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June 11, 2004

Labor asked to tip the scales for John Kerry

Time to register to vote

Local 174's Bennett wants 'to do some good;' runs for state representative

Operation nears completion on Beaumont's beautiful new addition

GOP measures threaten OSHA safety standards

At Costco, good paying jobs are good business

News Briefs

 

Labor asked to tip the scales for John Kerry

With perhaps the most important election for working families in a generation only a few months away the country is split almost evenly between Bush and Kerry supporters, much like the split in the 2000 election.

Recent estimates are that as few as 2 million voters in 17 states will decide the next presidential race. Virtually everyone else has made up his or her mind. In Michigan, labor unions represent 900,000 active and retired members, and when voting age family members are added more than 1.5 million Michigan voters are connected to the labor movement.

In 2000, 4.2 million voters cast ballots in Michigan. Labor can be the deciding factor in the election, IF members turn out to vote and those who are undecided receive enough information to make an informed decision to elect John Kerry.

LABOR 2004, is the labor movement's program to make sure we win in November. On June 12 we will begin our efforts to talk, one-on-one, union member to union member, to outline George Bush's failed policies and to introduce our members to John Kerry and the plans he has to create 10 million jobs and revitalize our economy for the benefit of working families.

On Saturday, June 12 we will "kick-off" our election year discussions by walking door-to-door, talking with other union members about the importance of this election and how they can make a difference. We'll be walking in seven targeted areas on June 12 and then for the next month in communities all across Michigan.

For every 42,000 undecided labor union members who decides to vote for John Kerry, we can have a 1% impact on the election in Michigan. In a close election, 1% can mean everything, as we found out in Florida in 2000. Our goal is to talk with more than 200,000 of our members, at their doors, between now and Nov. 2, 2004. We know labor CAN make the crucial difference, but we all have to work between now and Election Day to make sure labor WILL make the difference. You can volunteer to help in the labor walk program by contacting your local union or simply by going to www.miaflcio.org.

Michigan has events in six locations scheduled on June 12, with registration taking place from 8-9:30 a.m. The starting points include: Detroit, SEIU Local 79 at 2604 Fourth St., (313) 965-9450; Grand Rapids, 918 Benjamin Ave. NE, (616) 949-4100; Pontiac, UAW Local 653, 670 E. Walton Blvd., (248) 373-7774; Taylor, UAW Region 1A, 9650 Telegraph Rd., (313) 291-2750, and Warren, UAW Region 1, 27800 George Merrelli Dr., (586) 427-9200.

Also for more information you may contact Derek Pennington, IBEW Local 58, at (313) 963-2130 ext.3046.

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Time to register to vote

In the 2000 presidential election, voters from union households represented 26 percent of all U.S. voters. But in Michigan, which was a key political battleground state that year, 43 percent of all voters were members of union households, a percentage which led the nation.

No doubt that turnout helped Al Gore defeat George Bush in Michigan, but that was then and this is now. Winning political battles is a continual process, and once again in 2004, with the country evenly divided politically, Michigan is one of a handful of states that is up for grabs and will ultimately chose the president.

Organized labor's vote will be vital once again this year. The first step is getting registered, and if you aren't, now is as good a time as any.

This is an especially important year. Voters will have the opportunity to elect our nation's next president, Members of Congress as well as numerous county officials, local judges, and mayoral and city council members.

Voter registration is easy. To register, you must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old by election day and a Michigan resident. Any Secretary of State branch office or county, city or township clerk's office can register you. In addition, specified agencies providing services through the Family Independence Agency, the Department of Community Health, the Michigan Jobs Commission, and military recruitment centers also provide voter registration services.

You may also register to vote by mail - forms are available at your local clerk's office or from the Secretary of State web site (www.michigan.gov/sos) and click on the voter registration link on the right). If you register to vote by mail, and you have moved to a new voting jurisdiction or are registering for the very first time, you must vote in person in the first election in which you participate. The only exceptions are if you are 60 years old or older, disabled as defined by law or temporarily living overseas.

You also have the option of registering to vote when you renew your driver license by mail. Eligible drivers receive a voter registration application in the mail with their driver license renewal information.

Register for any federal, state and local elections by mail or by visiting your city, county or township clerk's office or any of the 178 Secretary of State branch offices.

The deadline to register to vote is 30 days before Election Day, with the next statewide voting taking place on Aug. 3. Once you register to vote, you can request an absentee ballot if you are 60 or older, disabled, or expect to be out of town on Election Day.

There are 6.8 million registered voters in Michigan, and only about half of them vote during presidential election years, although there was greater turnout in 2000. We urge you and your family to become registered, then vote in 2004.

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Local 174's Bennett wants 'to do some good;' runs for state representative

MUSKEGON - "Republicans control both the state House and Senate and I know that unions and working people have been taking a beating. We need to be recognized and supported by the people who represent us."

