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March 2, 2007

House panel approves Employee Free Choice act; Cheney issues Bush veto threat

Court to Bush Labor Dept.: Why the holdup with the protective equipment rule?

It's game on for building trades working at MGM's grand casino

State's roads face funding pothole

New concrete mix has the bends

Mackinac Bridge's 50th anniversary slated

News Briefs

 

House panel approves Employee Free Choice act; Cheney issues Bush veto threat

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

(PAI) - By a 26-19 party-line vote, the House Education and Labor Committee voted Feb. 14 for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill designed to level the playing field between workers and bosses in labor-management relations.

And, the same day, Vice President Dick Cheney told the National Association of Manufacturers that his boss, President George W. Bush, would veto it.

Union leaders hailed the vote on their top legislative priority in the new Democratic-run 110th Congress. But EFCA faces a rocky road in the narrowly Democratic Senate, and House Republican leaders, though their party is outnumbered there, have made a vote against EFCA a test of party loyalty.

If it's ever approved, the EFCA would establishing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations, provide mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes, and allow employees to form unions by simply signing cards authorizing union representation.

Right now, "card check" is one method the National Labor Relations Board has approved for union recognition, but only if the employer agrees.

Otherwise, unions and workers usually go through the long, business-tilted torturous NLRB elections "process," featuring rampant employer labor law-breaking, one-on-one meetings where supervisors can threaten pro-union workers, "captive audience" company-run anti-union meetings where unionists are silenced and workers must attend or be disciplined, and threats, harassment, intimidation and plant closure rumblings - all of that before the vote.

In a typical comment from the committee Democrats, Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) said "Bush and some Republicans in Congress see labor unions as a threat to the bottom line of their corporate friends.

"Opponents of this legislation have every right to express their disdain for unions and the service they provide to working families. However, they do not have the right to silence the will of the majority through scare tactics and intimidation during a National Labor Relations Board election," added Hare, a former union organizer. "This bill, which permits workers to organize via a majority sign-up and increases penalties for the violation of workers' rights, restores fairness to a clearly broken process."
Speaking for the Bush Administration, Cheney took the position that the EFCA would give unions too much influence over the organizing process. The major problem with the card check process, he argued, is that it sidesteps the secret ballot process.

Cheney told a National Association of Manufacturers audience that "our administration rejects any attempt to short-circuit the rights of workers. We will defend their right to vote yes or no by secret ballot, and their right to fair bargaining. H.R. 800 (EFCA) violates these principles, and if it is sent to the president, he will veto the bill."

Countered University of Oregon political scientist Gordon Lafer: The fact that NLRB elections "end in secret ballots would in no way change the coercion of the voters" by the companies," he said.

And House Education and Labor Subcommittee Chairman Robert Andrews told the Construction Labor Report that "its important to put this into context." There have only been 42 cases of union coercion, fraud or misrepresentation in the signing of union authorization forms since the NLRB was formed. "The other side of the coin is rather different," he said. The NLRB awarded back pay to about 30,000 workers in 2005 along because of illegal employer discrimination.

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Court to Bush Labor Dept.: Why the holdup with the protective equipment rule?

WASHINGTON (PAI) - A federal appellate court has ordered the Bush Labor Department to explain, within a month, why it has taken eight years to impose a rule that requires companies to buy protective equipment and clothing for their workers.

The ruling, disclosed Feb. 20, but handed down four days before, orders Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to take no more than 30 pages to explain their stalling. Then the United Food and Commercial Workers and the AFL-CIO, which sued to get the agency to move, get 40 days - also starting Feb. 16 - to file new arguments about why the administration should act.

The court ruling is a positive move for the millions of workers whose employers refuse to buy them protective equipment - such as goggles, hard hats and gloves - because OSHA does not require them to do so. Unionized building trades workers generally have the use of those items spelled out in collective bargaining agreements. OSHA has such requirements for some specific industries, but not for industries overall.

And the agency had been working on a rule since 1999 to get all industries to buy the protective equipment for their workers, and had taken all but the final step - actually issuing the federal rule forcing them to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for their workers. That laggardness pushed UFCW and the AFL-CIO to sue on Jan. 3.

