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March 7, 2003

Michigan House moves to outlaw prevailing wage and living wage, But Granholm pledges a veto

Trades supply new backbone for aging Greenfield Village

Union membership declines in 2002

Survey says: nation has a better opinion of unions

Secretary of Labor…or Secretary of Commerce?

CAM: Uncertain year awaits Michigan construction

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Michigan House moves to outlaw prevailing wage and living wage, But Granholm pledges a veto

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

LANSING - Is there any hope that with terms limits, retirements and the infusion of a lot of new blood among state lawmakers beginning this year - including 50 freshmen in the House - that there would be a kinder, gentler attitude towards Michigan's working people?

Nahh. It's worse.

After being on the job for only a month this session, the Republican-led Michigan House on Feb. 25 passed a measure that would prohibit local governments from instituting or enforcing "living wage" standards. Only four Republicans voted with a unanimous group of Democrats against the bill

With the non-specific language in which House Bill 4160 was written, a municipality could easily interpret from this bill that in addition to living wage laws, adoption of local prevailing wage laws are now prohibited by the state. So an amendment was quickly inserted by Democrats that would have specifically exempted prevailing wage from being a target of the bill.

That amendment once again garnered the support of all Democrats in the state House, and this time, seven Republicans voted for it. But the amendment was still defeated, 55-54. The bill now goes for review before a subcommittee in the Michigan Senate.

"Republicans know that Gov. Granholm will veto this bill," said Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Director Ken Fletcher. "By attacking living wage and prevailing wage, Republicans are just showing their friends in the Chamber of Commerce that they're delivering for them."

Genna Gent, a spokeswoman for Granholm, confirmed that the governor will veto the bill. "The governor believes local communities should be able to make their own decisions on this matter," she said.

In Michigan, 13 local governments have instituted living wage ordinances. Such laws require businesses in that community to pay their workers a "living wage," which can range from $8 per hour and higher. And federal, state and local prevailing wage laws uphold pay and benefit standards for construction workers.

House Bill 4160 is similar to bills that have been floated by Republicans over the last two years, but they were unable to muster enough votes for passage. But Republicans gained five seats in the House in the November election, increasing their majority.

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Trades supply new backbone for aging Greenfield Village

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Nearly everything at Greenfield Village is old.

That's the great selling point of Michigan's most renowned tourist attraction, which characterizes its collection of 300+ years of the nation's mechanical, cultural, and agricultural history as "the finest documentation anywhere of the American experience."

But the old age of the village's infrastructure is nothing to brag about. The village's roads and walkways, electrical service and natural gas, water and sewage lines are largely unchanged from when Henry Ford opened the village 74 years ago.

Now, a host of contractors and the building trades are carefully digging, drilling and cutting their way through and around the historical treasures in the Dearborn village, as part of a
$15 million effort to update much of the site's pavement and building foundations, and replace virtually all of its mechanical infrastructure.

The Greenfield Village Restoration Project led to the closure of the village in September 2002. It is expected to reopen in June.

"The infrastructure was just not set up to handle one-and-a-half million visitors every year," said Robert Hanna, director of facilities management for Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. "This is the first major infrastructure upgrade the village has ever had. We want it to be a noble project, something that will make this a better place for the next 100 years."

There are more than 300 building trades workers on the site. Walbridge-Aldinger is the general contractor for above-ground work, while the tasks below ground are being handled by a number of contractors, led by the AUC-Michigan Heavy Constructors Association.

Now a National Historic Landmark, Greenfield Village was never intended to be the beacon for visitors that it is today. Henry Ford collected the historic buildings out of fear that the story of how the nation was built would be lost to future generations. Greenfield Village opened in 1929, a few years before the adjacent Henry Ford Museum opened its doors.

Over the years, a number of historic buildings were acquired from their original locations, and rebuilt at the village, including the Wright Cycle Shop where the Wright Brothers built the first airplane, Thomas Edison's Menlo Park laboratory, a one-room schoolhouse, and a slave quarters. Today there are 80 historic structures sitting on 88 acres.

A tremendous amount of planning went into the renovation project, to pack as much work as possible into the village's seasonal downtime. Some of the preliminary work included the use of ground-based radar, to minimize and underground surprises. Following are the main projects being tackled by the trades:

Sewer and water line replacement. The original four-inch sewer pipes have been barely adequate to handle the active bladders of visiting kids getting off school buses. The new environmentally friendly system will separate sewage from storm water and utilize larger diameter pipes. A retention pond will hold the storm water to be used for irrigation at the village.

Electrical. Thomas Edison, who visited the Henry Ford Musuem, was still alive when existing 480-volt electrical system was installed at the village. Now the village tells of how plugging in a slurpee machine recently knocked out power to a portion of the site for days.

