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March 16, 2007

Employee Free Choice Act passes House; but now comes the hard part

New York unionists push for 9/11 victim health care funds

WCC's health and fitness center is shaping up

New Soo lock is dead in the water?

Eagle Mine application has ground to a halt

50 candles for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council

News Briefs

 

Employee Free Choice Act passes House; but now comes the hard part

WASHINGTON (PAI) - With a boost from the new Democratic majority, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to help level the playing field between workers and managers in organizing and bargaining, on March 1. The vote was 241-185. Democrats favored it 228-2, while 13 Republicans voted for it and 183 against.

Union leaders, including AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, hailed the House vote and looked forward to lobbying the Senate for EFCA. Unions blasted a renewed Bush White House threat to veto it.

And despite that threat, Sweeney called EFCA's passage "a momentous turning point in the growing movement to restore our nation's middle-class. Today, the voices of tens of millions of working people who deserve the right to make a free choice to bargain for a better life have been heard and heeded on Capitol Hill."

The so-called "card-check" bill would allow workers to form a union when a majority sign a card to do so. Republicans and their business allies claim that card check allows organized labor to subvert the secret ballot process. Labor and their Democratic allies say they wouldn't have a problem with secret ballots - if it weren't for negative employer influence before the elections.

But EFCA, faces a bigger hurdle in the Senate, which is controlled by a thin 51-49 Democratic majority. And Vice President Cheney has already indicated that President Bush would use his veto pen if the legislation reaches his desk.

"Nobody who is organized makes the minimum wage. The organized can lift themselves up" and EFCA is
designed to help them do that, said new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) The problem with labor
law now, he added, is that "employers can delay and dissemble" and put unions off and meanwhile the "disparity between management and workers" grows. "We're saying to working Americans: 'We'll facilitate
the ability to have you organize,' " Hoyer declared.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), whose House subcommittee heard testimony on EFCA from
its friends and from business foes two weeks before, said "A lot of other people got their day around here for
the last 12 years, and you" - workers - "paid for it. The big oil companies won, the defense contractors
won, the big drug companies won" under Republican rule.

Turning to the workers assembled at that last celebratory press conference, Andrews advised: "Stick
around. Tomorrow is your day."

EFCA would also force employers to bargain with unions after recognition, by mandating mediation and
arbitration if the two sides can't agree on a first contract within 90 days. That would prevent one situation that freshman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) described at the press conference, where "ten workers in Minneapolis signed up with the IBEW in 2005, but talks have dragged on since."

Business lobbying against the bill is expected to be significant. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched an aggressive radio campaign opposing the EFCA, including in Michigan. The U.S. Chamber Vice President for Labor Policy Randy Johnson said the bill "sets a dangerous precedent and it is important for people in Michigan to know that a vote in favor of it is a vote for the interests of labor unions over the basic democratic right to free and fair elections."

The labor movement claims that playing field isn't level during election time: leaders argues that in the time leading up to the secret ballot process for voting in a union, employers are freely able to coerce, threat and fire workers who support a union in their workplace. Employers are also able to delay votes without penalty.

As we pointed our in our last edition, Andrews told the Construction Labor Report that there have only been 42 cases of union coercion, fraud or misrepresentation in the signing of union authorization forms since the NLRB was formed. On the flip side, in 2005 alone, he said the NLRB awarded back pay to about 30,000 workers because of illegal employer discrimination.

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New York unionists push for 9/11 victim health care funds

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

NEW YORK (PAI) - Last year, John Sferazo, an Ironworker from Local 361 in Brooklyn, who helped clean up debris from "The Pile" - the wrecked World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks that killed more than 600 unionists and 3,000 people overall - went to the wake of a co-worker on the debris.

Sferazo got to the wake a little late one day, when only "Mike's family and close friends were there," he says. Mike died of respiratory ailments contracted by breathing in toxic gases and debris from the cleanup of the ruins - ailments like those that afflict Sferazo and thousands of other workers and New York area residents after the 9/11 attacks.

And Sferazo saw a heart-rending scene which brought home the lasting impact of the attacks, not just on the workers who died at 9/11, but on those who are sickening, dying and will continue to die from the toxic combinations unleashed when the Twin Towers collapsed: Ammonia, asbestos, particulates, other cancer-causing substances.

Because there, in the funeral home, "I saw Mike's two young children - they were no more than 8 years old - trying to climb in the coffin to say goodbye to Daddy," Sferazo said, with tears in his eyes and a choked-up already raspy voice.

