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March 16, 2001

GOP eradicates ergonomics rules

Prevailing wage repeal betrays Michigan workers

Early on, Bush starts battles - and he's fighting against labor

From boondoggle to boon, Zilwaukee span serves state well

Expo exposes construction as a potential career choice

New Midfield Terminal gets new power plant, too




GOP eradicates ergonomics rules

For organized labor, the hits just keep on coming.

Three weeks after the Bush Administration issued a number of anti-labor directives, Round 2 came last week, when both the U.S. House and Senate voted to repeal sweeping Clinton administration regulations aimed at reducing repetitive motion injuries in the workplace. Bush has pledged to sign the measure.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the vote was "a naked payoff to big business contributors who have opposed every effort to enact a standard protecting workers."

The so-called ergonomics standard did not cover construction workers - any such standard for Hardhats was seen as a long way off because of the wide range of tools and work situations in the building industry. But the standard did cover 102 million workers at more than 6 million work sites around the nation.

The big hangup for Republicans was the cost: the GOP and business organizations said the regulations are too broad and would cost as much as $100 billion a year. OSHA said compliance would cost $4.5 billion every year, and said the new rules would prevent 4.6 million musculoskeletal disorders and actually save businesses $9.1 billion every year in health care costs.

The standards contained new rules to reduce workers' exposure to carpal tunnel syndrome, and other ailments related to repetitive motion, awkward posture, contact stress and vibration. Required fixes could include businesses making adjustments to work stations and to pay for some health care and medical leave if an employee suffers from repetitive stress injuries caused by work.

Since Bush took office Jan. 20, he has rolled back a handful of other policies favored by unions. He issued new regulations that include making it easier for union members to stop their dues from financing political activities and revoking the project labor agreements, which requires contractors on many federally financed projects to be unionized.



Prevailing wage repeal betrays Michigan workers

Editor's note: The most important law on Michigan's books that protects the wages of construction workers is the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1966. And once again, the law is under attack in the state legislature. This time, opponents are tying it to the proposed repeal of various "living wage" ordinances enacted by communities in the state. On state-funded construction projects, the prevailing wage law provides a standard for how much contractors pay workers.

By Professor Dan Kruger
Michigan State University
School of Labor and Industrial Relations

It is the height of hypocrisy and due to blatant greed that the Michigan legislature is addressing the prevailing wage-repeal issue again.

The legislature recently gave itself a whopping 30 percent increase in their salaries. Most public employees in Michigan were lucky to receive a 3 percent increase in their compensation. It is hard to understand why the legislators with outstanding pensions and health insurance want to deny construction workers pensions and health insurance.

Gov. Engler talks about the needs for skilled workers. The Michigan building trades unions, through their apprenticeship programs, are doing more to develop skilled training than the governor's office. It must be stressed that most apprenticeship training and union programs that improve skills of members do not cost the taxpayer one cent.

It is therefore surprising that Republican legislators who are interested in downsizing government expenditures would not be supportive of prevailing wage, which underwrites the union contractor's training initiatives.

Let me use one union as an example of what one union is doing to prepare skilled workers. They have 30,000 apprentices and their goal this year is to enroll 50,000. The Plumbers and Pipe Fitters International Union and the Mechanical Contractors Association support 340 training centers in the U.S. - without the expenditure of one tax dollar.

Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190 is building a state-of-the-art training center on the campus of Washtenaw Community College, again without the use of tax dollars.

When you drive to Muskegon on I-96 at Exit 16 you can see on your right a brand-new training facility built by Local 174. The prevailing wage helps finance these training facilities.

It is difficult for me to understand the actions of the legislature. I know I am naïve. I was lead to believe that the citizens elected legislators to promote the general welfare, not to give themselves outrageous salary increases not realized by any public workers around the state.

It is obvious that the legislature does not understand that the bulk of their constituents are employees, not rich fat cats. I want to remind them that the kind of society we shall have in the United States will be shaped primarily by how a nation of employees are managed.

We need to remember that the most valuable piece of property a nation of employees has is their jobs. It is imperative therefore that lawmakers make an effort - a good-faith effort - to promote social stability.

Destroying the prevailing wage in Michigan would be a grave injustice. It would weaken the social stability of our society. In my view the legislators who are promoting the destruction of prevailing wage have betrayed our state.

