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July 9, 2004
It's presidential election season. In case you haven't noticed.
What used to take only a few months, from the summer party conventions to the November elections, has turned into a campaigning process that takes a year or more. For months, political ads have been on television and radio. Newspapers and airwaves are dominated with how the war in Iraq, the job market and the economy will affect the presidential election.
The polls say that this election will probably be similar to the balloting in 2000 - very close. Republican President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry are neck and neck, and voters in the handful of swing states like Michigan will sway the election.
Union members won Michigan for Al Gore in 2000. At the time exit polling by the Voter News Service showed that union members make up just 13 percent of Michigan's registered voters, but 27 percent of Michigan residents who voted were union members, and 43 percent had a union member in their household. But that was four years ago, and the nation's political climate has changed dramatically. No one knows how the electorate will react to the first presidential election since 9-11, the nation's economic situation, the war on terror, and the war with Iraq.
Michigan is known as a swing state because it is so evenly split between Democrats and Republicans that the election could swing either way. And polling indicates that building trades union members, collectively, are among the most Republican-leaning groups in organized labor.
Al Gore won 64 percent of the vote from Michigan union members
in 2000, but that means that 36 percent of our state's union
members voted for George W. Bush. Targeting that 36 percent will
be Job One for organized labor for the remainder of 2004.
Why are the building trades unions and the rest of organized labor supporting Democrat John Kerry for U.S. president?
Mainly because there is a three-and-a-half year record by President Bush that shows a bias - and arguably an animosity - towards U.S. workers in favor of his supporters in the corporate world. And Kerry, with his record in Congress, has consistently shown support for U.S. workers.
Many voters will make up their mind about the president, pro or con, based on the candidates' stand on gun owners' rights or abortion, or this year, how Bush has handled the war on terror and the war in Iraq. All are legitimate issues, and the public's perception of Bush's record as a wartime president will probably determine whether he wins re-election in November.
But through the years, building trades union leaders have consistently asked members to examine how the economic records of candidates impact their lives. And President Bush's record clearly shows that supporting the American worker is not part of his agenda.
Overtime pay takeaway. The Bush administration published regulations in April 2004 to deny overtime pay protections to millions of U.S. workers. The changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) enable employers to reclassify many workers and make them exempt from time-and-a-half overtime pay. The Bush administration has opposed legislation passed five times by both the House and the Senate that would have stopped overtime takeaways.
Outsourcing jobs. With hundreds of thousands of America's workers losing jobs because corporations are exporting them, the Bush administration supports outsourcing even more U.S. jobs, according to its own 2004 annual economic report to Congress. "Outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade," said N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.
On March 30, Republican Treasury Secretary John Snow said sending jobs overseas is a good thing for the American economy. Up to 14 million white-collar jobs are predicted to move overseas in the next few years - and those jobs aren't coming back.
Job loss. America's workers today are facing the biggest jobs crisis since the Great Depression. The nation's economy has shed a net three million private-sector jobs since Bush took office - the largest job loss since the administration of President Herbert Hoover. Not only are millions of U.S. workers looking for jobs, but the long-term unemployment rate - when workers have been jobless for six months or more - is the highest in more than 20 years.
Unfair tax policies. The Bush Administration called its tax cut package, which took effect in July 2003, it's "Jobs and Growth Plan." The administration's projection of new jobs was wrong, a net loss of two million has resulted. Twenty eight months into the official economic recovery, most states still have not recovered the jobs they lost or gained the jobs needed to keep up with population growth. Bush has made sure the tax cuts worked for his wealthy friends. The top 1% of wage earners in America received over 40% of the tax cuts.
John Kerry's record:
By Marty Mulcahy
The building trades and construction manager Barton Malow are working to make the Crittenton Hospital Medical Center into a bigger and better provider of health care services for northern Oakland County.
A project to renovate and expand the facility is proceeding at a measured pace in order to limit the impact of construction operations on the 290-bed hospital. So far, the slower-but-steady pace has worked well. The pace has limited the amount of construction workers on the project at any given time, while giving project planners time to plan and implement changes in the project as they have come up.
The $86 million construction project - one of the state's largest - is spread out over four years, and a relatively modest 100 Hardhats were working during peak employment.
"To keep the hospital functioning as normal as possible, we've had to do work in a piecemeal nature," said Barton Malow Project Engineer Teresa Miller, on the job with Senior Project Manager Rich Wimble and Senior Supt. Larry Dziedzic. "There have been a lot of musical chairs as the project has progressed. And with renovation work, there's always unforeseen conditions, but we've been fortunate to have some really good tradespeople and good subs. We're very happy with how things have worked out so far."
The four-year project wraps up in July 2006, and will include:
Crittenton was constructed in 1967. This is the largest expansion and renovation project in the hospital's history. When this work is complete, nearly half of the Rochester hospital's 475,500 square-footage will be newly renovated or constructed.
"There have been a number of changes as this project has progressed, but we have not had one single problem with the trades," said Barton Malow's Wimble. "They have been excellent."
