The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

July 23, 2004

Educated voters key to making every vote count in 2004

Of primary importance: vote on Tuesday, Aug. 3

Clean slate: new roof for an old school

Bush vs. the American worker…President picks fight on various fronts

Rained out May 20-24? Disaster $ may be available

Trades at the top of the Fox

The Gangbox - Assorted News and Notes

News Briefs


Educated voters key to making every vote count in 2004

Tradesman Viewpoint

"Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: 'Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm." -Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This year's presidential election may be won easily by either George W. Bush or John Kerry. More likely, it will be won by only a few voters in a handful of battleground states like Michigan. With the televised images of Florida's hanging-chad-counting election workers in the tight 2000 presidential election still fresh in their minds, few voters will go to the polls thinking that their vote won't count.

In 2004, every vote will matter, because no one knows how close the votes will be in battleground states. In Florida, only 537 votes separated George Bush from Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, a margin which provided Bush with the victory. The same year, Gore won New Mexico by only 366 votes.

This year, the polling is showing that there is every reason to believe that the Nov. 2 election will be just as close. That makes each ballot important - so it is vital for voters to understand the views of the candidates so that their one vote will "do no harm" to their own interests.

In the 2000 election, some 64 percent of Michigan's union-member voters cast their ballot for Gore. That was among the highest statewide union turnouts in the nation for Gore.

Conversely, garnering more than a third of Michigan's union-member voters obviously meant that President Bush had a great deal of appeal in 2000. He went into the White House with a pledge of bringing "compassionate conservatism" to our nation, and promised to reach out across party lines and become a "uniter, not a divider," and a "reformer with results."

But has he brought about compassion? Has he been a uniter? Have his reforms brought results? Even though the president's record will forever be shadowed by the Iraq war and the war on terror following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, his record as president is chock-full of decisions, executive orders and policy statements that clearly show the president's vision for the nation's future. (See the article below).

And as part of Bush's vision, the needs of working people and organized labor have consistently been ignored in favor of the agenda of his supporters in corporate America. Bush campaigned as if he would help middle America, but his record shows that he has favored the rich and powerful.

Building trades union members may have voted for President Bush in 2000 based on the president's moral character or his stands on abortion, assisted suicide or gun rights. Those are powerful considerations, and church leaders or interest groups often take time and effort during this time of year to influence voters to cast a ballot for this or that candidate based on his or her stand on those issues.

Leaders in the building trades unions and the rest of organize labor are also interest groups. And the primary area of interest of unions is the health, welfare and economic well-being of members. That is the case now and has been since unions were formed more than a century ago.

Some union members complain that labor-endorsed candidates are always Democrats. That's a point that's difficult to argue, although the building trades - more than any other group in organized labor - makes an effort to reach across party lines and endorse Republicans who support prevailing wages, project labor agreements and health and safety issues.

Organized labor supports Democrats because Democrats typically support the objectives of organized labor. In Michigan and around the country, Democrats do not propose to eliminate prevailing wage laws, remove safety regulations, restrict a worker's right to organize, or create statewide right-to-work laws.

Democrats do not support judges who support the vast restriction on the right of workers to win compensation in on-the-job injury cases, as we've seen in Michigan. Democrats do not support cuts in Unemployment Compensation. Democrats do not support cuts in Labor Department funding and services.

Support for those anti-labor issues only emerges from the Republican Party - and that's why organized labor typically supports Democrats.

The U.S. presidency will likely be decided this year by the narrowest of margins. Building trades workers are urged to register to vote if you haven't already done so - then get educated about candidates for president, and about all the others on the ballot. After all, you wouldn't want to use your vote to put yourself in harm's way for the next four years.


Of primary importance: vote on Tuesday, Aug. 3

The Nov. 2 general election ballot - which will include George W. Bush and John Kerry - will get the lion's share of attention from U.S. voters this year.

But with many public offices, the most important balloting will take place in the primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 3. Primary elections allow voters to decide which party's candidate will advance to the general election, and in voting districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican, the primary election is the most important.

