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July 7, 2000

School inspection bill finally makes the grade among state lawmakers

Prevailing wage language not open to interpretation appeals court says

What you can expect if wage law is repealed

Unions contribute to building boom, too

To reduce prices, we must make gasoline market more competitive

ABC better at marketing than building




School inspection bill finally makes the grade among state lawmakers

LANSING - A bill mandating inspections during construction or renovation of school buildings seems poised for passage.

Senate Bill 805 is the culmination of more than a decade of efforts - mostly by state Sen. Christopher Dingell - that would require school building inspections during the construction process, either by local building departments or by the state if no one is qualified locally. The legislation would also allow limited inspections of schools that have already been built. The bill passed the state Senate, 36-1, and passage is expected in the state House next fall.

Dingell was motivated to get the legislation adopted because of the near collapse of walls at Patrick Henry Middle School in Woodhaven, located in his district. The school was built in 1976, and closed in 1990 when it was found that the building's exterior walls were not properly connected to the steel frame. An architect reportedly said he was afraid to enter the building for fear it would collapse.

"Anyone would have been horrified by what was plainly visible at the school, and students and teachers had to put up with those conditions for eight years before they closed the school, " Dingell said. "This legislation is long overdue."

The school district spent $800,000 to fix the problems at the school, which did not reopen until 1998.

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

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

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

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

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


Prevailing wage language not open to interpretation appeals court says

By Marty Mulcahy

There may not be any money or state personnel assigned to enforce Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act, but for now at least, no one can mess with the letter of the law.

That's the outcome of a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling last month that firmly established wage and benefit levels set by the Prevailing Wage Act. By a 3-0 vote, the appellate court affirmed that the prevailing wage for state-sponsored construction work must mirror wages paid in local collective bargaining agreements.

"The good thing about this case is that it doesn't give the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services the discretion to establish a prevailing wage that's different from local collective bargaining agreements," said Michigan Building Trades Council attorney John Canzano, who litigated the case.

From the time the law was established in 1966, until 1994, nothing much changed about the interpretation or enforcement of the state prevailing wage law. In 1994, the Department of Consumer and Industry Services changed its policy toward the law.

For example, instead of requiring contractors on state-funded projects to pay double-time for holiday work, as some collective bargaining contracts require, the state said contractors need only pay time-and-a-half for all overtime.

Worse, Canzano said, is that the state decreed that wage rates paid to workers do not need to include collectively bargained check-off payments to apprenticeship programs. Also excluded by the state were contributions for labor-management cooperation committees and supplemental unemployment benefits.

Shortly after the state instituted its new policy, the Michigan Building Trades Council asked for, and received, an injunction to prevent the policy's implementation from Wayne County Circuit Court Judge James Rashid. He ordered the state to reinstate the old prevailing wage policy.

The state Department of Consumer and Industry Services then took the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which ruled 3-0 last month that under the "plain language" of the Prevailing Wage Act, the state had no discretion to define wages and fringes independently.

"The language in the law is very clear, it requires the use of prevailing wage rates that are in accordance with collective bargaining agreements, " Canzano said. "And the court's ruling reflected that very clearly; the state was wrong."

The state Department of Consumer and Industry Services may appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

In our last edition, we detailed how the state Prevailing Wage Act has endured countless, withering political attacks, but has survived - although its effectiveness is greatly diminished because of almost a total lack of enforcement by the state.


What you can expect if wage law is repealed

What can the average unionized construction worker expect if the State of Michigan repeals its prevailing wage law?

A new study by Harvard and Stanford University researchers found that in nine states that repealed their prevailing wage law, wages for trade union workers "fell sharply" in the years researched, 1979 through 1988.

Researchers found that union construction members earned 20 percent more than their nonunion counterparts before prevailing wage repeal. But five years after repeal, the union income advantage dropped to about 10 percent over nonunion workers.

