The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

July 25, 2008

Building trades endorse Obama

Industrial construction to bring labor shortages, group predicts

'From factory town to college town' Trades help transform Flint

Leadership ethics can replace the handshake

Industry 'clobbered' by surging material costs

News Briefs


Building trades endorse Obama

'He is simply on the right side of the issues that matter to our collective membership'

By Mark Ayers
AFL-CIO Building Trades Department

On June 18, the Governing Board of Presidents of the Building and Construction Trades Department voted unanimously to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for President of the United States.

This was a decision that entailed months and months of discussion, analysis and close examination of each candidate's record; issue positions; as well as their overall vision for the future of the United States of America.

In the end, it was a fairly easy decision, for it came down to a choice between the candidacy of John McCain who has fundamentally embraced the disastrous economic and foreign policies espoused by the Bush Administration, or the candidacy of Barack Obama, where the concerns of working families are placed front and center, and where, amid the partisanship and bickering of today's public debate, he still believes in the ability to unite people around a politics of purpose - a politics that puts solving the challenges of everyday Americans ahead of partisan calculation and political gain.

We honor John McCain's service to our country. But when it comes to having a true, innovative vision for America in the 21st century, John McCain offers nothing but warmed over Republican rhetoric from the 1980s. Tax cuts for the wealthy so that economic growth will then "trickle down" to American working families. We heard it from Reagan, and we heard it from two Bushes. And it never worked!

For all his talk of being a maverick, or his independence from the Republican Party, the centerpiece of the John McCain economic plan amounts to a full-throated endorsement of George Bush's policies. According to McCain, "we've made great progress in our economy these past eight years." He likes to call himself a fiscal conservative. And on the campaign trail he is a passionate critic of wasteful government spending.

Yet, he has no problem supporting hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for big corporations along with a continued occupation of Iraq - policies that have produced a mountain of debt which, in turn, will force us to eventually have to cut back on spending for such critical programs as job training and infrastructure improvements.

Our endorsement of Senator Obama is tantamount to a re-affirmation that what we, as a nation and as a society, have to embrace the idea that the government of the United States of America values the labor of every hardworking citizen. For too long, our unions and our members, and working people in general, have had to endure the brutal consequences of a federal government apparatus that was deliberately, with malice aforethought, directed to accomplish two objectives:

1) Re-constitute the basic purpose and objectives of the federal government so that they become in synch with the insatiable desires and wishes of corporate America; and

2) Unleash the full fury and resources of the federal government to dramatically weaken the American labor movement.

Sen. John McCain, through his actions, statements and policy positions, has given every indication that he embraces this philosophical vision of American governance.

Further, Sen. McCain is the chief architect of a disastrous guest worker proposal that will exacerbate an already untenable situation in the American construction industry - an industry where current estimates show over 25 percent of the workforce as being undocumented. Adding insult to injury, in 2007, during negotiations over an immigration reform/guest worker bill, McCain objected to a provision by Sen. Edward Kennedy that would have required guest workers to receive the prevailing wage for the industry and the region in which they work.

It's no wonder Senator McCain has no perspective when it comes to America's working families. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a "second job" and "skip their vacations."

Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

And while McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, his campaign manager and top advisers are actually highly paid lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.

And perhaps most telling, from our perspective, is the fact that John McCain is the endorsed candidate of the Associated Builders and Contractors…whose sole mission is to destroy our unions! In the ABC's endorsement flyer, they applaud the fact that John McCain opposes Project Labor Agreements, favors repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, and a weakening of jobsite safety regulations and enforcement.

With Senator Obama as president, we believe that the federal government will be brought back into its original balance of being "of the people, by the people, and for the people." And with an Obama presidency, we will once again have a government that is determined to respect a worker's labor and reward it with a few basic guarantees - such as wages that can raise a family, health care if we get sick, a retirement that's dignified, and working conditions that are safe.

More specifically, we have endorsed Barack Obama because he is simply on the right side of the issues that matter to our collective membership. For starters, he has consistently voted to protect the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires the payment of prevailing wages on federally-financed construction projects. And, he will make it a priority to rescind the Bush Executive Order that bars the federal government from entering into project labor agreements.

