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March 21, 2008

Labor makes other plans while presidential race sorts itself out

Old dogs need new tricks when it comes to dealing with apprentices

Trades help Spartan football with their game planning

IBEW organizing blitz sparks union interest in Florida

O*Net website shows why right-to-work is wrong for Michigan

Michigan State OKs PLAs, responsible contractor language

News Briefs

 

Labor makes other plans while presidential race sorts itself out

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Clinton? Obama? Or (highly unlikely) McCain?

The AFL-CIO has reaffirmed that it won't be endorsing a candidate for president before there's more of a consensus choice among its affiliated unions. And like the situation among the U.S. electorate, that's not expected to happen before either Democratic candiate has gained a majority of delegates or before the party's convention in Denver in August.

AFL-CIO spokeswoman Denise Mitchell Mitchell said in a memo this month that the AFL-CIO needs votes of unions representing 67%, or two-thirds of its members to make a presidential endorsement.

"Some of the unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO strongly support Sen. (Hillary) Clinton and others strongly support Sen. (Barack) Obama. Earlier, some…endorsed John Edwards. Most of our 56 affiliates have not made a primary endorsement. Respecting the varying views…we have not endorsed," Mitchell explained.

The race for president isn't the only political choice voters face. The AFL-CIO's 2008 political plan will cost $56 million-$60 million, be in more than 500 races nationwide, and have a theme of "Turn Around America."

Democrats hope to add to their lead in the U.S. House and Senate by targeting anti-worker lawmakers seen as vulnerable. The political plan includes up to 10 U.S. Senate races so far, including previously unlikely campaigns against incumbent Republicans in Mississippi (Roger Wicker), Alaska (Ted Stevens) and Kentucky (minority leader Mitch McConnell).

It also will include, as of now, 55 U.S. House races, three governorships, hundreds of state legislative races and dozens of referendums. McEntee says it will also include combating the Radical Right's so-called right-to-work initiatives and "paycheck deception," designed to evict workers from participating financially in politics. Michigan is expected to be a key battleground on that front.

Without a presidential candidate to endorse, the AFL-CIO said it would focus for now on getting out the vote, focusing on other races and defining Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

"In the absence of a clear Democratic candidate, it is very clear that McCain is an extension of George W. Bush's failed policies for the middle class," said AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman. "We know it's very important to communicate with our members at their worksites on his record: That he's voted for every trade deal that's come down the pike, that he voted against SCHIP" - the children's health insurance program whose expansion Bush vetoed - "and that he voted against raising the minimum wage."

Another component of the "turn around America" drive, will unite several top issues into one common theme: The need to elect new leadership to set the nation on a new pro-worker course. Those issues are universal and affordable health care, the right to organize and bargain collectively, fair trade not free trade, and the right to secure jobs.

If the Democratic primaries are any indicator, union mobilization and turnout this year may exceed their 2006 success. Then, 200,000 get-out-the-vote union volunteers hit the streets in the closing weeks and one-quarter of all voters were union members or their families - double the union percentage of the workforce.


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Old dogs need new tricks when it comes to dealing with apprentices

By Mark Breslin

One of my previous articles really kicked up some dust. I heard from many readers regarding the treatment of apprentices. The responses came in two categories; traditional and progressive. As such, I'd like to explore each of these viewpoints a little closer.

My premise is that the construction field culture is totally outdated and unacceptable. We have decades of what some call "tradition" where apprentices must pass the test of "manhood" by being hazed, abused, disrespected or ignored by the journeymen and sometimes foremen.

This long-standing practice of abuse of the guy beneath you is something that had been passed down generation to generation. And in my view, this should be the last generation I hear from many traditional guys that if you do not make it tough for the apprentices, they will never make it. I hear that this type of treatment is how they were brought up in the trade. I hear that "it is good for them." I hear that this is the way we do it in construction. Fine. I will accept that is how some people see it, but I don't agree.

