March 16, 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Well, we feel he forgot."
health and fitness center is shaping up
By Marty Mulcahy
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
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,"
Examples of environmentally friendly construction include
an advanced pool filtration system impervious pavement and controlled
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
"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."
candles for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council
By Marty Mulcahy
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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."