The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

March 1, 2002

Carpenters demand drastic changes before re-affiliation with Building Trades Dept.

Borgess remains committed to 'open market bidding process'

Smooth landing for Midfield Terminal

OSHA flushes sanitation standard for construction

Pay hikes for Michigan trades continue to outpace nation

Wayne State builds new center to meet and greet

Boilermakers help rescue ice anglers



Carpenters demand drastic changes before re-affiliation with Building Trades Dept.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners International Union would agree to re-join the other 14 international unions in the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, but only if there is a drastic realignment in the department's structure.

In a Feb. 21 letter to Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan, Carpenters President Douglas McCarron said there are "four primary conditions" for the Carpenters' re-affiliation. The top demand includes the resignation of the current building trades officer positions of secretary-treasurer and president and elimination of those offices, to be replaced by a part-time president and an executive director.

Noting that talks about realignment had been conducted with the Carpenters for more than a year, Sullivan said in a Feb. 21 letter to the rest of the building trades that he is "terribly disappointed" in the Carpenters' decision.

"Mr. McCarron's 'conditions' for re-affiliating are unacceptable and most could not even be achieved without wholesale constitutional changes supported by our fourteen affiliates," Sullivan said.

In March 2001, the Carpenters withdrew from the AFL-CIO in a dispute over how the national federation spends dues money, and how it allocates resources to organizing. At the time, the Carpenters did not officially abandon the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department. However, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said according to the federation's constitution, any international union that disaffiliates is not allowed to remain in any subordinate body of the AFL-CIO - which effectively banned them from the building trades.

In May 1996 the Michigan Regional Carpenters Council stopped paying per capita tax to the Greater Detroit and Michigan Building Trades councils, effectively withdrawing from those organizations.

Since last March, ongoing talks have taken place between McCarron, Sullivan and Sweeney, culminating in McCarron's Feb. 21 letter. McCarron's other demands in that letter include:

  • Implementing a modernized plan for the settlement of disputes in the construction industry;
  • Instituting a plan of weighted voting on the governing board of general presidents, based on the per capita tax paid by each affiliate to the department; and
  • Reconstituting" the administrative committee, comprised of the top five per capita tax-paying affiliate international unions. McCarron said they should meet regularly "and have a substantial role in the direction of the department's activities."

Sullivan said he and Building Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer Joe Maloney were elected unanimously to five-year terms in July 2000 and "plan to serve our complete terms in office, with the gracious support of the vast majority of our affiliated unions."

Sullivan in his letter then upped the ante on the Carpenters. He said over the past year the Carpenters have been permitted to participate in building trades activities in order to work out a solution, and they "have not experienced any real sanctions for their disaffiliation."

Now, wrote Sullivan, "Because of Mr. McCarron's decision, I believe it is time for us to begin divesting the Carpenters from the benefits of Building Trades affiliation."


Borgess remains committed to 'open market bidding process'

KALAMAZOO - Borgess Medical Center has not been swayed from its decision to hire a 75 percent nonunion workforce on a $76.9 million renovation project, despite letters of appeal from union members in the community and some significant informational picket action outside its front door.

Borgess is going ahead with one of the largest construction projects in Western Michigan, a three-year job that will include a new parking structure, consolidation of outpatient diagnostic and treatment services, and miscellaneous campus improvements, including converting most semi-private rooms into private rooms. Work began in July.

Union leaders in the Southwest Michigan Building Trades Organizers have had several meetings and have written numerous letters to Borgess, its Board of Trustees and its parent company, Ascension Health, seeking to get more union contractors on the project.

"We're just not making any headway with Borgess," said Michigan Building Trades Council Business Rep. Terry Strunk. "In fact, the letters that they've sent out indicate that they're digging in."

About 65 informational pickets walked in front of the hospital on Feb. 1, and on Feb. 22, there were more than 100 pickets, urging Borgess to adopt a policy of "local jobs for local workers." In addition, an undetermined number of building trade union members responded to an appeal in the Jan. 18 edition of The Building Tradesman, and wrote letters of appeal to Borgess and its parent organization.

On the day the pickets first appeared Feb. 1, an internal letter from Borgess to its employees concludes that the health care organization "stands firm in its commitment to the open market bidding process and will not be pressured to reverse this decision. Not only does this approach allow for the most responsible use of financial resources, it also creates the greatest opportunity for work to be performed by local contractors."

