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March 21, 2003

Granholm to labor: 'You've got a backstop'

Michigan's unemployment system getting back on track

Jobless workers who need help now have a few more options

Sparrow expansion provides more room for patients and their cars

New Cass Tech building rises in old building's shadow



Granholm to labor: 'You've got a backstop'

Governor vows to support working men and women

By Marty Mulcahy

LANSING - The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's 45th annual Legislative Conference on March 4 took place at a fitting time that drove home the reason why unions get involved in political action.

A week earlier, the Michigan House passed House Bill 4160, which was intended to prohibit local governments from adopting living wage and prevailing wage laws. Gov. Granholm pledged to veto the measure, and to support the state's working people in the future.

Granholm's veto pledge underscored the reason building trades unions supported her candidacy - her presence in state government is the only reason an increasingly conservative legislature won't always get its way on matters that concern the health, safety and pocketbooks of Michigan's working class.

Following are some summaries of what speakers had to say at the legislative convention:

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm: "Boy, you'd think you'd never seen a democratic governor before," the new governor quipped after a rousing ovation from the building trades delegates.

Granholm thanked the building trades for their support in the November election, when she became the state's 47th and first female governor.

She pointed out that in her first few days of office, she issued an executive order requiring the state to spend taxpayer dollars with companies that follow state laws, including rules set by MIOSHA. And she pointed out that even though the House passed legislation to outlaw the ability of local communities to adopt living wage and prevailing wage laws, her veto pen awaits.

"We are making great strides in protecting working men and women," Granholm said. "You've heard talk about them going after living wage and prevailing wage. The good news for you is that you've got a friend, you've got a backstop."

She spoke to the building trades two days before she presented a financial plan for the state that sliced $1.9 billion - or 20 percent - out of the state General Fund.

The priorities, Granholm said, were protecting children and K-12 education, as well as health care for vulnerable people. "This budget was a matter of deciding what is important and what is critical," she said. "None of these are easy decisions."

Lt. Gov. John Cherry: "You can count on Jennifer Granholm to make some very tough decisions," he said, "but when it's done, we'll have a rock-solid foundation to build the future, and to build the core things that will help working families in this state. Jennifer Granholm is committed to doing what is right for the working men and women in this state."

Noting the billboards that call construction Michigan's "Opportunity Industry," Cherry said the state's economy needs to grow by investing in things that will help bring people opportunity. "And the things we will invest in will use union labor - that is a certainty," he said.

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch: "Our members' interests and financial well-being are at stake - that's the first and last reason to be involved in the legislative process," he told delegates. "Our strategy is not complicated. We want to protect income levels, protect prevailing wage and keep health care affordable, protect pensions and the education of our families."

Boensch said with the 23-Republican, 15-Democrat margin in the Senate, and the 63-Republicans, 47-Democrats edge in the House, organized labor must do its share of lobbying Republicans and targeting of campaign funds.

"Having to come up with eight Republican votes and hold the 47 Democrats that we have is a tough, but not impossible task," Boensch said.

The prospects for the movement of any legislation favorable to the building trades is remote, Boensch said - in fact, the statewide prevailing wage law and the use of project labor agreements will continue to be attacked. And one pressing concern - getting a higher rate of unemployment benefits - seems improbable.

"The reality is that we're working for our members, and the politicians need to know if they're working for or against our members' interests," Boensch said.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney - "We meet in perilous times," Gaffney said. "I'm not sure where we're going to see any kind of a bright turnaround. The international scene is dismal, the national economy is dismal, and the state economy is dismal."

He offered a list of potential minefields for Michigan's working people. President's Bush's proposed tax cut, he said, would put an average of $150 in the bank for "most building trades members," in the first year, he said. "But the wealthiest taxpayers can count on a $30,000 tax break."

The nation has lost 2.5 million job since 1998, "and this may be the first war in U.S. history that doesn't help the economy," Gaffney said, with many war materials now being built overseas.

Although they were in the majority, Republicans didn't have enough votes to pass anti-prevailing wage/living wage laws when Gov. Engler was in office. Today, it's possible that they do, but there's a new governor in town. "Here in Michigan, think where we would be without Jennifer Granholm in office," Gaffney said. "But we can't constantly rely on her to be the backstop, she needs us to at least put up a fight in the legislature."

Michigan House Democratic Leader Dianne Byrum - "These are tough budget times, and Republicans are actively having conversations about taking away teacher bargaining rights and having the state impose salaries," she said. "That's called right-to-work, and we cannot allow that kind of divide and conquer politics."

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Bob Emerson - "In the last 12 years (of the Engler Administration) we've been in the minority we have had to be constantly on guard against every movement by Republicans.

"We won't have to worry with the Granholm Administration. With her appointees in place, we will be able to improve the departments so that we can help working men and women. We will have friends that we can talk to. That's important."

Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin - "With the state budget situation, obviously we don't have many options. But maybe we can take this opportunity to re-shape the state government so that it once again starts working for working people," he said.

"I can think outside of the box with the best of them. Let's start with creating a revenue stream by levying stiffer fines against companies that violate safety and prevailing wage laws.

"And there's probably a lot of money for the state to make by making a real effort at fining employers who cheat the state out of tax revenue by forcing employees to use 1099 forms.

"While we're at it, I don't know how much state money is being used to go towards construction job training programs, but one dollar is too much. Why should any of our tax money be used for construction training when those of us on the union side are putting out the best and brightest workers without it?"

David Hollister, director, Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services. The department is Michigan's largest - it constitutes 25 percent of the general fund.

"We're going to be a government that will be investing in children, and focusing on the cost of medicine and prescription drug costs. We're going to be a government that looks different, talks different and walks different. We're going to be a government and party of fiscal responsibility."


Michigan's unemployment system getting back on track

By Marty Mulcahy

LANSING - Six weeks after David Plawecki addressed a group of building trades leaders and described how there was "no excuse" for the state's abysmal unemployment compensation customer service record, he said the situation has improved.

"I'm proud to say, we're pretty much back to normal," he said.

On March 4, Plawecki, acting director of the state Bureau of Workers and Unemployment Compensation (BWUC), told delegates at the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council's 45th Legislative Conference that late checks and unreachable customer service representatives have been a source of frustration for the unemployed - and the BWUC. There were 65,000 complaints by unemployed workers in the first 21 days of the Granholm Administration.

"It has been so sad to work for an area of government that is supposed to provide a service to Michigan, but the situation the last administration left this agency in terms of our ability to get checks out was a perfect storm - it was a disgrace," Plawecki told delegates.

Plawecki said 35-40 percent of the state's BWUC workers walked out the door last Nov. 1 in an early retirement package offered by the Engler Administration, but there was no provision made for their replacements. Retirees have been coaxed back to work on a temporary basis to handle the crush of claims in recent months. Four years ago, the department had 1,300 full-time workers - now they're down to 700, with a higher claims load.

Construction workers and other jobless Michiganians have complained about late checks, and the inability to get through to anyone at the department who can answer their questions. The BWUC's phone system logs 15,000-20,000 calls per day.

Today, Plawecki said the department has improved to the point where it is two to three days behind in processing claims, but resolving claimant disputes with the BWUC is still 10 weeks behind schedule. He said the state Unemployment Trust Fund "is still exceptionally strong," with $1.8 billion in the till.

Six weeks ago, Steve Franklin, business manager of IBEW Local 445 in Battle Creek, and his office manager Tina Southern, told us that the state system was doing a lousy job for the unemployed. Today, "the complaints from members have been reduced dramatically," Franklin said. Southern, who became the local's point person for giving advice on jobless claims, said "now I can go back to doing my work instead of the state's work."


Jobless workers who need help now have a few more options

If you need to contact the Michigan Bureau of Workers and Unemployment Compensation (BWUC), following is some contact information:

  • There are three new BWUC help centers around the state: Grand Rapids, 3391 Plainfield Ave. NE; Lansing, 5015 S. Cedar St., and Saginaw, 614 Johnson St.
  • Three new Southeast Michigan offices are at the following locations: northwest Detroit: 4321 Oakman; Dearborn, 2901 Gulley Rd., and Madison Heights, 401 E. 13 Mile.

The walk-in offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • The toll-free help line set up by the state's Unemployment Agency is less clogged from earlier this year, when it was swamped by up to 100,000 calls a day, The line is also staffed evenings until 9 p.m. The number: (800) 638-3995.
  • Workers can go online to file claims for unemployment benefits. Go to: The web site is accepting new and additional unemployment claims, but there are some conditions that must be met, including the jobless worker must have worked for only one employer for the last 18 months. However, the state is soon expected to be able to handle claims from workers who have had multi-employers.
  • If you live north of Cadillac, and you're filing for additional state jobless money, call this number for help: (866) 500-0017.


Sparrow expansion provides more room for patients and their cars

LANSING - An expansion project at Sparrow Hospital will provide more places for patients and the vehicles that bring them there.

In January, Granger Construction and the building trades began digging the foundations for a six-level parking deck containing 1,200 parking spaces on Sparrow's campus here. In a few weeks, Sparrow Health System is also expected to get state approval to begin construction on a 190,000 square-foot west wing addition which will primarily provide additional surgical beds.

The parking deck, which will be erected atop an old parking lot, is expected to be complete in December.

"We've been short on parking for many years," said Sparrow's John West, director of facility development. "This parking structure should take care of our needs for the next five years. So far the project is on schedule, within budget and we haven't had any surprises."

Plans for the west wing addition are still incomplete, but construction is expected to start in mid-April. The addition, which will be lodged between the parking deck and the existing hospital, will create space for 30 additional private and semi-private beds in the medical-surgical unit.

