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July 25, 2003

Bush pushes plan to deny overtime for more workers

OSHA kills requirement to count ergo injuries

Trades restore lofty part of Fisher Building's opulence

Wage increases take a slight dip

State re-funds road projects

Book-Cadillac set to write new chapter

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Bush pushes plan to deny overtime for more workers

Trade union members and their employers know what's expected when it comes to overtime pay, because terms and conditions of their employment are spelled out in their collective bargaining contract.

Not so for millions of other workers, who may wish for a union contract after the Bush Administration and congressional Republicans get through with them.

Unless the U.S. Senate blocks the measure, the Bush Administration is set to push through new workplace rules that could end the ability of up to eight million white collar and other workers to earn overtime pay.

Under the Bush proposal, workers, including nonunion police officers, nurses, store supervisors and many others, would face unpredictable work schedules and reduced pay because of an increased demand for extra hours - for which employers would not have to provide compensation.

According to a labor-backed Economic Policy Institute report released June 26, workers making more than $22,100 a year could be denied overtime pay under the proposed changes if they are simply reclassified as "professional," "administrative" or "executive" employees exempt from federal overtime rules, as Bush's proposal would allow.

A majority of the U.S. House approved the legislation. However, the House also rejected a Democratic-sponsored amendment, by a 213-210 margin, that would stop the Department of Labor from issuing any regulation that takes away overtime rights. The amendment would instead have allowed the department to freely broaden overtime protection for more workers, plus clarify the rules in a way that does not take away overtime from those who now have it.

"We regret the House narrowly defeated this amendment," says AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney. "Many Democrats and Republicans have expressed outrage over the administration's attempt to deny workers overtime pay to help support their families. The legislation is a crucial step in protecting the 40-hour workweek and overtime pay for working families who depend on this extra income to pay their bills.

We wholeheartedly support this legislation, which would block Bush's outrageous assault on workers' overtime pay."

The Bush Administration touted the plan as a major benefit to low income workers, who earn less than $22,100 per year and who would have their rights to overtime spelled out. But AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka pointed out that most of those workers are already eligible for overtime pay.

"Just because we have high tech jobs, just because more people are working in an office doesn't mean we should become a nation of workers who never see their families and spend 50 or 60 hours a week" at work, Trumka said. "The 40-hour week and overtime pay are the legacy of some of the greatest uprisings of workers in our history to demand that they be treated with respect."

Another labor leader said Bush's plan would give employers "a financial incentive to have workers work longer hours with no additional pay," rather than hiring more people to do needed work. "It's an incentive to corporate greed," he said.

Under the current Fair Labor Standards Act regulations adopted in 1938, most U.S. workers - an estimated 79% as of 1999 - are guaranteed the right to overtime pay, or time-and-a-half, for every hour worked beyond the normal 40-hour workweek. For white-collar workers, three tests determine whether they are exempt, and thus ineligible for overtime pay. The rule changes proposed by the Bush Administration would make drastic changes to these tests, vastly increasing the number of exempt employees and making it likely that millions of them will work longer hours at reduced pay.

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OSHA kills requirement to count ergo injuries

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Not only will the Bush Administration not allow OSHA to regulate ergonomic injuries - it won't even count them.

In a June 30 decision in the Federal Register, OSHA said a line for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) on its worker illness and injury reports would be eliminated for good. MSDs are the official name for ergonomic injuries. The decision means employers now will not have to list them for OSHA.

OSHA's decision angered the AFL-CIO, which campaigned long and hard for rules to cut the number of ergonomic injuries. Such injuries sideline some 600,000 workers per year for varying lengths of time from their jobs.

Recalling that the Bush administration backed big business' successful effort in 2001 to get Congress to repeal OSHA's comprehensive ergo rule formed under the Clinton Administration, federation President John J. Sweeney said: "Now, again at industry's behest, the administration eliminated the very information that would help employers and workers identify MSDs and hazardous conditions.

"Just because the government is not going to require employers to track these injuries, and just because the government is not going to enforce a safety standard, doesn't mean that workers will stop becoming ill or permanently disabled on the job. Cutting off all information about MSDs exposes the Bush administration's approach as meaningless," Sweeney added.