A number of building trades union members are on the primary ballot this year, including Doug Bennett of UA Local 174 (candidate for State Rep., 92nd District); L. Patrick Fisk of UA Local 636, candidate for State Rep., 36th District), and Steve Ellery of Painters and Allied Trades Local 1474, running for St. Clair County Commissioner, 5th District.

In addition, no less than three union members are running for seats on the Macomb County Commission: Rick Fast, UA Local 636, 11th District; Tony Caleca, Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, 16th District, and Tom McVicar of the Painters and Allied Trades, 15th District). Tom Chiles of Iron Workers Local 25 is also running for Huron Township Trustee.

Building trades union members are urged to vote for their fellow members who are taking the time to run for public office, and to support other candidates who support the goals of organized labor.


Clean slate: new roof for an old school

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Lowrey School in Dearborn got a pretty good return on its investment in high-end roofing materials in 1927.

The original slate roof has served its purpose well but has been showing its age. With leaks becoming more common, the Dearborn Board of Education three years ago decided to embark upon a phased-in project to replace the entire 9,700 square-feet of slate on the Lowrey roof.

The project is about 75 percent complete, and is being manned by a crew of five roofers from Local 149 and J.D. Candler Roofing Co. "We've had a number of leaks, especially in the slopes," said building engineer Keith Kushnir. "It's time for replacement. The roof is as old as the school, so I'd say we've gotten our money's worth."

The second-largest school in the Dearborn School District, Lowrey was a K-12 facility until 1969. Today it is a K-8 school with 1,350 students. The school district is spreading out the work - and payments - for the project over several years.

"They're paying more for the slate, but look how long it lasts," said Candler Roofing foreman Andy Bunyak. "The old one lasted 75 years, and this one should last just as long."

Because it can cost four times more than asphalt shingles, slate is not usually a first choice as a roofing material. Slate is difficult and messy to tear out, edges are sharp, and the tiles can get very hot in the sun. On the other hand, these roofers said they appreciate getting a break from uncomfortable hot-tar jobs.

In addition to its longevity, slate is being used on the Lowrey project for the curb appeal and to maintain the building's traditional appearance. Lowrey school was designed by the same architect who laid-out nearby Fordson High School - which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and architecturally significant schools in the state.

New green and purple tiles from the Evergreen Slate Co. in New York - sorted all over flat sections of the school's roof - are being installed in a random pattern. The slate comes in standard sizes, but hundreds of pieces have to be cut and fit by hand. Copper nails secure the slate tiles through two pre-drilled holes.

"There's a bit of artistry involved in it and you have to be meticulous, but that's why I like the work," said roofer Rich Ballard. "This is different than any other kind of work we do. But the payoff is that it looks so good."

A SLATE SHINGLE IS nailed into place atop Lowrey School in Dearborn by Andy Bunyak of Roofers Local 149 and J.D. Candler Roofing Co. The old slate roof lasted 77 years.



Bush vs. the American worker…President picks fight on various fronts

Some union workers may have given George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt in 2000.

But organized labor leaders and the Democratic Party believe that when workers understand what Bush has done to them in the three-and-a-half years of his presidency, they may not be in the mood for re-electing the Texas Republican.

Following is a compilation of actions Bush has taken against the American worker from 2001-2004:

Bush proposed eliminating overtime for eight million workers. Bush's proposal to overhaul overtime rules, expected to take effect next month, will reclassify workers as managers, administrative workers or professional employees, leaving them ineligible for overtime pay. A study by the Economic Policy Institute originally found that eight million workers would be affected by the Bush plan.

Lobbying by Democrats in Congress significantly reduced the number of workers affected to less than one million workers, mostly white collar. Nick Clark, the assistant general counsel of the United Food and Commercial Workers, called Bush's overtime change "a massive giveaway for employers at the expense of workers." (New York Times, 7/1/03; Economic Policy Institute, July 2003; Houston Chronicle, 3/28/03)

Bush has refused to extend jobless benefits. Citing the rosy job outlook for the U.S., Bush and Republicans in Congress have consistently refused to extend Unemployment Compensation for jobless Americans.