Additionally, we are excited about Sen. Obama's detailed and innovative plan to fund our nation's desperate need for critical infrastructure improvements. Simply put, Barack Obama will make strengthening our transportation systems, including our roads and bridges, a top priority. As part of this effort, Obama will create a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to expand and enhance, not supplant, existing federal transportation investments. These projects will create up to two million new direct and indirect jobs per year and stimulate approximately $35 billion per year in new economic activity.

Sen. Obama believes that workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. To that end, he has cosponsored, and is strong advocate for, the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize. He will continue to fight for EFCA's passage and sign it into law.

Further, Barack Obama has made it clear that he will ensure that his labor appointees support workers' rights and will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers. Sen. Obama will also increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation to ensure it rises every year.

Obama has fought the Bush National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) efforts to strip workers of their right to organize. He is a cosponsor of legislation to overturn the NLRB's "Kentucky River" decisions classifying hundreds of thousands of nurses, construction, and professional workers as "supervisors" who are not protected by federal labor laws.

The decision to endorse Barack Obama can easily be summed up by comparing the views of each candidate through their own words.

Speaking about the issue of immigration and guest workers at the 2006 Building and Construction Trades National Legislative Conference, Sen. McCain had this to say when a delegate in the audience had the audacity to suggest that American businesses could find plenty of American workers if they would only pay them a decent wage:

Let me tell you something…I'll pay any of you $50 an hour to come to Yuma, Arizona to pick lettuce. You won't do it…you can't do it!"

Senator Obama's vision for America provides a telling contrast:

"I understand that the challenges facing our economy didn't start the day George Bush took office and they won't end the day he leaves. But I also know that this nation has faced such fundamental change before, and each time we've kept our economy strong and competitive by making the decision to expand opportunity outward; to grow our middle-class; to invest in innovation, and most importantly, to invest in the education and well-being of our workers.

"We've done this because in America, our prosperity has always risen from the bottom-up. From the earliest days of our founding, it has been the hard work and ingenuity of our people that's served as the wellspring of our economic strength. That's why we built a system of free public high schools when we transitioned from a nation of farms to a nation of factories. That's why we sent my grandfather's generation to college, and declared a minimum wage for our workers, and promised to live in dignity after they retire through the creation of Social Security. That's why we've invested in the science and research that have led to new discoveries and entire new industries. And that's what this country will do again when I am President of the United States."

In the end, the choice was no choice at all.


Industrial construction to bring labor shortages, group predicts

By Guy Snyder
Michigan Construction

In a national economy that's been softening in a direction known too well by Michigan contractors, what's been happening to the construction labor shortage crisis? It still exists, according to the first summer National Safety-Labor Forum held July 9 in Detroit by The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC). According to that group, over the next generation we can expect it to get worse.

Bob Santillo, vice president and president-elect of TAUC, who's also president of McCarl's Inc., a mechanical contracting company based in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, predicted "an explosion in industrial construction" on the horizon, a forecast also confirmed by Chris Hernandez, president of the Northwestern Indiana Building Trades Council.

A great deal of it will be centered in energy construction, such as petroleum refineries and electrical generating stations, but even the steel industry is expected to expand and modernize. Hernandez said in his market area he is expecting "seven to eight years of good market opportunities," and is already having to cope with skilled trade shortages, especially on short-term projects.

Santillo said he's heard forecasts extending as far as 25 to 30 years. At the same time, there's supposed to be a loss as high as 50% of the nation's skilled trades before 2018. By then even older workers who have delayed retirement will be compelled by age to drop out.

Their optimism is backed by data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. While reporting overall construction dropped 5.1% during the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2007, it was primarily due to a 27% decline in residential construction. Non-residential construction actually increased 20%. Leading the charge was petroleum and chemical plant projects, up 47%; power plant construction, up 38%; and manufacturing plant construction, up 33%.

For Michigan the problem has been that many of these advancements are occurring beyond its borders, though that picture is expected to change. Shorty Gleason, president of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council (MBCTC), told the TAUC audience that the past five years "has been the slowest growth period I've seen in 35 years in the industry." Union construction in our state has been averaging about 93 million hours per year and he expressed concerns that a movement toward enacting a right-to-work law in the state could severely jeopardize Michigan's highly successful union construction apprenticeship programs.