The rasp in Sferazo's voice is from the ailments he contracted as one of the thousands of workers from around the country who spent months picking through and sorting the debris. They loaded it onto trucks and ferries and carted it off to the Staten Island landfill, without any protection for their bodies and especially their lungs. Now they're paying the price.

"I'm typical of the others who stayed 29-32 days at the site. My medical conditions are reactive airway disease, restrictive airway disease, sinusitis, continual lung infections, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, sleep apnea" and gastric diseases, the now-disabled Sferazo told a House Oversight and Government Operations subcommittee.

Thousands of workers are sickening and dying from such ailments, witnesses added. The group, including city medical and civic officials, testified the Bush government harmed them twice in the aftermath of 9/11: Once by saying the air was safe to breathe at "Ground Zero" without masks and then by shortchanging programs to would deal with their medical problems.

And it's not a small group of people that the unionists, including Sferazo and 9/11 paramedic Marvin Bethea, went to bat for on Feb. 28. A definitive city study, released late last year, said 681,000 people could be affected. That includes workers on "The Pile," lower Manhattan residents, school children and workers in nearby buildings where toxic debris and gases wafted into rooms and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

The federal government's response to their plight? A Bush budget proposal for $25 million this year for follow-up study of the victims - just enough to keep going two of the three treatment centers for them.

That money would go to the city Fire Department, which lost 343 union Fire Fighters, and their priest, in the attacks, and to Mt. Sinai Hospital, which treats other first responders - but not those who dug into "The Pile" later, nor the kids nor the community residents. They're treated at Bellevue Hospital, which gets none of the funds.

And Bush officials told lawmakers they are concentrating on documenting data of long-range health effects of 9/11, so future claims are legitimate and victims who become ill in coming years will really have been sickened by the toxic gases and particles.

That's not good enough, the unionists and other witnesses told the mostly sympathetic subcommittee. The city report estimates that between $250 million and $393 million will be needed to treat all the victims of subsequent 9/11 illnesses. The victims' compensation fund, open only to families who lost kin in the terrorist attacks, and which is now closed, should be reopened and extended to the other victims, they added.

"Individuals who are now suffering from 9/11 health effects were responding to an act of war against this nation. The government is responsible for assisting them, but New York City cannot bear the responsibility on its own, especially for those who aided New York in its time of need but now live in other states," declared Linda Gibbs, the city's deputy mayor for health and co-chair of its World Trade Center health panel, which produced the report. The city wants a permanent dedicated fund to help pay the health care costs of the victims.

Besides the money, the continuing victims of 9/11 want recognition of their ills, especially by a government that told them it was safe to work on The Pile without breathing apparatus or even masks. That's why Sferazo, Bethea and the others hold the Bush government responsible for their ills.

"If I am to be the voice of the responder," the now-disabled Sferazo rasped, "then I am outraged by the lack of responsibility and loss of obligation this administration has towards us. We are clearly being shown that we are expendable. George Bush came to the Trade Center and told us 'We will never forget.'…Well, we feel he forgot."

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WCC's health and fitness center is shaping up

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - Building trades workers are in fine form at the new Washtenaw Community College Health and Fitness Center.

The bright 75,000-square-foot facility's signature feature is a huge open fitness area. Construction began in June and is expected to be complete on Aug. 4. The project is being managed by Granger Construction, the general contractor.

"We're moving along quite well," said Tony Schrauben, site superintendent for Granger. "We have a good crew out here and they're doing a good job." About 30 tradespeople are on the job at any given time.

The fitness center, said a statement from WCC, "is a key component in a campus-wide effort to encourage and support a healthy lifestyle among students," although membership will be open to non-students, too in an effort to compete with other local fitness centers.

The three-story building is constructed with precast concrete with in-laid brick, brick masonry and metal siding. The fitness center includes a gymnasium, two pools, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms; weight lifting and exercise equipment area; spinning, pilates and yoga rooms, kitchen and lounges; classrooms and child care room.

Constructed over eight acres on the WCC campus, the project is yet another example in Michigan of a building that will seek a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Schrauben said WCC is seeking a LEED platinum standard for the building - one of the highest ratings. "It's a unique building, with all the environmentally friendly features going into it," he said.

Examples of environmentally friendly construction include an advanced pool filtration system impervious pavement and controlled stormwater runoff.

