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March 17, 2000
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - If some balance isn't restored to state government, the next decade will likely be a debacle for working people in the State of Michigan.
That was the message heard loud and clear Feb. 29-March 1 at the 42nd Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council State Legislative Conference held at the Radisson Hotel.
Building trades delegates from around the state gathered to learn more about labor's looming dilemma - the strong possibility of working under a state government whose anti-union tendencies would be even more entrenched than they are now.
But delegates also heard about plans for a reinvigorated labor movement, one with a specific timeline and objectives designed to fertilize the grass roots and get out the vote in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
"This election matters," said State Rep. Julie Dennis, (D-Muskegon). "If Republicans have their way on Nov. 7 (Election Day), they will redistrict this state so they can control it for the next 10 years."
Most of labor's energies will be focused on winning back a majority of the state House of Representatives - seen as more winnable than the state Senate - and the Michigan Supreme Court. Republicans enjoy a 58-52 majority in the state House, but that margin was earned by only a few thousand votes in a few key districts.
And on the supposedly nonpartisan Michigan Supreme Court, three of the seven seats are up for grabs in November, and labor-backed candidates need to win two of them in order to gain a worker-friendly majority. Such a majority would also provide some balance to the process of redistricting legislative boundaries, a process which takes place every 10 years and often winds up in the courts.
The anti-worker agenda of the great majority of Republicans in Michigan is clear. Over the last several years, the right of school administrators to join a union has been rescinded, and stiff penalties for striking teachers have been imposed. A bill to allow workers to take compensatory time off (but only at times dictated by the employer) in lieu of overtime pay has been introduced.
Also on the plates of Republicans is a "Paycheck Protection" bill (Democrats call it "Paycheck Deception") which would institute enormous bookkeeping requirements for unions concerning the spending of dues money for political purposes.
And always lurking in the background is legislation to rescind
the state's prevailing wage law and a proposal to make Michigan
a right-to-work state.
LANSING - The labor vote is ripe for the taking. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask for it.
That's the theory behind an effort undertaken by the Michigan AFL-CIO to get out the vote of Michigan's labor families.
"The labor movement is back; even the doctors are starting to organize," said state AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. "We've seen 20 years of decline in membership numbers end in 1998, and that was reinforced in 1999." Nationally, the ranks of organized labor grew 265,000 to 16.5 million in 1999. Michigan labor unions brought in 9,000 new members last year.
To help get labor's message out to the old and new members, Gaffney presented a plan of action to delegates to the Michigan Building Trades Council's Legislative Conference. According to labor union polling, 78 percent of workers who have been personally approached by a representative of their union have voted for union-backed candidates.
The state AFL-CIO plan calls for appointing directors from local unions and councils to coordinate the campaign efforts of volunteers assigned to work job sites and other places of employment. The state federation will cut down a few trees in printing materials that are targeted to workers in various occupations. Then the volunteers will hand out the materials personally, and talk to individual union members about the issues.
Throw in a voter registration drive, and at the end a get-out-the-vote effort, and the building trades and the rest of organized labor have a lot of work ahead.
If sufficient volunteers can be obtained, a separate survey commissioned by the Michigan Building Trades Council of 600 building trades workers revealed that the hard work should pay off. Celinda Lake of the polling firm of Lake, Snell, Perry Associates told the delegates that even 56 percent of self-proclaimed Republicans in the building trades "are interested in getting political information from their unions. Those are very high numbers."
The survey, she said, revealed that construction union members tend to be "detached from politics, but "want input from their unions on election issues."
Lake said the issues most important to Michigan's building trades union workers are first, Social Security, then Medicare, health care, and prescription drug costs.
"In Michigan, we're doing the same thing that's being
done around the country," Gaffney said. "You're going
to be seeing a lot more grassroots action and more work than
ever before. It's decision time. We're at a crossroads. Between
now and Election Day, each of us has a role to play."
"A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote in a national election." - Bill Vaughan
Author Vaughn wasn't at the Michigan Building Trades Council Legislative Conference earlier Feb. 28, but what he wrote nearly wraps up the focus of the conference: getting out the vote.
Following are some comments by speakers at the conference:
Michigan Building Trades Council Secretary - Treasurer Tom Boensch - "We're still fighting the same fight as we were 100 years ago. We're still concerned about workforce safety, child labor, and excessive employer influence on federal, state and local government.
"Some of us are still gloating about the whipping poor John Engler took last week, but that won't deter John from his course. His game is on (General Election Day) Nov. 7, and his prize is to retain control of state government. John is still controlling the legislative agenda.
