The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

March 31, 2000

Comerica Park construction 'rounding third, headed home

Safety inspector money here today, gone tomorrow

Rare, beautiful and durable - Greektown mosaic has it all

Make sure you are counted in Census 2000

NOVA Award celebrates industry's ingenuity




Comerica Park construction 'rounding third, headed home

By Marty Mulcahy

A highly ambitious construction schedule, a lot of 6 a.m. to midnight schedules and work by hundreds of talented building trades Hardhats will make sure Comerica Park is ready for action on Opening Day, April 11.

"I think it's going to be beautiful, and I'm proud to have been a part of it," said Glaziers and Glassworkers Local 357 member Don Shepperson.

His words of pride were echoed by several other building trades workers on the Comerica Park job, who felt good about being part of history - after all, the Detroit Tigers build ballparks only at a rate of one per century.

Construction on Comerica Park was in the home stretch last week, and as the Tigers have guaranteed all along, the home team will play its first game at the park on April 11 vs. the Seattle Mariners. "It's really impressive how the job came together," said pipe fitter Tom Allen.

The field will be ready, the seats will be in place, and the carousel and food court will be open for business, but the trades will be working in the ballpark long after Opening Day. A substantial amount of work will remain on the luxury suites, eight outer buildings on the stadium campus, and in numerous other areas.

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held at the Comerica Park site in October 1997, but substantial construction didn't start until about a year later when all the legal and political obstacles were overcome. The tight schedule has put a lot of pressure on the project's general contracting team of Hunt-Turner-White, the subcontractors and the trades, to get the job done.

The job will get done - but the fast pace and numerous change orders during the construction process have brought their share of aggravation and frayed nerves to many people involved in the project. The changes have also helped bump up the price tag of the stadium from the original cost of $260 million to more than $300 million.

The open air stadium off of Woodward across from the Fox Theatre will seat about 40,000 and is designed as a pitcher's ballpark. The dimensions of the field are as follows: left field line, 346 feet; leftfield power alley, 402 feet; centerfield, 422 feet; rightfield power alley, 379 feet, and rightfield fence, 330 feet.

Unlike Tiger Stadium, Comerica Park will have a generous number of bathrooms, wide aisles under the stands, and more concessions. It will also feature a walk of fame, a carousel, a ferris wheel, and a fountain in center field that will be synchronized to music.

The park is designed with a few quirks, including the flagpole in centerfield (it's a new pole, the one in Tiger Stadium was not moved), seating atop three buildings on Witherell Street, (a la Wrigley Field in Chicago) and outfield views of the game from Adams Street. There will be three main gated entrances to Comerica Park, each featuring attractions like a pair of 5,000-lb. bengal tiger sculptures, 80-foot high baseball bats framing the gates, and nice pewabic tile accents.

"If the fans feel the pride that this is their park, and a pride of ownership, then we've accomplished what we set out to do," said Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.

In the outfield, iron workers erected what's said to be the largest scoreboard in anywhere. The 180-foot wide structure is equivalent to the size of the face of the Fox Theatre Office Building facing Woodward Avenue.

The structure includes one video screen (42 feet by 24 feet), one large black and white matrix board with the line score (64 feet by 34 feet) and a color matrix board (42 feet by 24 feet). An old-time, out-of-town scoreboard has been placed at field level in the right-center field wall, and a pitch information board will show fans to the speed of each pitch thrown in the game.

"It's going to be beautiful," said sprinkler fitter Nick Lakatos. "I hope it will help the Tigers improve their record this year."

COMERICA PARK, the new home of the Detroit Tigers, will be ready for 40,000 paying customers on Opening Day.

A GLASS SLIDER door partition in the suite of Tigers' owner Mike Illitch is installed by Gary and Don Shepperson of Glaziers & Glassworkers 357.


Safety inspector money here today, gone tomorrow

LANSING -A few Republicans in the Michigan House lined up with Democrats in an effort to help lower the state's alarming death and injury rate among workers.

