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July 22, 2005

CAFTA opens doors in the global 'race to the bottom'

Schools have trades seeing double

Rally message: 'Finish the job'

MDOT celebrates a century of service

Historic 5-year multi-craft pact inked in U.P.

News Briefs


CAFTA opens doors in the global 'race to the bottom'

By Sander Levin
U.S. Rep, 12th District, Michigan

As the congressional debate over the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) moves front and center, we should not lose sight of what the argument is about - and what it is not about.

The opposition to CAFTA cannot be dismissed as a battle between big business and big labor. It is not about free-trade Democrats going AWOL, nor is it about Democratic leaders wanting to deliver a defeat to the president. It involves issues broader than those relating to sugar or textiles.

It is about globalization.

As is becoming apparent in Latin America, including Central America, the benefits of globalization are not flowing broadly to its citizens. Within Latin America, which has the worst income inequality in the world, four of the Central American nations rank among the top 10. Poverty is rampant. Middle classes are weak or practically nonexistent.

Citizens in the region have increasingly responded with votes at the ballot box or in the streets. In doing so, they have raised the issue underlying CAFTA: Do the terms of expanded trade need to be shaped to spread the benefits, or do we simply assume that trade expansion itself will lift all boats?

The opposition to CAFTA is being led by those of us who have favored expanded trade and have helped to shape and pass trade agreements involving the Caribbean, Africa, Jordan and Cambodia in the past decade. For us, CAFTA is a line in the sand regarding the future of globalization.

If the United States does not seize the opportunity to shape the rules of trade and competition in CAFTA, then we have chosen to simply be on the receiving end of the consequences - both negative and positive - of globalization.

The goal of globalization must be to expand markets and raise living standards, not promote a race to the bottom.

An essential part of this leveling up is for workers in developing countries to have the freedom to join together to have a real voice at work so they can move up the economic ladder.

This is not true in Central America, where State Department and International Labor Organization (ILO) reports confirm that the basic legal framework is not in place to protect the rights of workers. Regrettably, CAFTA sanctions the status quo or worse by saying to these countries: "Enforce your own laws" when it comes to internationally recognized labor standards.

By condoning the infringement of workers' rights and freedoms, the Bush Administration's trade agreement would provide cover for maintaining an oppressive status quo in the workplace and in society at large.

The president urges a vote for CAFTA on the grounds that it will bring "stability and security" to the region. Administration officials have said that Latin American dictators will "celebrate in the streets" if CAFTA is defeated. The opposite is true. Oppressive regimes are undercut when workers join together and demand a piece of the economic action. If they do so in the workplace, they will do so in the larger society.

The Bush administration misses the mark with its latest attempt to paper over these issues by offering more financial resources for CAFTA countries to improve their labor law enforcement. Better enforcement of inadequate laws is not the solution.

Consider the case of the port workers in El Salvador. Last December 34 workers were fired when they tried to form a union. Not only did the law not require their reinstatement (only severance pay), a month later the labor ministry denied the workers' registration petition because there were only seven workers left, not the 35 required by current law.

(Both provisions have been criticized by State Department and ILO reports.) A CAFTA that does not seek to address these issues is bad for these individual workers, wrong for Central American nations desperately in need of a growing middle class, and unfair to both U.S. workers who should not compete with workers who are suppressed and to U.S. businesses in need of markets.

CAFTA can be quickly renegotiated to achieve the bipartisan support it deserves and the bipartisan foundation needed to address difficult trade negotiations. Security - economic and political - in the region is best achieved by closing the gap between rich and poor, by the development of a real middle class and by the expansion of freedom, beginning in the workplace and spreading throughout society.

Prosperity in our country is best achieved by ensuring that the rules of international competition do not facilitate a race to the bottom and by reassuring U.S. workers and businesses that we are shaping the terms of trade to maximize its benefits and minimize its disadvantages.

(The above opinion column appeared in the Washington Post. We are reprinting it with permission.)


Schools have trades seeing double

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

GRAND BLANC - Two schools are twice as nice in the Grand Blanc Community School District.

The building trades and construction manager George W. Auch are immersed in the unique process of simultaneously erecting two middle schools, East and West, that are about as identical as possible. They're being built about four miles apart, with matching designs, matching budgets ($30 million) and nearly matching construction schedules.

"Whether students go to Grand Blanc Middle School East or West, they're going to have the same experience," said J.P. Adams, the school district's director of operations. "The same brick, the same color scheme, the same room numbering system."