The old saying is true, "the hotter the flame, the harder the steel." And I am a product of that fire myself. But truly, what do we think we are getting as an end result by allowing, tolerating or engaging in mistreatment of apprentices? I spoke to over 30,000 apprentices last year and more than half raise their hand to admit this is their workplace fate. Do you think this leads to more motivated people? Do you think they acquire skills and abilities faster? Do you think that negative reinforcement breeds loyalty to union and employer? Do you think that these practices enhance productivity and professionalism?

Some do. I don't.

What of the progressive viewpoint? Well, these are people who wrote and stated that they too had seen or experienced this. They agreed something different must occur, but did not have a solution and asked for ideas. Well, let me share what I believe to be three solid ideas to create a more productive and positive construction culture.

1. Apprenticeship Staff Focus. Staff at the apprentice level must prepare every young person going to the field for this type of experience. They must help them by discussing the options the apprentice has - what to say or do, and how. Apprentice training staff as well as business managers and agents should take a hard line with guys who are engaging in this practice when it is reported. Most likely the apprentice will never say a word, so who else would be there to protect their workplace experience?

2. Union Leader Focus. The guys engaging in the harassment and hazing tend to be older guys who had that same thing happen to them. They do not realize that they are directly impacting their own financial future. Part of the reason the journeymen act this way is out of fear that the apprentice will take their jobs. So instead of mentoring them for success, they ignore, push or pressure them instead. The reality is, with the imminent retirement of the Baby Boomers, that these young people will be paying for the "old dog's" pensions. If these young people are not successful at sustaining the market, what will the direct impact be to these guys who have spent 30 years in the trade? They are hurting their own post-career prospects. Union leaders need to draw this picture, color the dots, drawn the lines and then whack them with a 2x4 until they get it. Recently, I asked a group of more than 800 foremen how many of them were actively and personally mentoring some young person for future success. Only 14 responded that they were doing it. You can be damn sure that more than 14 journeymen are hard a--ing the guys on those 800 crews; and the net effect on our industry and future is not positive.

3. Foremen Training. Formen are often not prepared to deal with the "soft-skill" side of their job responsibilities. It is not their fault, since many have only their own personal experience to apply in their current positions. Foremen are the center point between labor and management in the development of our human resource potential. They are the ones who really are responsible for cultivating talent and motivating performance. We need to aggressively expand our supervisory training programs to help them understand how to get the most out of their crews. Can they yell? Hell yes, when needed. But are there other ways to get the best out of people. Hell yes. Any very successful and profitable company has a performance bar that has consequences for failure, but it will usually also have a culture that recognizes, cultivates, rewards and praises more often than anything else.

In summary, it is really not too hard to understand the concept. Do you get the best from your own kids with a backhand across the face or an arm around their shoulder? Do we pass on the mistakes that were made in our personal and professional development or do we try new ways to get better and more positive results? No matter if you are old school or progressive in where you are trying to go, for the idea of applying some common sense in trying to change our culture, the time has come.

Mark Breslin is a strategist and author specializing in labor-management challenges. He is the author of Survival of the Fittest, Organize or Die and coming in 2008 Alpha Dog. He addresses more than 50,000 labor and business leaders each year in North America. Coming soon a new Breslin Book for apprentice instruction : Million Dollar Blue Collar: Managing Your Earnings for Life and Work Success.
More on his work and profile is available at www.breslin.biz.

 

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Trades help Spartan football with their game planning

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

EAST LANSING - "It's not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference." - Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Michigan State University is taking that philosophy and running with it, in the form of the ongoing $15 million, 25,000 square-foot expansion and renovation of the Duffy Daugherty Football Building at the corner of Shaw Road and Chestnut Lane. The work, managed by Barton Malow, will add team meeting spaces, coaching offices, public display space and a new public plaza.