The project includes taking specific steps before construction begins in the area in an effort to separate construction from patient care. The "infection control risk assessment plan" includes dust controls, sealing off duct work and other portals and applying negative air pressure to the work areas.
"From the start of the project, we determined a specific course of action that includes a lot of coordination with the hospital," said Barton Malow's Dziedzic. "For the trades people, that means planning their environment to limit the impact on the operations of the hospital."
Tranchemontagne of Painters Local 213 and DuRoss Painting, who has been on the job for 10 months. "They've organized things well and it's been really nice to work here."
Crittenton Hospital is a not-for-profit community hospital, offering a full range of emergency and ambulatory services and specialized programs including intensive care, occupational medicine, pediatric urgent care, obstetrics, radiation oncology, imaging and diagnostics, sleep and neurophysiology medicine, orthopedics, hospice and weight management.
The new construction at Crittenton will help them keep pace with improvements made by numerous other hospitals in the region.
"The building is designed to give people a strong, instant
image that is clean, crisp, inviting and open, so that the activity
of the building is expressed," said Albert Kahn Associates
architect David Barczys said of the front wall of glass. "This
worked well with the direction from Crittenton to 'surprise and
delight our customers.' The glass is not reflective - you will
be able to see inside and outside of this building. At night
it will literally glow - easy to find when you're looking for
the hospital. It will visually pull you in."
Kerry: jobs exporting is wrong. "I've met steelworkers
and mine workers and autoworkers who are now ex-workers. They've
watched their jobs and equipment unbolted before their eyes and
shipped overseas - and some have even had to train their foreign
Kerry outlined his plans to stop corporations from shipping
jobs overseas, revive the nation's economy to benefit working
families, provide affordable, quality health care and improve
educational opportunities. He also told delegates at the Atlantic
Go Krogering - United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 (Hazel Park) reached a three-year agreement on June 15 with Kroger Co. that breaks the pattern the grocery chain had sought to establish nationwide of requiring employee co-payments for health benefits. The proposed contract preserves the workers' current free health care coverage, maintains existing time-off benefits and guarantees an increase in the number of full-time jobs.
"We are very pleased with the outcome of these negotiations," said Andy Johnson, Local 876's president and chief union negotiator for the talks. "To come away from the table with a contract that preserves quality health insurance with no co-pays, raises top wage rates, and protects members' job security at a time when the economy is weak, health insurance rates are rapidly increasing, and grocers with lower labor costs are expanding their Michigan operations is a tribute to the strength of the bargaining committee and the Kroger membership."
Kerry doesn't cross the line. "I don't cross picket lines. I never have." With these words last month, Sen. John Kerry illustrated the stark difference between himself and George W. Bush on workers' rights, including workers' freedom to form and join unions.
Kerry cancelled a speech at a major meeting of U.S. mayors rather than cross a picket line of firefighters and police who have been working in Boston without a contract - some as long as two years.
Uniforms across the border. The Bush Administration, which invented the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is allowing $30 million worth of uniforms for its U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents to be outsourced to Mexico, according to the National Border Patrol Council, a union of federal government employees.
Unlike the Defense Department, which under law must ensure its uniforms and other clothing items are made in the U.S., DHS has no such restrictions. The Border Patrol uniform contract was awarded to a Nashville, Tenn., company that is outsourcing the manufacturing to Mexico and that means "American taxpayers' money may be supporting sweatshops," says Needletrades Union President Bruce Raynor.
Jobs, jobs, jobs. A new American jobs plan by House Democrats would attempt to boost job growth in the U.S. while slowing the corporate export of American jobs overseas, U.S. House Democratic leaders said June 16.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said the new jobs plan would counter "the inaction of the Bush administration." The legislation will call for a new business tax credit for newly created U.S. manufacturing jobs and jobs in other industries harmed by outsourcing, the elimination of tax incentives for businesses to operate overseas, reviving the federal extended unemployment insurance program for jobless workers who exhaust their benefits, and increased funding for job training and math and science education.
Also, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation (S. 2531) that would eliminate tax deductions and other tax breaks for companies that ship U.S. jobs offshore. Legislatures in 38 states are considering bills to address job exporting. In May, Tennessee passed a law to allow the state to give preferences to companies that do not send work overseas.
Uninsured. One of every three people in the U.S. younger than 65 - 81.8 million people - lacked health care coverage for all or part of 2002 and 2003, according to a new study by Families USA.
One-quarter of middle-income families went without coverage.
The report, One in Three:
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - Gov. Jennifer Granholm on June 29 told the Michigan Road Builders Association (MRBA) that it is urgent Congress pass a federal highway bill that returns a fair share of gas taxes back to Michigan so that the state will have the necessary resources to maintain its roads.
