The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index
June 27, 2005
Union disunity is starting to raise red flags with construction employers.
"It is indisputable that fears of costly and disruptive jurisdictional disputes have made many owners apprehensive about hiring union contractors," said the Associated General Contractors' Robert Epifano, in a letter to AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sweeney. "The union sector's longevity is already jeopardized by these disputes. Further discord will only expedite extinction."
Epifano, who wrote the letter on May 31, is chairman of the Union Contractors Committee of the AGC. His letter, which was no doubt disseminated among building trades leaders, laid out the AGC's concerns over the ongoing upheaval between the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the rest of the building trades and the AFL-CIO.
The Carpenters, while aligned with the AFL-CIO's Building Trades Department, have dropped out of the AFL-CIO primarily over a dispute over how dues money is spent on organizing. Their status with the building trades - as well as the future of the structure of nearly all of organized labor in the U.S. - probably will be decided next month at a meeting of the AFL-CIO. Unions will vote whether they want to retain AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
Jurisdictional battles are likely an inevitable result following last month's action by the Carpenters, who cancelled long-held work assignment agreements with the Iron Workers and the Sheet Metal Workers International Unions.
Carpenters President Doug McCarron said in ending the jurisdictional agreements "our union contractors will be more competitive and the members of both of our organizations will gain market share."
Both Iron Workers President Joe Hunt, and Sheet Metal Workers President Michael Sullivan, protested the cancellation of the agreements. The "last thing" corporate owners need, Hunt said, "is the removal of agreements that provide harmony on the job."
The national AGC - the umbrella group for union and nonunion general contractors, big and small - obviously feels the same way.
"We have watched and listened carefully to the views expressed by Mr. Sweeney, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. McCarron and other involved labor leaders," Epifano wrote. "AGC does not intend to meddle in the internal affairs of the AFL-CIO. We do not purport to know the best solution to the current problem and do not wish to 'take sides.' However, AGC is not a mere bystander in this situation."
Epifano said the AGC represents thousands of union general and specialty contractors that employ tens of thousands of building trades union members.
"These contractors," he wrote, "are desperately trying to remain competitive and union-signatory at a time when owners are exerting increasingly high pressure to get projects done more quickly and more economically than ever before. It is indisputable that fears of costly and disruptive jurisdictional disputes have made many owners apprehensive about hiring union contractors."
He said the AGC joins the Construction Users Roundtable "in encouraging the union general presidents to explore all options available to resolve differences that could lead to work disruptions. Moreover, we urge all building trade leaders to expend whatever efforts are necessary to ensure labor peace to avoid work disruptions on all union jobsites, for all owners in all local areas."
Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan said he is "hopeful that the Carpenters will re-affiliate with the AFL-CIO by the July Convention. The choice is up to UBC President McCarron. Members of our Governing Board of Presidents believe that President McCarron would best serve his members by continuing to be a participant in building a stronger national labor movement."
He added, "we have met with President McCarron numerous times to express our concern for the thousands of UBC locals and members who would be adversely affected by his decision to leave the AFL-CIO. Many of the reforms President McCarron has advocated for have already or are in the process of being resolved.
"That is why both AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and
the Presidents of the Building Trades have and continue to strongly
encourage him to choose re-affiliation."
There is a popular conception that most construction fatalities occur on Mondays and Fridays - but the statistics don't bear this out.
Monday and Wednesday had an almost identical number of fatal construction events, 148 and 146, respectively, and Friday had the fewest number of fatal events, 96, when weekends are excluded.
Because the total number of construction hours worked each day is not known, "it is not possible to conclude that any one day is more or less hazardous than another," said the report, released in March by the University of Tennessee
The two-hour periods before and after the noon hour contained the most fatal events - 151 and 157, respectively - but it is not possible to calculate hourly event rates.
Falls from roofs or from a structure continued to be the top two causes of construction fatalities among 707 cases investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during 2003.
"The same things are killing people year to year to year," said William Schriver, research director at the Construction Industry Research and Policy Center. For the last 13 years, the center has had a contract to analyze information from the Form 170 forms filled out by OSHA compliance officers after a construction workplace fatality.
The category of fall from/through roof accounted for 76 deaths or 10.7 percent of the total fatalities. A second category of falls - fall from/with structure - was the second most common cause of a construction fatality in 2003. These incidents, which can include building collapse deaths and falling through a floor, but not through a floor opening, accounted for 74 deaths, or 10.5 percent of the total.
The third leading cause of fatal construction events in 2003 was a worker being crushed or run over by construction equipment operated by someone else (56 or 7.9 percent).
Electrocution by equipment contacting wire, such as a crane or ladder touching an overhead electric line, was the fourth most common event (47 deaths or 6.6 percent). The fifth most common cause of a fatal event in construction was electric shock from equipment installation/tool use (43 or 6.1 percent). Sixth place was taken by trench collapses (41 or 5.8 percent).