"The attack on construction workers is clear, on issues like campaign finance reform, paycheck protection, and the comp time bill. These are just a few of the changes they want to make. They want to change our world, but we're going to continue the battle.
"The task for us is to remain just as focused on Nov. 7. We need to find people who will go to work in the local districts, and to communicate with our members about issues that are important to them."
Senate Minority Leader John Cherry (D-Clio) - "There's a reason our party is called the Democratic Party. It's because we stand for democracy. And for the people of the State of Michigan, it has come down to democracy vs. economics. Democrats want what the people want, to enhance democracy, to enhance educational opportunities, and to enhance health care. Republicans want market forces to govern our state.
"Do we want a health care organization to tell you and your doctor what's best for you? Do we want to allow workers to have a say about their working conditions? Do we want laws governing safety, prevailing wage, and the right to organize?
"In the marketplace, votes don't count, money counts, and some of us have more money than others.
"Our challenges will be met at the ballot box. In the meantime, Democrats in the Senate will continue fighting for you.
State Sen. Dianne Byrum, D-25th District, and candidate for U.S. Congress, 8th District - "In this next election cycle we're going to have to ask ourselves are we going to fight for the future of our families.
"That's why I'm running for Congress. I want to reconnect with people, and fight for the interests of your family and my family. We need to continue to fight for the interests of our children and our older loved ones. I want to improve education, with smaller class sizes, high-quality teachers and safe schools.
"I support paying down our debts, securing Social Security and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. We shouldn't be fearful that older people won't be able to live the rest of their lives out in dignity."
"Democrats will be there fighting for the interests of your family - but everyone in the labor family needs to participate in the election process and vote."
House Minority Leader Mike Hanley - "I could talk to you about paycheck protection, worker deaths, or the comp time bill, which is the greatest threat to the 40-hour work week since they invented the 40-hour work week.
"All of these things I would call family issues, and we have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure Michigan families aren't threatened.
"One of the things I would like to talk about is the health care crisis in Michigan. The reality is that in the last 18 months, 8,000 workers have been laid off in the health care industry and that has a direct impact on all of us. Prescription drugs are very expensive. Insurance rates have risen 20-25 percent. The real issue is poor quality care.
"This election is about values, and character, and what's right and what's wrong. The Republicans are all about cutting taxes. We have to get down to the business of asking what happened to values, and how the government's values are out of touch.
"We're seeing deceptive, lying tactics and subtle attacks on things that you and I and our parents and our grandparents fought for. How can a person who really cares about working people call themselves a Republican?"
State Rep. Julie Dennis (D-92nd District) - I have a couple of passions in my life. I believe in working to protect union labor and protecting health care.
"So when I hear about Republicans coming up with the 'Worker's Bill of Rights,' and how they want to put in reforms that would 'enhance fairness to workers,' what they're really saying is they're asking you to support legislation that would cut your wages, cut your health care benefits and cut your pension.
"Don't kid yourselves, Republicans would like Michigan to become a right-to-work state. Remember the economist from Comerica, who testified about this time last year in favor of Paycheck Deception, and how it would be the next best thing to making Michigan a right-to-work state?
"It was union leaders who sent the message to Comerica that there are union pension funds in Comerica, and that that bill was wrong. We managed stop that legislation for now, but that doesn't mean other legislation has been stopped.
"Republicans have given school districts the right to disband unions. I don't care what union you belong to - union members are the only people who can disband their union. And the comp time bill and paycheck deception are still on the agenda, and the Republicans will try to ram it up our (behind) in the lame duck session - not that they haven't done it already.
"This election matters."
Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer, Greater Detroit Building Trades Council - "Way back 100 years ago, building trades unions were founded on the concepts of political action, maintaining fair wages and benefits, and assuring the safety and health of our workers.
"Since then we have traded in steam shovels for diesel power, and today's fancy power tools make our workers' lives a lot easier.
"But all of the basic things still matter. Nothing has really changed since 1914, or 1514. Workers want to come home from work at the end of the day. Workers want a fair wage. Workers want a voice in their working conditions.
"At contract time, of course no one is going to let their union leaders forget about wages. But the history of contract negotiations has taught us that after wages, everything else is a major afterthought.
"It's time to start using the bargaining process to start talking more about safety.
"It's time to start talking more about basic sanitation, like demanding clean bathrooms and a place to wash on every job site.