Borgess hired American Village Builders (AVB) of Kalamazoo to manage the project as the general contractor. The firm is hardly a strong union employer, and has set dual union-nonunion gates at the hospital site. Based on the subcontractors listed on the signs at the gate, the project is expected to go about 75 percent nonunion.

This is particularly galling in light of the fact that union building trades workers spent about $2.5 million for medical care at Borgess in 2000, the organizers estimate.

"Borgess may have thought that this is going to be a one-day campaign, but we're not going away," said Southwest Building Trades Organizers President Larry Tolbert of Asbestos Workers Local 47.

If you live in Southwest Michigan, and wish to make known your feelings about Borgess' dim view of union workers, following are two people who can do something about it:

Donald Brennan, President/CEO, Ascension Health Board of Trustees, P.O. Box 45998, 4600 Edmundson Rd., St. Louis, MO 63145.

Randall Stasik, Borgess Health Alliance, 1521 Gull Rd., Kalamazoo, MI 49048.


Smooth landing for Midfield Terminal

The remarkable skill displayed by the building trades in the construction of the new Midfield Terminal at Metro Airport was rarely mentioned in the media in the days and weeks before it opened on Feb. 24, but we'll say it here: well done!

At times more than 2,000 Hardhats toiled at Metro Airport, building the new 97-gate terminal, the south access road and tunnel, energy center, parking deck, and everything else. Detroit has gone from having what was one of the worst airports in the nation, to one of the best, and the work of the building trades and their employers made it happen.

The opening days for the new terminal are sure to have glitches - just like there were glitches in the building process - but it's clear that the talents of the building trades union workers landed a well-built project that will last for years.

AN ESCALATOR on the gateway level gets the attention of Jack Beaudoin of Local 36 and Otis Elevator.

A LABORER clears scrap at one end of the mile-long terminal, in this photo taken in April 2000.

ARTISAN TILE workers from Local 32 install and polish a mosaic floor at the Midfield Terminal in January.

CAULKING the floor next to a moving walkway in the concourse is Stephen Jacobs of BAC Local 1. These photos were taken as the concourse was being completed in January.


OSHA flushes sanitation standard for construction

Tradesman Viewpoint

By Marty Mulcahy

A federal standard to improve sanitation on U.S. construction sites is "dead in the water," according to an OSHA representative we spoke to last week.

Over the last several years, we have reported on efforts to improve the hand-washing standard for construction sites by the OSHA Advisory for Construction Safety and Health, which makes recommendations to the federal safety agency.

In 2000, the committee made several recommendations to OSHA that would have mandated the placement of hand-washing stations or antiseptic gel dispensers within or next to portable toilets on construction sites, and lowering the ratio of toilets-per-worker to one in 10 from one in 40. That year, the situation looked good for passage.

Then, in the Dec. 3, 2001 Federal Register, which contains OSHA's priorities for the next 12 months, the new sanitation proposal was effectively buried, at least for now, by a single line: "OSHA is withdrawing this entry from the agenda at this time due to resource constraints and other priorities."

In January, OSHA's leaders were out among various business groups talking about the agency's agenda, which has changed considerably under the Bush Administration. OSHA Administrator John Henshaw said the agency would only take on health and safety issues that are "doable." R. Davis Layne, deputy assistant secretary of labor, told another group that the new list was designed "to really reflect what we think we can accomplish."

Apparently, better sanitation on construction sites is apparently not "doable." But it's impossible to explain to us how an extremely low-cost item like placing hand-sanitizing dispensers next to portable toilets would have much of an effect on an employer's bottom line.

"If there was one, easy way OSHA could improve the lot of construction workers, this would be it," said Larry Edginton, safety and health director for the Operating Engineers International Union, who sits on the safety and health advisory committee. "It's the right thing to do. If the people at the Department of Labor would spend one day on a construction site, and see the sanitary conditions our workers have to endure, things would change in a hurry."

If poor sanitation practices actually resulted in worker deaths, this would be a more important issue. Medical experts we've talked to say that hepatitis and other infectious diseases that people tend to acquire from not washing their hands after using the bathroom make people sick, but are rarely fatal.