Adams said there is a significant cost savings for the school district in building the twin 172,000-square-foot buildings. The structures are based on a modified design of a school built in Texas, and separating the bid process for both facilities allowed more contractors to try and get the work.

The school district retained George W. Auch to oversee construction of both schools - a company it used to build a new elementary school in 2003 - but the subcontractor list is different for both schools.

When asked if it was a bonus having a twin building being put up a few miles away, Jeff Heidelberg, Auch's project superintendent for the East Middle School, responded, "You bet, it's absolutely helpful to have these buildings go up at the same time. We talk all the time and it's always better to have another set of eyes looking at the plans."

Work began last November with the West school. Construction on the East school began in late December, but both are expected to be complete in June 2006 and students and faculty will move in two months later.

"The school buildings are nothing out of the ordinary, just plain, square, normal construction," Heidelberg said. As for the people building it, he said. "Overall, we're pretty satisfied with the workforce."

Grand Blanc middle-schoolers are currently being taught at a single facility consisting of two buildings next to each other. When the new schools open, each is designed to hold 1,200 sixth-, seventh- and eighth graders. The school district anticipates that there will be about 950 students in each school next year.

But the school district's demographics illustrates the population spurt that's expected in a few years. There were 421 high school seniors in the district this year - but this year's 626 kindergartners would soon be creating a crowd in the classrooms without the additional space.

A few years ago voters in the Grand Blanc School District passed a $94 million bond issue to pay for the new middle schools, as well as for a new gymnasium, auditorium, media center and cafeteria at Grand Blanc High School

"Our community is experiencing a great deal of growth, and we've been running out of room," Adams said. "We discussed additions, but building the new schools turned out to be the least costly alternative."

LIFTING eight-inch pipe in front of the new Grand Blanc West Middle School are Randy Brandt and Mike Blake of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 370 and Dickerson Mechanical.

WIRING A bathroom hand-dryer box at the Grand Blanc West Middle School is Larry Mitchell of IBEW Local 948 and J. Ranck Electric.


Rally message: 'Finish the job'

LANSING - State legislators have some work to do to help Michigan workers, was the message sent by more than 1,200 union members and supporters who converged on the grounds of the State Capitol on June 29.

The message was sent to the state legislature, which was told that work needed to be completed on raising the minimum wage, increasing unemployment benefits, and voting for Gov. Jennifer Granholm's $2 billion plan to create and attract jobs to Michigan.

Sen. John Edwards was the featured guest at the rally. Noting that the U.S. and the Michigan minimum wage haven't budged from $5.15 per hour in more than eight years, Edwards said, "The national minimum wage is a national embarrassment. It's not just an income disparity, it's an asset disparity. We have enormous work to do in this country to close that gap."

There are proposals to raise the minimum wage in both the Michigan legislature (to $7.15 per hour over a two-year period) and in Congress (to $6.65 per hour). Republicans control the legislative levers of power in both governments - and the minimum wage bills are stalled.

"Almost 1/2 million people in Michigan would benefit from raising the minimum wage," Edwards said. "When someone is working to support their family they ought to be able to provide a decent life for their kids."

According to the Michigan AFL-CIO, at $5.15 an hour, a full-time, year-round minimum wage worker earns just $10, 712 a year - $5,000 less than the federal poverty level for a family of three. Forty percent of minimum wage workers are the sole breadwinners in their families.

"If the Legislature won't raise the minimum wage, we're headed to the ballot in '06," said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. "That process has already begun. It's a simple matter of fairness - anyone who puts in a fair day's work should receive a fair day's pay. It's time for the Michigan Legislature to stand up for Michigan workers and raise Michigan's minimum wage."

Unions at the rally were also pushing for passage of Granholm's plan to create a $2 billion bond for increasing economic development in the state, and to transform the Single Business Tax to make it more fair and balanced.

The other issue on the minds of ralliers: unemployment insurance benefits. Michigan, even with the second-highest jobless rate in the nation, hasn't extended unemployment insurance for years because of inaction by the Republican legislature. A future extension of benefits isn't on the radar screen.

UNIONISTS WORE their colors at the June 29 rally in Lansing.

U.S. SENATOR and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards speaks to rally attendees on the Michigan Capitol building steps.
Photos by John Kreucher


MDOT celebrates a century of service

LANSING - Happy birthday, MDOT.

Your 100th birthday, which took place July 1, is a milestone for the traveling public and for the men and women in the building trades who have built and re-built Michigan's roads, bridges and related infrastructure.