OSHA said the process of counting ergonomic injuries doesn't tell researchers how those injuries happened, and that existing injury case reports are sufficient to do that.

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Trades restore lofty part of Fisher Building's opulence

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Building trades workers are helping to restore some of the lost luster atop the "Golden Tower of the Fisher Building."

Erected in 1928, the Fisher Building is described by its historical marker "as "Detroit's largest art object." It was built at a time when the seven "Body-by-Fisher" brothers seemingly had money to burn because of the booming automotive market, and basically gave architect Albert Kahn a blank check when it came to outfitting their building.

He spent about $9 million on the building, and a quarter of that was devoted to "extras" that helped Kahn win the Architectural League's Silver Medal designating the Fisher Building as the nation's most beautiful commercial structure of 1928. Seventy five years later, the building is still an architectural gem, and atop the building, a small group of Western Waterproofing tradesmen are helping to make sure it stays that way.

Earlier this month, Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers tradesman working for Western Waterproofing completed the process of removing a pair of rotten copper-clad ornamental spires on the roof, in a laborious effort that required a tricky scaffolding job and a gentle touch when it comes to dislodging the historic fixtures.

The job was handled by foreman Shawn Merrill, Bradley Mayer and John Grougan of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1. They will also be removing, repairing or replacing terra cotta tiles that cap part of the skyscraper's green and yellow roof. In several months, they expect to be back on the job installing new replica spires made of fiberglass.

"Once you get under the skin of the spires, every section is rotted, and a lot of it basically turns to dust," said Merrill, working on the tiny scaffolding platform they erected above the roof. "This is interesting, historic work and it's the kind of work we like to do best."

The spires had obviously been deteriorating for years, but the need for this project came to a head when one section broke off. Further inspection found that the pair of spires were barely attached to the roof because of the rot. Before this disassembly project began, the spires were looped in wire so they wouldn't fall apart further.

Clad in 16-guage copper, the two wood and metal spires were gently dismantled and temporarily placed in a pile inside on the building's top floor. They may be reassembled and displayed somewhere inside the building.

The Western Waterproofing crew will also rebuild the 20-foot structures that anchor the fixtures to the roof.

"The craftsmen who built these were pretty sophisticated," Merrill said. "Look how they bent and folded all the copper. And then underneath, they did the same thing with the wood and the metal. When we started, we didn't expect to see all the decay that we've seen. But there are a lot of seams, and that's where the copper failed. I guess you'd have to expect that after being exposed up here all these years."

THE SECOND OF TWO crumbling ornamental spires atop the 28-story Fisher Building tower in Detroit is prepared for removal by (l-r) Bradley Mayer and Shawn Merrill of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 and Western Waterproofing.

Lights that shine on the 28-story skyscraper in Detroit's New Center area at night led to the building's "Golden Tower" moniker, which is perpetuated by the building's most famous tenant, WJR radio.

 

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Wage increases take a slight dip

Average first-year contract settlements for wage and benefits in the U.S. construction industry in the first half of 2003 have resulted in increases of $1.45 or 4.3 percent - a slight decline from levels a year ago.

The Construction Labor Research Council (CLRC) reported that the number of construction contract settlements for the "East North Central Region," which includes Michigan, led the nation. But the actual dollar amount increases for this region mirrored those of the national average.

For the same period in 2002, pay increases averaged $1.51 or 4.5 percent.

The CLRC said the pattern of longer-term collectively bargained contracts "has subsided," while three-year deals "increased in favor."

During the last five years, PAS Inc. surveys of nonunion construction worker show pay increases peaked at 5.3 percent in 2000, and then the percentages have dropped the last three years. Among nonunion construction workers in 2002, average pay increases for all crafts went up 3.9 percent, but are on track for a lower increase of 3.59 percent this year.

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State re-funds road projects

LANSING - A large chunk of money to repair Michigan's roads and bridges has been lost and found.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican leaders in the state legislature moved their budget priorities around and found money to resume work on 17 road projects around the state.

"The road projects I am recommending today will help create at least 6,000 direct construction-related jobs and thousands of indirect jobs," Granholm said. "After discussions with the legislature and the Michigan Transportation Commission, and input from local communities, we were able to craft a fiscally responsible plan that preserves our current transportation system first while moving forward on expansion projects vital to our state's economy."