The rankings have changed little over time, Schriver said. Work that is dangerous--such as being on a roof or in a trench-remains dangerous.
"It's a very stable relationship," he said.
More construction fatalities are occurring in some settings or with certain equipment because of the way construction work is changing, Schriver said. He cited the increased use of cranes and aerial lifts, as well as the growth in construction and maintenance of communication towers.
By reading the compliance officer reports, the researchers have found that a lack of training on how to operate equipment can be associated with fatalities involving vehicles from forklifts to heavy-duty construction equipment.
The rate of fatal construction events per 100,000 construction workers was 10.5 in 2003. The rate has remained fairly constant over the last 13 years.
The number of fatalities has been on an upward trend since 1991, though the report noted, employment in construction has also increased.
(The above information was researched by the University
of Tennessee and excerpted from the BNA, Inc., the Occupational
Safety and Health Reporter).
By Marty Mulcahy
Taking shape in Taylor is the first section of the dual-arch Gateway Bridge - a pair of matching, east-west 246-foot-long spans that will serve as a landmark for Metro Airport travelers headed along I-94 to and from Detroit.
Called a "modified tied-arch," the Gateway Bridge will carry I-94 traffic over Telegraph Road. The Gateway Bridge project will cost $14 million, which is about $2 million more than a traditional overpass. But a combination of grants - plus contributions from local communities that agreed with the Michigan Department of Transportation to make the span something special - made up the cost difference.
The spans, which were fabricated by PDM Bridge in Wisconsin, were pre-assembled there before shipment to assure a good fit during re-assembly in Taylor.
"I know we've learned a lot from building the first bridge, which should make the second one easier," said Jim Davenport, project foreman for Whaley Steel, the steel erecting contractor. "Probably the most important thing we've learned is the rigging, and the best way to lift the pieces."
Work was scheduled to start this month on the second span. The manpower fluctuates, but generally 50-60 Hardhats work on the project at peak employment.
"Working on this bridge has been a real eye-opener," said Mike Malloure, project manager for C.A. Hull, which is in charge of bridge-work as a subcontractor for Dan's Excavating. "Not many people have seen this style of bridge before. There have been a few like this around the country, but this is the first in Michigan."
Malloure said there are a number of challenges in building the bridge, agreeing with Davenport that rigging and lifting heavy arch sections, and then twisting them into place at a 60-degree angle, is one of the biggest difficulties. He said the heaviest section of steel is 142,000 lbs.
The 110-foot-tall arch sections are essentially hollow boxes of steel, virtually from end to end, Malloure said. The chambers within the steel boxes were welded shut and then pressurized at the factory. The result: arches that will remain rust-free because of the lack of moisture and humidity within the hollow sections. "That's the theory," Malloure said, adding that the second Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron was erected with the same kind of hollow steel.
"We've had some minor problems with fit; nothing major," Davenport said. "For a one-of-a kind bridge things have gone really smooth.".
The arches and their suspended cables will hold up a concrete bridge deck. Originally, the arches were to be colored red - but MDOT later decided on a more aesthetically pleasing shade of blue.
Larry Yost, chairman and CEO of ArvinMeritor, Inc, who helped
foster the process of building the non-traditional bridge, said:
"With visitors from all over the world coming to Detroit,
we must do everything possible to create a vital and welcoming
environment that will encourage them to consider Michigan as
an exceptional place to live and do business."
By Marty Mulcahy
Rome wasn't built in a day, and Michigan's ailing construction economy won't be re-built in a day, either.
"It took us 30 years to get into this situation," said Ed Haynor, consultant for the West Michigan Construction Alliance. "It's going to be many years before we're able to get out."
The newly-reformed WMCA - a consortium of building trades union reps, contractors and associations - is attempting to reverse a long, painful, downward spiral in construction opportunities that is creating severe unemployment in the union sector. A soon-to-be-completed merger of the WMCA with the Southwest Michigan Building Trades is expected to better coordinate union organizing, outreach and public relations efforts on the western side of the Lower Peninsula.
The West Michigan Construction Alliance was formed in 2003 with the mission to "promote and market the advantages of an organized construction industry in the West Michigan region in order to provide the highest quality, most cost-effective and safest delivery of our products and services to our customers/owners."
Now the alliance is getting bigger and will try to do more.
Bruce Hawley, business manager of Iron Workers Local 340 in Battle Creek and president of the WMCA, said the merger will eliminate duplication of services and "do more to bring labor and management groups together. There's a lot of room for improvement in getting more contractors participating."
Hawley said goals for the newly organized group include helping union agents track jobs, pool resources and reach out to owners. "I think it will help give agents the bigger picture," he said.