So said Doug Bennett, recently retired business manager of West Michigan Plumbers Fitters and Service Trades Local 174, when asked to sum up the focus of his campaign as he runs for 92nd District state representative. The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 3; the general election is on Nov. 2.

The Business Manager of Local 174 (and its predecessor, Local 154) since 1983, Bennett retired in January with an eye on running for the state House seat, which is currently held by Rep. Julie Dennis (D), who is term-limited. Not a political rookie, Bennett has also served as a Muskegon County Board of Commissioners since 1999 and is chairman of the Muskegon County Community Development/Strategic Planning Committee. He is also a founding member of Muskegon Economic Growth Alliance.

"I'm very interested in the job of state representative," said Bennett, 58. "I'm retired, and I have a good union pension, but I still want to be active and involved. I think I can do some good." Doug has been married to wife Helene for 34 years and they have three adult children and four grandchildren.

Bennett said he is the leading Democrat among four challengers on the primary ballot and is endorsed by the top Democrats in the county, including Julie Dennis. The winner of the primary in the heavily democratic district will almost certainly win the general election.

"Doug has a wealth of experience as a county commissioner, in the business community, in worker training and in health care," Dennis said. "He has been an outstanding county commissioner and he's an outstanding person, and that's why I'm endorsing him. I have the utmost confidence that he will do a good job."

Embracing the traditional building trades issues like prevailing wage and worker health and safety issues is a given for him, Bennett said, "but the biggest issue is jobs. We have good workers, plenty of water, recreation and a great quality of life here, but we've done a poor job of promoting the positive aspects of the state to businesses," he said.

Campaigning in factory parking lots, school auditoriums and door-to-door, Bennett is also aided by a five-person phone bank. "Campaigns don't run by themselves, and they don't run cheap," he said. Bennett estimates that it will cost about $60,000 to run for state representative, an amount that would be higher in a hotly contested general election.

Contributions are welcome, and checks can be made payable to "Friends of Doug Bennett, 2339 Windy Ridge Dr., Muskegon, MI 49442. E-mail: dougbennett1@comcast.net, or call (231) 773-1239.

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Operation nears completion on Beaumont's beautiful new addition

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The next generation of hospital is nearing completion at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

When it opens in September, patients are almost certainly going to appreciate the amenities, fixtures, fit and finish of the beautiful new $227 million South Tower addition to the Beaumont campus.

At 656,000 square-feet, the new eight-level building by itself is larger than most hospitals. There are about 280 construction workers currently working on the project under the direction of construction manager Barton-Malow and numerous subcontractors. With the increased use of wood, warm colors, softer lighting and a more patient-friendly and efficient design, the hospital addition is being built with the aim of making it less like a hospital and as much of a home away from home as possible.

Mark d'Arcy, senior project manager for Beaumont Services Co., said the hospital employed the services of three architects, visited other health-care facilities, sought the advice of doctors and nurses, then built and re-built model patient rooms to get the design right.

"We've brought a lot of brainpower to the design," he said last week. "It's an environment geared toward healing, with the primary focus on the patient and the patient's family."

The addition will provide some much-needed additional space, adding 432 in-patient beds, 16 operating rooms and 10 procedure rooms. Departments that will move into the new space include Neonatal Intensive Care, Pediatric Intensive Care and Mother-Baby Care. New administrative offices will also be added.

The patient rooms will be larger, with approximately 150-square-feet added to each semi-private room. There will be space in the rooms for visitors and patient belongings, as well as amenities like family pantries and consultation rooms for staff to talk with family privately. Beds in the semi-private rooms will be toe-to-toe, so that both patients can look out the window. Sound-absorbing materials have been used whenever possible. Overhead intercoms have been eliminated. Nursing stations are close to the patient rooms.

The new tower signature feature is a dramatic "Wintergarden" atrium for the use of both staff and patients. An indoor kids' play area is also under construction nearby.

D'Arcy said all the planning and work will bear out in September when the South Tower opens to patients. "Barton-Malow and the building trades have done an outstanding job and have been great to work with," he said.

This is the largest expansion project in Beaumont Hospital's history. The new tower had to be merged with the existing main hospital building that was constructed in 1953.

Jennifer Macks , Barton-Malow's project manager on the Beaumont Hospital South Addition project, said "quality of work has never been an issue on this project. We've been very pleased with the high quality of work on the building."

Macks said the continual coordination among Barton-Malow, its subcontractors, Beaumont personnel and the building trades made for "a very smooth" integration as the buildings were tied together. Construction traffic - both human and vehicular - were kept separated to the greatest extent possible.

But that wasn't the most challenging part of the project - in fact, Macks said the largest obstacle for Barton-Malow at Beaumont has been the effect of the declining economy since the project began four years ago.