The nine states that repealed their prevailing wage law from 1979-1988 include: Alabama, 1980; Arizona, 1979; Colorado, 1985; Florida, 1979; Idaho, 1985; Kansas, 1987; Louisiana, 1988; New Hampshire, 1985, and Utah, 1981.

Construction workers' wages fell 17.5 percent over most of the 1980s in those nine states. Remarkably, in states like Michigan where a prevailing wage law remained in place during that period, construction wages still dropped 12.9 percent.

The trend of lagging construction worker wages is only starting to turn around. According to the Bureau of National Affairs, U.S. construction wage increases in the first 22 weeks of 2000 were 3.7 percent, compared to 2.6 percent in all of 1999.

There is strong possibility that if Democrats win back a majority in the State House of Representatives in the November election, state Republicans will attempt to push through legislation in the lame-duck session after the election that would repeal Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act.


Unions contribute to building boom, too

By Marty Mulcahy

Lately, building trade union workers have been serving a different customer: their own local unions.

Several new union halls and training centers have been refurbished or have been constructed from the ground up, reflecting a strong economy and a desire by unions to modernize their workplace.

This spring, a new union hall/training facility was opened by Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Service Trades Local 174 in Coopersville, and a combined union hall was opened in Ann Arbor by Electrical Workers Local 252 and Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190. Last fall, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 and Tile Masons Local 32 moved into a renovated building.

On June 21, some 225 Iron Workers Local 25 members celebrated the opening of their new satellite office in Burton, near Flint. Meanwhile, construction continues on a new union hall for Pipe Fitters, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Local 636 in Farmington Hills, and a new Training Center for Electrical Workers Local 58 in Warren moves closer to its completion in September.

"This is a very historic moment for the Iron Workers," said Local 25 Flint-area Business Agent Shorty Gleason. "I know that the members who worked on this project, especially the apprentices, will look back on their contribution with pride 20 or 30 years from now."

Numerous Local 25 apprentices worked on the single-story, 3,000-square-foot hall, which will feature a huge mural of the Mackinac Bridge, photos and news clippings of the Blue Water Bridge, and a solid-as-a-rock mailbox that has rivets and splice plates from both bridges.

"It's great to be home again," said former Local 25 Business Manager and current International Rep. Greg Hicks. "We have needed a new hall, and this will serve us for years to come." The old Flint hall had been in service since 1960.

Local 25 Business Manager Frank Kavanaugh said the work that went into the hall "really makes me feel good about the brotherhood and the camaraderie we have here at Local 25."

Meanwhile, construction continues on a new $2.5 million hall for Local 636 along Northwestern Highway. The 10,200 square-foot hall will triple the space of the current union hall in Detroit. The architectural planners/construction managers on the project are Allen and Laux.

"I'd say we're about 80 percent complete, and we're looking at moving in over the Labor Day weekend," said Local 636 retiree Larry Hollyer, who is keeping an eye on the project for Business Manager Jim Lapham. "Things are moving along well, and for the most part, the work that I've seen has been excellent."

Construction is also moving along on the new Training Center for IBEW Local 58 and the National Electrical Contractors Association-Southeast Michigan Chapter. They're building a 50,000-square-foot training facility on the westbound I-696 service drive at 11 Mile in Warren.

Ground was broken last fall, and the $8 million project, which employs about 50 building trades workers, is expected to wrap up in September, said Etkin Project Supt. Bruce LeMarte. The new training center will be five times the size of the existing training center in Utica, and will help Local 58/NECA meet burgeoning manpower needs.

IRON WORKERS International Representative Greg Hicks, left, reads the inscription off a plaque provided by the International Union, commemorating the dedication of Local 25's new Flint union hall. Accepting the plaque are Business Manager Frank Kavanaugh and Flint BA Shorty Gleason.

A NEW 10,200 square-foot union hall for Pipe Fitters, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Local 636 in Farmington Hills should be open for business after Labor Day.