On March 21, an amendment to the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services' budget passed by the bare minimum number of votes in the state House to approve financing for an additional 15 workplace safety inspectors.

Supporters hope that the additional manpower will help improve Michigan's lousy record in workplace safety, but there probably won't be sufficient support for all or most of the additional inspectors when the bill hits the state Senate.

A total of 87 Michigan workers lost their lives in 1999 - an increase of 28 percent from the year before and the deadliest year for workers in the state in 20 years.

"While the rest of the nation improves safety in the workplace, more Michigan workers are dying on the job," said Rep. Deborah Cherry (D-Burton), who sponsored the amendment. "How long are we willing to let the death toll rise, before we do something about it?"

Of the 87 workers who died in 1999, 31 worked in the construction industry. In 1998, the construction industry claimed 29 lives, and in 1997 - the deadliest year for Michigan construction workers since 1985 - 34 workers were killed.

Of the proposed additional 15 workplace inspectors, five would go to the Construction Safety Division of MIOSHA, five to general industry and five would go to industrial hygiene.

The amendment passed the state House with the minimum number of votes needed, 56, including six Republicans. "It's a pretty slim chance this will pass the Senate," said Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Director Tim Hughes. "Lawmakers tend to play politics with the vote. I thought even more House Republicans would have voted for it, because they know the number of inspectors is going to get reduced in the conference with the Senate."

Nationally, worker deaths are dropping. Using 1998 numbers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. fatal work injuries fell to 6,026 during 1998, about 3 percent below the previous year and the lowest count since the BLS survey began in 1992. The construction industry reported the largest number of fatal work injuries of any industry in 1998, 1,171.


Rare, beautiful and durable - Greektown mosaic has it all

By Marty Mulcahy

At the grand entrance of the Greektown Casino in Detroit, visitors will be walking all over a piece of art work that's rarely seen in modern construction.

Which is just fine with the owners of Architectural Southwest Stone and their artisans, who were charged with the meticulous job of setting a large tile mosaic floor at the grand entrance inside of the casino.

It's one of the largest hand-made mosaic floors ever installed in the U.S., shipped over from France in three-by-three-foot-sections or so and pieced together and set into place by a crew of six Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Local 32 workers over a four-week period.

"It was almost like a giant jigsaw puzzle," said Gary Goers, project manager for Architectural Southwest Stone. "It really adds to the aesthetics of the building." Added the contractor's owner, Sharon Goers: "It's beautiful. The guys really enjoyed doing the work."

The high-gloss cut stone was set into thin-set mortar and the mosaic pieces were finished with epoxy grout and a sealer. The face of a Greek philosopher dominates the mosaic nearest the entrance, and other Grecian designs are depicted throughout the rest of the floor.

"The work is excellent, it makes us proud of the casino," said Greektown Casino co-owner Jim Papas.

In recent weeks, the finished floor has been covered with plastic while the rest of casino has neared completion. Nearly all the rest of the trades were still in the casino earlier this month, finishing electrical work, plumbing, drywall, and painting. Also covered in plastic were rows of slot machines and craps tables, waiting for installation.

"We have had a tremendous relationship with the building trades unions," said Greektown Casino co-owner Ted Gatzaros. "There were a lot of outsiders who raised questions about whether the Detroit area had the craftsmen to meet our standards. The product you see here speaks for itself. We're thrilled with the quality of the product and the skill level of the workers."

The Greektown Casino will feature 2,400 slot machines and 96 table games in 75,000 square feet of Mediterranean-themed gaming space. Construction should wrap up in the next month or so, but the casino's opening still hinges on the results of an investigation by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

Like the MGM Grand and Motor City Casinos that have already opened in Detroit, the Greektown Casino is considered "temporary" until even bigger and better facilities are built elsewhere, possibly on the riverfront.