Even so, the light in industrial construction that has started to shine at the end of Michigan's tunnel is coming from its electrical utilities. Currently six coal-fired power plants are in the proposal stage, including a $2 billion project in Midland and one of similar size near Bay City. DTE Energy is also planning a $3 billion nuclear power plant near Monroe. In Southwest Detroit, Marathon has just begun work on a $1.9 billion refinery expansion and, according to Ed Coffey, a business representative for the MBCTC, difficulties in finding enough skilled trade workers qualified to work on such a complicated job are already being encountered.

Michigan's unionized contractors have been lean and highly competitive in a tough market, added Patrick Devlin, the MBCTC's secretary-treasurer. He said it's all been due to outstanding apprenticeship and journeyman skill upgrading programs, combined with a culture of cooperation between contractors, owners, and the building trades.

Some of it is illustrated in a drug and alcohol testing program administered by MUST (Management and Unions Serving Together) that's saving Michigan an estimated $1.5 million in annual safety and drug testing costs while "providing a tremendous service to promote convenience, verifiability, and affordability," Devlin said. "The MUST system is also tied in with the Michigan Association for Responsible Contracting, a statewide coalition of labor management groups that are involved with school districts' hiring of responsible contractors for their facility projects."

The meeting's agenda included a report prepared by Bill Parsons of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Among his topics was an estimate on when the new standard for crane and derrick operation will be ready. At the moment, he said, the preamble to the standard is still being drafted and edited, a document expected to be over 1,000 pages long.

o A report on owner expectations, presented by Bud Burns, chairman of the TAUC Labor Committee, from J.J. White Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He outlined five areas of concern, stressing that owners should provide a single point of contact for project owner-contractor communications on their construction projects, give contractors exclusive responsibility for labor on project sites, communicate effectively and provide as much information about a project as possible, be prompt in contractor payment, and become involved in safety and work rules through consistent polices.

o Bill Hering, chairman of TAUC's Safety Committee, from S.M. Electric Company, Rahway, New Jersey, stressed in his "safety minute" how complacency can severely damage any construction site safety program. "You have to be fighting the danger of drifting away," he said. "The race for safety never ends. You've got to remember that." He also said management has to convince workers they are empowered to make prudent safety decisions, "so that they feel that, without negative consequences, they can stop work if they feel it's unsafe."

o A panel of experts consisting of K.P. McBride from Chrysler Corp., Ron Koshewitz of Ford Motor Corp. and Carl Gabbard of General Motors Corp. discussed kit work (or kitting) under the National Maintenance Agreement Policy Committee. The work regards modifications to existing manufacturing equipment lines. The three automotive representatives outlined a growing trend toward the use of turnkey operations to perform such work, due to a reduction in project owner staffing.

Plans are already underway for a second Safety-Labor Forum to be held by the group in December in Washington, D.C.



'From factory town to college town' Trades help transform Flint

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

There are new signs of life in this tough old town, in the form of the sights and sounds of construction activity in the downtown area.

Some $450 million in new, planned or ongoing construction projects are transforming pockets of the downtown area into what is hoped will be the start of an economic renaissance for Flint. In our last issue, we described the nearly complete, $21.3 million, 311-bed student residence hall at the University of Michigan-Flint near the downtown area, as part of an overall plan to leverage the city's considerable student population, and tie it to new development.

But there are also several projects going on downtown. Two signature developments face each other along Saginaw Street, the city's main drag. Sponsored by Uptown Developments, the buildings will be mixed use, including ground floor businesses, storefronts and restaurants, as well as residential lofts on upper floors.

"We're trying to create an all-American downtown, the way they used to be in the early 20th Century," said Scott Whipple, development and project manager for Uptown Developments. "When people live downtown, it creates a more vibrant and stable economic base." Whipple said the Uptown group has acquired about a dozen buildings, most on Saginaw Street. They use grants, tax credits, low interest loans and traditional bank financing to do these projects. "We're always looking for new opportunities for redevelopment in downtown Flint," he said.

Saginaw Street is anchored by the Mott Foundation Building, a beautifully restored 16-story tower built at the corner of First Street in 1930. To the north along Saginaw Street is about $8 million work of work. One side of the street will be anchored by the adaptive re-use of three historic buildings, built between 1880 and 1920, now collectively known as the Rowe Building. About 100 employees from several of the engineering firm's southeast Michigan offices will move into the building.

While Rowe will be the main tenant, the new four-story development will also include a nightclub in the basement, themed restaurants on the main level, and loft space above.