This isn't really a political issue, because a sanitation standard didn't get passed during the eight years President Clinton was in the White House. It isn't much of an economic issue, either - hand sanitizers are cheap, and putting more portable toilets on construction sites just isn't that big of a cost.

This is a health and human decency issue. Construction workers aren't asking for a lot, just a place to relieve themselves and a place to wash. On some sites, a stand of trees or a culvert is the only convenient place to go, which isn't much different from working conditions a hundred or even a thousand years ago.

There are some construction employers who go above and beyond what's required, and do provide workers with hand-sanitizers. Some go so far as to provide heated, clean, toilet trailers - a big leap above having to use the typical, disgusting portable toilets.

But for other employers, a nudge is going to be needed, and it isn't going to come from the federal government any time soon. The nudge toward better sanitation could come from unions, if members speak up and insist on geting better bathroom facilities written into collective bargaining agreements.

The other untapped resource in all of this is MIOSHA, which has the ability to meet or exceed federal OSHA requirements when it comes to job safety measures.

Whenever this issue comes up, most people acknowledge the problem, but few are willing to do anything. Maybe now is the time for construction workers to demand that they stop being treated as second-class citizens.

Author Victor Hugo said, "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come."


Pay hikes for Michigan trades continue to outpace nation

Wage and fringe contract settlements for Michigan's unionized construction trades workers averaged 4.4 percent or $1.61 an hour in 2002 - above the national average of 4.1 percent and $1.39 per hour.

The contract numbers for Michigan are associated with 44,052 workers and 32 settled collective bargaining agreements, according to the Construction Labor Research Council (CLRC), which released the figures last month.

Michigan's strong construction union presence undoubtedly contributed to the higher percentage increase in wages and fringes. Only Minnesota (5.4 percent average increase), Illinois (4.8 percent increase) and Texas (4.6 percent increase) were higher than Michigan's. Our state's wage and fringe increases lead the nation in 2000 and 2001.

Since it's a right-to-work state, Texas' big jump in pay percentage is a little surprising. However, that state's average hourly pay increase was only increased by 96 cents an hour.

Overall in the U.S., pay and fringe rates rose an average 4.0 percent in 2001, more than the 3.8 percent a year earlier. From 1995 to 2000, reports the CLRC, the range of annual increases was 3.0 to 3.8 percent. The increase for 2001 was the largest since 1983.



Wayne State builds new center to meet and greet

Wayne State University will be rolling out the welcome wagon in August, in the form of the $18.5 million Welcome Center in Detroit. The building will provide visitors and prospective students with a gateway destination when they visit the sprawling campus.

The center is set to open in August, and will offer a central location for students and prospective students to access information about the admissions and registration process, financial aid, and other areas of interest.

The building trades and the contracting team of Walbridge-Jenkins have been working on the project since last fall. The Welcome Center, and an adjacent 705-space parking deck and a $6 million bookstore complex that's also under construction are located on Warren between Woodward and Cass.

"Our new Welcome Center will literally provide a single location where our students can park nearby, walk a short distance, and meet staff from all areas of our student services operation, from applications to admissions to the registrar," said Charles L. Brown, vice president, student development and campus life. He said he views the Welcome Center concept as "one-stop shopping" for Wayne State's student body.

The Welcome Center consists of 70,000 square feet on four levels. It will accommodate administrative and student services offices and a 108-seat auditorium. Interactive computers will also be available as an additional amenity. Outside will be a landscaped plaza with trees and park benches.

Walbridge-Aldinger Project Supt. Greg Svabik said about 60 workers are currently on the project. "We're under a real tight schedule, with less than a year to complete the building," he said. "But we're about a third complete, and we're moving along well."

MOPPING HOT TAR the roof of the Wayne State University Welcome Center are Charles Phillips and Rick Horon of Roofers Local 149 and Schreiber Roofing.


Boilermakers help rescue ice anglers

Two boilermakers helped rescue three teenage fishermen who fell through the ice on a Lake St. Clair canal in Harrison Twp.

Two of the three anglers were closer to the shore and were fished out relatively quickly when the incident took place at about 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10. The third, a 16-year-old boy, was in the water for 15-20 minutes and nearly drowned, but was treated only for hypothermia and is expected to recover.