"The building is designed for efficiency, especially with the way the team meeting area can be converted into (offense and defense) unit meeting rooms in a matter of seconds along with the close proximity to the position meeting rooms," said Spartans head football coach Mark Dantonio. "With this design and organization, we won't lose valuable time when transitioning from meeting space to meeting space."

The new working space will provide a meeting area for the entire team, and then separate breakout areas for offense and defense, as well as offensive and defensive lines. The facility will have enhanced video technology throughout the building, with footage from every MSU practice or game available from the past five seasons, as well as video of opponents and recruits. The technology will allow coaches to improve scouting by converting plays on video into diagrammed plays.

Describing the existing facility as "antiquated," Spartans Assistant Athletic Director for Football Mike Vollmar said the new space "will be a plus from a recruiting standpoint. Student-athletes spend a lot of time here, and we want it to be nice. The message that we're sending is that we are committed to our student-athletes. And for our players and staff, this is all about improving time management. We're not wasting 10 or 15 minutes a day going from room to room."

The new two-story facility will include a "Hall of History," to commemorate past Spartan gridiron glories. "The Hall of History is important because the past is the best indicator of the future," Dantonio said. "From a historical perspective, Michigan State is a Top-25 football program, with six National Championships. We're proud of our rich football tradition and it should be documented for the entire Spartan Nation to appreciate and embrace."

MSU alumni Robert and Julie Skandalaris donated $5 million for the project. Former Spartan head coach George Perles and his wife Sally contributed $500,000 for the construction of a $1 million plaza outside the Duffy Daugherty Football Building, and they will have their name associated with the space.

In April, the Duffy Daugherty Football Building weight room will increase in size from 9,000 to 16,500 square feet, allowing more variety in equipment.

The Spartan coaching staff is expected to move from temporary offices into the new facility in late July, with the building being fully operational by Aug. 1.

"Every time I walk over here, there's something new," Vollmar said about the construction activity. "These guys are just flying."

THE NEW PORTION of the Duffy Daugherty Football Building on the Michigan State University campus.

WORKING ON THE ELECTRICAL for the new chiller system in the existing Duffy Daugherty Football Building are Steve Karkau and Brian Powe of IBEW Local 665 and Superior Electric.

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IBEW organizing blitz sparks union interest in Florida

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

In the 22 years he has been a union organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Muskegon native Jim Rudicil has preached "using all the tools in your toolbox" as a way to communicate with, and organize nonunion workers and employers.

Over the years, some of the organizing policies and practices that have been used, discarded (and perhaps re-used) including: picket lines, handbilling, salting, legal action, top-down (approaching the employer), and bottom-up (approaching the worker).

"What works sometimes just depends on the local market," Rudicil said last week, commenting on the IBEW's major organizing push in Florida. Rudicil is leading the IBEW's "Florida Initiative," which began in earnest 18 months ago.

Not long after the effort began, Florida, like most other states, ran smack into a statewide housing slump brought on by the national credit crisis. Residential construction in Florida has slowed big-time, and that has pushed electrical firms and workers from residential into commercial work, where they may not have experience bidding jobs or doing the work.

That change may translate into opportunity for the IBEW and National Electrical Contractors Association contractors, who are aggressively seeking out nonunion workers forced by the job squeeze to earn less than they were making a year ago - and who are not happy about it. Unions and their contractors have instituted a new wage package in order to be competitive and able to target those workers.

When it comes to organizing, Rudicil said the personal approach is working best in the Sunshine State and in other parts of the South - with NECA contractors actively involved in the process. Together with the Florida Initiative's mobile international union staff of 11, plus local union representatives, they're regularly holding "blitzes" as part of their latest organizing strategy. The IBEW organizers make unannounced visits to jobsites, find the electricians, hand out fliers, and then quickly leave. "Some get caught, most don't," Rudicil said. "Word usually gets around anyway."

