The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

June 25, 2004

Bush's NLRB may set another hurdle for union organizing

Trade unions open a can of tax worms for ABC

Spartan fans can go up another level

Coming clean on hand sanitizers: They're good, but soap and water are better

Trades' talents on display during DIA renovation

Gang Box

News Briefs


Bush's NLRB may set another hurdle for union organizing

In what could foreshadow a radical change in federal labor law, the National Labor
Relations Board announced June 7 it will review the legality of "card-check" rules that are used in union organizing drives.

While the results of overall U.S. union organizing efforts have been fairly weak, unions have had some success using card-check methods to organize companies or bargaining groups instead of initiating more drawn-out NLRB election processes. But card-checks apparently work too well for unions, and their use has drawn the attention of the President Bush-backed NLRB which sets and interprets labor standards.

Along party lines, with the majority Republicans winning, the NLRB voted 3-2 to review federal rules which currently allow companies to recognize a union simply if a majority of workers sign cards supporting the union.

"Although no party here challenges the legality of voluntary recognition," the NLRB majority opinion said, "the fact remains that the secret ballot election remains the best method for determining whether employees desire union representation."

Disallowing card-checks would be a major blow to union organizing efforts, especially in the UAW. Card-check elections are not very prevalent in the building trades. Critics of the card check system say that a secret ballot election is preferable to card checks, because those elections take away the potential for coercing workers to vote for the union.

Organized labor maintains that employers are able to use the drawn-out NLRB election process to delay, and thus deny, union organizing drives. Labor maintains that employers are able to use that time to coerce and threaten workers who may be interested in joining a union.

"I was at a legal seminar and I remember a speaker saying that you lose NLRB decisions because you lose presidential elections," said building trades attorney Doug Korney. "What that means is that President Bush appoints the members of the NLRB, and they reflect his philosophy, not the philosophy of organized labor.

"So yes, the decision by the NLRB to review and possibly eliminate card checks is a problem for labor. Employers who oppose unions are not stupid. They know and unions know that taking elections to the NLRB for certification is more of a burden for unions. Employers are free to use delays in the system to stop certifications and to hold anti-union campaigns."


Trade unions open a can of tax worms for ABC

Building trades unions are trying new tactics to fight back at the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors.

Over the last several months, we have reported how the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, in an effort to strengthen apprenticeship standards, has requested an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Labor following a building trades study that found extremely low graduation levels among ABC apprentices.

Earlier this month, the building trades sent information to the Internal Revenue Service and state tax agencies documenting that local ABC affiliates did not pay taxes - but should have - on insurance payments they received from the national ABC.

"If ABC chapters want to be in the insurance business, they must pay federal and state taxes legally due," said Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan. "Having nonprofit status as a trade association is no license to avoid taxes on sideline business activities that are generating enormous profits. It's time for the IRS and Congress to ask why these ABC chapters have not been paying these taxes."

The investigation of publicly available tax returns filed by the ABC revealed that many of the non-profit group's local affiliates did not pay taxes, as required, on their for-profit insurance activities. The Building Trades Department found that ABC affiliates reported income not directly related to ABC purposes as non-taxable.

However, "the IRS has repeatedly taken the view that revenues to trade associations from sale of insurance policies to their members are taxable," the building trades report says.

For example, between 1997 and 2001, the National ABC Insurance Trust paid local ABC chapters $2.2 million, and paid the national ABC $636,628 in service fees. The national group paid taxes on the income, while a number of chapters did not - but should have, the building trades maintain.

Among the Associated Builders and Contractors chapters that did not to pay taxes on possible insurance-related income is the Western Michigan Chapter, which itemized income of $320,493 as "Royalty Income." The chapter claimed the money was exempt from taxation under the IRS exemption for passive income. The study said it is unclear if the income is related to the national ABC Insurance Trust, or from the local chapter's own insurance activities.


Spartan fans can go up another level

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

EAST LANSING - The building trades are erecting an entirely new area to watch Michigan State football above the west bleachers of Spartan Stadium - but they won't be the cheap seats.

Construction has begun on a project to build 24 luxury suites and 3,000 new seats in an effort to enhance revenues for Spartan athletics. Also part of the project are a replacement press box, upgraded restrooms, expanded concourse space, and new offices.