WCC President Larry Whitworth told the student newspaper that the fitness facility "will be an upscale facility but will be appealing to a broad cross-section of our community. I'm anxious to see the project completed, It's one of those things that's fun to see developed."

AN INTERIOR METAL roof panel in the main exercise area of the Washtenaw Community College's Health and Fitness Center is installed by Mike Cope of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 and Michigan Metal Walls.

A BRIGHTER, WHITER ceiling at the WCC fitness center is made possible through the spray gun of Joe Jianis of Painters Local 213.


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New Soo lock is dead in the water?

The Bush Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers are apparently not inclined to recommend the movement of federal money to build a new $340 million lock in Sault Ste. Marie.

The champion of the project, Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee), wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers (which has jurisdiction over the Soo Locks) that the decision "ignores the importance of the Soo locks to our nation's economy and is negligent in protecting our navigation infrastructure."

The federal government has already spent about $13 million planning a second lock that would act as a twin to the 40-year-old Poe Lock - the only lock capable of handing 1,000-foot freighters, the largest on the Great Lakes. Stupak pointed out that each year more than 80 million tons of freight move through the locks, including 70 percent of all raw materials used in the steel industry.

"If the Poe Lock was rendered unusable due to age, accidental damage, terrorism, or any other reason, it would disable American industry by halting the shipment of ore, coal, wheat, and other commodities," Stupak wrote. In a not-so-subtle dig, he pointed out that the Army Corps of Engineers was also the group that "failed to shore up the levees in New Orleans."

There are three operational Soo Locks, which raise and lower ships between lakes Huron and Superior. Congress OKd the construction of the Poe Lock twin in 1986, but has never released money for its construction.

Stupak said his office has seen a communication from the Army Corps that that money won't be forthcoming. Once again, Bush did not put a new lock in his budget presented to Congress. The federal government's portion of the cost would be about $250 million, with the rest picked up by Great Lakes states. But according to a published report, John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said "no decision of any kind has been made" about a new lock. Woodley said he would draw no conclusions until studying a cost-benefit analysis and consulting experts - although it's difficult to believe that appropriate studies and consulting haven't taken place over the last 21 years.

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Eagle Mine application has ground to a halt

The state permitting process for a proposed $100 million investment in the Kennecott Eagle Project Mine in Marquette County has come to an abrupt pause.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced March 1 that it has withdrawn its "proposed decision" to approve a permit for the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. to conduct mining operations at the proposed Eagle Project Mine.

The decision, the DEQ said, "was made after discovering that two reports on the structural integrity of the mine were not properly made part of the public record or given a comprehensive technical review."

One of the reports, prepared by the Itasca Consulting Group, said that assumptions about underground rock stability and hydrology made in the mine permit request "do not reflect industry best-practice."

The building trades in the Upper Peninsula have been major supporters of the mine, which consists of a 350-million pound high-grade nickel/copper deposit over 73 acres. Kennecott has maintained that market conditions for those minerals justifies their investment, which would create 100 jobs when operable and 300 pre-operation construction, truck driver and indirect jobs.

Enviromentalists have attacked the mine project, although Kennecott has maintained that the underground mine would have no open pits or permanent waste piles and that the land would be restored over a two-year period.

Pending further review by the state, all mining permit plans are on hold, and public hearings regarding the mine that were scheduled March 6-8 in Marquette and March 12 in Lansing will be rescheduled.

"It is critical for us to gain a better understanding of the situation before we engage in that important part of this process," said DEQ Director Steven Chester. "This department has committed itself to making this process as open and
transparent as possible. In light of this information, we must allow the needed time for ourselves, as well as the public, to give it the appropriate review."

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50 candles for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council marks a milestone this month: 50 years of service to the state unionized construction workforce.

The Building Tradesman Newspaper, which came into existence in 1952, reported in 1957 that the new Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council would replace the existing conglomeration of unions, Michigan Conference of Building Trades Councils.

"Actually, the Michigan Conference voted its own demise in the best interests of the building trades," the Tradesman reported. "The current body is loosely knit, with no full-time or paid representatives.

"The new body is expected to bring fuller representation to all councils and to work night and day for unity in the building trades throughout the state on all questions involving the prestige and traditions of the entire building trades union movement." The paper editorialized that the new council "is an organizational 'must' in that it will coordinate, solidify and strengthen the building trades unions of Michigan, which, after all, is the common goal."