"Congress needs to immediately pass, and President Bush needs to sign, a federal highway bill that returns our fair share of gas taxes back to Michigan and provides us with the necessary resources to maintain our roads," Granholm said. "Michigan has a lot at stake in the federal transportation reauthorization debate and, as the Congressional clock ticks away, we're running the risk that they will leave for summer recess without getting the job done."
The Governor said failure to pass a bill with the $318 billion in funding over six years approved by the U.S. Senate has already cost Michigan more than a quarter of a billion dollars in highway funding this year alone. Emphasizing that transportation funding is not a partisan issue, she noted that every member of our congressional delegation, Democrat and Republican, has recognized the need for additional transportation funding, with several members from Michigan co-sponsoring a bill to provide $375 billion over the same period of time.
"Sadly, the President has threatened to veto any bill that exceeds $256 billion, which would not even keep pace with inflation," Granholm said. "At the president's funding level, our commitment to preserve our roads and bridges is in serious jeopardy."
The governor said President Bush's position is troubling given comments he made on a recent visit to Michigan about the poor condition of our roads, while conveniently failing to acknowledge that he is the roadblock preventing the conferees from making any progress toward getting the reauthorization passed.
Granholm's comments on the federal highway transportation bill are the latest action taken by the governor to highlight Michigan's role as a donor state. Michigan currently only receives a return of 88 percent of the money taxpayers send to Washington earmarked for road work - ranking us at No. 47 in terms of equity received.
SAGINAW - What do union trades workers have that their nonunion counterparts don't?
How about higher productivity, a better safety record and as a result, a savings to the bottom line of owners and contractors?
Spreading the good news about union trades is the aim of a new advertising campaign - "Promises with Proof" - undertaken by Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85 and its affiliated Mechanical Contractors Association. Ads have appeared in recent weeks in newspapers across the middle and upper parts of the Lower Peninsula.
"The campaign is aimed at proving the superiority of Local 85 members and the Bay Area contractors signatory to Local 85, as proved by the hard evidence of the five-year training programs and the actual 17 percent higher productivity records," said Local 85 Business Manager Kris Shangle.
The concept for the ads was developed in a collaborative effort between the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters and the Mechanical Contractors Association. They sponsored studies and collected testimonials that highlighted the good news about union trades workers. The ads can be localized for better effect, and the first slate of ads from the Bay area include references to local contractors and trades workers.
"One of the really outstanding things about the campaign is that even in tough economic market we are in," said Bob Barcia, president of the Bay Area Association Industry Steering Committee, "we on the committee felt it was important to keep our name visible to users and specifiers who had work to let - as well as those who have projects when the economy would be turning around."
The information for the campaign is based in part on an independent study done by Dean Findley of Independent Project Analysis, Inc., which found that union workers are 17 percent more productive than nonunion. As a result of the higher productivity, the study said project costs are reduced because of higher efficiency.
Other information points to the better safety record of union trades, the five-year-long United Association apprenticeship program and specific projects that we built on time and on budget.
Quarter-page ads have appeared in the Saginaw News, The Petoskey News-Herald, the Bay City Times, the Alpena News and the Midland Daily News.
Drug costs hikes triple inflation rate
According to the American Association of Retired Persons, users are going to need them just to keep pace with rampant inflation in prescription drug costs.
"If the price of drugs keeps going up faster than inflation, it will become more and more difficult for consumers, especially older consumers, to be able to afford them," said John Rother, AARP's policy director.
The findings of AARP's report released last month on pharmaceutical drug pricing strongly mirror the group's reports on drug pricing for the years 2000 through 2003. In that study AARP found that manufacturers' price increases for widely used brand name prescription drugs rose from 4.1% in 2000 to 6.9% in 2003. This latest report, by AARP's Public Policy Institute, found that the annual rate of increase in these prices rose to 7.2% for the 12 months ending in March 2004.
"This increase is particularly troubling" an AARP statement said, "because the rate of inflation actually declined from 2.3% in 2003 to 2.0%." Pharmaceutical manufacturers say the increases are in line with inflation.
According to USA Today, the price increases over the last several years outstrip the discounts that will be available to seniors with the new Medicare discount card. The Bush Administration predicts savings of 15% or more for those who pay up to $30 a year to participate.
The higher cost of drugs is expected to lead to more calls
to allow Americans to get their prescriptions filled in Canada.
Two years ago, 114 building trades workers were also let go due to a $250 million budgetary shortfall announced by the DPS. The workers, who represent nearly all the building trades, perform maintenance and renovation work at Detroit school facilities. Only 65 workers remain in the bargaining unit, which is represented by The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council.
"With enrollment and tax revenues going down, it's a difficult situation for everyone," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of GDBTC. "We hate to see these kinds of job losses. The work that they were doing is going to have to be outsourced, and we're going to be watching very closely to make sure it goes union."
The GDBTC's Ed Coffey, who has represented the bargaining
group, said the layoffs "have been devastating. The real
tragedy in all this is that these people are going to go back
to their union halls looking for work, and some of them already
have 30 percent unemployment. The schools are losing money. We
don't have any easy answers."