The news on one flier pointed out the disparity between the median wage of an electrician in Green Bay, Wisconsin ($23.52) vs. the median wage of an Orlando electrician ($16.48). The flier also pointed out that when it comes to Social Security benefits, a 40-year-old Florida electrician retiring in 22 years would receive $9,370 less per year than his counterpart in Wisconsin.

"Find out what you can do to change that," the flier said in bold print. "You owe it to your family." Also on it is an invitation a few days in advance for the nonunion electricians to bring their families to a get-together at a local hotel ballroom.

At the hotel, Rudicil said "two things get the attention of the workers. The money and the employers." The IBEW wage package for South Florida is $25 on the check plus $8 in fringes. In the Orlando area, the union wage package is $20 on the check plus $8 in fringes.

Besides the upgrade in pay, union employers are present to show that there are companies willing and able to hire electricians at the higher rate. An average of 60 nonunion workers have attended the industry nights, with an average of six union employers participating.

"We don't go heavy on the union stuff, by and large they're interested in the wages and the employers," Rudicil said. "There has definitely been a learning curve in teaching the employers how to interact with these guys. But really it's all about educating the workers and helping them make as good a decision as possible."

The union-management collaboration shows prospective workers that both the IBEW and the National Electrical Workers Contractors Association are on their side. A dialogue can be opened at a neutral site. Bilingual organizers are available. Contractors get an opportunity to see the quality and quantity of available electricians.

Names and contact information gleaned from the industry nights allow unions and contractors to build a database of potential hires. There are now more than 2,000 contacts in the database. Job offers by union contractors give workers the confidence to demand more money - which may make union employers more competitive in the future. And union employers are given a voice in organizing efforts, which is rarely the case elsewhere.

"We're reinventing a union movement in the state of Florida," said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. "We've never targeted a state like this before. We're throwing everything we have into it."

The strategy seems to be working: IBEW membership in Florida has jumped 13 percent since it began, with the increases coming from individuals and groups.

The IBEW Journal reported that arbitrary work rule changes and stagnant wages and benefits led 300 municipal utility workers in the city of Lakeland to IBEW Local 108. Plant operator Chris McPherson left his job and a membership at IBEW Local 3 in New York to move South, where he describes the difference between the two work environments as night and day. "Here, there's a lot of nepotism and favoritism that goes on," McPherson said. "I told them the only way to defeat this is to bring the union in."

Rudicil said in the hope that success breeds success, similar blitz strategies are also ongoing in Georgia and the Carolinas, where the downturn in construction has been less severe. Through the year ending in February 2008, IBEW membership in North Carolina was up 27 percent

"There's a blitz going on in Charlotte even as we speak," Rudicil said. "This effort has worked better than anything we've ever tried so far."

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O*Net website shows why right-to-work is wrong for Michigan

One of the tools currently getting some use in Jim Rudicil's toolbox is information gleaned from the O*Net website at www.onetcenter.org.

"It provides very accurate information about wages in every state," said Rudicil, who is leading the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' organizing initiative in Florida. "You may have to do some searching on the site, but the information they make available can be very helpful."

The numbers are based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics using data from 2005.

For instance, the O*Net site showed that in the nation's 22 right-to-work states, it truly means right-to-work for less. Of the 17 states with the lowest median income for electricians, 15 have right-to-work laws (the exceptions were Vermont, #39, and New Mexico, #40)

In fact, only two right-to-work states, booming Nevada (#19) and Wyoming (#24), made the top half of states in the U.S. median income rankings for electricians.

Michigan electricians, both union and nonunion, were ranked #4 in median income, at $28.25 per hour. The lowest median pay for electricians were in Florida ($16.48 per hour) and North Carolina ($16.42 per hour).

Rudicil said the numbers can be used by union organizers, or by anyone who wants to make a case against Michigan becoming a right-to-work state.

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Michigan State OKs PLAs, responsible contractor language

EAST LANSING - The Michigan State University Board of Trustees on Feb. 22 put into place a framework for the use of project labor agreements (PLA) for major campus construction projects.