Iron erection has been the primary activity for the building trades on the project in recent weeks, although electrical and plumbing rough-ins, earth-moving and cement pours are also taking place. The $61 million project is being managed by a joint venture of Barton-Malow and Clark Construction.

"I wouldn't mind being a little farther along, but we're doing well, we have a good crew out here," said foreman Frank Samples Jr. of Iron Workers 25 and Assemblers, Inc.

For the suites and press box the trades are building a 200,000-square-foot structure that stands on its own but will tie into the existing 81-year-old stadium. The suites will hold between 12 and 24 guests. MSU promotional materials say fans in the suites will watch games "in extraordinary comfort with theater-style seating and a living-room style seating area complete with television monitors, refrigerators, elevator access and private restrooms."

In addition, club seats will be built where the press box is currently located with comfortable chair back seating between the 10-yard lines. The seats will be outside, but covered by the upper deck which will allow heating as well as protection from the elements. Club Seat holders will have elevator access to an 18,500 square foot indoor club with upscale food and beverage service, television monitors and private restrooms.

The addition also will house the MSU Alumni Association, University Development, the MSU Foundation and the 4-H Foundation. In addition, the MSU icon, "The Spartan" statue (everyone calls him "Sparty") will have a permanent home there when a bronze replica is unveiled in 2005.

"This project is one that responds to the needs and demands of many fans and supporters and provides the financial support needed to keep our program competitive," said MSU Athletic Director Ron Mason. "Our information indicates support for the range of options being offered."

The work is expected to be complete in time for the first game of the 2005 season. Plans call for the project to proceed through the 2004 football season.

"It's a great idea," MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson told the State News during the planning process. "If people want them and will pay for them, then the university should build them. It's another source of revenue."

IRON COLUMNS that will support Spartan Stadium's new luxury suites and press box poke up above the west wall of the upper bleachers.

IRON WORKERS Alan Delahaye and John Malburg of Local 25 and Assemblers, Inc. cut a whole in the iron backstop atop the western bleachers to prepare for tying in the new iron to the stadium structure.

A RENDERING of the new press box and luxury suites at Spartan Stadium. (From MSU)


Coming clean on hand sanitizers: They're good, but soap and water are better

With many construction workers unable to use soap and running water during their entire workday, how effective are alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a substitute?

Not surprisingly, some of the research comes out of the food preparation and medical industries. The information puts the effectiveness of hand sanitizers in a mostly favorable light - but their effectiveness also depends somewhat on the hands that are being washed.

Also called "alcohol washes," hand sanitizers must contain a minimum of 62 percent ethyl alcohol in order to be effective. To be most effective, a dime-size dollop of alcohol gel should be rubbed into the hands for 30 seconds. If hands are dry after only 10-15 seconds, studies have shown it is likely that not enough sanitizer was used.

"Alcohol washes are so good," said the Nutrition Action Newsletter, "that in 2002 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that hospitals use them instead of antibacterial soap."

Dr. Elaine Larson of the Columbia University School of Nursing, a past president of the Certification Board for Infection Control, said alcohol washes "quickly kills bacteria, it's convenient because you don't need water or a towel to use it, and there's not even a theoretical possibility of bacteria becoming resistant to it."

Not so fast, says the Food and Administration, which says using alcohol gel in place of hand washing in retail and food service does not adequately reduce important food-borne pathogens on food-workers' hands. Alcohol kills all germs - good and bad that it comes in contact with - but has "very poor activity" against bacterial spores and certain viruses.

Squaring up the seemingly conflicting research is the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, SafeFood Rapid Response Network, which said "research has shown that hand sanitizers can be as effective as hand washing only in certain situations. The type of soil which may be present on hands can significantly alter their effectiveness. Because dirt, food or anything else on your hands can make the alcohol less effective, it is important to first wash hands with soap and water."

Medical personnel routinely wash away any present soil when they wash their hands with soap and water several times a day, so hand santizers offer an effective sanitizing method in between washings.

"Hand washing guidelines for healthcare workers should not be confused with recommendations for food workers or the general public," the Colorado State researchers said. "For everyone, washing hands with soap and water is still a must. Hand sanitizers should primarily be used only as an optional follow-up to traditional hand washing with soap and water, except in situations where soap and water are not available. In those instances, use of an alcohol gel is certainly better than nothing at all."

So until hand-washing stations are made widely available at construction sites, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your lunch box.