There's nothing temporary about the floor, however. "It will last forever," Gary Goers said. "It's just another example of highly skilled union labor," said Local 32 Business Manager Robert Wilson.

TILE MASONS installed a beautiful, one-of-a-kind mosaic floor at the Greektown Casino in Detroit. Standing on it are casino co-owners Ted Gatzaros and Jim Papas, Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Workers Local 32 Business Manager Robert Wilson, and from Architectural Southwest Stone are co-owner Sharon Goers, Project Manager Garrett Van Horn and co-owner Gary Goers.


Make sure you are counted in Census 2000

By Rep. Michael Hanley
House Democratic Leader

Wondering whether you make a difference? Well, believe me, when it comes to the census, you do!

Census 2000 must reach every person living in the United States. And that really means everyone, whether they live in downtown Detroit or a remote outpost in Alaska; whether or not they have a home; and whether or not they want to be counted.

This is a massive undertaking, to say the least, but it is a very intense and focused one. In March of 2000, each household in the U.S. will receive a Census 2000 questionnaire. The form will be in English unless the respondent requests one in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, or Korean. Information on how to obtain the questionnaire in these languages will be provided in a letter that goes out in advance of the census. (Language guides in about 49 languages also will be available to help people answer the census. To receive a language guide, call the toll-free telephone number printed on the census questionnaire.)

A few days later, the questionnaire will arrive in the mail, followed a few weeks later by a postcard thanking those who have returned their form.

Census workers will deliver the remaining questionnaires to remote areas and nursing homes, college dorms, military facilities, shelters for people without housing, camps for migrant and seasonal farm workers and other places that require special treatment. While the census form is to be returned by mail, census workers will contact 300,000 households across America - as part
of a "quality check" - and compare information they obtain against the census results.

As required by federal law, the Secretary of Commerce will deliver state population counts to the president within nine months of Census Day (Dec. 31, 2000). These counts will be used to reapportion the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Census Bureau must also provide population counts to the states, which use these tabulations to redraw the boundaries of the congressional, state and local legislative districts.

Beyond determining government representation, census data is used to advocate for causes, research markets, target advertising, locate pools of skilled workers, prevent diseases, even rescue disaster victims. When Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992, for example, census information aided the rescue effort by providing relief workers with estimates of the number of people missing in each block, as well as detailed maps of whole neighborhoods that had been obliterated.

Senior citizen groups often draw on statistics from the census to support their desire for community centers. Nonprofit organizations often use census numbers to estimate the number of potential volunteers in communities across the nation. Census statistics help determine where to build more roads, hospitals and child-care centers.

The numbers also help identify which communities need more federal help for job training, Head Start or the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program.

The information also is needed to plan programs that provide direct aid to schools with children whose native language is not English. The distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in state and federal funds for education, health care, transportation, and other critical programs is based on census numbers. The more complete the participation by diverse groups, the greater the equity in the distribution of these funds.

Afraid that your census answers could get you into trouble? Fear of government reprisal, prosecution, and deportation are some reasons given by individuals who shy away from answering the census, but the Census Bureau is strongly committed to confidentiality. By law, the Census Bureau is prohibited from sharing the information on individuals with any person or organization, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

All Census Bureau employees must take an oath not to divulge respondents' data, violation of which can result in a $5,000 fine and up to five years in jail.

So there you have it. You do count, so make sure you are counted in Census 2000.


NOVA Award celebrates industry's ingenuity

The ingenuity of construction workers received tip of the hat on March 16 amid hundreds of construction industry movers and shakers from around the world.

"Throughout history, construction innovations have been made by craftspeople, to improve the way they work, and to help them work more efficiently at reduced cost," said Boilermakers International Union President Charles Jones. "Some people think that innovations don't come from people working with the tools; they're wrong."