On June 28, Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) paid tribute to the Michigan Department of Transportation with a declaration to Congress. Not a run-of-the mill political discourse, Stupak offered some interesting tidbits and history that should make Michiganians proud of their leading role in transportation history.

Following are excerpts of Stupak's comments:

"We pay tribute today to an agency in Michigan that has spent the last 100 years improving the means by which those in the far reaches of our beautiful peninsulas utilize our most well-known state product, the automobile. Today, we in the Michigan Congressional delegation would like to honor the 100th Anniversary of the Michigan Department of Transportation also known as MDOT.

"It all began with the innovative spirit of a bicycle enthusiast and entrepreneur, Horatio "Good Roads" Earle, when he became Michigan's first highway commissioner. He began a movement by aligning the professional road builders and engineers to improve road transportation throughout the state.

"On July 1, 1905, the voters in the State of Michigan overwhelmingly approved state spending for roads making Michigan the 18th state in the union to establish an agency to oversee transportation. Since that day that the State Highway Department was established, Michigan has not only led the world in automotive advancements but has achieved many firsts in the state, country and world for transportation initiatives.

"There were many transportation firsts in Michigan including:

  • The construction of the first international underwater railroad tunnel (Port Huron-Sarnia Tunnel) in 1891;
  • The first international underwater automobile tunnel (Detroit-Windsor Tunnel) in 1930;
  • And the first freeway-to-freeway interchange on Jan. 18, 1955 at I-94 (Edsel Ford) and M-10 (John Lodge) in Detroit, permitting motorists to make turns "simply by moving in the direction they wish to go."
  • Both the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit in 1929 and the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 were the world's longest suspension bridges when they were built.
  • The world's largest automobile tire, utilizing the Ferris wheel ride from the World's Fair in New York from 1964, can be found next to eastbound I-94 just east of the M-39 (Southfield Freeway) interchange in Allen Park.

"MDOT was also the World's first transportation agency to automate management and processing of construction products from the construction site through contractor payment, saving taxpayers more than $20 million per year in 1993.

"The national innovations are endless but include some of the most significant to our everyday living, like:

  • The nation's first mile of concrete highway built by the Wayne County Road Commission on Woodward Avenue between 6 and 7 Mile roads in Detroit in 1909;
  • The first painted centerline in 1911 and the first state trunkline in the nation to sport a centerline from Marquette to Negaunee Road (now US 41/M 28) in 1917.
  • The nation's first highway materials testing lab was at the University of Michigan in 1912,
  • And the nation's first four-way red/yellow/green electric traffic light was at the comer of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit as the invention of Detroit Police Officer William Potts in 1918.
  • Other national firsts include the first roadside park on US-2 in Iron County, completed in 1919;
  • The first practical highway snowplow was built in Munising in 1922;
  • The first "super highway" was an eight-lane divided highway with a 40-foot median built in 1923 along Woodward Avenue between Detroit and Pontiac.

"MDOT was the first highway department to use yellow centerlines to designate "no passing" zones in 1927. Michigan has the nation's first state operated information center, which opened in 1935 near New Buffalo. Michigan was the nation's first state to complete a toll-free border-to-border interstate on I-94 running 205 miles from Detroit to New Buffalo in 1960.

"In 1977 US-31 in Oceana County won the national "most beautiful highway" by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The nation's largest concrete segmental bridge opened up in 1988 when the Zilwaukee Bridge opened carrying I-75 over the Saginaw River. Recently, in 2003, Gloria Jeff was named the director of MDOT becoming the first female and African American State Transportation director in the nation.

"Mr. Speaker these are only a few of the facts, figures and historical moments that are seemingly infinite examples that mark the significant influence this agency has had on transportation in our country and the world.

"However, the greatness and innovation displayed by MDOT throughout this past 100 years is not limited to our history and evolution as a modern state. The recent state accomplishments and the goals laid out for the future show the numerous advancements this department continues to make on behalf of it residents.

"Horatio "Good Roads" Earle would be proud of the efforts to make our roads, highways and bridges better each year. According to MDOT, since 1999, they have completed more than 93 percent of the road and bridge preservation programs announced in the five-year program, making 88 percent of the vehicle miles traveled on Michigan freeways done so on good pavement.