Across Saginaw is a development that will primarily house one of Rowe's competitors, Wade Trim, another engineering firm. The company signed a 12-year lease within the 27,000 square-foot building, which will house 25 employees.

The new office complex, to be constructed in the middle of the block, will have space for five entertainment-oriented restaurants or retailers on the ground floor, 8,500 square feet of office space for Wade Trim on the second floor, and four high-end lofts on the third floor. The redevelopment will require the demolition of the former Jewish Federation, NBD Trust, and Legal Services of Eastern Michigan buildings in the middle of the block.

According to information by Uptown Developments, the construction is designed to blend with the historic architecture of downtown. The three-story façade of the new building will feature dramatic, two-story red brick arches with a large, curved glass curtain wall. The complex also will include an outdoor pedestrian plaza through the center of the block that will provide a place for outdoor dining and small community events.

The plans also call for complete interior and exterior renovations to the former Copa and Blackstone's buildings to bring them up to code.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is expected to provide $4.2 million for the work on Saginaw Street. "It is heartening to see the redevelopment of this property move forward," said William S. White, Mott Foundation president. "This will leverage and complement efforts that are currently under way across the street and on nearby blocks."

Whipple said demand for the lofts on the street have been strong - "pretty much all of our units have been leased," he said, including 16 in the First Street Lofts, a recently redeveloped seven story building erected in 1925.

All told, Whipple said Uptown Developments has $37 million in recent real estate investments. And the work is being performed by union trades people.

"What we're trying to do is reinvent Flint's economy and Flint is a union town," said Whipple. "We're doing great, everybody loves these projects and the quality is top-notch."

Saginaw Street isn't the only area in Flint getting redeveloped. Third Avenue will be re-worked as part of a strategy to link the traffic flow between the University of Michigan-Flint and Kettering University. The strategy will include streetscape improvements, buried overhead utilities, landscaping, lighting, sidewalks, and curbs as well as commercial, park and residential development.

A $20 million expansion and renovation of the Flint Museum was completed two years ago. At 607 E. Second Ave, interior demolition is ongoing in the process of renovating the old Durant Hotel into student housing or commercial space. The $23 million project will renovate what was once the city's grandest hotel, which was built in 1920.

The nearby Berridge Hotel and Tinlinn Building, located just west of M.L. King Avenue on Second Avenue, is undergoing a $6.2-million project that will include 21 loft apartment units with two commercial tenant spaces on the ground floor

"Flint is reinventing itself from a factory town to a college town with a diverse economic base," said Tim Herman, CEO of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. He called the work along Saginaw Street "another step toward making our downtown much stronger."

ON THE EAST SIDE of Saginaw Street in downtown Flint, the renovated 16-story Mott Foundation Building at left, dominates the streetscape. Renovations on the red Wade Trim building are nearly complete. The rest of the buildings on the block with either be renovated or torn down and replaced.

INSTALLING A VENT near a curtain wall at the Wade Trim Building in Flint is Ken Krupp of Sheet Metal Workers Local 7, working for Dee Cramer.

ACROSS SAGINAW STREET, three separate buildings built between 1880 and 1920 are being modified and adapted to house the Rowe Building.


Leadership ethics can replace the handshake

By Mark Breslin

I have heard for many years the lament over the loss of "the handshake" that once defined our industry. An unspoken honor system that governed contractor, union, and employee relations more than any contract or attorney ever could.

Where did the handshake go? It was not just one great dark cloud that swept away the handshake, but small chips knocked out from the foundations of trust and ethics in business. Now, many years and chips later the costs have become highly visible, as has a general acceptance of "situational ethics" as a price that must be paid if one is to avoid being "rolled." Must it be this way? Not entirely.

There may be many who think that the words "ethical union or ethical construction" are self-canceling. And in the very complex, competitive and unforgiving world of our industry, it often is. Survival in the business now demands that one look over their shoulder at all times because the naïve or trusting pay the price more often than the hardened cynic.

In 25 years I have seen it all, as have you; self-interested leaders, delayed or denied contractor payments, ugly claims, unacknowledged bad specs, brutal sub-contracts, jurisdictional claim jumping, skimpy bid protests, back door PLA clauses, agency false claim threats, specious employee lawsuits or workers comp claims, change orders uncompensated, bid shopping, embezzlement, bloody internal union betrayals, employee mistreatment, general C-Y-A and worse.

