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June 27, 2003
When it comes to national highway funding, Michigan is a "donor" state, but would rather be on the "recipient" side of the equation.
Congressional lawmakers from Michigan and 14 other states that send more tax money to Washington for national highway funding than they receive are starting to burn a little rubber to get attention.
They have formed a group called SHARE - the States' Highway Alliance for Real Equity - to push for an increase in the rate of return on the tax dollars their states spend on highway and transportation projects. The group calls the current funding set up "excessive and unfair." Separate bills have been introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate to introduce better equality.
"Under our bill," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, a sponsor of the legislation, "according to Federal Highway Administration calculations, Michigan would have received an additional $42 million in funding year 2002. That's a critically important difference for Michigan each year, and that would be a significant difference for other donor states that stand to get back millions more of their gas tax dollars to spend on highway improvements in their own states."
Under the current setup for road funding, states receive a
minimum of 90.5 cents per dollar they send to Washington. This
system was set up in the 1950s as a formula to help Western states
with low populations build portions of the nation's interstate
"For decades, highway funding has been based on antiquated
formulas which force some 20 states to subsidize road and bridge
projects of other states, " Levin said. "We believe
that it is simply unfair to perpetuate this imbalance. Our bill
would allow states to get back more of what they contribute in
gas taxes to the Highway Trust Fund, which would bring more equity
to the process."
By Patrick Devlin
Just like any other deal between labor and management, portions of the National Maintenance Agreement don't sit well with rank-and-file workers. For that matter, I expect owners and contractors who demand the use of NMAs on their projects don't like some sections of it, either.
The National Maintenance Agreement is not perfect - but on balance, I think it's important to spread the word every now and then that construction projects which utilize an NMA consistently put our people to work, make them sought-after for owners and contractors, and put our contractors several steps ahead of nonunion competition.
This comes to mind because last month, I participated in the 2003 Regional Industrial Maintenance Conference, an event sponsored by the Great Lakes Construction Alliance. The conference featured a number of speakers representing both labor and management under the theme of making an effort to "build a partnership of safety, productivity, quality and strength."
Since their inception in 1971, NMA agreements have usually been used on large, industrial construction projects, although they're increasing being applied to major commercial jobs as well. In Michigan, companies like General Motors, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler and DTE Energy are major users of NMAs.
The National Maintenance Agreement is a 19-page document, used across the country, which spells out common concerns and requirements for construction jobs where they're used. The general terms call for good safety practices in all phases of the job, no disruption of the owner's work, on-schedule performance, cost-effective and quality craftsmanship, productivity flexibility, a trained and available workforce, and a resolution process for job site issues.
NMA agreements have become so prevalent nationwide that there's even an NMA Policy Committee that administers the process. Since 1971, more than 1.6 billion man-hours have been worked under the NMA, performing work valued at $260 billion. More than 3,300 signatory contractors have employed workers under the agreement.
Owners have driven the NMA process, and you get an idea of where their priorities are when you look at the contract. To the owners, it's all business. They don't want workers on their projects who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They want workers who have participated in a coordinated safety program, and who are certified in specialized areas like welding.
Business owners and contractors want to know the price of wages they're paying for their workforce, the days off they will receive, and how much they will be paying for overtime. They want to be assured that their construction project won't be interrupted by a costly work stoppage. They want work hours and work rules clearly defined.
Building trades workers benefit from the NMA, too, Owners who seek out NMAs have bought into the idea that safe work sites are not only good for workers, they're good for their bottom line in terms of lower insurance costs. So good safety has become something we all agree on.
But the main benefit to unionized building trades centers around employability.
Working under NMAs, our workers and contractors have been able to establish a tremendous track record with the owners. Our quality workforce has bred a good reputation for our employers, and that favorable reputation has led the owners to seek out union contractors time after time.
A good track record helps keeps the owners from going to our competition, which includes workers employed by nonunion contractors and temporary agencies, or even the in-house "construction workers" represented by non-building trades unions.
Many building trades workers are under the mistaken impression that if union members aren't hired to do the work, it can't get done. One need only look to any of the Sunbelt cities in right-to-work states to find nonunion workers are the norm rather than the exception.
