March 13, 2009
in restoring prosperity
share of stimulus: It will take a while
New labor secretary
gets pro-union course from Obama administration
$1 billion development
hinges on sewer upgrade
To Win move toward reuniting
matter' in restoring prosperity
By Robert Reich
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor
Why is this recession so deep, and what can be done to reverse
Hint: Go back about 50 years, when America's middle class
was expanding and the economy was soaring. Paychecks were big
enough to allow us to buy all the goods and services we produced.
It was a virtuous circle. Good pay meant more purchases, and
more purchases meant more jobs.
At the center of this virtuous circle were unions. In 1955,
more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. Unions
gave them the bargaining leverage they needed to get the paychecks
that kept the economy going. So many Americans were unionized
that wage agreements spilled over to nonunionized workplaces
as well. Employers knew they had to match union wages to compete
for workers and to recruit the best ones.
Fast forward to a new century. Now, fewer than 8% of private-sector
workers are unionized. Corporate opponents argue that Americans
no longer want unions. But public opinion surveys, such as a
comprehensive poll that Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted
in 2006, suggest that a majority of workers would like to have
a union to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
So there must be some other reason for this dramatic decline.
But put that question aside for a moment. One point is clear:
Smaller numbers of unionized workers mean less bargaining power,
and less bargaining power results in lower wages.
It's no wonder middle-class incomes were dropping even before
the recession. As our economy grew between 2001 and the start
of 2007, most Americans didn't share in the prosperity. By the
time the recession began last year, according to an Economic
Policy Institute study, the median income of households headed
by those under age 65 was below what it was in 2000.
Typical families kept buying only by going into debt. This
was possible as long as the housing bubble expanded. Home-equity
loans and refinancing made up for declining paychecks. But that's
over. American families no longer have the purchasing power to
keep the economy going. Lower paychecks, or no paychecks at all,
mean fewer purchases, and fewer purchases mean fewer jobs.
The way to get the economy back on track is to boost the purchasing
power of the middle class. One major way to do this is to expand
the percentage of working Americans in unions.
Tax rebates won't work because they don't permanently raise
wages. Most families used the rebate last year to pay off debt
- not a bad thing, but it doesn't keep the virtuous circle running.
Bank bailouts won't work either. Businesses won't borrow to
expand without consumers to buy their goods and services. And
Americans themselves can't borrow when they're losing their jobs
and their incomes are dropping.
Tax cuts for working families, as President Obama intends, can
do more to help because they extend over time. But only higher
wages and benefits for the middle class will have a lasting effect.
Unions matter in this equation. According to the Department
of Labor, workers in unions earn 30% higher wages - taking home
$863 a week, compared with $663 for the typical nonunion worker
- and are 59% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance
than their nonunion counterparts.
Examples abound. In 2007, nearly 12,000 janitors in Providence,
R.I., New Hampshire and Boston, represented by the Service Employees
International Union, won a contract that raised their wages to
$16 an hour, guaranteed more work hours and provided family health
insurance. In an industry typically staffed by part-time workers
with a high turnover rate, a union contract provided janitors
with full-time, sustainable jobs that they could count on to
raise their families' - and their communities' - standard of
In August, 65,000 Verizon workers, represented by the Communications
Workers of America, won wage increases totaling nearly 11% and
converted temporary jobs to full-time status. Not only did the
settlement preserve fully paid healthcare premiums for all active
and retired unionized employees, but Verizon also agreed to provide
$2 million a year to fund a collaborative campaign with its unions
to achieve meaningful national healthcare reform.
Although America and its economy need unions, it's become
nearly impossible for employees to form one. The Hart poll I
cited tells us that 57 million workers would want to be in a
union if they could have one. But those who try to form a union,
according to researchers at MIT, have only about a 1 in 5 chance
of successfully doing so.
The reason? Most of the time, employees who want to form a union
are threatened and intimidated by their employers.
And all too often, if they don't heed the warnings, they're
fired, even though that's illegal. I saw this when I was secretary
of Labor over a decade ago. We tried to penalize employers that
broke the law, but the fines are minuscule. Too many employers
consider them a cost of doing business.