"The Bush administration's failure to act is putting workers in danger," UFCW said in hailing the latest ruling. "By OSHA's own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died due to the absence of this rule.

"Workers in some of America's most dangerous industries, such as meatpacking, poultry and construction, and low-wage and immigrant workers who suffer high injury rates, are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of OSHA's failure to finish the PPE rule.

"The new rule would not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment. It simply codifies OSHA's longstanding policy that employers, not employees, have the responsibility to pay for it," UFCW said.

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It's game on for building trades working at MGM's grand casino

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT - The ongoing construction of the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel on the western fringe of downtown Detroit is like "putting up four $100 million projects at the same time, right next to each other. There's just a lot going on."

So said MGM Grand Project Supt. Gary Wolfe, who is managing the construction of costliest of the three new casinos currently being erected in the Motor City. MGM Grand, along with its project manager Tre Builders, its subcontractors and the building trades, are in the process of creating a permanent gaming establishment that will replace the existing temporary facility that was built in a nearby converted government building eight years ago.

Nearly 1,000 Hardhats are currently working on the project, moving it toward a grand opening this fall. The four separate projects referred to by Wolfe include a 100,000 square-foot casino, an 18-story, 400-room hotel, a 5,000-car guest garage (aka a parking deck) and "back of house," where employee offices, prep areas and eating areas are located. The project will also include seven restaurants.

"We're dealing with four separate schedules, four different procurement processes, basically four different construction processes that will all come together," Wolfe said. "We have a great crew, they're very productive and do quality work."

MGM Grand is spending about $750 million on the project, with slightly less than $400 million of that on construction costs. MGM is reportedly spending a great deal on finishing treatments within the hotel and casino. The construction style has been described as an updated Art Deco look that was popular in the 1930s.

It's being built on a 25-acre site acres east of the Lodge Freeway, at Third Street and Bagley.

The MGM Grand Detroit "will be an exciting, cutting edge destination," said Cara Belton, the casino's public relations and communications manager, told a Michigan travel publication. "In addition to featuring exceptional restaurants not currently available in the Detroit area, MGM Grand will include a variety of entertainment options surrounded by an interior design that is worthy of our reputation for the best in service and delivery."

TAKING OUT THE TRASH at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino is Kent "Tattoo" Pattenaude of Operating Engineers Local 324. The 18-story hotel is at left, and the low-level casino is at right.

GETTING THE HANG of a pipe hanger is Tony Montes of Sprinkler Fitters Local 704 and Simplex Grinnell.

PULLING CABLE at the MGM Detroit Casino is Cleophas Sherrer of IBEW Local 58 and Micron Electric.


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State's roads face funding pothole

LANSING - Michigan spent about $1.5 billion on road and bridge construction projects in 2006 and will spend about $1.62 billion this year - but annual expenditures - are expected to dip to about $1.22 billion in 2011.

Those are the monetary highlights of the Michigan Department of Transportation's "Five-Year Transportation Program, 2007-2011," that was officially released in January.

Over the last few years, MDOT has been issuing five-year plans to monitor its progress on work that's planned, in progress and completed, as well as anticipated funding levels. Funding is dependent on a number of variables, including state gasoline tax revenues, fewer gas-guzzling vehicles on the roads, federal allotments, and the Michigan budget.

"The Five Year Transportation Program represents a year-long, multi-stage process that involves many partners," said MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. "Each year, as the previous year is completed, a new fifth year is added with updates and adjustments to projects and programs in the other years. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) considers the Five-Year Transportation Program to be a living document that allows us to take advantage of new opportunities as well as to manage and mitigate situations that were unknown or unclear the previous year."

Spending - and road quality - are expected to drop in the latter years of the five-year plan when funding boosts provided by Gov. Jennifer Granholm's Jobs Today and Preserve First initiatives fall off the budget. Granholm introduced the Jobs Today program to accelerate funding and jobs into MDOT's work plan.