Haynor, a retired school administrator from the Newaygo County Intermediate School District, was hired in 2003 primarily to promote the concept of "responsible contracting" to local school districts who may be getting reading to take out a bond issue to pay for construction work. Responsible contracting refers to helping local school districts make good decisions on hiring contractors, by screening their work history, references, and pointing out that the lowest bid isn't always the best bid.
Making presentations to boards of education is still on Haynor's list of duties. But he said it's much easier to sell responsible contracting when there are local trades people willing to push the concept with school boards and make follow-up visits and phone calls.
Now, the committee guiding the alliance is steering Haynor's efforts in new directions, like taking part in career expositions, strategic planning, arranging meetings and seminars between union agents and academic experts and construction industry consultants who can help foster change in organized construction. Haynor is also working with the Helmets to Hardhats program, which steers military veterans into the building trades.
"Hopefully we're able to pass along techniques that organized construction can use to improve market share," Haynor said. "The (anti-union) Associated Builders and Contractors are highly visible, and very good at marketing themselves, while our guys seem to want to keep quiet, pick up their tools and go to work. We have to change that."
What's the plan?
A strategic plan adopted by the WMCA starts with several baseline acknowledgements for the unionized construction industry:
Strengths include: accepting that challenges exist, a better-trained workforce, a large labor pool, higher workforce retention, better quality of work, a predictable and stable cost structure and quality of life benefits.
Threats include: non-union market share advantage, negative attitudes toward union/nonunion contractors, the high cost of health insurance, bad previous construction experience, misinformation by opponents of organized labor, and lack of affiliate partners.
Weaknesses include: "Old school" thinking still dominates, inadequate representation from management/contractors, mistrust between members, jurisdictional disputes, lack of familiarity with labor-management collaboration, lack of sustainable finances, and poor attitudes.
Opportunities include: Lots of market share to recapture, industry growth and labor-management partnership opportunities, and members realize that something needs to be done.
The vision: "The West Michigan Construction Alliance
will create a model for labor and management working together
increasing its market share to a minimum of 25%. The Alliance
will be viewed by the public as a professional organization in
both the way it presents itself and the work it performs. The
Alliance will develop a solid, pro-active, positive business
plan that has 100% support from its members along with external
and internal accountability from all participants."
By Mark Dempsey
The powers that be - the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - have joined forces to combat "The Evil Doers" - employers with extensive records of safety and environmental violations, who in the past routinely escaped prosecution even when their infractions led directly to deaths or tragic injuries.
Though top agency officials are withholding comment that might signal a sustained commitment, it appears that the Bush Administration, reversing long-standing federal practice, has sanctioned thoroughgoing criminal prosecutions of private employers who repeatedly and seriously flout safety and environmental laws.
Congress consistently has declined to toughen laws for workplace deaths, and employers often pay insignificant fines, avoiding jail while continuing to ignore basic safety rules.
From 1982 to 2002, OSHA investigated 1,242 cases in which it was decided that workers died as a direct result of an employer committing willful safety violations. OSHA declined to seek any prosecution in 93 percent of those cases. The problem seemed to lie in the lack of interest by federal prosecutors in cases that rarely result in prison sentences.
In contrast, all federal environmental crimes carry potential prison sentences, including up to 15 years for knowingly endangering workers. In 2001 alone, the Environmental Protectino Agency obtained prison sentences totaling 256 years. With its 200-plus criminal investigators, the EPA has ample experience building cases for federal prosecutors.
Without serious criminal enforcement, OSHA's bark is worse than its bite, but it does have access to all American workplaces, and its inspectors regularly wander the floors of the nation's dirtiest and most dangerous industries. OSHA is well positioned to spot potential environmental crimes, particularly those that harm workers. Unlike their EPA peers, OSHA inspectors each year research hundreds of occupational deaths and injuries.
Apparently, someone in the Bush administration has begun to connect the dots.
By fusing the access, technical skills and regulatory powers of the EPA and OSHA with the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, the administration appears to be creating a potentially potent means of enforcing safety and environmental regulations.
"We can see all the pieces," says Andrew D. Goldsmith, assistant chief of the environmental crimes section. "We can coordinate."
With approximately 40 prosecutors, the environmental crimes section has an established record of bringing complex criminal cases against major employers. However, before this new arrangement, only one prosecutor at the Justice Department concentrated full time on workplace safety crimes. Now, after receiving lists of promising cases from OSHA, prosecutors are also checking for environmental infractions and planning criminal prosecution.
Further, if a plant is a part of a larger corporation, then sister plants are being checked as well.
The value of this coordination became obvious during a recent federal investigation into a New Jersey foundry owned by McWane, Inc., the nation's largest manufacturer of cast-iron pipe. McWane has been described as one of the most dangerous employers in America. In December 2003, several high level managers at the New Jersey foundry were indicted on charges of conspiring to violate safety and environmental laws and repeatedly obstructing government inquiries by lying and altering accident scenes.