Boilermakers Local 169 members Rich Cowley and Terry Sullivan had been fishing on the ice nearby for about four hours and helped in the rescue effort for all three teens.

"We were out there with about 30 or 40 others, and the ice seemed OK," Sullivan said. "We heard a lot of shouting and we looked and saw three kids in the water. It was scary; it gave me a whole new perspective on ice fishing."

Cowley and Sullivan walked off the ice, and joined several others in the rescue effort. Two of the anglers, ages 15 and 16, who were closer to the edge of the canal were thrown ropes and a floatation device, and were pulled in. The ropes couldn't reach the other teen, who was about 40 feet off the canal dock.

"He was a big kid, and you could just see his head bobbing up and down," Cowley said. "He'd get a mouthful of air, and then he'd go back down under for a while. For a while, we thought this kid was going to die right in front of us and we couldn't do anything about it."

EMTs arrived, and one went into the freezing water to save the stricken teen. The victim was placed atop a floatation device, and moved back toward the canal. As they reached the pilings on the canal, an extension ladder was placed onto the ice at a severe angle, the victim was placed on a board, and Cowley and Sullivan were among those on shore who pulled on a rope to haul the soggy, heavy angler out of the water on the makeshift skid.

Sullivan said it appeared as if the boys were fishing on a portion of ice that had a current underneath, weakening the surface. He said the events of that day won't deter him from ice fishing in the future, but he said he would bring along rope and an ice spike in case of trouble.

All's well that ends well. How was the fishing? "Great, the perch were really biting," said Sullivan.


Hands off labor this election year?
It's an election year in Congress - and while all the sure-to-come political ads may be bad news, the news on the legislative front for construction labor is better.

The Construction Labor Report said members of Congress "may be skittish" about voting on labor legislation this election year, especially on the all-important Davis-Bacon Act, which is the single most important federal law that upholds pay standards for U.S. construction workers.

Since the 1930s, the Davis-Bacon Act has insured that prevailing wages for a geographic area are paid to construction workers on federally funded projects. There have been constant attacks on the law, but there has been only one specific vote on the law in both the House and Senate over the last seven years, and they were both defeated. Even with Republicans controlling Congress during several of those years, they have not been able to garner enough support to kill Davis-Bacon.

Moreover, labor unions are working more closely with the Bush Administration on some issues. Specifically, many building trades union leaders are in President Bush's corner over his support of Arctic oil and gas drilling.

"We have our hands full with this administration but if we see an opportunity to work with them, we owe it to our members to take advantage of that," said a lobbyist with the Operating Engineers International Union.

Natives propose power production
Plans have been announced by the Hannahville Indian Community in the U.P. to build an 1,100-acre industrial park on tribal lands, which will include four separate coal-fired electric plants, capable of producing a total of 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

The total construction cost is expected to weigh in at $1.3 billion. The new source of power will allow the Hannahville Community to move into a venture completely different than its primary source of income - operating the nearby Chip-In's Island Resort & Casino.

Depending on how quickly federal approval is obtained, the first plant could be operational within five years, and all four plants could be operational within 10 years.

"This project will put this community on the map and provide the excess power to support additional industries here," said project engineering consultant Douglas Weinkauf to Upper Peninsula Business Today. Hannahville is located southwest of Escanaba.

Chiles family appreciates help
Iron Workers Local 25 member Tom "Bubba" Chiles said he is in "awe" at the generosity of friends and people he doesn't know in the building trades.

A mostaccioli benefit dinner was held for his 35-year-old sister Carolyn on Feb. 17 in New Boston, to help her defray medical costs that aren't covered by insurance and travel expenses to the Cancer Treatment of America Clinic in Zion, Ill. The mother of Nathan, 8, and Kelsey, 7, is stricken with esophageal cancer, and must travel to the clinic once a month for treatment.

"I'm just amazed at the generosity," Chiles said. "We served 1,300 dinners. A lot of people who we didn't even know just came to the dinner, didn't eat anything, and left money. People donated $70,000, and the money is still coming in. We're still getting six to 12 cards a day. This will really help take off some of the burden. It would be great if you could tell the people in the building trades how grateful we are."

Consider it done.


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index