According to the plan:

  • Michigan will "substantially" achieve the State Transportation Commission's 1997 system preservation goal of 90 percent of state roads and bridges in good condition by 2007 and 2008.
  • The governor's Preserve First program, put into place in 2003, placed an emphasis on preserving roads rather than building new. The program ends in 2008.
  • The Fiscal Year 2007-2011 Five Year Transportation Program investments for the highway program total $6.63 billion. This total reflects investments for the major program categories of preservation, capacity improvement and new roads, and routine maintenance.
  • The state's "Local Jobs Today" program is in place from 2006 through 2007. Money in this program is being used to jump-start 210 local road projects around the state, creating nearly 5,000 jobs. This program allows localities in obtain grants from the state in order to win matching funds from the federal government to move construction projects along.
  • The University of Michigan has completed preliminary findings for MDOT's 2007-2011 road and bridge system investments, and it estimated that these investments will support 24,400 jobs in 2007. That's about a quarter of the entire unionized construction workforce in Michigan.
  • Michigan Construction News.com reported on a Feb. 1 conference sponsored by MDOT and the American Council of Engineering Companies/Michigan. It was revealed that unless more funding is put into the system, Michigan's roads that are rated in good condition will decline to 77 percent in 2011.

Michael Nystrom vice president of government and public relations at the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, told the conference that since Michigan's gasoline tax was last increased in 1997, its purchasing power has declined 20.5 percent. In addition, Michigan's tax of 19¢ per gallon is also among the lowest in the Midwest. Minnesota has a 20¢ tax, Ohio is 28¢, Wisconsin is 30¢, and Pennsylvania is 32.3¢. Only Indiana is lower, at 18¢.

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New concrete mix has the bends

ANN ARBOR - Ever since the world's first mile of concrete road was put into service (in Detroit, in 1909, on Woodward between Six and Seven Mile Roads) engineers have tried to figure out how to prevent it from cracking and forming potholes.

Engineers from the University of Michigan think they have a solution, in the form of Engineered Cement Composite (ECC) - which is basically concrete that bends without breaking.

Last summer, for the first time in our state, a section of ECC was placed by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) in Ypsilanti in a refurbished section of the Grove Street bridge deck over I-94, to see how it holds up in the real world. In January, the new building material received some worldwide exposure at the World of Concrete exhibition in Las Vegas.

"The ECC material has promise for solving some of the deck durability issues we face, such as premature cracking," said Steve Kahl, supervisor, experimental studies group, with MDOT's construction and technology division. "We're hoping the ECC will work well, and possibly lower the cost when experience is gained on large-scale production."

ECC technology has been around for a number of years, and has been used in roads in places like Japan and Switzerland. But it has been slow to catch on in the U.S. despite traditional concrete's many drawbacks, including its tendency to crack and fail under severe loading.

Victor Li, who holds appointments in the U-M departments of civil and environmental engineering and materials science and engineering, said U-M's Engineered Concrete Composite has been under development for the past 10 years and he claims it to be superior to other reinforced concrete in development today. That's because U-M scientists design the placement of ingredients in the concrete itself to make it more flexible. The U-M holds four patents with three pending on ECC technologies, Li said.

"The broad field of micromechanics has tried to understand how composite materials behave," Li said. "We went one step further and used the understanding as a material design approach in the development of ECC."

The U-M Engineering Department's ECC mix contains the same ingredients as traditional concrete, minus course gravel. They place polymer fibers into the mix (comprising 2 percent of the volume), which allows the concrete to bend because the fibers slide within the concrete, akin to ligaments sliding around in the human body and holding everything together.

This blend of concrete and fibers looks like any other mix, but is said by the U-M to be 500 times more resistant to cracking and 40 percent lighter in weight than traditional concrete.

Long-term performance of ECC has been established by a patch repair placed on the Curtis Road bridge over M-14 in Ann Arbor in October 2002. The patch, which has experienced several winters of freezing and thawing cycles, has much better crack control than the normal concrete patch placed adjacent to the ECC one day earlier, Li said. And, the newly constructed Mihara Bridge in Hokkaido, Japan has a bridge deck made of ECC that is only two inches thick and is 40 percent lighter than traditional concrete. It has an expected service life of 100 years, Li said.