Today Hanna said the electricians are installing a 13,200-volt system, with plenty of extra conduit underground for expansion. Electricians are also hiding electrical hubs in newly created basements below nine structures, including underneath the one-room McGuffey Schoolhouse.

Foundation work. Many of the buildings in the village were built on simple wooden foundations. Concrete foundations are being added where necessary.

Road work. In the past, antique cars, horses, buggies and people with strollers all shared the same road that ran through the village. All those modes of transportation didn't always mix well - so curbs and sidewalks are now being installed.

Heating. Few of the structures in the village were heated. Now, many of them will be, thanks to new natural gas lines that can handle higher pressures and forced air heating systems that will be inconspicuously installed. Hanna said heating the buildings may extend the visiting season at the village - but more importantly it should extend the life of the buildings and their contents with more consistent temperature and humidified environment.

Also being installed in selected areas are fiber optics, communications, new hydrants and supply lines, interior fire protection, and fire alarms.

The trades and their contractors have had to work through one of the coldest winters in the last decade, often below four-foot-deep frost lines, in an often-cramped environment with structures that simply weren't built for easy modification.

Through all that, Hanna said the surprises have been few and far between.

"The conditions haven't been the greatest and the site logistics have been difficult, but the workers out here have bought in to what we're doing and have been unbelievably good," he said. "They are respectful of the buildings and no one has cut corners. This has been the smoothest job I've been on in 30 years in the business."

As a gesture of appreciation, the village has sponsored free lunches for Hardhats once a month in an on-site cafeteria.

"I've been working out here since September 1999 at the Henry Ford museum, and I really like it here," said Ken Gardner, a Sprinkler Fitters Local 704 foreman for William Cook Fire Protection. He was working in the village's new gatehouse area. "I'm a big history buff and having the opportunity to work here is the only reason I haven't retired."

Groups that provided time, expertise, value engineering or cash include the AUC-Michigan Heavy Construction Association, The Michigan Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trusts, the Operating Engineers Local 324 Labor-Management Education Committee, the Associated General Contractors of America, Greater Detroit Chapter, Inc. and many of its principal member organizations,

With the village essentially unchanged from the way it was in Henry Ford's day, it begs the question, what would Henry have thought about all the changes? Steve Hamp, president of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, said he provided William Clay Ford, Sr. a tour to show him what was planned at the village.

Hamp said, "As he was leaving, I said 'What do you think?' He said, 'It's marvelous. It's of an enormous scale and enormous ambition. And this institution is deserving of that scale and ambition.'

"And the thing he said to me that I value most, 'My grandfather would have gotten this. My grandfather would have approved this. He would have been totally on board."

PROBING FOR WATER MAINS at the front of Greenfield Village is a task undertaken by Dan Hamilton of Operating Engineers Local 324.

BRICKLAYER Jim Lawrence of Local 1 and Muirhead Construction takes a chisel to a brick as he builds a column at the renovated entrance of Greenfield Village.

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Union membership declines in 2002

(PAI) - The number of union members nationwide declined by 280,000 in 2002, the Labor Department reported - a drop the AFL-CIO said was caused by continued job losses in factories, the after-effects of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Bush recession.

The numbers, released in Washington by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said unions had 16.107 million members last year, down from 16.387 million, a revised figure for 2001.

With the exception of a flat year or two and a slight increase in 1999, union membership numbers have continued to decline over the past several years.

The four most-unionized states in 2002 were New York (25.3 percent), Hawaii (24.4 percent), Alaska (24.3 percent) and Michigan (21.1 percent). Six states accounted for half of all union members: California (2.45 million), New York (1.98 million), Illinois (1.06 million), Michigan (914,000), Ohio (858,000) and Pennsylvania at 847,000.

"Although more than half a million workers formed new unions last year, this gain did not offset post-Sept. 11 losses in traditionally unionized sectors, like airlines, hotels, construction and manufacturing," the AFL-CIO Executive Council said in a Feb. 25 statement from its meeting in Hollywood, Fla.

For all workers, median weekly earnings rose from $595 in 2001 to $609 in 2002, or 2.4 percent. That's slightly better than the inflation rate. The median is the point at which half the workforce earns more each week and the other half earns less.

But the median for union workers rose 3.2 percent, from $717 in 2001 to $740 in 2002.

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Survey says: nation has a better opinion of unions

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (PAI) - A record high percentage of Americans view unions positively, but few know about management's anti-union tactics, a new poll shows.

The survey, of 1,602 randomly selected respondents, by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, told the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Hollywood, Fla., that Americans "feel positive towards unions" by a 42-22 percent margin. The rest are neutral, pollster Guy Molyneux said.