So what to do in a Darwinian environment that does not provide a direct incentive for ethical behavior and business practice? Everybody bends. Everybody rationalizes. Everybody lives in the gray area. Mine is not a foolish call for perfection or a judgment of others. Simply an observation of an area of business in need of improvement, with a significant potential for economic reward.

Organizational leadership requires alignment with some form of values that you, your managers, employees, and clients clearly understand. So the first question is; what are the values (visible and invisible) at work in your organization? And are ethical practices a part of this? According to the Conference Board, a national business leadership organization, some 75%+ of companies have a code of ethics as a part of their business plan and operation. The question (besides to simply look good) is why?

Well, let's take a quick look at some of the building blocks of ethical behavior:

  • Wisdom & knowledge
  • Self control & discipline
  • Value of Others vs. self
  • Courage & integrity

What business or union leader would not want an organization populated by individuals who possess these characteristics? Is it a stretch to think that having an organization built on these values might have some inherent competitive advantages? Or even defeat long-standing stereotypes of an industry that does not value ethics?

The primary business benefits of good ethics are trust and loyalty. Now, putting a price tag on these is pretty difficult; especially if you stand to lose an opportunity now and then as a result. But truth, trust and loyalty are foundational elements that, in absence, kill a business' image, relationships and brand. This is a lesson that some unions have had to really consider: when no one wants to do business with you, it is time to take a very hard look at your ethics in policy and practice.

Leadership ethic is most important of all. If leaders cannot display uncompromising integrity and ethics, they simply invite less than that among their employees and associates. For many years as a CEO I made every employee goes through a 360 Review process with every other employee they work with at the end of each year. Everyone anonymously rated each other on 16 key attributes that we used to define our organizational values.

Each person's tabulated summary data was given only to me and the individual only to improve performance. As CEO I was rated along with everyone else; including on trustworthiness, office politics and integrity. I chose year after year to publicly post the entire results of my 360 Review on my door for all to see. Why? I must be both transparent and bulletproof. If not, I am just myself at the expense of others. And more importantly, "leading by example" in the area of ethical practices can have no compromise. This we must teach.

A leader is being watched every minute and every action is a signal of what is acceptable or encouraged. No organization can, in my opinion, create business success and fulfilled, motivated employees with an internal ethical disconnect. A devolving ethic in a union or a company leads to all kinds of discord, conflict, politics and financial impacts.

Also critical to the future of our industry is the coming demographic shift of both Generation X and Y into the workplace. Ethics, integrity and a sense of purpose is valued in most surveys even higher than money by these young and talented prospects. And it is because they have become so cynical at seeing everyone in the public eye talk the talk but rarely walk the walk.

Attracting and retaining the best talent will soon have as much to do with "how you ethically do business" vs. "how much you pay someone" to do it. Values and attitudes influence performance more than any other factors; what kind of values and attitudes are you recruiting, promoting and training for within your union, contracting firm or agency?

There are proactive steps you can take within your union, company or even our industry. Some basics you should consider might include the following;

1.) Identify the values and principles by which you want your organization and your people to be known by.

2.) Adopt or develop an ethics policy for your organization or agency that directly supports these values.

3.) Include training on it as mandatory for all managers (not only situational ethical policies like harassment, safety, discrimination etc.) that identifies the purpose and benefit to the company or agency

4.) Reward and highlight ethical practices by staff

5.) Outline and enforce consequences for unethical practices and do not compromise

6.) Promote your ethical values, principles and policies as part of your organizational brand, culture and identity to your clients.

Though the handshake may be almost dead, that does not mean that honor and integrity are not still a choice. An individual choice, best influenced by leaders, businesses, unions and an industry that values it.

(Content excerpted from Mark Breslin's keynote speech to the American Institute of Ethics program, "Ethics in the Construction Industry: The Good, Bad & Ugly."

Mark Breslin is a strategist and author specializing in labor-management challenges. He is the author of Survival of the Fittest, Organize or Die and coming in 2008 Alpha Dog. He addresses more than 50,000 labor and business leaders each year in North America. More on his work and profile is available at



Industry 'clobbered' by surging material costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - "Surging prices for diesel fuel, asphalt, steel and other materials are clobbering construction budgets," Ken Simonson, Chief Economist for The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), said July 17. Simonson was commenting on the producer price index (PPI) for June reported that day by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The PPI for inputs to construction industries - materials used in all types of construction plus items consumed by contractors, such as diesel fuel - surged 10.4 percent over the past 12 months. The index for highway and street construction leaped 18.9 percent.