The case is pending, but Justice Department officials call it a "pioneering indictment" because it tells the whole picture of how the company put profit ahead of all other considerations.
The new collaborative approach attempts to remedy a weakness in the regulatory system - the failure of federal agencies to work together to bring to justice corporations that repeatedly violate the same safety and environmental regulations. The EPA and OSHA, in particular, have a history of behaving like estranged relatives.
"If you don't care about protecting your workers, it probably stands to reason that you don't care about protecting the environment either," said David M. Uhlmann, chief of the environmental crimes section.
Fantasy or Reality?
With very little fanfare, it appears that the Bush administration
is making a conscious effort to end the old pattern of leniency
and allow new, more stringent prosecution to take root.
This raised doubts in some observers' minds about the seriousness of the agencies' commitment. For instance, on his Confined Space blog, Jordan Barab - a former union health and safety professional who worked at OSHA during the Clinton administration - wrote, "I'm having trouble figuring out what's going on at OSHA. They're behaving like a little kid with a bad reputation who does something good, but hides it out of embarrassment - or perhaps because he feels like his 'friends' will beat him up if they find out he's done something slightly upstanding."
Whatever hesitation may exist at the political level, it appears to be "all systems go" in the trenches of OSHA and the EPA.
"You see a glint in these people's eyes, and you see them getting very enthusiastic," says Andrew Goldsmith, who has led most of the OSHA training sessions in which he explains the many ways criminal and environmental statutes can be brought to bear. "You see hands start shooting up. They view us like the cavalry coming over the hill."
It has been a revelation of sorts, he says, to watch agency compliance officers finally be able to seek significant criminal penalties against defiant employers.
Fantasy or reality? That remains to be seen. Let's just hope the latter is true, and this is not another "Once upon a time, in a galaxy, far far away."
(Mr. Dempsey is with the Laborers Health and Safety Fund.)
By Marty Mulcahy
JACKSON - Foote Hospital's Emergency Department is getting busier. As a result, it's getting bigger.
The hospital averaged 35,000 patient visits to its Emergency Department when the hospital opened in 1982 - a number that has increased to 55,000 today and is expected to reach 67,000 per year in 2014.
To respond to that heightened number of patient visits, Foote has embarked on a $30 million expansion of its Emergency Department. Construction manager Christman and the building trades are working on a project that will add 37,000 square-feet to the Foote ED, and renovate 15,800 square-feet of existing space.
"This is the biggest construction project we've had since the original construction," said John Tatum, project planner/owner's representative for Foote Hospital. "The work is on schedule, we had a favorable bidding situation, we've had good cooperation from the architect, Albert Kahn Associates, and Christman, and we're pleased that we're using a number of local contractors on the job."
Not only is Foote expanding its emergency department - it's changing the way it does business. When the expansion and renovation are complete, emergency or urgent care treatment will have their own separate areas on site that will be offered as treatment options to patients. A "Clinical Decision Unit" will allow medical staff to observe and evaluate patients for a period of time before formally placing them in a hospital bed, or discharging them.
All Emergency Department beds will be private, single-bed rooms. Nursing stations will be re-aligned to better observe patients. A pharmacy will dispense drugs and supplies for hospital staff serving patients - and it will also be available for discharged patients to immediately fill a prescription. Spaces for ambulances will be upped from four to six.
"During the planning process, we visited quite a number of other hospitals to determine their best practices, and brought those ideas back here," Tatum said.
Site work began on the project last September. When the work
on the addition is complete, the existing Emergency Department
will be moved into the addition, and renovation work will commence
on the existing space. Completion of the entire project is expected
in December 2006.
The executive board of the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union authorized its executive committee to decide if and when to "disaffiliate" from the AFL-CIO, though no decision has been made about whether SEIU will leave the federation, spokesman Ben Boyd told the AP's Terence Chea.
The board said it acted after executive boards of local unions representing 70 percent of SEIU membership adopted resolutions authorizing disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO, the national federation of more than 50 unions formed five decades at the height of organized labor's power.
"The union movement must focus on uniting with the 9 out of 10 workers who have no union," the board said in a statement. "We cannot help workers make major advances in each industry as long as the AFL- CIO structure and rules condone and reward union strategies that divide workers' strength in each industry."
Other unions have also threatened to withdraw from the AFL-CIO.
John Sweeney, the labor federation's president, is up for re-election
The AFL-CIO reports that the BLS plans to include the salaries of managers, executives and even CEOs in its monthly payroll survey. Including the high salaries in the average would make it look like workers are making more money than they really are.
Finish the job, rally urges GOP
The rally's message is "Tell the state legislature that they can't go on vacation until they:"
Sen. John Edwards will be on hand for the rally, which is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"Finish the job: tell the Republican-led legislature
that Michigan's working families need them to stay until their
work is finished," the AFL-CIO said.