Precisely 10 years ago, when that question was first asked, the pro-union margin was 35-34, with 31 percent neutral. All three figures were within the 3.5 percent margin of error for both the 1993 survey and the 2003 survey.

Approval of unions produced even stronger numbers, the 2003 survey showed: a 66-22 margin in February. That's up from a 56-26 edge six months ago and a 55-35 margin in 1981, the first time the question was asked.

But positive views of unions don't necessarily translate into pro-union votes in workplaces, Molyneux added. Given a free vote without a management anti-union campaign, 53 percent of respondents would definitely or probably vote union, while 41 percent would not.

And when respondents learned management opposed organizing campaigns, unions lost by a 14-point margin in the survey.

Most Americans don't know management can campaign against unions, much less get away with firing workers for supporting them, the poll showed. By a 77-12 margin, they said employers should stay neutral in union organizing drives.

"But no more than 35 percent recognize" that employers don't stay neutral, and engage in everything from illegal firings to spying to delays of union elections, he added.

"This is the challenge for the labor movement. The American people have no sense of what employers do and would have a strong sense of the changes that would be needed" to level the playing field for organizing, Molyneux concluded.

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Secretary of Labor…or Secretary of Commerce?

(PAI) - Labor Secretary Elaine Chao thought she had "an open and honest session" with the nation's union leaders on Feb. 26. Putting it mildly, they disagreed.

After the closed-door meeting the conservative GOP Labor Secretary held with the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Hollywood, Fla., federation President John J. Sweeney followed her to the press conference podium and called it "unbelievable."

That was one of the milder comments Sweeney made. And he wasn't alone.

Chao, Sweeney said, was "a Secretary of Labor who sounded like a Secretary of Commerce." And he told reporters that "what we saw from her was a secretary who was contentious...angry and insulting at points. In all my years in the labor movement, I have never seen a Secretary of Labor who was so anti-labor."

Chao saw it differently. "I want to work with organized labor," she said. Her spokeswoman, Kathleen Harrington, succeeded her boss at the podium and called Chao's session with the council "an open and honest exchange."

That's diplomatic Washington-speak for bitter disagreement. Chao advanced positions that organized labor did not like, including:

  • Raising the minimum wage, "but with the flexibility to have some discretion for regional differences." Bush has long backed letting states opt out of the federal minimum wage law, which would set off yet another economic "race to the bottom."
  • Pushing rules to force more than 5,000 local unions, plus all national unions, to spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours a year filling out forms disclosing every bit of spending from either $2,000 or $5,000 on everything from pencils on up to salaries. She claimed it would give more "transparency."

    Corporations do not have to file such detailed disclosures, AFL-CIO associate general counsel Damon Silvers said.

    And when Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger challenged her on that point in the meeting, Chao flourished a list she claimed had the names of all local IAM officials who have been indicted, convicted or served prison time for financially hurting their members. Chao had similar lists for each union.
  • Defending Bush's decision to ban unions for homeland security workers, both in the new department and among airport screeners, among others. Challenged to name one incident where unionization threatened national security, Chao answered: "The increased flexibility he (Bush) has requested" to ban unions "is so we can better protect Americans." She stopped there.

    Chao angered other leaders. One state federation leader who attended the session called her comments "obnoxious."

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CAM: Uncertain year awaits Michigan construction

"Lackluster." "Uncertainty." "Economic constraints."

Those less-than-positive descriptions were used to help describe the current state of the State of Michigan's construction industry, in a report provided by the Construction Association of Michigan (CAM).

CAM issued its "State of the Michigan Construction Industry" report for 2003 in conjunction with the Design and Construction Expo 2003 held last month at the Pontiac Silverdome.

"A thorough review of the analysis and statistics present in this report shows that the fundamentals are in place for a turnaround in the commercial construction market," said Dale McAtamney, chairman of the Board of Directors of CAM. "No need to panic. But, no cause for exuberant celebration either."

McAtamney noted that for the third consecutive year, Construction Project News, published by CAM, reported a continued increase in the number of construction projects put up for bid in the State of Michigan. "We also noticed that many projects are being placed on hold," he said. "The uncertainty that pervades our daily life has certainly affected the commencement of many construction projects."

Following are some highlights from the report:

  • The report cited forecasts by the U.S. Commerce Department for U.S. construction to decline 1.2 percent this year, while a 1.5 percent drop was predicted by the Portland Cement Association. No specific percentage prediction was made for Michigan - but the entire Midwest is expected to see a decrease of 4 percent in construction activity from 2002 to 2003. That would be the first year-to-year general downturn in nearly a decade.
  • For the third consecutive year, CAM has reported a continued increase in the number of construction projects put up for bid in Michigan. "Our reports show that by the end of this year more than $7 billion dollars worth of commercial construction projects will have been put up for bid in Michigan," McAtamney said.