"There has been a tremendous change in the contracting environment since the project began," she said. "We've gone from a situation at the beginning of construction where contractors were nervous about bidding for the work because they were afraid there wouldn't be enough manpower. That has changed."

Over the course of this project, she said the overall work environment has become so tight that four subcontractors on the Beaumont project have gone out of business.

Replacement subs were found and there has been no shortage of talented Hardhats.

"It's a beautiful building," said Elmo Apple of Glaziers and Glassworkers Local 357. "I'm proud of the work we did and I think it turned out really well."

WALKING THROUGH the "Wintergarden" atrium at Beaumont Hospital's South addition is Elmo Apple of Glaziers and Glassworkers Local 357 and Huron Valley Glass. Elmo's crew installed the glass in the surrounding rooms and offices.

WORKING HIS RIG in front of the new Beaumont Hospital South Tower addition is Bob Kasom of Operating Engineers Local 324.

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GOP measures threaten OSHA safety standards

WASHINGTON (PAI)- A package of four bills affecting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, pushed through the GOP-run House on virtual party-line votes last month, weakens the job safety agency, congressional Democrats say.

One measure would make it easier for small businesses to delay compliance with OSHA's enforcement orders, the Democrats said. A second expands a small judicial agency that rules on employer-OSHA job safety conflicts, and requires all its commissioners be lawyers, not job safety specialists.

A third bill forces OSHA to pay the court costs of any "small business" that wins its case, while the fourth OSHA bill puts more enforcement power in the hands of the small agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, and removes it from OSHA itself.

The court costs bill "significantly diminishes protections of occupational safety and health by discouraging OSHA from even enforcing the act and punishing taxpayers unless the agency, like Perry Mason, can win every case," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). "That is not going to happen. These bills do no good."

The business community, acting through the GOP-run House Education and the Workforce Committee, pushed the bills through. Miller, the panel's top Democrat, noted the GOP-run House passed similar legislation two years ago, but it died in the Senate.

Foes of the package, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said its cumulative impact would weaken OSHA. Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) called the GOP's OSHA package "poison."

"If we compare OSHA to an elephant...they knock the elephant to its knees immediately by repealing the ergonomic standards, and now they want to slowly kill the elephant with spoonsful of poison," he added.

Owens called the package "significant if we take this within the context of what the majority has been trying to do with OSHA since it took control, if we take it in the context of how the protection of owners and businessmen is the obsession of the majority party."

Democrats also called the OSHA bills part of an overall anti-worker agenda pushed by the House's ruling Republicans. That agenda includes refusal to extend jobless benefits, opposition to raising the minimum wage, and cutting workers' overtime pay, Miller said.

A new report calls the bills part of a corporate-backed dismantling of public safeguards.

"Special interests have launched a sweeping assault on protections for public health, safety, the environment and corporate responsibility - and unfortunately the Bush Administration has given way," according to Special Interest Takeover: The Bush Administration and the Dismantling of Public Safeguards.

The report, released May 25, was prepared for the liberal coalition Citizens for Sensible Safeguards (CSS) by the Center for American Progress and OMB Watch.

"This agenda puts narrow special interests over the broader public good," said John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. "The administration is littered with ex-lobbyists who are now writing the rules to benefit their former special-interest employers. With these foxes guarding the hen house, the public is at significant risk."

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At Costco, good paying jobs are good business

Tradesman
Viewpoint

We found it.

We knew there was a better corporate model out there that showed Wal-Mart's philosophy of low employee wages and benefits and high dissatisfaction isn't the only way to operate a retail business.

Costco's worker-friendly corporate philosophy has been there all along, but it recently came to light in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

What we found was a neatly wrapped lesson for U.S. companies as they deal with all of the worldwide economic challenges that have been created by the global economy.

Much of the lesson involves treating workers with dignity and respect, which is exactly the opposite of how retailing giant Wal Mart operates. "We pay much better than Wal-Mart," said Costco CEO Jim Sinegal. "That's not altruism. It's good business."

Costco is getting increasing attention lately for, of all things, treating employees with respect and paying them a decent wage. Recently, Costco received some unusual attention, in the form of a Wall Street Journal article in which stock analysts essentially accused the warehouse giant of being too good to its employees.

"Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s parsimonious approach to employee compensation," the Journal said, "has made the world's largest retailer a frequent target of labor unions and even Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who has accused the Bentonville, Ark., chain of failing to offer its employees affordable health-care coverage. In contrast, rival Costco Wholesale Corp. often is held up as a retailer that does it right, paying well and offering generous benefits.

"But Costco's kind-hearted philosophy toward its 100,000 cashiers, shelf-stockers and other workers is drawing criticism from Wall Street. Some analysts and investors contend that the Issaquah, Wash., warehouse-club operator actually is too good to employees, with Costco shareholders suffering as a result."