Jobless benefits were not extended by Congress after they ran out on Jan. 1. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed persons, 8.2 million, was essentially unchanged in June from the month before, and the unemployment rate held steady at 5.6 percent.

The lack of job growth in the U.S. has threatened to make President Bush's administration the first since President Hoover's in the Great Depression to realize a net less of jobs.

Bush rescinded federal regulations preventing federal contracts from going to companies that broke labor laws. In response to lobbying by the business community, Bush repealed a federal regulation that prevented federal contracts from going to contractors that had violated federal labor laws.

The rule had been issued by President Clinton in 2000 after an Associated Press analysis found that hundreds of contractors were eligible for federal contracts despite having convictions or lawsuits for defrauding the government. A General Accounting Office study found that in one year 261 federal contractors with 5,121 health and safety law violations received $38 billion in contracts. (Wall Street Journal, 4/2/01; Washington Post, 3/31/01; Associated Press, 1/3/02; National Journal's Technology Daily, 1/2/02).

Bush rescinded a rule requiring disclosure of union-busting activities by corporations. In 2001, Bush rescinded a Clinton order that required companies to disclose materials they received to aid in stopping union organizing campaigns, such as pamphlets, videos, scripts, and strategy advice. (AFL-CIO)

Bush's Labor Department relaxed enforcement of workplace laws. After heavy lobbying from business groups, Bush's Labor Department said it would emphasize compliance assistance for companies, rather than enforcement of workplace laws. The department's shift in focus from enforcement to compliance came after lobbying campaigns from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. The business groups said department inspectors looked too closely at small infractions, requested too much data and used different standards in different places. (Wall Street Journal, 7/3/01).

Bush targeted organized labor from his first days in office. Less than a month into his administration, Bush issued four major anti-worker orders. Bush signed executive orders banning project labor agreements, requiring federal contractors to post anti-union notices, eliminating the National Partnership Council and revoking job protection for service industry workers that contract with the federal government. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said that the orders were "mean spirited and anti-worker" retribution against unions for supporting Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 elections.

Two of the four executive orders Bush issued in February 2001 were later found to be illegal by federal judges. On Nov. 7, 2001, a federal judge ruled that Bush's order banning PLAs violated the National Labor Relations Act. Then, on Jan. 2, 2002, another federal judge found that Bush's order requiring federal contractors to post anti-union notices also violated the NLRA. (New York Times, 1/8/02; Washington Times, 12/13/01)

Bush issued an executive order banning unions in the Department of Justice. The president issued an executive order barring unions from representing workers in parts of the Department of Justice in January 2002. Bush's order affected more than 500 federal workers at various agencies within the DOJ. Bush said that union contracts could restrict workers at the Department of Justice from protecting Americans and national security, even though federal law prohibits strikes among federal workers.

"We're outraged by this," said Steven Kreisberg, associate director of collective bargaining at AFSCME. "A lot of these Justice Department workers have been members of unions for 20 years and there's never been an allegation of a problem." (New York Times, 1/16/02)

Bush budget cuts Labor Department funding. In his 2005 budget proposal, Bush seeks a 5 percent decrease in funding - to $57.3 billion - for the Department of Labor, mostly because of a cut in projected spending on unemployment benefits. (Federal Funds Information for States, 2/9/04).

Bush sought inadequate resources for OSHA. After the president provided a token $4 million addition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's budget, the agency announced that it won't increase the number of inspections it performs. More than 4.7 million workers suffered injuries on the job last year, yet the Office of Safety and Health only has the resources to afford inspection to every job site once every 63 years.

With more than half of all U.S. workers at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, safety standards are being eroded as employers are no longer required to report repetitive stress injuries. (Campaign for America's Future, 2/04; Bureau of Labor Statistics; OSHA; AFL-CIO).

Bush slashed worker safety training grants by 64 percent. Bush cut funding for worker safety and training grants by 64 percent, to $4 million in 2005 from $11 million in 2004. According to OSHA, the grants funds programs "to train workers and employers to recognize, avoid, and prevent safety and health hazards in their workplaces." (Budget of the United States; OSHA; Campaign for America's Future, 2/04; AFL-CIO)

Bush supported "Paycheck Protection" in campaign finance reform. As the Senate was preparing to take up debate on campaign finance reform, Bush sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott outlining his "statement of principles" on the subject. Bush said that as part of his campaign finance reform, he wanted to require labor unions to get members' permission before their dues money could be used for political purposes.