"And it's time to start thinking about providing our workers with creature comforts like warm break areas, especially on jobs that are just coming out of the ground.
"Building trades workers have come to accept almost being
treated like animals on construction sites - that is truly 100-year-old
thinking that we need to change now."
By Marty Mulcahy
The building trades, general contractor Walbridge-Aldinger and its subcontracts are erecting a new headquarters building in Troy for Flagstar Bancorp.
The $30 million, 380,000 square-foot building is part of a boom within a boom relating to construction activity in Southeast Michigan. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on projects along the I-75 corridor in northern Oakland County.
"We are very excited about this partnership with the city of Troy and look forward to the continued growth of this institution," said Thomas J. Hammond, Flagstar's chairman and CEO.
The new facility, on a 25-acre campus along Crooks Road, will consolidate three existing corporate offices in Southeast Michigan.
"We're under a very tight schedule, but we're moving along fairly well," said Walbridge-Aldinger Project Director Anthony DiPonio. "It's a pretty straightforward building. The trades and our subs are going a really good job. They're very quality conscious." The project employs about 120 Hardhats, and is expected to wrap up at the end of July.
Ground was broken on the project on June 16. The main feature of the four-story building is a central atrium, which links the three wings of the complex.
Flagstar Bank currently operates from 31 bank branches located in southern and western Michigan, and 36 loan origination centers located in Michigan, Florida and Ohio, along with 15 correspondent lending offices which are located across the United States. Flagstar Bank is one of the largest originators of residential mortgage loans in the United States.
Huh? Pardon me? What was that?
If you find yourself wondering why the lips of the person next to you are moving but you're not hearing anything, you may have a hearing problem.
It shouldn't come as a surprise. In addition to all the other health hazards that Hardhats have to worry about, construction worker brings one of the top occupational risks for experiencing hearing loss.
In an effort to raise awareness about hearing loss, last month the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Safety Council released a report on the risks of not protecting hearing and distributed tens of thousands of pieces of literature in U.S. workplaces on preventing hearing loss.
According to a University of Michigan study, construction workers said they wear ear plugs or ear muffs between 36 to 61 percent of the time that they are necessary. Not surprisingly, more than half believed they developed a hearing loss. Workers get lackadaisical about their own hearing protection, and there isn't a government program around that can do anything about it.
"Work-related hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases in the United States," said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H. "The government can't attack the problem of noise-induced hearing loss alone."
Following are some facts and figures along with a few suggestions from NIOSH and the National Safety Council for limiting hearing loss:
Some workers prefer earmuffs - but the best hearing protector
is the one that is comfortable and convenient and one workers
will wear every time they are in an environment with hazardous
FAIR Act 'anything but fair'
Such a vote would only reveal which of their colleagues snubbed the Republican Party's friends in the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, which have labeled the FAIR Act their top legislative priority.
The Fair Access to Indemnity and Reimbursement Act would allow construction contractors and labor unions to automatically recoup their legal fees if they win a court or administrative action brought against them by the National Labor Relations Board or OSHA. The money could be recouped even if the charges by the NLRB or OSHA were not frivolous.
Ironically, the ABC was holding its annual legislative conference in Washington while action on the FAIR Act was being considered. According to the Construction Labor Report, Hastert told a Feb. 14 breakfast meeting of the ABC that "the unions had done their jobs" in rounding up Democratic and Republican votes against the measure.
In a letter to all House members, IBEW President J.J. Barry wrote that the legislation was "anything but fair" and would cripple OSHA and the NLRB "in their efforts to enforce vital worker protection laws they administer."
The Clinton Administration "strongly opposes" the
FAIR Act, which if passed would "result in a serious erosion
of the rights and protections of workers."
New seat belt law in effect
As of March 10, Michigan became one of 17 states that allows officers to pull over unbuckled motorists as a primary offense. This builds on a 1985 Michigan law which allowed police to ticket unbuckled motorists only if they were stopped for another infraction.
It has been proven that seat belts save lives, but 30 percent
of Michiganians don't buckle up.
U.S. strike actions slow to a crawl
Anyone who still claims that they do should take note: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1999, only 73,000 workers were involved in major work stoppages. This was the lowest level in 53 years, and the first time ever the level was below 100,000.
In comparison, in 1998, major work stoppages idled 387,000 workers . Work stoppages peaked in 1952, when 2,746,000 workers were involved in stoppages.
The numbers for 1999 include 10,000 Detroit school teachers
who opted not to show up for work in September because of the
lack of a contract.