified from military designs and do a much better job of preserving drivers' life and limbs. "They're pretty bulletproof," he said.

As for the river courses from city to city, "no one is better or worse than another," he said. "I happen to like Detroit because it's home."

During the Detroit leg of the schedule, King has time to see his wife, Tammy and their three children, Kiara, 9; Bobby, 6, and Jeff, 4. But the hydroplane circuit this year takes him to locales like Madison, Ind., San Diego, Honolulu and Seattle.

"The money's decent" driving unlimited hydros, King said, and a successful driver could make a living exclusively driving hydroplanes. But brick and mortar have been part of his life since he was 18 and now King owns his own company. He said he's going to keep his day job.


BRICKLAYERS Local 1 member Jimmy King drives the Llumar Window Film boat in the Unlimited Hydroplane race circuit.

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NEWS BRIEFS

If at first you don't succeed…
MIDLAND - The Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors once again reached into its bag of tricks this month, and pulled out a lawsuit that has all the charm of a whoopee cushion.

The Chapter has filed a Midland Count Circuit Court lawsuit to get the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1966 declared unconstitutional. The suit named the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services and the Midland County prosecutor as defendants.

"Every few years the ABC comes up with a cockamamie legal case against prevailing wage or union-only project labor agreements, and they come up the loser every time," said Detroit Building Trades Attorney Doug Korney. "This just strikes me as another unmeritorious lawsuit filed by the ABC."

In filing the suit, the ABC used the tired old refrain that the law adds excessive costs to taxpayer-funded construction - a point which has been debunked by no less than three university studies in the last three years.

"It should be called the union wage law. There's nothing prevailing about it," said Andy Anuzis, vice president of the ABC of Michigan, to the Associated Press.

For the cost of its legal fees, the ABC may feel that they can get a break before a friendly judge on this case, because they haven't had much luck related to prevailing wage in any other venue. Gov. John Engler and the Republican-dominated state legislature have so far not made a serious attempt to repeal the law, most likely because the votes simply aren't there.

As we reported in our last issue, a Michigan Court of Appeals panel last month ruled 3-0 that the prevailing wage for state-sponsored construction work must follow state law and mirror wages paid in local collective bargaining agreements.

And, when a case brought by the ABC to federal Judge Robert Cleland resulted in his overturning the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act in 1994, based on the thin argument that the law preempted the federal ERISA Act, his ruling was effectively overturned 19 months later by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the validity of union-only project labor agreements - which legally have certain similarities to prevailing wage.
"The ABC has been singularly unsuccessful in the courts and I doubt they're going to be any more successful on this case," Korney said.

WW II bombers on display Aug. 5-6
Pipe Fitters Local 636 member Ed McCahill called the mass production of the B-24 and the B-29 bombers "labor and industries' finest hour. Not many Americans weren't affected by the work of these great eagles."
On Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 5-6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, a B-29 Superfortress, the only one of its type still flying today, and a B-24 Liberator will be on display, flown to Michigan by the Confederate Air Force.

The planes will be at the historic airfield as part of a symposium, "The atomic bombing missions of World War II," which will include Paul Tibbets, pilot of the B-29 Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and Don Albury, who piloted the B-29 Bock's Car, which dropped the A-bomb on Nagasaki. The event will be hosted by the Yankee Air Force, of which McCahill has been a member since 1985. He and other building tradesmen volunteer their time to refurbish the planes and keep them in operation.

Also on display will be the jewel of the Yankee Air Force's squadron, a B-17 Flying Fortress, one of the few in the country still flying.

Adult tickets are $10 to check out the planes and the Yankee Air Museum; $5 for kids under 13. For the Aug. 5 symposium, doors open at 5 p.m., with dinner being served at 5:30. Speaker presentations begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $45 in advance or $50 at the door, and the price includes the Aug. 5-6 round-up shows.

For more information, call (734) 483-4030.

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