Paycheck protection measures would subject unions to burdensome restrictions while not affecting corporate spending on political activities, even though corporations already outspend unions 11 to 1. (Washington Post, 3/16/01; AFL-CIO)


Rained out May 20-24? Disaster $ may be available

Michigan residents in 19 counties who were left temporarily or permanently unemployed because of damage from storms and tornadoes that swept through the counties in late May may be eligible for special federal unemployment aid.

According to the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) will be available to workers "who worked in or were scheduled to begin work in any of the affected counties but were unable to work because of the effects of the weather."

The state Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) will be taking applications for the federal DUA benefits.

"Workers, including the self-employed, in any of the 19 counties who either lost their jobs or had their employment interrupted due to the severe storms, tornadoes and flooding that struck from May 20-24 will have 30 days, until Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004, to file DUA claims," said Sharon Bommarito, director of the UIA.

The federal government has declared the following Michigan counties as disaster areas: Barry, Berrien, Cass, Genesee, Gladwin, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent, Livingston, Macomb, Mecosta, Oakland, Ottawa, Sanilac, Shiawassee, St. Clair, St. Joseph, and Wayne.

"Unemployed individuals may be eligible," said a statement by the state UIA, "if their unemployment is a direct result of the disaster occurring from May 20, 2004 and through May 24, 2004. Disaster Unemployment Assistance will be available to individuals who worked in, or were scheduled to begin work in, the major disaster area at the time of the major disaster and whose principal source of income and livelihood is dependent upon the worker's employment for wages."

A worker's unemployment, the statement said, will be considered caused by the major disaster if the worker:

  • no longer has a job as a direct result of the disaster, or
  • is (or according to a state UIA spokesman, "was" is also accurate) unable to reach the place of employment as a direct result of the major disaster, or
  • was to have started work and does not have the job or is (or was) unable to reach the job as a direct result of the disaster, or
  • has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household died as a direct result of the major disaster, or
  • cannot work because of an injury caused as a direct result of the major disaster.

Only one of those criteria need to be met in order to be eligible for the benefit.

Necessary applications and instructions can be obtained by either visiting the UIA's web site at or calling toll-free, (866) 241-0152 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

The minimum weekly benefit amount for full-time workers is $146.00 to a maximum of $362.00 depending upon an individual's earnings. Part-time workers may be entitled to a reduced amount depending upon earnings.

On many jobs, Hardhats would be sent home whether they're rained on by a gentle shower or a monsoon. So - are construction workers who were unable to work for a day, or several days, because of those heavy rains be eligible for the federal disaster money? We posed that scenario to a UIA representative, who agreed that it sounds as if those affected construction workers would be eligible for disaster assistance. Your results may vary, but it may be worth a shot to apply if your job was affected by the weather.


Trades at the top of the Fox

RESTORATION work on the exterior terra cotta of the Fox Theatre in Detroit continued last month, with employees of restoration Grunwell-Cashero on the job. Masons from Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 and support crafts continued to repair and replace sections of the exterior terra cotta, and now they're on the roof. As we reported late last year, this is the largest and most significant exterior restoration in the building's 76-year history. Over the years, seams have failed, support steel for the exterior panels have rusted, and some of the terra cotta panels have loosened. The project is expected to be complete in the fall.



The Gangbox - Assorted News and Notes

Investment returns in multi-employer pension funds improved in 2003, said a survey conducted by New York-based Segal Advisors and reported by the Construction Labor Report last month.

The report found there was a median investment return of 17.2 percent for multi-employer pension plans last year, compared to an 8.2 percent loss the previous year. All building trades union pension plans are multi-employer plans.

"Although these are positive results, the survey report noted in its conclusion, some plans may require several more years of higher returns before they can make up for double-digit losses in recent years," said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan.