At the same meeting, the trustees adopted a Responsible Contractor Policy, which sets basic pre-hire standards that allows the university to exclude bidding contractors if they fail basic safety, regulatory or standards.

Urged by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, MSU Trustee Colleen McNamara led the effort to adopt both the PLA and responsible contractor language, which were both passed unanimously.

"I thank all of you for your time and attention to this important issue, and hope that as we begin to implement it you'll be there to help us make sure it works as we planned," she wrote in a letter to the building trades. "You've all been great to work with, so knowledgeable and dedicated. I realized through this how much respect, concern and affection you each hold for Michigan State."

The project labor agreement language approved by the MSU trustees applies to projects costing more than $1 million. It allows - but doesn't require - the university to enter into a PLA with union-employing contractors "in order to obtain project-specific benefits in cost savings, efficiency, timeliness, and quality."

Benefits the university says PLAs bring include "reduced risk of delay in completion of a time-sensitive project," as well as "enhanced access to skilled trades whose work is needed to complete a project," and "improved efficiency in project management on large, complex, multi-year projects."

Numerous governmental entities and companies utilize project labor agreements in an effort to standardize labor costs and work practices, and can assure that the construction workforce is drug-tested and meets certain training standards. In those agreements unions usually agree to no-strike, no-lockout guarantees, standardized overtime provisions and safety rules,

"Over the years we've had some problems with contractors employing some nonunion crafts on Michigan State projects, so along with our contractors and associations we made a concerted effort to reach out to the university and put a framework in place for them to use union contractors," said Patrick Devlin, CEO of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "Now, on a job by job basis, they're going to be looking at responsible contractors, and they're going to be looking at a PLA. Coming from where we were, that's a real plus for us."

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News Briefs

Laborers return to building trades
WASHINGTON D.C. - The Laborers International Union of North America is reuniting with the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department after two years of disaffiliation.

"We left the building trades for principled reasons and we are going back for principled reasons," said LIUNA General President Terrence O'Sullivan. "We are particularly proud of this mutual agreement as it occurs on the eve of the department's 100th anniversary. It is a win-win for LIUNA and its members, for the building trades and for the entire construction industry."

O'Sullivan said issues that were under dispute with the Building Trades Department have been resolved. Included are issues regarding the Plan for the Settlement of Jurisdictional Disputes, which governs how unions are given the right to perform specific work on jobsites, and disagreements regarding per capita voting within the Building Trades department, a system which has been changed to allow decision-making based on the number of rank and file members, rather than allowing a single vote for each international union, no matter its size.

"We are extremely pleased to have the Laborers back once again as in important part of the building trades family," said Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers. "This re-affiliation agreement is a milestone in the vision and commitment of the department and its Governing Board of Presidents to construct an effective 21st Century Labor organization."

The Operating Engineers also broke away from the Building Trades Department two years ago, and their status hasn't changed. The same applies for the Carpenters union, which split from the AFL-CIO and the Building Trades Department in 2001.

Tumultuous year seen for construction
Nonresidential construction will experience wide variance in demand, materials cost and labor availability, according to the Construction Inflation Alert released March 10 by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

"In 2008, some nonresidential segments will continue to grow, including power and energy, but others such as lodging will slow or decline," said AGC's Chief Economist Ken Simonson. "Diesel, copper and steel are among materials costs likely to accelerate, while others remain benign."

The large increase in diesel fuel prices compared to a year ago, along with the importance of diesel fuel to highway construction, makes it likely that highway costs will go up even more. Conversely, the slumping demand and rising supply of gypsum products may mean nonresidential and multi-unit residential building costs go up a little less than 6 percent.

"These cross-cutting trends make it likely that the producer price index (PPI) for construction "inputs" will accelerate from the 4.5 percent rate of increase that prevailed in 2006 and 2007, to a 6-8 percent range by the end of 2008," said Simonson.

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