IBEW LOCAL 58 apprentices Chad Harrington and Kevin Brown pull lighting wire inside the IBEW Local 58/NECA Training Center, set to open in September.


To reduce prices, we must make gasoline market more competitive

By Rep. Michael Hanley
House Democratic Leader

Although gas prices have declined somewhat recently, there is little argument that they are still too high. Michigan is experiencing its peak season for gasoline consumption - the summer vacation and tourist season - and it is very distressing what these prices are doing not only to our family budgets, but also to the state's tourism and agriculture industries.

The oil industry would like us to sit back, do nothing, and trust that prices will eventually come down. The industry has begun a very public lobbying effort to convince consumers that extenuating circumstances - including busted pipelines, low reserves, cleaner gasoline and foreign governments - are to blame for people in Midwest states like Michigan paying upwards of 50 cents more for a gallon of gasoline than people in other areas of the nation. All the while, "Big Oil" is raking in big profit.

The problem is the control that oil corporations have over the price of gasoline. The oil giants exercise this control through corporate ownership of about 1,500 service stations, or roughly 25 percent of all the gasoline retail outlets in Michigan. Furthermore, the oil companies control another 50 percent of the market through exclusive supplier contracts with service stations owned and operated by independent businesspeople.

Corporate retail outlets, combined with exclusive contracts, give big oil companies the power to set and adjust prices arbitrarily and unilaterally. This makes the gasoline market anti-competitive, and hurts Michigan consumers.

Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives have decided that we cannot sit back and do nothing. We have proposed a package of legislation to open the gasoline retail market to more competition, thereby lowering prices at the pump and preventing price gouging by big oil corporations.

The main piece of the Democratic plan is a bill that would force big oil corporations like Shell, Exxon/Mobil, and BP/Amoco to sell the nearly 1,500 Michigan service stations they own to independent retailers. Our plan also would end the exclusive contracts -- allowing independent retailers to seek the lowest wholesale price from among several gasoline refiners and pass the savings along to motorists. These proposals loosen the iron-fisted grip of big oil companies over the marketplace and lower prices by increasing competition.

Our proposal also includes legislation to prohibit the practice of "zone pricing", in which big oil corporations set artificial prices based on where service stations are located. We also are looking at creating a new state excess profits tax to be paid only by big oil corporations whose profits exceed a certain threshold in their Michigan businesses. This would discourage them from engaging in "profiteering," an oil industry practice of using artificially high prices to gouge consumers in order to maximize profits.

Michigan motorists are paying some of the highest prices in the nation for gasoline and the anti-competitive market has put Michigan consumers at the mercy of big oil corporations. While some policy makers have focused on reducing taxes paid by motorists - and Democrats are open to discussing this option - we must focus on the root of the problem: big oil's control over prices.

It is obvious that the power of these corporations to artificially control the price of gasoline, through its control of 75 percent of the retail marketplace, is a significant factor in how much people pay to fill their tanks. We all know that competition drives down prices. If Michigan consumers are to see long-term relief, we must make the gasoline market more competitive.


ABC better at marketing than building

By Patrick Devlin
Greater Detroit Building Trades Council

We don't subscribe to the Detroit News or Free Press because of the ongoing labor dispute, which moves into its fifth year on June 25.

However, we do monitor the papers via the Internet, and came across a letter to the editor by Doug Kelsey and Mark Sawyer, executive directors of the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors in Lansing.

The letter blasted the use of union-only project labor agreements - specifically targeting the Comerica Park project - and was so biased and out of step with the truth, that I felt compelled to respond with a letter to the editor.

To the Editor,

The June 25 letter to the editor by Doug Kelsey and Mark Sawyer of the Associated Builders and Contractors, "Unions hiked ballpark costs" is another outrageous lie from a group that's much better at marketing itself than it is at constructing buildings.

Kelsey and Sawyer attempted to tie cost overruns at the new Comerica Park with the project labor agreement that was in place for the construction of the stadium. In fact, the project labor agreement utilizing skilled union craftworkers led to the park being opened on time; and of course, Comerica Park has received rave reviews for its beauty, use of unique materials, and quality craftsmanship.

Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch obviously wanted a first-class ballpark and was willing to pay for the extras and the construction change orders that came with it. He was quoted in the June 6 Detroit Free Press that "…if I wanted to add something to the stadium to enhance, it, I was willing to pay for that." The article mentioned the $3.2 million water fountain, the $1 million tiger carousel and Ferris wheel, $300,000 Hall of Fame statues and $8 million worth of "other decorative items."

Kelsey and Sawyer also claimed that lower productivity caused by union work rules, jurisdictional disputes and "make-work" requirements - whatever those are - lengthened the project's duration. In truth, the stadium was one of the fastest ever built.

Numerous studies have shown that productivity on building projects increases when construction workers are properly trained, and earn a fair, collectively bargained wage. Jurisdictional disputes on the Comerica Park project and everywhere else are few and far between and are handled internally so as not to disrupt the construction process.

Quality-conscious owners and contractors continue to request project labor agreements from the union labor community because the agreements are good for business. Scores of ongoing construction projects in metro Detroit, including the Midfield Terminal at Metro Airport, Ford Field, the GM Renaissance Center, and the Chrysler Technology Center, are being successfully constructed under project labor agreements.

If construction of Comerica Park had been handed to contractors affiliated with the ABC, I daresay the Tigers would still be playing at Michigan and Trumbull, waiting and wondering when their new ballpark will be finished.


Patrick J. Devlin
Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council
Detroit, MI



Jobless payments lowest since '69
Michigan's low unemployment rate last year produced a 30-year low in jobless benefit claims.

The total number of weeks of unemployment benefits that jobless workers claimed last year fell to 4.9 million from 5.6 million in 1998, the state Unemployment Agency announced last month. The last time unemployment claims were lower was in 1969, when the state processed claims for 3.5 million weeks of unemployment.

Unemployment Agency Director Jack Wheatley said jobless benefit payments were also lower in 1999, dropping to$883.1 million - an 11 percent decline from 1998.

The construction industry had 17.8 of all claims, third behind manufacturing (25 percent) and the service sector, 21.9 percent.

Voter registration deadline is July 10
Are you registered to vote?

Saturday, July 10 is the last day to register to vote for the Tuesday, Aug. 8 primary election. Registering now will also allow you to participate in the Nov. 7 general election for president, U.S. Senate, Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan House and Senate seats, district and county judgeships, and numerous city and township offices.

So if you haven't registered, pay a visit to your city, county or township clerk's office. While you're at it, you can pick up an absentee ballot if you won't be in town on election day.

Operators sit atop softball standings
With the Detroit Building Trades Softball League season winding down, both of the Operating Engineers Local 324 teams are in the driver's seat to take home the championship.

The Local 324 Red team sits atop the standings with a 9-0 record, while the local's Blue team sits in second place at 7-2.

The Monday night league was scheduled to wrap up its season with a position round on July 17, but two rainouts are expected to bring changes to the schedule. Any changes weren't available at press time.

Following are the league standings:
Operators Red 9-0
Operators Blue 7-2
Millwrights 6-3
Electricians 6-3
Sheet Metal 5-4
Plumbers 2-7
Carpenters 1-8
Iron Workers 0-9

Lapham appointed to state boiler board
Jim Lapham, business manager of Pipe Fitters, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Local 636, has been appointed to a three-year term to the Michigan Board of Boiler Rules.

He also serves as a member of the state Construction Code Commission and chairman of the Michigan Mechanical Board of Rules.

"Those committees carry a lot of influence over the construction industry in this state, so I accepted the appointments hoping I can do some good," Lapham said. All three panels traditionally have had a presence by organized labor, and Gov. John Engler makes the appointments.

Lapham, who holds an unlimited license for installing boilers, said the board oversees boiler rules in the state and promulgates new regulations.


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