Simply put, National Maintenance Agreement projects put union members to work - on many jobs, in droves. Of course, some facets of the agreement, like drug and alcohol testing, aren't popular with some of our members. They're not necessarily popular in other workplaces, either, but they're quickly becoming a fact of life in pre-employment testing.
Working under the National Maintenance Agreement is a perfect example of giving the customers what they want. And the return on our investment in customers translates into union jobs.
By Marty Mulcahy
MARQUETTE - When the Silver Lake dam broke on May 14, causing $102 million in flooding damages to residents and businesses, the rush of water was a particular torment for the Presque Isle Power Plant.
Owned by Wisconsin Energy, the plant's lower areas were submerged in four feet of water, ruining pumps, motors and other electric equipment, and causing additional damage.
The building trades and their contractors were immediately called in to go to work helping to get the water out of the plant and making repairs or putting new equipment in place. The Hardhats worked hard, knowing that the plant was vital to the homes and businesses of the Upper Peninsula.
"The Presque Isle Power Plant supplies about 50 percent of the power to the U.P. of Michigan, so we're aware of how crucial the operation of the plant is to the local economy," said Wisconsin Energy spokesman Chris Iglar. "We commend the work of our own employees, as well as the contract workers and our vendors, for working around the clock to get the plant working again as quickly as possible. They have done a great job."
The 617-megawatt coal-burning plant was completely shut down for more than five weeks. The U.P. has a limited electrical transportation grid, so it was difficult for other plants to make up the loss or to import electricity. After that five weeks, one by one, five of the plant's nine boilers were brought back on line and the Presque Isle facility was at half-production, significantly reducing the crisis. The plant's electrical production is expected to be completely back in mid-July.
The Dead River flood caused the evacuation of 2,000 people. No deaths resulted, but the economic impact was significant: the closing of the Presque Isle plant caused Cleveland-Cliffs to suspended operations at its nearby Empire and Tilden mines because of the lack of power. The mines employ about 1,000, including a number of building trades workers.
Presque Isle Power Plant Manager Les Kowalski said they took two days to assess the damage, then put about 40-50 building trades workers to work. Working two 12-hour shifts, the trades workers were employed by M.J. Electric, Matilla Mechanical and Jamar Construction.
The trades had plenty of work repairing or replacing ruined mechanical equipment on the interior of the plant. But they also had to repair a break in the bin wall (which contains water used in plant operations) that was damaged by rushing storm waters.
"The workers and the contractors have done very well for us," Kowalski said last week. "Had it not been for their efforts we would still be working to get the first units on line. As it turned out, we finished the first part of the job ahead of the forecast. They were there to offer their help, expertise and suggestions and made sure the work proceeded smoothly."
Kowalski said damage to the plant would cost an estimated $10 million.
The Carhartt Co. isn't normally in the business of giving its products away. But that's what the work clothes manufacturer did on June 5, when more than 500 construction workers building the Compuware headquarters tower lined up and received a free pair of Carhartt blue jeans.
"I've been buying Carhartts for 32 years," said Joe Robinson of Glaziers and Glassworkers Local 357. "It's nice to get a pair free."
Compuware and construction manager Walbridge Aldinger gave their blessing to the giveaway, which was done about coffee break time in the morning and lasted a little over an hour. At $30 a pair, Carhartt gave away about $15,000 in merchandise from a trailer especially outfitted for the giveaway parked near the front of the building.
Not everyone received pants in their size, but those with misfits could take the jeans they received into any Carhartt store and exchange them for a pair that does fit.
Walbridge-Aldinger Project Manager Dean Reader said the giveaway was a good promotion for Carhartt, and a nice perk for the building trades workers. "It affected productivity for a few minutes," he said with a laugh, "but I think it's worth it."
The jean giveaway is part of a Carhartt marketing program to reach out to its customer base and let them know about other products the clothier makes.
"What we're doing is creating an awareness of our full product line," said Mike Majsak, vice president of marketing and brand strategy for Carhartt. "They might know about our shirts and jackets and bib overalls, but they might not know about our jeans or other products. We figured instead of doing an expensive marketing campaign, we'll approach our core customers and show goodwill and appreciation by giving away our products."