A state budget deficit of more than $1 billion threatened the cancellation of some 34 highway projects costing about $250 million around the state, but the governor and legislature compromised and came up with a deal to fund half of them. Loss of those projects would have amounted to hacking about one-fifth of the entire $1.3 billion state transportation construction budget.

The bulk of the funding to make these improvements, which are scattered around the state, will come from the issuance of up to $200 million in bonds authorized by the state Transportation Commission, with the remainder coming from other sources.

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Book-Cadillac set to write new chapter

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The Book is back

Nineteen years after the landmark Detroit hotel closed its doors for what many thought was the last time, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced that the historic hotel would be open again in time for the 2006 Motor City Super Bowl.

The new Book will be called the Renaissance Book-Cadillac Hotel and will be an upscale brand of Marriot International. It will feature 483 guest rooms, 76 high-end apartments and a 186-car parking deck.

"The Book-Cadillac is a monument to Michigan's Golden Age, when we were a magnet of economic opportunity," said Granholm. "This restoration is a huge step towards recreating that opportunity and prosperity in Detroit and across Michigan. It shows our commitment to investing in our cities and to economic success for every community in the state."

The elaborate financing package for the $146.8 million renovation cost involves 10 different financing sources, led by a one-third stake by the Kimberly-Clark Corp. (yes the maker of Huggies diapers) and private, city, state and federal financing sources. Kimberly-Clark led the similar renovation of an historic Statler Hotel in St. Louis.

The construction team will be led by J.S. Alberici, who have requested that construction work be performed all-union under a National Maintenance Agreement.

At the time it was constructed by the Book Brothers in 1924, the 33-story Book-Cadillac was the tallest hotel in the world. It had 1,035 guest rooms and five floors of ballrooms, restaurants and shops. The opulent hotel boasted crystal chandeliers, ornate brass fixtures and fancy wood and plasterwork throughout. Over the years, virtually everything of value has been stripped from the hotel by urban scavengers, and roof leaks have ruined much of the interior plasterwork.

Kilpatrick said when he took office 18 months ago, "most of us thought the wrecking ball would be coming to this hotel. But we've done everything in our power to help save this hotel and others in Detroit, and we're not done yet."

MICHIGAN GOV. Jennfier Granholm announces the comeback of the Book-Cadillac in front of a big crowd and a banner hung on the side of the tattered hotel.

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NEWS BRIEFS

MSU Prof. Kreuger was a labor advocate
Michigan State University Professor Daniel Krueger - an advocate for working people and a particular friend of the building trades - died of cancer on July 8, 2003 at age 80.

Dr. Krueger, known as an expert in labor and management relations, was a frequent speaker at building trades functions. He was passionate about the importance of the role of organized labor in U.S. history, and how much of a benefit unions were for union members.

"He was a man of vision and integrity who really cared about making a difference in the lives of his students, his community and in the broader community," said Theodore Curry, director of the Michigan State University School of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Dr. Krueger retired as professor emeritus in 2001after a 44-year career at MSU. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Carol Beals, and seven children.

Jobless system upgraded on Internet
Michigan's unemployment insurance program has upgraded its system for taking unemployment claims through the Internet, opening the system to most jobless workers, especially those in construction.

"We've enhanced our Internet filed claims process by removing some of the earlier limitations, giving more jobless workers in the state the ability to file their unemployment claims online," said David Plawecki, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services. "And we've added more security features."

The most significant upgrade allows workers to file online, even if they have had more than one employer over the previous 18 months - which should prove a boon to construction workers. Previously, the system only accepted claims from jobless workers who had worked for only one employer.

Jobless Michigan workers can apply for unemployment benefits online at www.michigan.gov/bwuc.

The bureau's website accepts online claims applications Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. including holidays that fall on weekdays. To file a new claim online, unemployed workers must:

  • Have lived in and worked only in Michigan during the last 18 months;
  • Have filed an unemployment claim within the past 10 years; and
  • Have no wages from the federal government.

Those applying for unemployment benefits online are still required to register for unemployment at the Local Michigan Works! service center, "if they are not returning to work within 120 days" the agency said. And, unemployment benefits cannot be paid unless the worker places his/her resume in the Michigan Talent Bank.


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