Jones was the keynote speaker at the 11th annual Construction Innovation Forum (CIF) Awards celebration at Laurel Manor in Livonia. The forum is an international nonprofit group that recognizes innovations in construction which improves the industry's quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

"The CIF is not here just to hand out awards," said CIF Chairman Roger Lane. "We are on a mission to help spur on the innovation and change needed to keep our industry thriving in the new millenium"

The only Michigan company among the five NOVA Award winners this year was General Motors, for designing a guardrail on wheels that eliminates the need for parapet walls for fall protection.

Other innovations that received awards were a steel-free concrete bridge deck, a rapid deployment barge and crane that can quickly be deployed overland on an 18-wheeler, a lock-up device to transfer loads between bridge supports, and friction pendulum seismic isolation bearings to reduce structural damage in bridges and buildings during earthquakes.

The Boilermakers' MOST (Mobilization, Optimization, Stabilization and Training) Program won a NOVA award two years ago. Under Jones' leadership, the program has become a nationwide model system for safety training and for saving workers and employers time and money by standardizing alcohol and welding skill tests, and making the results easily available to employers. Instead of being tested on every job, workers take one test, and participating employers can determine a workers' qualifications by tapping into a computer database.

"After we consulted with contractors and owners, we adopted the program nationwide," Jones said. "The MOST program has made workers more safety conscious and has saved everyone involved hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Our goal is zero accidents - and that's not pie in the sky. There are several lodges that have worked large jobs without a lost-time accident. Over the course of the MOST program we have avoided 10,600 accidents costing $324 million dollars."

ATTENDING THE NOVA Awards dinner with the Boilermakers are IU V.P. Larry McManamon, IU Rep. Ed Rokuski, CIF Chairman Roger Lane of DTE Energy, IU President Charles Jones, Local 169 Bus. Mgr. John Marek, 169 BA Don Cochran, 169's Jim McDonnell, 169 BA Tony Jacobs, 169's Greg Covetz, Larry Bittner and Keith Paquette, and 169 BA Babe Jenerou.



Pro-union actions spread at Wal-Mart
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) opened the first, tiny crack in the anti-union armor of Wal-Mart stores - and the crack may be spreading nationwide.

In February, meat department workers at the Jacksonville, Texas Wal-Mart "superstore" voted 7-3 to become the first union employees in the company's U.S. chain. Wal-Mart's responded by threatening to close all their meat departments and sell only pre-packaged meat products.

Wal-Mart tried its best union-busting tactics to make sure the vote went its way, including giving workers four hours pay to attend half-hour captive audience sessions with management and stacking the deck with anti-union workers prior to the vote.

The company has filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that only 10 of the store's 350 employees voted. The NLRB has since order the company to go to the bargaining table.

Maurice Miller, a meat cutter who led the in-store campaign, said if he had been given the $2 an hour raise he had been promised, he never would have started the organizing campaign. Wal-Mart meat cutters are paid $7-$8 an hour less than union meat cutters.

Displeasure with Wal-Mart may be spreading among workers. On March 16, meat and seafood employees at the retail giant's Normal, Illinois superstore filed a petition for a union representation election. That came a day after the NLRB ordered an election for meat and seafood workers in Palestine, Texas and three days after workers at the Ocala, Florida store filed for a representation election.

"(Wal-Mart) had $138 billion in revenue in 1999, $4.4 billion in profit alone, and yet their employees are at the bottom of the wage scale," said UFCW 12-A President Dan Hudyma. He said the stores pay low wages, work employees only part-time and compete with union stores that pay good wages and benefits - yet Wal-Mart stores are usually welcomed with open arms by community leaders.

Jobless rate dips to 30-year low
LANSING - Michigan's jobless rate fell to a record low of 2.7 percent in February - the lowest ever under the unemployment record-keeping system adopted in 1970, and the only time since then that it has fallen below 3.0 percent.

Michigan's rate was the lowest in the Midwest. The national rate for February was 4.1 percent, and Michigan's rate has remained below the national average for almost five years in a row.


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index