This isn't right. The most important feature of the Employee
Free Choice Act, which will be considered by the just-seated
111th Congress, toughens penalties against companies that violate
their workers' rights. The sooner it's enacted, the better -
for U.S. workers and for the U.S. economy.
The American middle class isn't looking for a bailout or a
handout. Most people just want a chance to share in the success
of the companies they help to prosper. Making it easier for all
Americans to form unions would give the middle class the bargaining
power it needs for better wages and benefits. And a strong and
prosperous middle class is necessary if our economy is to succeed.
(Robert B. Reich, former U.S. secretary of Labor, is professor
of public policy at UC Berkeley and the author, most recently,
of "Supercapitalism." This is from an op-ed that first
appeared in the Los Angeles Times).
Michigan's share of stimulus: It will take a while
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - Michigan is in line to get about $7 billion in federal
stimulus money, but it's probably going to take months to figure
out how it's all going to be spent.
The state's construction industry will eventually be prime
beneficiaries of the money. The most definitive information available
is that $847 million will be earmarked for road and bridge repairs
in Michigan - and that's money that can be spent relatively soon.
But longer term, Michigan is still sorting out where and how
other portions of the stimulus will be spent. Inquiries are directed
to the state's official website, which said last week: "Once
decisions are made about which projects will best help us achieve
our goals - creating jobs, spurring economic growth, and helping
Michigan families - we will share that information with you here."
Mike Crawford, executive director of the Michigan Chapter
of the National Electrical Contractors Association, acknowledged
that at least initially, the road builders would be the prime
beneficiaries of the federal dollars. "We're going to be
looking at how the plans unfold over the next few weeks,"
he said. "We know there's going to be money available, for
example, to improve energy efficiency in public buildings, schools,
city halls, DPWs, etc. We just haven't been able to get our hands
on any figures."
Michigan AGC President Bart Carrigan pointed to "a surprising
amount of water and sewer construction," as well as unexpected
money for high-speed rail that President Obama inserted in the
spending bill at the minute. "Overall," he said, "there's
not nearly as much as we would like to have seen, but it still
looks to be a significant amount. At the moment, most what we've
heard is anecdotal stuff and lots of rumor."
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said on the state's stimulus
website that the wish list from local communities to fund various
projects "was overwhelming." There were more than 16,000
requested proposed projects totaling more than $49 billion. "The
size and scope of this request list demonstrates that there are
far more needs in Michigan than the recovery plan can fund,"
the state report on the stimulus money said.
On the list is everything from boiler replacement in an Addison
County elementary school to installing energy efficient lighting
in a Zeeland public works building.
President Obama said on March 3 that two weeks after he signed
the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into
law, "we are seeing shovels hit the ground" - although
not very many of them. He said the $28 billion from his economic
recovery program that's being spent on road and bridge work will
save or create 150,000 jobs by the end of next year.
"Transportation projects that were once on hold are now
starting up again as part of the largest new investment in America's
infrastructure since President Eisenhower built the interstate
highway system," Obama said. Long-term, Obama expects his
economic recovery plan to save or create, 400,000 jobs will be
targeted toward rebuilding the nation's infrastructure - roads,
bridges, schools, levees, dams, and commuter buses and trains.
The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association
said the stimulus money will "provide a boost to Michigan's
heavy construction industry." But the association added:
"MITA has been clear in saying that the one-time stimulus
is no replacement for a long-term, stable funding source. The
association continues to call on state legislators to immediately
address the chronic shortage of money for the transportation
budget and provide new dollars to cover the unmet needs for municipal
water and sewer systems."
Part of the difficulty in nailing down spending is that states
are given some latitude in how to spend the money. Spending on
Medicaid and the state's schools will eat up about $4 billion
of Michigan's $7 billion in stimulus money - but some of that
school spending could include construction and renovation work.
Here is some of what we know about Michigan's portion of the
- Without putting a price tag on the work, the Michigan web
site said a portion will provide funding sufficient to modernize
at least 383 schools in Michigan, to add and improve labs, classrooms
- On March 4, Granholm announced that communities that submitted
sewer and drinking water infrastructure projects last spring
and summer in anticipation of receiving low-interest loans for
repairs this year will be among the first eligible to receive
the federal funding. The stimulus money is expected to provide
$168.5 million and $67.5 million respectively for sewer upgrades
and drinking water improvements in Michigan this year.