The new space provided by the project will allow Sparrow to downsize all of the four-bed wards in the existing hospital which have been unpopular with patients because of privacy concerns.

West declined to put a price tag on the new construction.

EXCAVATING AROUND a perimeter wall at the new Sparrow Hospital parking deck is (at right) Ronald Jacobs of Operating Engineers Local 324.

The parking structure is being built on property west of the hospital.


New Cass Tech building rises in old building's shadow

Going up next to the existing Cass Tech High School is the new Cass Tech High School, which will provide the school's students and faculty with a study in contrasting buildings.

Estimates to refurbish the existing Cass Tech building, which was constructed in stages beginning in 1917, was estimated at $120 million, with an additional $3 million per year for maintenance over the cost of maintaining a new building. The new school is expected to cost $100 million.

The Detroit Public School District chose the new school option. Construction began Sept. 1, and now the building's framework is rising seven stories near downtown Detroit. Local 25 iron workers, along with Ideal Steel and Whitmore Steel, topped the building out on March 7. Jenkins Construction is the project's construction manager.

"Things are going very smoothly," said Dick Cooper, general superintendent for Jenkins. "We've had excellent cooperation with the trades."

Money wasn't the only issue in deciding to build a new school. The existing classrooms are only about 550 square feet, a third the size of today's standard. The library is woefully undersized compared to today's media centers. And the old gymnasium seats only 400 - to serve a school population of 2,400.

The new school, situated on a tight 18-acre site, will have the larger classrooms, glass-enclosed stairways, a glass-enclosed dining area, and a new media center. It will also incorporate elements from the old school, including limestone architectural features over doorways, murals painted by students, and some fine plaster and grill work.

"The new Cass Tech will be a diamond in the middle of a rough area," said Nisah Tahara, spokeswoman for the Detroit Public Schools Program Manager Team. "The building has been designed around what the educators said they needed, and it's just going to be a beautiful building."

The 240,000 square-foot building is expected to put to work up to 200 Hardhats at peak employment. Doors to the new school are expected to open on Jan. 5, 2005, the day students at Cass Tech come back from their holiday break. Plans call for the old building to be demolished, and replaced by a baseball and football field.

READY TO SET the first course of block for an exterior wall for the new Cass Tech High School are (l-r) Michael Zanier, Aaron Harden and Ken Cressy of Bricklayers Local 1 and Leidal and Hart. Behind then is the existing Cass Tech.



NMU hosts 'management SOB'
Northern Michigan University's Labor Education Program will host a labor-management business development seminar from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30.

The featured presenter is Mark Breslin, author of Organizing Secrets of a Management SOB. The co-sponsors of the event are the Upper Peninsula Construction Labor-Management Council and the Upper Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

Breslin serves as the executive director of the Engineering and Utility Contractors Association, a multi-employer bargaining organization that represents hundreds of firms in California. He has spoken to 35,000 people including thousands of union representatives around the U.S.

"Yes, I am a management SOB," Breslin writes. "But at the same time I have been honored by local and international unions. I am a very effective and successful union organizer. I am a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's just that I alternately promote and eat the sheep."

The cost of the seminar is $99 (or two for $150). It will be held at the Great Lakes Room at NMU. For more information, contact the NMU Labor Education Program at (906) 227-2104.

Hunter safety program scheduled
Make plans to attend the upcoming 7th annual Hunter Safety Program, hosted by the Flint Area Building Trades in conjunction with State Sen. Deborah Cherry.

The free Michigan Department of Natural Resources-certified program will include two classroom lessons on Monday, April 28 and Wednesday, April 30 from 6-9:30 p.m. at the Grand Blanc High School cafeteria. A shooting range lesson will be held Saturday, May 3 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Grand Blanc Huntsman's Club.

Free refreshments follow the range lesson. All supplies and safety equipment will be provided. Gifts will be provided to all program graduates. To register, call (866) 305-2126.

NOVA banquet set for April 24
Tickets are available for the annual NOVA Awards celebration, set for Thursday, April 24. Cocktails are served from 4:30-6 p.m.; the program will take place from 6-7:30 p.m., and dinner is served afterward.

The event will be held at the Ford Conference and Event Center, on the Greenfield Village campus in Dearborn across from the Henry Ford Museum.

The event is sponsored by the Construction Innovation Forum (CIF), whose goal is to foster and encourage innovations in construction. The CIF began as an idea of a handful of people in 1986 and has grown into a worldwide grass roots organization that is known and respected for its NOVA Award, the "Nobel Prize" for innovation in construction.

This year the keynote speaker is IBEW International Union President Ed Hill.

Individual tickets are $150 to CIF members and sponsors and $200 to non-members. Tables of eight are $1,200 to CIF members and sponsors and $1,400 to non-members.

For more information, call (248) 409-1500 or go to


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