While long-term studies are still needed, Li said that over 60 years of service on a bridge deck, the ECC would be 37 percent less expensive than a traditional concrete span, including servicing and replacement costs.

A MACHINE demonstrates Engineered Cement Composite's bendability.

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Mackinac Bridge's 50th anniversary slated

If your summer schedule is open, and you're considering a trip in or around the Straits of Mackinac, you might want to circle Friday and Saturday, July 27-28 on your calendar.

That weekend the State of Michigan will hold the 50th anniversary celebration commemorating the opening of the Mackinac Bridge.

The tentative schedule of events includes a banquet on the evening of July 27 in St. Ignace. On July 28, parades will be held in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, the Iron Workers will have the annual get-together featuring a skills demonstration, 50 automobiles will be displayed (for each year the bridge has been open), oral presentations and recordings will be heard, and a big fireworks display will take place over the Straits.

The bridge actually opened to traffic Nov. 1, 1957, but planners of the celebration figured the weather might not be so warm that late in the year.

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News Briefs

Benefit set for electrician's son
A dinner and silent auction to benefit Jacob Voisinet - the son of an IBEW Local 665 member - will be held Saturday, March 24 at St. Jude Catholic Church, 801 N. Bridge St. in DeWitt, north of Lansing.

Jacob, two and a half, is the son of Tim and Stacy Voisinet. In December 2005, Jacob became very ill and was diagnosed with HLH - Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis - a rare and life-threatening immune disorder. Jacob has undergone chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant last September in Cincinnati's Children's Hospital.

He remains in Cincinnati for outpatient treatment because of recurring viruses and a recent loss of engraftment. That means his old cells have taken over and the new donor cells are almost nonexistent. If Jacob loses all of his donor cells he will have to start the process over with a more intensive chemotherapy regimen, followed by a second bone marrow transplant.

The benefit dinner starts at 4 p.m. (BYOB), and a silent auction will take place from 6-9 p.m. Raffles and 50-50 drawings will also be held. Tickets are available at the door, $15 each or two for $25. For more information, contact Mindy Voisinet at (517) 669-8986. Donations can be made to the Jacob Voisinet Benefit Fund, Citizens Bank, 200 W. Higham St. St. Johns, MI 48879.

O'Reilly endorsed for Dearborn mayor
Excluding the residential sector, the U.S. construction industry got off to a roaring start in 2007. In dollar value, construction activity in January 2007 was 28.7 percent higher than in January 2006, according to Reed Construction Data. Compared to December 2006, construction activity in January rose 3.8 percent.

"Nonresidential construction employment growth has been sizzling," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. "Over the past 12 months, nonresidential building contractors and nonresidential specialty trades have boosted employment by 160,000, or 5.0 percent. Heavy and civil engineering construction has added 25,000, or 2.5 percent. Those rates greatly outstrip the 1.6-percent growth rate for nonfarm payroll employment as a whole.

"A further favorable omen for nonresidential construction is that architectural and engineering employment rose more than five percent in the past year," Simonson said. "That should translate into additional construction work in the next several months. I expect several nonresidential categories to do especially well this year - particularly energy and power-related construction, hospitals, hotels and resorts."

In terms of total construction employment, there were 7,715,000 construction workers in the U.S. in January - 200,000 more than in December.

The AGC said residential building and specialty trades employment slipped again in January, bringing the year-over-year decline to 84,000 jobs, or 2.5 percent of the January 2006. Simonson said, "I expect home builders will continue to shrink for most of 2007, until they see a marked upturn in home sales."

"Construction wages rose 4.5 percent in the last 12 months, outpacing the 4.0 percent increase for all private industry production workers," Simonson stated. "Part of this reflects a changing mix of construction jobs, away from lower-skilled homebuilding and remodeling to skilled nonresidential crafts. But it may also indicate that contractors are ratcheting up pay to find the workers they need.

"BLS sharply increased its estimate of total construction employment as part of its normal annual revision process for all industries," Simonson concluded. "The January 2007 count of 7,715,000, seasonally adjusted, is more than 200,000 higher than appeared likely a month ago."

 

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