"Bad as those figures sound, the increases in asphalt and steel costs have been even worse since these prices were collected in mid-June," Simonson said. "In the first two weeks of July, asphalt prices have jumped by 40 percent in several parts of the country. He said prices for reinforcing steel used to reinforce concrete in highways, bridges and buildings soared $200 per ton.

Regarding diesel fuel, the Energy Information Administration reported that the average price of highway diesel hit a new record of $4.76 per gallon, up 12 cents just in the past two weeks. "These figures won't show up in the PPI until next month, but contractors are paying them now," Simonson noted.

"Suppliers have been announcing price increases for many other products as well," Simonson added. "Yesterday, two gypsum makers told contractors that wallboard prices would rise at double-digit rates in each of the next three months."

In the futures markets, aluminum has been setting records, while natural gas has doubled in price from a year ago. In turn, that has triggered jumps in the cost of construction plastics - such as polyvinyl chloride pipe, insulation and flooring that use natural gas as a feedstock. "Unless Congress passes additional funding in the next few weeks to keep highway construction funds flowing, many states will stop awarding contracts," Simonson warned. "Other public agencies, as well as private owners, must adjust their budgets promptly to reflect the new price realities for construction."


News Briefs

13 weeks added to jobless benefits
The following is an excerpt of a July 9 letter from U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow to Michigan union leaders:

"I am pleased to report that the President finally signed the 13-week extension of unemployment benefits on June 30. As I wrote to you last month, I worked hard with Sen. Ted Kennedy to lead this critical fight.

"As you know, current law allows for unemployed workers to receive up to 26 weeks of benefits. This extension will add an additional 13 weeks for a total of 39 possible weeks. Individuals that have received unemployment benefits in the past two years and are still unable to find work may apply for this extension. In addition, this extension is also open to individuals that receive benefits at any time between now and next March. For example, someone who has already exhausted their unemployment benefits can apply for an extra 13 weeks of benefits, and someone who starts receiving unemployment benefits between now and anytime until March may apply.

"Over the last six months our nation has lost 324,000 manufacturing jobs. Since the president has been in office, over 3.5 million manufacturing have been lost. More and more families in Michigan and across the country are finding themselves living in poverty and lacking health insurance. For those who have been hit the hardest and cannot find work this 13-week extension will provide critical help to make ends meet."

AFL-CIO to approach vets at election time
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Saying that unionists who are veterans should band together to protect their interests as veterans as well as their interests as workers, the AFL-CIO launched a new union veterans' organization on July 10.

Headed by Building and Construction Trades Department President Mark Ayers, an IBEW member who is a Vietnam veteran, the group will also tell union veterans and other veterans that while it honors Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his record on veterans' issues is not good enough to let them vote him into the White House this fall.

That theme will also be emphasized in TV ads the group began running in 15 media markets in six swing states--including Ohio and Pennsylvania--featuring another Vietnam vet, Jim Wasser of IBEW Local 176 in Kankakee, Ill.

"We'll start by educating our veteran members on votes" by McCain and the presumed Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on issues such as health care, the minimum wage, an expanded GI Bill and GI health benefit funding, Ayers said.

"As veterans, we respect McCain's military service to his country, but not his voting record," added Ayers, whose construction unions include a lot of military retirees and reservists. An estimated 2 million union members are veterans.

The group's criticism includes not just McCain's vote against the larger GI bill--because of concerns it could hamper re-enlistment--but his votes against adding $400 million to the veterans health care budget. McCain also voted against a $1 billion trust fund for military health facilities and against $500 million for military mental health treatment, Ayers added. The military estimates that some 25% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan need such treatment.

But the AFL-CIO's military vets group, which will continue after the election to lobby lawmakers on veterans' issues, faces the entrenched power of pro-Republican veterans organizations, like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Those groups see McCain's years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam as a positive. And they see Obama's lack of military service and his party label as an automatic reason to oppose the Illinoisan. To them, all Democrats are suspect.

To counter that tilt, Wasser says, he'll urge vets in the TV ads "that they need to look at the broad picture" about Obama's policies for veterans and their families.

But he admits some vets "will be hard core" to convince, especially "we Vietnam vets who will go to our graves fighting that war--inner demons or not."


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index