Trades' talents on display during DIA renovation

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

The Detroit Institute of Arts wants guests like Whistler's Mother and permanent residents created by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and other artists to have as comfortable a home as possible.

So the DIA, the contracting team of Walbridge-Jenkins and the building trades are in the process of expanding and extensively renovating the landmark art institute along Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The project will include a 35,000-square-foot addition, extensive infrastructure and mechanical upgrades as well as improved visitor circulation paths.

"Updating and expanding the building has been a challenge in part because we've had to find new pathways for the electrical and mechanical systems," said DIA Executive Vice President Maurice Parrish. "And we don't want to intrude into existing gallery space and disturb the operations of the museum."

Construction work began in June 2001 with completion scheduled for late 2006. The DIA has set a fundraising goal of $331 million to pay for the work, which is being performed by between 100-150 construction workers. More than $117 million has been raised so far from 200 donors. During the renovation and expansion project, the normal operating hours of the museum have been maintained, but some galleries have been closed.

The renovation aspect of the project will renew the old - and not-so-old. The DIA's original Paul Cret Building was completed in 1927, with exterior walls covered with white marble In the 1960s and early 1970s, the museum's North and South wings were added, clad in dark granite. During this project, the dark granite panels are being removed from the North and South additions, to be replaced by white Vermont marble, which will unify the exterior of the entire complex, and allow insulation to be added on the walls.

The Detroit Institute of Arts will be improved in a number of ways by the building trades, in ways both seen and unseen:

  • The DIA will spend a lot less on heating and cooling - the North and South additions were built without insulation or vapor barriers in the walls when energy was cheap before the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo.
  • The single-pane windows found throughout the DIA aren't very energy-efficient, either. They're being replaced with double-glazed models during this renovation.
  • Many mechanical systems in the main building are as old as the building itself. Modern computer-controlled temperature and humidity will benefit the DIA's art collection, as well as visitors and staff. "After 77 years, it's time for the old mechanical systems to be retired," Parrish said.
  • Improvements are being made with a great deal of attention to "off-gassing." DIA officials are looking very carefully at the use of solvents and paints inside the building that could harm works of art.
  • When the museum was enlarged, the confusing set-up of the museum's space that resulted often led visitors to wonder whether they had missed some displays. With this renovation, better circulation paths are being introduced to help visitors navigate. And new elevators are being placed where they would most be expected, at the middle of museum. Construction activity is moving along on schedule.

"Walbridge-Jenkins have been very good to work with," Parrish said. "We have benefited from their extensive construction knowledge and their ability to bring qualified people to the task." Surprises, Parrish said, are potentially inside every wall that is opened up during the renovation process. "We've been fortunate to have people who are familiar with bringing the old and the new together. This is a high-finish job and people have really risen to the challenge."

Even before the renovation project, the DIA only had room to display about 5 percent of all the 65,000 pieces of art work in its collection. With the renovation shutting down some display areas the DIA is taking this opportunity to loan art work to other musuems.

"The DIA is 117 years old," Parrish said. "Over the years, people have done what they could to make sure we have a museum to enjoy works of art in a safe and attractive place. I can say with no hesitation that this is one of the finest museum buildings I have ever seen. This is our opportunity to do what needs to be done for future generations."

REMOVING GRANITE panels from the South addition of the Detroit Institute of Arts building is Glenn Anderson of Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Workers Local 32 and Boom Stone. More panels await removal around the corner, to be replaced with white marble fascia that will better match the main building constructed in 1927, below.


Gang Box

Wal-Mart has received more than $1 billion in subsidies from state and local government, according to a new report by the public interest group Good Jobs First.

The group combed public records and newspaper files to document more than 240 cases where public funds, tax write-offs and other government subsidies helped Wal-Mart open 160 retail stores and 84 distribution centers in 35 states.

The average Wal-Mart store received $2.8 million in public subsidies while its distribution centers (warehouses) each received an average $7.4 million in government assistance, the study found.

Public aid to Wal-Mart included financing through tax-exempt bonds, construction of access roads, installation of utilities and tax abatements.

Wal-Mart is famous for creating low-wage, no-benefit, nonunion jobs and for using its enormous buying power to crush local business competitors.