- According to the Engineering News Record, Michigan is also
in line to receive $134 billion in "transit capital."
- $279 million for "weatherization" work.
- 43 million for public housing.
- More than one million jobless workers will be offered an
additional $100 per month in unemployment insurance benefits,
and benefits will be offered to an additional 162,000 laid-off
- Provided will be a "making work pay" tax cut of
up to $800 for about 95 percent of Michigan workers, designed
to pay out immediately into workers' paychecks.
- The first $2,400 of unemployment compensation will be excluded
from gross income in 2009. This exclusion will reduce taxable
income for Michigan taxpayers on both their federal and state
tax returns. The exclusion will save Michigan recipients of unemployment
compensation up to $104 on their Michigan returns.
- Across all industries, the recovery package is estimated
to retain or create 109,000 jobs in Michigan.
- Nationwide, the bill authorizes an additional $1.6 billion
of new clean renewable energy bonds to finance facilities that
generate electricity from the following resources: wind; closed-loop
biomass; open-loop biomass; geothermal; small irrigation; hydropower;
landfill gas; marine renewable; and trash combustion facilities.
The bill also authorizes an addition $2.4 billion of qualified
energy conservation bonds to finance state, municipal and tribal
government programs and initiatives designed to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions. None of the money in these categories is state-specific
at this time.
labor secretary gets pro-union course from Obama administration
WASHINGTON - It's a new day at the U.S. Department of Labor,
which was criticized during the Bush years as a lapdog for the
business community rather than a guard dog for the interests
of American workers.
By an 80-17 margin on Feb. 24, the Senate confirmed Rep. Hilda
Solis, D-Calif., as President Barack Obama's Labor Secretary.
The final vote for Solis was delayed for several weeks, during
which Senate Republicans dropped a filibuster threat. Meanwhile,
President Obama has also sought more money in the Labor Department
budget, and has pledged better workplace safety enforcement.
"Finally Americans will have a Secretary of Labor who
represents working people, not wealthy CEOs," said AFL-CIO
President John Sweeney.
Solis, whose father was a Teamster and whose mother was also
a union member, is the successor to Elaine Chao, who under the
Bush Administration drew the scorn of organized labor. Chao supervised:
a department that stopped rules to prevent debilitating repetitive-motion
injuries for workers, sought to prevent employees of the new
Homeland Security Department from unionizing, and reclassified
hundreds of thousands of American workers as "supervisors"
to prevent them from unionizing.
Solis has supported labor's No. 1 legislative priority, the
Employee Free Choice Act. And she chose an IBEW training center
in Miama to make one of her first official appearances. "It's
a demonstration of our commitment to help inspire people who
may have been laid off or are in dead-end jobs," she said.
"These are jobs" at the IBEW center "with an average
starting salary of $28 an hour. I hope to see these programs
expand with stimulus funding,"
Enforcement is Solis' other key priority for workers. "We
want to protect workers' rights and protect them in workplaces,"
she told TV cameras before the walking tour. "The first
priority is jobs and job creation," she said later. "That
goes hand-in-hand with enforcement. There'll be a lot of federal
contracting and we'll be looking at how standards should be set"
in wages, benefits and working conditions for federal contractors
to meet, "and getting the best data" for the tasks,
In that area, Obama has partially sped ahead of his own Labor
Secretary, with a January executive order favoring project labor
agreements on federal construction contracts and another order
banning contractors' use of federal dollars for or against union
organizing drives at their worksites. Contractors could still
use their own money.
"We'll be putting back investigators into the Wage and
Hour Division and OSHA
(the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Any good
semblance on investigating and monitoring in those areas has
been eroded over the last eight years. We've put more priority
on enforcing laws against unions than against employers who abuse
their workers," Solis added.
Sweeney praised a 4.7% increase for the Labor Department's
budget, saying it provides "much-needed funds" for
"shoring up our unemployment insurance program, better enforcement
of workplace health and safety and wage and hour laws, and new
training initiatives, among other things."