Construction Project News reporters have noticed a definite increase in the number of "meat-n-potato" jobs in Michigan - and an increase in bidding contractors. Five years ago, a municipal project may have had a bid list of 20, but a similar project now has a bid list that tops 100.

  • CAM reports have shown an explosion in "city hall work" with new construction and renovation of municipal facilities. CPN staffers have also detected a moderate surge in educational and medical construction and renovation projects. They continue to see an enormous amount of infrastructure work being reported as Michigan utilizes the funds that it receives from the federal government. Work on bridges, drain systems and roadways continues strong, but government spending can be fickle.
  • After a breakthrough year for wage hikes in 2001, Michigan construction workers have seen slightly lower increases during 2002. But rates still rose more than 4% for both union and open-shop workers, bettering most increases during the 1990s.
  • Wage stability is increasing with the growing trend toward longer-term contracts. Three-year agreements are now the norm. The recent economic downturn has also affected benefits programs. Health-care costs have risen, while health and welfare investment funds have performed poorly. Many contractors are now subscribing to their benefit programs on a one-year basis.
  • Michigan contractors are deploying several strategies to steady their position in the market, including expanding their geographic base, entering into partnerships with architects and other contractors, and accepting smaller-scale work.
  • Better education of owners is necessary. Some clients just don't understand that construction and manufacturing are two very different industries. One owner at a recent Michigan Construction Users Council gathering actually asked this question: "If you can build robots to assemble cars, why can't you build one to lay bricks?"
  • For the long term, most construction executives remain fairly bullish about the market. Major factors that will have a deciding impact on business are the possibility of a conflict with Iraq, and the high cost of insurance after the Sept. 11 attacks.

AN ELECTRICIAN works at the Karn-Weadock plant in Essexville. Power plant work has been one of the bright spots over the past year for Michigan's construction industry.


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NEWS BRIEFS

Wage-fringe hikes up 4.3% in 2002
The trend of ever-increasing construction wages and fringes continued in 2002, as rates for all U.S. workers rose by 4.3 percent from 2001.

According to the Construction Labor Research Council, the year-to-year 4.3 percent jump was the highest since 1983. However, that's not saying much, considering that the average annual wage-fringe increase over the five years ending Jan. 1, 2003 has been 4.06 percent.

The CLRC said that with the construction industry at the beginning of the contract cycle, it is already known that wage-fringe levels should be little changed in the next two years.

The average wage-fringe rate for all construction crafts in the U.S. is now about $35 per hour, the CLC said.

Home repair group seeks volunteers
Christmas In Action of Oakland Co. Inc. is looking for a few more elves.

Last year, more than 1,200 volunteers gave a day of their time to provide free home repairs to low-income, elderly and handicapped residents of Oakland County. This year's effort on Saturday, April 26 is expected to attract as many volunteers - but the more, the merrier.

Volunteers install new roofs, furnaces, water heaters, build handicapped ramps, complete plumbing repairs, and upgrade faulty electrical services to allow these people to live in their homes safely.

"We don't do a Band-Aid," said the group's president, Norma Okonski, a social worker for Waterford Township. "We make lasting improvements to homes."

For more information, and to download a form to sign up and help, go to the group's web site, www.twp.waterford.mi.us/cia. Or call (248) 618-7433.

Toyota wants a PLA - in the heart of Texas
A tip of the Hardhat goes to Toyota Motor Corp.

Despite some built-in obstacles, the Japanese automaker, said the Engineering News Record, wants to build its next U.S. manufacturing plant in San Antonio, Texas. And, "unlike other foreign automakers that chose the South for its nonunion labor," the ENR said, "the Japanese company plans to build its $800-million plant using a project labor agreement."

Project labor agreements typically utilize union work rules and set uniform wage and benefit standards in exchange for a ready supply of workers.

The ENR said there was surprise at Toyota's decision among the locals. "This is not a labor community," said a spokeswoman for nonunion contractor H.B. Zachry Co.

"There is plenty of labor in San Antonio, but not plenty of union labor," said Jack Dysart, president of Lyda Builders Inc. Exceptions are unionized mechanical, electrical and sheet metal trades, "but most of those are weak," he added. "I think if they use a PLA, there will be a lot of San Antonio contractors not interested in the job," Dysart said.

Toyota said it has successfully worked with building and construction trade unions before and expects to do so on this project. The plant is expected to build 15,000 Tundra trucks per year beginning in 2006. At peak construction, there will be 2,100 workers on the job.

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