U.S. economic tidbits were recently summarized by the Union Label and Service Trades Dept.:

  • The unemployment rate remained stuck at 5.6% last month, with 8 million Americans out of work.
  • The length of time people are out of work actually increased. The average period of joblessness rose to 20 weeks, up from 19.7 weeks in April. More than one in five jobless U.S. workers have been unemployed 27 weeks or longer.
  • The economy added 248,000 new jobs last month. But the number of new jobs doesn't come close to matching Bush's predictions, or to the normal job growth after past U.S. economic downturns. There have been 60% fewer jobs created during the past 11 months than the Bush administration predicted.
  • This is the first "economic recovery" since 1939 where employment has failed to bounce back above pre-recession levels. Based on past performance, the economy should have added 5.5 million jobs by now. Instead, the U.S. has lost 2.9 million jobs since Bush took office.
  • Only one-third of today's entry-level jobs offer employer-provided health insurance, compared to 63.3% of such jobs in 1979, according to Economic Policy Institute. Twenty-five years ago, 36 percent of all entry level jobs provided pensions, but only 20% do so today.
  • Total labor compensation (wages, salaries and benefits combined) grew only 2.8 percent during the past three years. If the U.S. economy was performing as well as it has after past U.S. recessions, total labor compensation would have risen 9.9%, EPI figures show.
  • On the other hand, U.S. corporate profits skyrocketed 62.2 percent during the past three years - more than four times higher than the historic average.

President Bush showed "total disrespect for the views of millions of working people" by
refusing to meet with top union leaders of the world's major industrial nations, known as the G-8, said John Evans, general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Bush is the first head of a host country to refuse to meet with labor leaders in 29 years of G-8 summits. The labor leaders issued a joint trade union statement in advance of the G-8 summit meeting in Sea Island, Ga., June 8-10.



News Briefs

Help available for state's jobless
Unemployed workers who have questions or problems with their state unemployment benefit claims now have another option for getting help.

A new state Unemployment Insurance Agency Problem Resolution Office (PRO) has opened at 33523 W. Eight Mile Rd. in Livonia, with office hours from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. That office joins PRO locations that are already open in Gaylord, 400 W. Main St.; Lansing, 5015 S. Cedar St., and Marquette, 2833 US 41 West.

"We encourage those with questions about their unemployment claims to call our toll-free telephone inquiry line at (866) 500-0017," said David Plawecki, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. "The inquiry phone line should be their first and primary means of seeking help, but if they still have issues or need to meet with someone face to face to resolve a problem with their claim, they can still visit PRO."

Another phone number that can be used to help with claim questions is the agency's customer relations hotline, (800) 638-3995.

Worker-to-worker walks scheduled
Round 2 in a series of worker-to-worker meet-and-greet sessions will be held over the next few weeks in locations around Michigan.

Called the Labor 2004 Michigan Walks campaign, the events utilize volunteer union members to approach other union members about the importance of voting for labor-endorsed candidates in 2004. Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry is sure to be at the top of the discussion agenda.

Events will include learning about candidates and issues and by walking door-to-door, talking with other union members about the importance of this election and how they can make a difference. The walk dates and locations follow:

The first will take place Tuesday, June 22 from 5-5:30 p.m. at 918 Benjamin Ave. NE, Grand Rapids. Contact Jim Ranazzi, (616) 452-8240.

Saturday, June 26, from 8-9:30 a.m. at Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, 17100 W. 12 Mile Rd., Southfield. (248) 557-7575. Contact: Brenda Moon, (313) 961-0800.

Saturday, July 10, from 8:30-9:30 a.m., Kalamazoo Teamsters Local 7, 3330 Miller Rd., Kalamazoo. (269) 343-1269. Contact: Dan Ferson, (269) 381-9900.

Saturday, July 10, from 8:30-9:30 a.m. at Detroit IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott, Detroit. (313) 963-2130. Contact Brenda Moon, (313) 961-0800 or Derek Pennington, (313) 963-2130.

Saturday, July 17, from 8:30-9:30 a.m. and Saturday, July 31 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Saginaw-CWA Local 4108, 1614 Mershon, Saginaw. Contact: Cathy Trudell, (989) 755-0433 ext. 209.

Saturday, July 17 from 8: 30 to 9:30 a.m., Downriver area, USWA Dist. 2, 13233 Hancock Dr., Taylor. Contact: Jay McMurran, (734) 374-8200

Date to be determined, Muskegon-CIO Building, 490 W. Western Ave., Muskegon. (231) 722-3134. Contact: Marge Robinson, (231) 773-1222.


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index