Shame on you!



Early on, Bush starts battles - and he's fighting against labor

By Congressman David E. Bonior
U.S. House Minority Whip

WASHINGTON D.C. - Since President Bush has entered office, we've heard a lot about how he wants to bring people together, provide families with more opportunities, and give Americans a better life. Now, less than two months into his term, it's become clear which Americans he's talking about -- and it's NOT working families.

Indeed, Bush has been very busy his first several weeks in office. In such a short time, he has issued executive order after executive order rolling back hard-fought protections for our nation's workers.

  • He re-instituted a policy from his father's administration that requires federal contractors to advise employees about their right to withhold the portion of their union dues that is used to educate them about actions taken by the government -- a swift effort to silence the voice of workers.
  • He abolished the National Partnership Council, which was created to make it easier for labor and management in the federal government to find solutions to the challenges in the workplace.
  • He lifted a requirement that government contractors hire employees who have been laid-off by previous contractors.
  • And he suspended a rule barring repeated violators of labor rights, health and safety protections, tax laws, and environmental safeguards from receiving government contracts.

Throughout my career, I have fought for workers' rights and against all efforts to rollback hard-fought labor protections. We have come a long way in securing good wages, benefits, and working conditions for America's
workers. That's why the President's recent executive orders are so disheartening.

As if these actions aren't bad enough for America's workers, one of Bush's most damaging anti-labor executive orders abolishes voluntary Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on all federally funded projects.

Intended to protect the rights of workers while keeping project costs low, PLAs between federal contractors and unions have been used on many important infrastructure improvements across the country to establish universal wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers - while ensuring that labor shortages and stoppages will not slow down a project. PLAs are good for communities, working families, and contractors. That's why they've been used - voluntarily - for over 60 years.

Bush's executive order banning the use of PLAs hurts everyone, but it especially hurts working families. PLAs have been instrumental in ensuring that contracts are completed on time, containing cost overruns and saving taxpayer dollars. They have been crucial in recruiting minority contractors and hiring minorities and women. They have been key to ensuring that workers have steady employment on a project, receive a living wage, and are treated fairly by employers. And they have been valuable in creating work atmospheres that are free from labor/management conflict.

The Administration's recent action to ban PLAs was timed to affect the large Wilson Bridge project just outside Washington, DC. At the urging of anti-union construction firms, Bush acted quickly to issue his executive order and stop a possible PLA on the Wilson Bridge project. His action will allow area contractors to hire workers from outside the metro area, pay them low wages, and offer them minimum benefits.

With this executive order, Bush is making the statement that any future projects receiving federal funding - including school construction, road construction, and other public infrastructure projects - will not have to honor labor laws. Workers on federally funded projects will no longer have the protections they had only months ago.

Most disturbing, is that this Administration is only beginning its crusade against labor. In addition to the executive orders and rules already issued, the Bush Administration is pushing to abolish the new federal worker safety rule requiring businesses to modify work areas to help prevent repetitive motion injuries.

The President is suggesting that we allow states to opt out of any additional increase in the minimum wage - a dangerous precedent for all federal worker protections. And reminding us of Reagan/Bush policies toward workers, this Administration is considering the privatization of our air traffic control system, jeopardizing air safety and
threatening to take jobs away from highly skilled and experienced experts. Our unions have fought long and hard for their protections and for wages that will support their families. And now Bush wants to take them away with the stroke of a pen.

We won't let that happen. We need to stand up for workers' rights, make our voices heard, and make it clear to President Bush that we will not take his attack on America's workers sitting down. That's why I have introduced a bill to increase the minimum wage, am fighting hard against efforts to rollback worker safety protections, and am working tirelessly to ensure that the rights of workers are protected in all government contracts, trade agreements, and labor policies.

Through each battle, you can count on me to stand with you, speak out against the Administration's assault on working families, and defend the rights of workers at all costs. It's never been more important.

Nicole Nice-Petersen
Office of Congressman David E. Bonior
2207 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
phone: (202) 225-2106
fax: (202) 226-1169


From boondoggle to boon, Zilwaukee span serves state well

By Marty Mulcahy

ZILWAUKEE - "No news is good news."