Building trades union leaders are still irate at President Bush and the Republican Congress for failing to provide legislative tax relief for multi-employer pension plans earlier this year - while providing such relief for non-multi-employer plans.

The Bureau of National Affairs' Wage Trend Indicator released June 15 "confirm that the lingering effects of the generally sluggish labor market in 2003 - along with the new indications that some job sectors remain weak - are likely to restrain wage increases into early next year."

Federal mine inspectors for the U.S. Labor Department were recently issued new coveralls emblazoned with a U.S. flag.

There were two problems, according to Charles Mercer, president of the Union Label and Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO. First, the flag was affixed upside down. Second, the garments were made in Mexico.

In addition, OSHA inspectors are required to wear Labor Department-issued green and yellow windbreakers when they staff high-profile events. Those jackets, Mercer said, carry a label indicating they're made in Vietnam.

"All of this says volumes about how far the Labor Department has strayed from its original worker-friendly mission" set by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who initiated the department, Mercer said.

President Bush's plan to take away overtime rights for thousands of U.S. workers "will harm rather than promote and protect the interests of U.S. workers and their
families," said a new report by former Department of Labor officials.

The officials worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations. They said the new rules, which are set to go into effect Aug. 23, "removes existing overtime protection for large numbers of employees currently entitled to the law's

Vice President Dick Cheney recently traveled to Bentonville, Arkansas, home of the nation's largest corporation, to praise Wal Mart and its key role in our economy.

"The story of Wal Mart exemplifies some of the very best qualities in our country, hard work, spirit of enterprise, fair dealing and integrity," Cheney said. "The managers and associates at this great company are helping to drive our economy forward. You're making a vital contribution to the most prosperous economy in the world."

The average Wal Mart employee earns a little over $8 an hour which puts them well below poverty level for a family of four.

And on June 22, a federal judge gave the green light to one of the largest class action lawsuits in history. The judge Ok'd the right by more than one million past and present female Wal Mart workers to sue the company for sexual discrimination on the job.


News Briefs

Small jump for May construction
New U.S. construction starts in May were up 1 percent compared to the previous month, according to McGraw-Hill Construction.

"The construction industry has picked up the pace in recent months," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "The stronger economy is helping the nonresidential structure types, but at the same time there's concern that rising prices for building materials - steel, lumber and now cement - will dampen emerging nonresidential expansion."

During the first five months of 2004, total U.S. construction was up 10 percent compared to the same period in 2003, and up 8 percent in the Midwest region.

Voting system at Carpenters upheld
The first Circuit Court of Appeals handed a major victory to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) International Union on June 21, effectively upholding the voting structure of the union.

By a 2-1 decision, the appellate court overturned a lower court ruling, and found that the New England Regional Carpenters Council is a legitimate body and is thus able to elect officers by a delegate vote. Carpenter members in the "Association for Union Democracy" who brought the case argued that the New England council should be declared a local union that must have a system in which officers are elected by direct membership vote.

Nearly a decade ago, the UBC instituted an election system in which members vote for delegates, who then vote for officers. The New England lawsuit has been the major test case for members who are dissatisfied with the setup. Plaintiffs, who won in a prior circuit court decision, are considering taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Appeals Court Judge Sandra Lynch, who voted with the majority, said Congress "imposed strict restraints" on the ability of the judiciary to change the arrangement of union election systems.

In 1996, the Carpenters union set up regional councils with broad authority over how local business is conducted.

The Michigan Regional Carpenters Council effectively withdrew from the Greater Detroit and Michigan Building Trades councils in May 1996. The Carpenters International Union still has a working relationship with the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, but has split with the AFL-CIO itself in a dispute primarily over how the federation's dues money was used for organizing.

State ups hours for online claims
The State of Michigan has more than doubled the number of hours in which unemployed workers can file claims online for unemployment benefits.

The state Unemployment Insurance Agency's website, is open for 132 hours straight from 7 a.m. Mondays through 7 p.m. Saturdays, EST. The system is not available for 36 hours, including all day Sunday, to allow for maintenance.

Until now, the system would only take claims for 12 hours on weekdays.


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