"The Department of Labor will once again stand up for
working families and be an advocate for everyday people,"
(Reporting by Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer)
billion development hinges on sewer upgrade
By Marty Mulcahy
SAGINAW TWP. - Increased sewer capacity is in the pipeline
at the township's Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant, where
the building trades are at work.
Projected to increase capacity from 4.8 million gallons per
day to 6.5 million, the upgrade is necessary for the expansion
of the Dow Corning Corp.'s Hemlock Semiconductor Plant (HSC)
in nearby Thomas Twp. That plant is being built to manufacture
monosilane gas, a specialty gas used in the manufacturing of
liquid crystal displays and thin-film solar cells.
The $10.3 million sewer work is "a vital part of securing
HSC's $1 billion investment," said township Supervisor Timothy
The year-long project is expected to wrap up in September.
Saginaw Twp. provided a good explanation of the treatment
process. Wastewater arrives at the plant site in gravity sewers
and then receives primary treatment. Chlorine is also added for
odor control. Primary treatment is provided by two mechanically
cleaned bar screens and two aerated grit tanks. Screenings and
grit materials are disposed of into a dumpster and hauled to
Primary effluent treatment is accomplished in two circular
primary settling tanks. Sedimentation is pumped from the settling
tanks into two high rate anaerobic digesters. Secondary treatment
consists of extended aeration with activated sludge in two oxidation
ditches. Ferric Chloride is then added to the waste stream for
the removal of phosphorous, followed by the addition of polymers
to aid in settling.
Secondary clarification occurs in two circular final settling
tanks. Sedimentation from these two tanks is returned to the
oxidation ditches and transferred as needed to another process
for additional settling and disposal. The clear effluent that
is discharged from the final settling tanks then enters the last
purification stage of the treatment process. Chlorination/disinfection
is applied using chlorine gas and jet mixing. The treated effluent
is then dechlorinated and further polished in a 6.1 million gallon
polishing pond. Sodium Thiosulfate is also added to aid in the
dechlorination process prior the discharge to the Tittabawassee
"We're doing great out here," said Miller Sage plumbing
foreman Jeremy Wilson. "This is a nice little job."
He said the plant has a variety of fixtures and pipe, ranging
from 36 inches to four inches. "It's clean work, a lot cleaner
than you'd expect," he said. "You get some smell in
the morning which can be a little rough, but that's about it."
IN THE SAGINAW Township Southwest Wastewater
Treatment Plant's de-chlorination building, Plumbers and Steamfitters
Local 85 members Harold Dust, left, and Jeremy Wilson go about
the task of installing a new 36-inch by 20-inch eccentric reducer
into the treatment system. They're working for Miller-Sage.
INSTALLING REINFORCING IRON for a trough around
a clarifying pool at the Saginaw Township Southwest Wastewater
Treatment Plant are brothers Mario and Dave Hernandez of Iron
Workers Local 25, working for C & A Re-Steel.
Change To Win move toward reuniting
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
(PAI) - An AFL-CIO statement has given the green light to
ongoing talks designed to reunify the nation's competing union
federations. As approved by the AFL-CIO Executive Council in
Miami on March 4, the statement says "now is the time to
bring the union movement back together."
But the devil is in the details, especially the hurdles reunification
Success would reunite the 56-union, 10-mllion member AFL-CIO
with the seven-union, six-million member Change To Win (CTW).
The CTW unions left the AFL-CIO at the older federation's Chicago
convention four years ago. The unaligned National Education Association
is also in the talks. At 3.2 million members, NEA is the largest
All three groups worked together on politics last year and
passage of the Employee Free Choice Act - labor's #1 legislative
priority - last year and this year. And there is a lot of AFL-CIO-Change
To Win cooperation on the ground in most states, though the split
persists at the national union level.
"In recent weeks, a number of AFL-CIO union leaders and
a number of Change To Win union leaders, along with the heads
of both federations, have been in informal discussions about
such a reunification," the statement says. "No agreements
have been reached, but issues have been identified and options
The talks have been actively pushed by David Bonior, the former
House Democratic Whip from Mt. Clemens who now heads labor-backed
American Rights at Work. There is, for now, no set timeline for
them to come to an agreement.
