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
face funding pothole
mix has the bends
50th anniversary slated
panel approves Employee Free Choice act; Cheney issues Bush veto
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
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
"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
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.
to Bush Labor Dept.: Why the holdup with the protective equipment
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.
on for building trades working at MGM's grand casino
By Marty Mulcahy
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
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.
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
- 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
- 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¢.
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
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.
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
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
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
"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."