"In the last three years, the capitol preventative maintenance program increased the life span of 3,710 miles of highway by up to seven years with a special treatment. Additionally, MDOT has made significant improvements to trunkline bridges through the state due to strategic planning as well as opening almost 80 miles of widened roadways and passing relief lanes to relieve congestion, reduce delays and improve safety. Other program successes have been in overall safety, economic development projects, parking, roadside programs, and environmental quality.

"Since its inception by Mr. Earle, MDOT has focused on the quality of its services and resources, the effectiveness of their work, the dedication to the needs of their travelers, the integrity to improve transportation the right way the first time, and the pride of being the best as what they do.

"I ask the United States House of Representatives to join the Michigan Congressional Delegation in congratulating the Michigan Department of Transportation on its first 100 years and even better success through the next century."

A WORK GANG of Depression-era road builders. Federal money for roads in the 1930s was split between the Highway Department and Welfare Department, putting thousands of "Reliefers" to work.

In 1911, the Wayne County Road commission painted the nation's first centerline, considered one of the most important safety devices in auto transportation history. MDOT photos


Historic 5-year multi-craft pact inked in U.P.

MARQUETTE - Construction labor and management have come to terms on the first multi-year, multi-employer, multi-trade agreement ever settled in the State of Michigan

Upper Michigan construction workers, along with their employer contractors, recently ratified five-year collective bargaining agreements "that are certain to have a positive affect on economic development across the Upper Peninsula," said a statement by both labor and management.

The five principal civil trades in the U.P., consisting of the Laborers, Carpenters and Millwrights, Bricklayers and Allied Crafts, Ironworkers, and Operating Engineers and the Sheet Metal Workers, concluded the historic agreement with the Michigan Chapter Associated General Contractors (AGC), Labor Relations Division. Total wage and benefit packages settled on an average 3.75 percent increase each year of the multi-year agreement.

"This five-year pact between labor and management signifies everyone's willingness to keep U.P. construction costs stable and help promote economic growth," said Tony Retaskie, Executive Director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council.

AGC Staff Consultant Bob Fontana, said, "What makes this kind of thing happen is trust. The Upper Peninsula workers and their employer contractors really trust and respect one another, for which there is no substitution."

For the contractors, the agreement helps them forecast costs, which is especially important for industrial maintenance contractors working with area paper mills and mining facilities, where keeping costs inline is imperative in maintaining their competitiveness.

For commercial and residential contractors, it also means stability. "By knowing our labor costs, and having a stable base of hard working employees, we are able to plan for the future," said Dick Goodney, president of Closner Construction in Marquette.

For the workers it helps them to continue planning for their futures as well. Mike Thibault, Business Agent for the Iron Workers, said, "This agreement was made because of the trust that has been development between labor and management. The contractors know they are getting a quality work force that is committed to safety and training, and our members are being fairly compensated for their work ethic through family sustaining wages and benefits."

The Upper Peninsula Construction Council (UPCC) has promoted cooperation between labor and management in the building trades for more than 20 years. The UPCC, formerly known as the Upper Peninsula Construction Labor-Management Council, was the first multi-trade, multi-employer construction association in Michigan and one of only a few within the United States. The council is funded by labor and management contributions and is committed to not only productive labor-management relations, but also to helping attract and retain industry in the Upper Peninsula.



News Briefs
Nonunion workers on collapsed roof

The jury is still out on why the roof collapsed on June 25 at the Capital Area Michigan Works office building.

But one thing is clear: nonunion carpenters were on the job when the building went up only four years ago. The site on South Cedar street was picketed by the Michigan Regional Carpenters Council in 2001 over the employment of carpenters being paid substandard wages.

"This is truly the product of cheap, untrained labor doing a project they shouldn't have been doing," Carpenters rep Tyler McCastle told the Lansing State Journal.

Weather did not appear to be a factor in the roof collapse. Hundreds of people work in the building, but no one was injured because it was closed at the time.

An attorney for the responsible contractor, the Eyde Co., told the Journal that it's not "a fair statement" to say that nonunion workers did poor work.

The cause of the collapse remains under investigation.

Better times for union busters?
Boo-hoo for union-busting law firms.

The Communication Workers of America report that law firms specializing in helping employers fight unions have been laying off employees in recent years because of declining unionization efforts. "Employers simply didn't need as many high-paid thugs to thwart organizing drives," the CWA said.

Now, the result of strife and realignments in the labor movement is expected to bring about a rebound in union organizing.

"No matter what happens, organizing will increase, and for employers I suspect it is going to be a fierce time," said Bill Adams, who runs a union-busting law firm, to the Chicago Tribune.


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