To make sure everyone did get a full view of Carhartt's products, the line of workers was channeled through another trailer that had displays of the company's products. The process was a somewhat commercial, and some readers will argue that this article is, too. On the other hand, it's unheard of to undertake such a promotion that involves such a costly giveaway, and Carhartt is at the head of the class compared to other clothiers when it comes to supporting organized labor.
"I think this is a great idea," said Tyrone Jones
of Painters Local 42, walking away with his pair of blue jeans.
"Being a painter, I just wish they had white jeans."
Hmm - sounds like some useful marketing feedback.
With the City of Hamtramck in dire financial straits, the city's Fire Department barely has funds to maintain current staffing levels - much less any money in the budget for anything beyond basic equipment.
Recently the Fire Department held a fundraiser to purchase three Automatic External Defibrillators, which would be placed on each of the city's fire trucks. AEDs are used to shock the hearts of cardiac arrest patients.
Hearing about the fundraiser on the radio, Chris Chwalek, secretary-treasurer of Laborers Local 1076, approached the Laborers' & Employers' Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET) and received approval to provide the Fire Department with the entire $7,500 needed to purchase the three defibrillators.
"LECET makes charitable contributions every now and then, and we thought this was a great idea," Chwalek said. "Hopefully this contribution will foster some goodwill, promote unions as an important part of the community, and maybe save a few lives."
Hamtramck Fire Chief James Szafarczyk said the defibrillators "will give the people a better chance for survival in case of a heart attack. We're very grateful. This helps us out a lot."
The resurgent Harmonie Park area of Detroit is getting a new tenant, the $26 million Hilton Garden Inn.
The first hotel to be built in the City of Detroit since 1987, the 10-story hotel will feature 198 guest rooms and parking for 156. The hotel, framed nearly entirely in pre-cast concrete, was topped out by iron workers on June 2
"People from all over the country can see the rebirth of the City of Detroit," said Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. "And the building trades and Turner Construction are putting their skills to work to make it happen."
With a dismal nationwide market for new hotel room construction, arranging financing for this project proved difficult - and the permit process with the City of Detroit was said to be laborious.
The project came together with a $14 million loan from Union Labor Life's Real Estate Investment Banking Group. The group invests union pension dollars into promising real estate opportunities, then assures the use of 100 percent union labor on the project.
"Even in the best of times, getting hotel financing hasn't been easy," said Union Labor Life's Curt Coleman. "It's been a long and arduous process. This is our first major investment in downtown Detroit, and I look forward to the opening."
Located near Ford Field and Comerica Park, and within walking distance of Greektown, The Hilton Garden Inn is expected to offer mid-priced rooms catering to business travelers during the week and to tourists on weekends.
A small 1,200-lb. wedge-shaped pre-cast section served as
the final piece for the topping out ceremony. "Everything
is fitting together real smoothly," said steward Dale Frederick
of Iron Workers Local 25 and Assemblers Inc.
United Way's Ray West dies
Bush's job outlook promise too rosy?
To reach his goal, President Bush's tax cut stimulus will have to stop the ongoing loss of 100,000 jobs per month and then create an additional average of 78,000 jobs over the next 18 months.
And Bush hardly has a track record in the area of jobs creation. Since Bush took office, private companies have dumped 3.1 million U.S. jobs - an average of nearly 100,000 per month.
The labor-backed Economic Policy Institute is dubious that Bush and the nation will reach that goal.
EPI co-directors Laurence Mishel and Jared Bernstein told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee that Bush's tax cut is the wrong kind to help generate jobs.
"Nearly all economists agreed that excluding taxes on dividends and capital gains will have very little effect on job growth in the near term," they said. "Tax breaks for businesses will also not create jobs...What business needs is more customers."
But customers won't be there if workers' incomes don't rise, which is why lawmakers should instead push for "temporary one-time tax relief" to put money in the pockets of low- and middle-income workers, Bernstein and Mishel urged. Those workers lost income last year, and will lose again this year and possibly next year, they pointed out.
And unemployment has risen so much, from 4 percent under President Clinton to 6.1 percent under Bush, that incomes--the engine that really drives the economy--fell last year across the board for the first time in a decade,
Median income, the point at which half of the nation's workers
are above it and half below, declined by $934 per person last
year, they said on June 6.