That adage seems to best sum up the most recent history of the Zilwaukee Bridge, an 8,000-foot concrete span over the Saginaw River that has enjoyed an era of good feelings after a disastrous beginning.

The twin bridge finally opened to two-way traffic on Sept. 19, 1988, five years behind schedule and nine years after the project began. Initially, the project was expected to cost $79 million, but an accident in 1982 delayed the bridge's completion and added another $48.3 million to the cost of the project.

Since then, the bridge's stellar service has more than made up for its shaky start.

"It's a fine structure and today it's in very good shape," said Larry Tibbits, Bay Region engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation. "Every year we take precise measurements of the structure, make inspections, and we run load tests, and everything is always within tolerance."

Built without the grace of the Mackinac, Ambassador or Blue Water bridges, the Zilwaukee Bridge is ponderously referred to by the engineers as a "segmental concrete box girder." The span probably never has appeared on the cover of any chamber of commerce promotional materials - but it has been a boon to hundreds of thousands of regular I-75 travelers in Michigan.

The Zilwaukee Bridge replaced a notorious drawbridge over the Saginaw River that was built in 1960. Waiting for a ship to pass through the drawbridge created legendary traffic backups along I-75, and at least one deer hunter expressed his frustration by firing a bullet through a window in the bridge's control booth.

The traveling public overwhelmingly favored a new bridge, the sooner the better, but construction of the new span 125 feet over the Saginaw River came to a grinding halt in August 1982. Too much weight was placed on one of the bridge's 150-foot-long deck sections without a sufficient counterweight, causing the section to sag nearly five feet out of alignment, concrete to crack, and a pier footing to crumble.

The accident and repairs led to numerous questions about the bridge's design and long-term safety. At the time the bridge's design was somewhat controversial, with taught interior steel cables holding massive concrete sections together. Fingers of blame for the accident were pointed among the state Department of Transportation, its Dutch-based prime contractor Steven Construction Co., and its U.S. partner, Walter Toebe Construction Co. A settlement was eventually reached with the state accepting a good share of the blame.

But there was no turning back on the project after the accident: it would cost $20 million to tear down the bridge, which was two-thirds complete. And the federal government would have demanded about $55 million of its money back. Plus the drawbridge would still be there.

"It's a very unfortunate accident and we can't duck it. We were involved in it," said Michigan Department of Transportation Director Jim Pitz in 1983. He said later, "I was persuaded that there was not a great deal of future in not finishing the bridge."

After some head-scratching about how to repair the span, the 6,700-ton segment that sagged was finally fixed in March 1984, and construction resumed.

There continued to be controversy about the safety of the bridge as it neared completion. One engineer found concrete cracks in more than 100 areas. And waves and dips in the concrete in numerous areas caused concern. But a study by the federal Government Accounting Office found "the bridge is safe as constructed."

Predicted Michigan Department of Transportation engineering consultant Maurice Miller in 1985: "The conditions that produced the accident won't even exist during use. It will have no bearing on the safety of the bridge once it is opened to traffic."

Also vouching for the bridge is retiree Terry Brandon, a union officer with the former Reinforced Iron Workers Local 426 and Iron Workers Local 25. He toiled on the Zilwaukee span as a general foreman for three-and-a-half years.

"Building that bridge was a very complicated process, and I know some parts of the bridge are not completely plumb, but it hasn't affected the integrity," Brandon said. "I believe it was a good design, and it's been a good bridge. It has pretty much held up as expected. A few years ago they finished a bridge in Malaysia that was built on this same design."

Brandon and MDOT's Tibbits said the state chose the precast concrete design to cut down on maintenance costs - the Mackinac Bridge, for example, is repainted from end to end every few years.

Tibbits said there have been no major repairs to the Zilwaukee since it was built. Cracks in the concrete do take place, but they are repaired with a regular maintenance schedule using injected epoxy. The state has always used concrete-friendly calcium magnesium acetate to melt snow and ice on the bridge, and before both bridge approaches for two miles, so that road salt on tires will be eliminated or diluted.

"We have no plans for any major modifications to the bridge," Tibbits said. "That not only saves money on repairs, but it saves time for motorists. With traffic volumes the way they are today, closing down just one lane on a Friday night could cause a backup of 20 miles. We remember the drawbridge. We're very sensitive to motorist delays."