Change To Win Communications Director Greg Denier said in
a telephone interview the talks "are positive and moving
forward." Driving issues are health care reform and the
Employee Free Choice Act, after their joint cooperation in labor's
successful Election 2008, he added. "In the '08 elections,
we operated as one unit and produced tremendous results. The
discussions are a work in progress," Denier said.
The federation also made the point the four-year-old split
involved issues dealing with "structure, governance, financing
and programs of the federation." The issues now being discussed
include labor's "governance, mission jurisdiction and organizing
responsibility, programs and finances."
At the time they left, the Change To Win unions - the Service
Teamsters, Laborers, United Food and Commercial Workers, Carpenters,
UNITE HERE and the Farm Workers - had a range of complaints about
One was the fed spent too much on politics and not enough
on organizing, another was about a push to force smaller unions
to merge with larger ones, and a third was about the size of
the AFL-CIO headquarters staff. They also disagreed on who should
lead the AFL-CIO in the future - an issue that will arise at
this year's AFL-CIO convention, scheduled for Pittsburgh in September.
At the time of the split and since then, there were also jurisdictional
squabbles, many involving Service Employees against other unions
in the health care field.
But the talks are not solely in the hands of the two federations'
leaders, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney and Change To Win
Chair Anna Burger, who is also SEIU's Secretary-Treasurer. Panels
of union leaders from both federations are in the talks, and
the fed's resolution said Sweeney must share responsibility for
the talks with the AFL-CIO Executive Committee. That panel has
19 union leaders.
The AFL-CIO said reason for the reunification talks is "the
economic crisis acing American workers." And that election
of labor-backed Democratic President Barack Obama, and "probable
passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and other important changes
in our political and economic environment, provide us with unprecedented
opportunity" for progress, which reunification would aid.
New money floated for new Soo Lock
In the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2009
that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 25 the
first funding for the start of construction for a new lock at
Sault Ste. Marie was buried.
According to the office of U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Menominee)
there were nearly $30 million in funding for Michigan projects
in the measure, include $17 million for the Soo lock project.
If it survives scrutiny by the U.S. Senate and wins President
Barack Obama's signature, the money would be used to pay for
cofferdam construction needed to prevent water flow into the
old and obsolete Sabin and Davis locks. The old locks are where
the new "superlock" is to be built.
The new lock would be a twin to the existing 1,000-foot Poe
Lock, and act as a backup in case of a malfunction.
The entire lock project has been estimated at over $500 million.
Over the last 13 years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has invested
$20 million in engineering and designing it. Though the cofferdams
will only be a small portion of the overall effort, Congressman
Stupak said they "will really get the Soo lock off the board."
Senate Republicans oppose EFCA
Not that it's going anywhere, but a resolution opposing the
Employee Free Choice Act was adopted by the Republican-dominated
Michigan Senate on Feb. 19. The vote came down along party lines,
20 Republicans- yes, 16 Democrats- no.
The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier for unions
to organize workplaces by allowing workers to use the simpler
card-signing method to vote. A secret ballot system would also
be available to workers.
The symbolic resolution has no chance of passing the Democrat
majority in the Michigan House or get approval from Democratic
Gov. Jennifer Granholm - and it's a federal issue anyway. The
Employee Free Choice Act is expected to be a political hot potato
later this year, with the big business community rabidly opposing
A statement from the Michigan AFL said the resolution "shows
that Republicans do not care about workers, they only care about
their friends in big business." The state AFL-CIO called
on the Michigan House to adopt a resolution in support of the
Employee Free Choice Act.
DTE reveals plans For renewable power
On March 5, DTE Energy Co. disclosed plans to add 1,200 megawatts
in electricity capacity from renewable resources by 2015.
Most of the electricity is to be generated by wind turbines.
The utility has obtained easements on over 50,000 acres of land
in Michigan's Thumb area, mainly in Huron County, to build wind
DTE also indicated it will pursue 20 megawatts in electrical
capacity from two solar energy pilot projects. The utility indicated
it will be setting up energy efficiency programs and working
with third party energy producers in meeting the state's renewable
To pay for the program that utility has proposed a renewable
energy surcharge of up to $3.85 per month for Detroit Edison
residential customers and $1.20 per month for MichCon residential
(From Michigan Construction News.com)