The Journal then goes on to quote a stock analyst, eager to throw a wet blanket on Costco employees.

"From the perspective of investors, Costco's benefits are overly generous," said Bill Dreher, retailing analyst with Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. "Public companies need to care for shareholders first. Costco runs its business like it is a private company."

So when Costco released its first-quarter 2004 earnings report, which included a 25 percent gain in profits based on a 14 percent sales hike, what did the stock market do? It drove Costco's price down 4% because the company could have made higher profits if it would only pay its workers less.

According to Business Week magazine, low-wage Wal Mart has become the profit model for all retailers. A typical Wal-Mart worker earns $9.64 cents an hour, while employees of Wal-Mart subsidiary Sam's Club earn an average of $11.52 per hour. That compares to Costco's average hourly wage of $15.97 per hour - and the company shells out thousands more for health benefits, as well as a 401k and profit-sharing plans.

"They take a very pro-employee attitude," said Rome Aloise, chief Costco negotiator for the Teamsters, which represents 14,000 Costco workers.

Business Week said, "The market's view of Costco speaks volumes about the so-called Wal-Martization of the U.S. economy. True, the Bentonville (Ark.) retailer has taken a public-relations pounding recently for paying poverty-level wages and shouldering health insurance for fewer than half of its 1.2 million U.S. workers. Still, it remains the darling of the Street, which, like Wal-Mart and many other companies, believes that shareholders are best served if employers do all they can to hold down costs, including the cost of labor."

Business Week added: "Surprisingly, however, Costco's high-wage approach actually beats Wal-Mart at its own game on many measures." The magazine ran through the numbers from each company to compare direct competitors Costco and Sam's Club. They found that by compensating employees generously to motivate and retain good workers, one-fifth of whom are unionized, "Costco gets lower turnover and higher productivity. Combined with a smart business strategy that sells a mix of higher-margin products to more affluent customers, Costco actually keeps its labor costs lower than Wal-Mart's as a percentage of sales, and its 68,000 hourly workers in the U.S. sell more per square foot."

Put another way, Business Week said Costco pulled in $13,647 in U.S. operating profit per hourly employee last year, vs. $11,039 at Sam's Club. The magazine concluded: "Most of Wall Street doesn't see the broader picture, though, and only focuses on the up-front savings Costco would gain if it paid workers less."

Once upon a time in the United States, in the days before the North American Free Trade Agreement, in the days before U.S. workers were forced to compete with Third-World workers earning poverty-level wages, and before Wall Street ruled the mindset of U.S. corporate chieftains, most American businesses were content to earn a profit, and let workers earn a decent living, too, with good medical benefits and a decent retirement program.

Now wages are depressed by Third World competition, retirement plans are increasingly lousy, and health insurance is costly and/or unaffordable for millions of Americans. These are facts of life for most employees in the global economy. But Costco is thriving because they feel its good business to invest in their workforce.

Could it be that the remedy to maintaining America's economic might can be found in raising workers' standard of living, rather than trying to play Wal-Mart's "how low can you go" game? Sounds like "good business" to us.

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News Briefs

MIOSHA works OT for safety sake
MIOSHA Construction Safety and Health Division inspectors will be stepping up visits to state job sites this summer during non-traditional hours - including evenings and weekends.

Division Manager Rick Mee said the state has released additional money and authorization for safety inspectors to make unannounced visits to construction sites for an eight-week period. There are 19 construction safety inspectors and seven construction safety hygienists on MIOSHA's staff.

"During a period of increased construction activity, we will have an increased presence in the workplace, making inspections of job sites during non-traditional hours," Mee said. The evening and weekend visits by inspectors haven't been made over the last two years because of state budgetary considerations.

Inspectors will be looking for violations in various areas, Mee said, including fall protection, trenching and masonry wall construction.

Sluggish market, sluggish wage hikes
The construction labor market has continued to feel the effects of a sluggish 2003, which will lead to "restrained" wage increases through the end of the year.

So says the Wage Trend Indicator Report released May 18 by the Bureau of National Affairs, which said wage increases will likely remain under 3 percent into 2005 because the labor market is feeling the lagged effects of higher unemployment and weak industrial production.

Road money still stalled in Congress
There is little movement reported in Congress on the passing of a transportation funding bill that both Democrats and Republicans want - but at a cost no one can agree upon.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved the spending of $275 billion over six years. Previously, the Senate voted to spend $318 billion over the same time period. President Bush, suddenly conscious in this election year of the nation's ballooning deficit, has maintained that the nation should spend no more than $256 billion through 2009.

The Construction Labor Report said staff-level meetings in Congress were forced to "a screeching halt" because of the inability to come to an agreement over the dollar amount for funding.

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