Why Zilwaukee?

Located in northeastern Saginaw County, the Village of Zilwaukee was begun in 1848 when brothers Daniel and Solomon Johnson from New York built a saw mill.

Officially organized 10 years later, the Johnsons gave the unusual name to the town purposely to cause people to confuse it with the city of Milwaukee, in hopes of luring immigrants to work there.

The Zilwaukee Bridge is the primary claim to fame for the small community.

JUST LIKE THE CONCRETE it's made of, the Zilwaukee Bridge in Saginaw County has been a rock-solid example of engineering and construction after surviving a precarious start. This photo taken during construction also shows the now-demolished drawbridge.



Expo exposes construction as a potential career choice

Information, hands-on experience and the knowledge of construction professionals were all available to attendees at a Feb. 27 career expo at Oakland Community College's Auburn Hills campus.

Organized by the Great Lakes Construction Alliance and the Construction Association of Michigan, the Metropolitan Detroit Construction Career Awareness Program for 2001 was designed to promote construction as a career choice.

"There is an assumed shortage of skilled trades persons," said GLCA Managing Director Donald O'Connell. "We need to let young people in the community know about the many opportunities there are to earn a good living and have a satisfying career in the construction industry.

"Construction has been sort of a quiet giant. It's big, it's there, but a lot of people never think about it once the building's up or the road is opened. We need to let people know that we're a part of the community and a valuable asset to the community."

The GLCA and CAM were partners with WCSX, WRIF and The Groove radio stations to present the expo, marking the first time the industry has linked with radio stations to promote construction. More than 600 radio spots touted the event, and about 900 people walked through the doors.

Participating local unions were the Electrical Workers Local 58/NECA, Detroit Metropolitan Masonry JATC, Iron Workers Local 25, Michigan Laborers Training Center, Operating Engineers Local 324, Plasterers 67, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, Sprinkler Fitters Local 704, and Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Workers Local 32.

Prospective students could watch trade demonstrations and try their hand at a craft. Trades apprentices and their instructors, along with contractors, engineers and designers, union officials and construction association representatives were there to answer questions about a variety of careers in construction. They learned about pay scales, what it takes to make it in an industry, and what careers are available.

The Detroit-based construction industry group Management and Unions Serving Together (MUST) provided specific information on how to qualify to apprenticeship training or find information about other types of construction industry careers. MUST provided a comprehensive catalog, Careers in the Building Trades, listing apprenticeship schools in Southeast Michigan.

Plans are already under way to expand the event next year.

DETROIT METROPOLITAN Joint Apprentice Training Center apprentices Trevor Grace (left) and Joe Kowalewski (right) show Howell High School senior Brad Landon how to lay a brick during the career expo.



New Midfield Terminal gets new power plant, too

By Marty Mulcahy

In Michigan, deregulation of electrical utilities hasn't brought the rolling blackouts and brownouts like they had earlier this year in California, but voracious consumers of electrical power are taking matters into their own hands to make sure that doesn't happen - at least to their own business.

In the last two years, some 500 megawatts of additional power have been put on line in Michigan, in the form of small "peaking" power plants that serve a specific customer or only come on during high-load periods. One such smaller plant that will fire up later this year is at Wayne County's Metro Airport, where the new 2 million-square-foot Midfield Terminal will have its own electrical generation plant - a rarity among the nation's airports.

"We've been very pleased with the work we've seen," said Glenn Keates, chief electrical engineer for Cummins and Barnard, a consulting engineer on the project. "You can tell the difference when you have a professional workforce. This group has been excellent to work with." Pipe Systems has acted as the general contractor and the mechanical contractor on the project.

The Midfield Terminal Energy Center will not only be able to produce 17.28 megawatts of electricity, it will also be able to provide 140 million BTUs of hot water heat to the terminal and an adjacent hotel, and offer 9,200 tons of cooling capacity. The plant could provide a small city of 3,500 homes with heating, cooling and electricity.