The charter was signed by the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department on Feb. 26, 1957, and presented to Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council leaders sometime in March 1957.

Fast forward to the present: the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council dropped the word "State" from its moniker, effective Jan. 1, 2007. That's when the merger of the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Councils and the Michigan council was legally formalized, in a process that was put into motion at the state council's annual convention in August 2005.

The 1957 formation of the new council apparently took a while to complete. The organization's charter was not released from the parent organization's Washington, D.C. offices until officers for the new Michigan council were elected. The first interim elected officers were Tom Borst of Lansing and Secretary Andy Virtue of Okemos, whose trades were not identified. Granting the charter was Building Trades Department President Richard Gray.

The parent building trades also objected to the Michigan council's lack of a constitution. But that problem was overcome with the formation of a 19-man committee, representing each union in the building trades, which was named to begin the work of "penning a new constitution," the Tradesman reported.

By May of that year, the new council got its act together, electing L.M. "Boots" Weir as president, (he was secretary-treasurer of the Detroit Carpenters District Council), and Robert Coulter as secretary, (he had been business manager of IBEW Local 107 in Grand Rapids). The state council's constitution had also been voted on and approved at that time.

"Unity has long been needed among the state's building trades, but not unity in the ordinary sense of the word. Unity here means added coordination between the different building trades bodies in the separate fields of jurisdiction, politics and bargaining," the Tradesman wrote. "Such coordination and cooperation is made possible by a strong state body such as now been formed…."

THE FEB. 22, 1957 front page of The Building Tradesman Newspaper heralded the pending formation of the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council.


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News Briefs

Welcome sent out to IBEW 275
We send out a hearty "welcome back" to members of IBEW Local 275, whose members have voted to subscribe to The Building Tradesman Newspaper.

Local 275 is based in Coopersville, between Grand Rapids and Muskegon. Veteran Local 275 electricians will remember receiving the paper a decade ago.

Now in our 55th year, The Building Tradesman is one of the oldest and highest-circulated labor publications in the nation. It is the official publication of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. With Local 275 aboard, we now have a circulation of about 49,000. Thank you for re-joining us.

Apprenticeshipschools spend $24.4M
A survey of state trade union apprenticeship programs compiled last month by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council found that our state's unions spend $24.4 million per year on apprenticeship training.

That's up more than double from just a decade ago

"The major selling point for union labor is our training, which is unequalled in the industry," said Patrick Devlin, CEO of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "No one, whether it's the Associated Builders and Contractors, trade schools or community colleges, can come close to the training that our apprenticeship schools provide. And we do it without a single dime of state or federal money."

The survey also revealed that in recent years, the average annual number of apprentices trained in all the trades was 5,054. Of those, 776 apprentices, or 15.3 percent, were minorities.

The survey found the total value of Michigan's building trades apprenticeship schools is $52.6 million.

Teamsters battle Mexican trucks
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The Teamsters have to battle the threat of creaky, dilapidated Mexican trucks, manned by overworked drivers, roaming U.S. roads - again.

That's because Bush Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced Feb. 23 that a pilot program will start this year to let the Mexican trucks from 100 companies roll nationwide, rather than just in the 20-mile border zone in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

Those Mexican trucks will only roll after they have met U.S. safety and inspection standards, she said, adding facilities for those inspections have been set up.

Peters' statement, which defies previous findings from her own department's Inspector General, irked Teamsters President James Hoffa, who has led the campaign to keep the Mexican trucks confined to the border zone. NAFTA would let them roam nationwide, but the questions about safety delayed that scheme.

"They are playing a game of Russian Roulette on America's highways," Hoffa said of the Mexican trucks plan. "Mexico refuses to meet their end of the bargain yet Bush rewards them with open access to American highways. It is the American driving public who will pay the consequences." He called on Congress to hold hearings "to put an end to this nonsense."

"Where is the Inspector's General report that tells us Mexico is meeting U.S. standards? Why is the president willing to move forward when his own Inspector General stated Mexico cannot meet its obligations?" Hoffa also noted another Transportation Department IG report on the Mexican trucks is due in a few months.

"The DOT has indicated that 'this is as narrow experiment' as they could initiate. Yet it is an experiment that allows 100 companies and an unknown number of Mexican trucks onto our highways and forces the U.S. traveling public to serve as guinea pigs," Hoffa said. "That is unacceptable."

 

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