Operators of the plant will be able to take advantage of the rapidly changing energy market, having the ability to either buy all the needed electricity or generate electricity, depending on which presents the best value. The plant's three generators will be fired by natural gas, as will the plant's three boilers, which will provide 300-350 degree hot water to heat the terminal. Cooling will come from centrifugal chillers. As a backup, the boilers can be fired by the ready supply of jet fuel, of all things, and an emergency generator for the plant will be online in the background.

"The biggest thing we worry about out here is the reliability factor," Keates said. "We just can't do without electricity, heating and cooling capacity."

The construction of the electrical side of the 25,000 square-foot powerhouse is being managed by Ferndale Electric. Last week, much of the work centered on setting up the three 5.76 megawatt, 10,000 horsepower generators, which were installed last December. General Foreman Keith Koch II said the process is right on schedule. "We'll be ready when the terminal opens," he said. "We've met every milestone so far, and the workmanship and professionalism among the workers has been great."

The Midfield Terminal project received its share of bad press recently with the disclosure that the baggage handling system is behind schedule, and there are undoubtedly some other difficulties, but the vast majority of the $1.2 billion project is going well, thanks to the ingenuity and skill of the people involved.

"It's gratifying to witness the professionalism and craftsmanship of the Michigan-based contractors on the powerhouse and other Midfield projects," said IBEW Local 58 BA Ed Kohler. "Sometimes owners look for cheaper and faster means to accomplish certain goals, but the end results seem to be more costly and more chaotic. Thanks again to all our Michigan-based crafts."

Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. and DQE Energy Services will operate the plant under the name Metro Energy, LLC. Operations Manager Dave Kiselewski said the energy production available with the plant will take some of the load off the power grid. "Edison's happy, and we're happy, it's good for everybody," he said.

Detroit Edison spokesman Guy Cerullo said there has been a trend in recent years of more companies building "distributed generation" plants - which only produce power mainly for a specific business - as well as the peaking plants. The plant at the Midfield Terminal fits into both categories.

"Most of those that are being built are small gas-fired plants, and they can afford to operate only during peak periods and sell their power," he said, "although there also some medium sized 300 to 800 megawatt plants that have been built. It's a wide open marketplace and there is a need for electrical generation."

THREE NEWLY-INSTALLED generators will provide power to the Metro Airport Midfield Terminal. Installing primary cable are IBEW 58 members Steve Louzon and Jeanette Calwell of Ferndale Electric.



Michigan Vietnam Monument on track
The last piece in the funding puzzle for the Michigan Vietnam Monument has fallen into place.

A Feb. 26 press conference announced the confirmation of the release of bid documents for the $3.2 million monument, which will be constructed in Lansing to honor the 2,649 Michigan residents who were killed in the Vietnam War. Ground could be broken on the project as soon as Memorial Day, May 28, 2001, with completion possibly taking place six months later.

When it looked like funding for the memorial would not materialize, monument commissioner Keith King approached UAW Region 1, which responded with a pledge to fill a $600,000 funding gap.

The monument consists of a curved110-foot steel beam that will cradle the names of the 2,649 deceased veterans. Union labor will build the project, which will be managed by the Chrisman Co.

"The release of this contract means that we have begun the final phase of our mission," said Charles Merz, chairman of the monument's design and construction committee. "Michigan will have a world-class monument to honor its Vietnam veterans in our State Capitol."

King said private and public money has been donated to build the project, but the real concern now is establishing a fund for maintenance. Those who raised money to build the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington learned the hard way that government appropriations - if there are any - are not always sufficient to maintain a monument constantly exposed to the elements.

So in Michigan, the commission is making an extra effort to continue raising money to establish a fund for the preservation of the monument. For more information or to donate time or money for the monument, call project coordinator Cynthia Riddle at (517) 373-3130. The organization's website is

Participants sought for hockey league
The Metro Detroit area building trades are discussing the possibility of starting an organized hockey league, similar to the Building Trades Softball League. The league is in its early development. Inquires have been made at Troy and Hazel Park ice arenas for fall league availability.

Other rinks are currently being contacted for fall league ice times and availability.

Look for future updates at our web site: DetroitMetroAreaBuildingTrades

We are looking for team organizers from every trade interested. Those who feel they would like to be a representative for their respective trade, contact: Dave Reginek, (248) 437-1097, or Jeff Walters (248) 628-8461 (after 5 p.m.) E-mail to: tradesmenhockey@


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