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March 7, 2008

Michigan Republicans to state's unions: drop dead

Whining by contractors: Now there's a lousy plan for removing deadbeats

'Gateway' work to improve border, freeway exchanges

Turtle Creek Casino coming out of its shell

Federal workers unions vs. Bush: 'We won. They lost. Game over.'

News Briefs


Michigan Republicans to state's unions: drop dead

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor
The Building Tradesman

LANSING - The Michigan Republican Party has come out of the closet with their desire to eradicate the state's unions.

There's no other way to interpret what happened Feb. 15-16 at the Michigan Republican Convention. At that event, delegates apparently approved item "No. 3" on the slate of state convention issues.

It reads simply: "The Michigan Republican Party supports Right-to-Work [legislation] and Paycheck Protection from personally unauthorized deductions."

The communications director for the State Republican Party did not return our phone call seeking to confirm passage of that plank in the GOP platform. But state political pundit Jack Lessenberry wrote on Feb. 20, "Republicans agreed on two other positions that made it clear that the party that once liked to call itself a big tent is now fast becoming a hardened little sect. If you are a union member or sympathizer, know that they adopted this language. 'The Michigan Republican Party supports Right-to-Work and Paycheck Protection from personally unauthorized deductions.'

"That means union-busting," Lessenberry continued. "That would mean outlawing a union shop and would mean no automatic deduction of union dues. Practically speaking, it would mean all existing unions would be destroyed."

The new plank in the Michigan Republican platform represents, publicly anyway, a monumental shift in policy, but its passage was virtually ignored by Michigan's print and broadcast outlets.

"This is definitely a change in one of their boilerplate issues," said Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. "This action by the Republican Party in Michigan would have the result of decreasing pay for millions of Michiganders. The average difference in pay for workers in right-to-work states and non-right-to-work states is about $6,000. I don't think the average Michigan family can afford that."

Even when the state government was completely controlled by Republican Gov. John Engler and Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, efforts to institute a right-to-work law or even the elimination of the state's prevailing wage law never got off the ground.

And a so-called "Paycheck Protection" law, which is a more recent phenomena, would present major, expensive bookkeeping requirements on unions to document and report the spending of nearly every dollar of members' dues. The effort isn't prompted by a benevolent public policy effort to increase financial transparency for unions - it's intended to make sure unions spend more money on accountants than on political action.

"Republicans have been pushing this stuff for the last two years with floor speeches and legislation they've been introducing," said State Rep. Doug Bennett (D-Muskegon), formerly business manager of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 174. "I think they're nuts to support right-to-work. My question to Republican lawmakers is, 'are you really serving the people who put you in office?' People in right-to-work states die sooner, their worksites are less safe, they make less money, and they spend less on health care. How are the people who put you in office going to better off under right to work?"

Conservative calls to make Michigan a right-to-work state have intensified over the past year, as our state's economy has continued to slide. There is legislation currently on the books by State Rep. Jacob Hoogendyk, Jr. (R-Portage) and Kevin Elsenheimer (R-Bellaire) who have introduced a two-bill legislative package that would make Michigan a right-to-work state.

Organized labor in Michigan doesn't expect right-to-work legislation to go anywhere soon, with Democratic Jennifer Granholm holding a veto pen and Dems holding a majority in the state House.

So far, the concept of introducing RTW legislation in Michigan has come from groups like the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the national Right-to-Work Committee.

Not all state Republicans approve of the right-to-work language, including state Sen. Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), a moderate who has been invited to speak at Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council conventions.

"I don't support right-to-work," he said "People forget about the good that unions do. A lot of unions, including the building trades, find that I'm quite reasonable and easy to work with on their issues."

As we pointed out earlier this year, conservatives are eventually expected to make the push for RTW in Michigan via a petition drive, with a campaign of misinformation. Organized labor in Michigan, with the help of 3,500 volunteers, stopped any such petition effort before it got off the ground on our state's primary day, Jan. 15.

Right-to-work laws have been adopted in 22 states - but since the 1970s, there have been only two adopted - in Oklahoma (2001) and Idaho (1986). Such laws allow workers in a bargaining group to opt out of paying union dues, yet still enjoy the benefits of union membership. Such laws have never failed to diminish union clout.

"Right-to-work isn't the answer for Michigan," Bennett said. "I don't know what the hell Republicans are thinking."


Whining by contractors: Now there's a lousy plan for removing deadbeats

By Mark Breslin
(Sixth in a series)

How much sympathy would you have for a guy who complains about his own body odor? Or maybe someone who goes on about their weight problem as they chow down two Big Macs and super-size fries? Or finally, the guy who tells you with a straight face that it angers him that he is balding but the reason is that he pulls his own hair out?

Simply put you'd tell them to do something different wouldn't you? You'd tell him to take some responsibility, show some backbone and stop the complaining. Well, consider this column strong medicine for our contractors with the same themes. It is time for contractors to stop whining and take responsibility for workforce quality and accountability.

Look I know every contractor is busy. I am part of a fourth generation contracting family and I've seen it up close. Not just busy every day, but slammed. More work than time. More daylight than bodies to work the hours. More promises to be honored to owners and developers. More projects to man-up and more money to be made.

And so when the work and the pressure to perform gets like that, we reach a stage I like to call the: "send-me-anyone-as-long-as-they-are-breathing" jobsite dispatch model. And worse, this is also the time that the friend, brother-in-law, superintendent's kid, or dude-who-walks-your-cousin's-dog gets a referral from the contractor to join the union and get a try-out.

Unqualified. Unprepared. Unskilled. Unacceptable.

The contractors, union and associations are fighting against an ongoing erosion in the skills, attitudes and behaviors of union rank-and-file workers. You will not find anyone who thinks the general talent pool is on an upswing. Beyond this, unions are retiring thousands of top hands and veterans each year; to be replaced with, who? What to do as a result?

Here is the deal. The union contracts all explicitly state that the contractor is the "sole judge of qualifications." What this means is that the ultimate screen and filter is the contractor. What this means is that the pattern of layoff or reduction in force of poor performing apprentices or journeyman perpetuates a system that erodes accountability.

What this means is that the quality of the overall workforce depends entirely on contractors pro-actively addressing workers who lack the skills, attitudes or behaviors necessary to compete. What this means is that contractors complaining about the quality of hands being dispatched solves no problems and is pretty damn hypocritical if they too are not getting their part of the job done.

Contractors need to take the management rights granted to them and exercise them to the maximum extent possible. The union is providing Codes of Excellence and codes of conduct, but it is the contractor who has to take the initiative to make them work. End-game? We need the most productive, professional and profitable workforce on every job, every day. It is not going to happen by chance.

There are solutions however. And these are just a few for the contractors:

  • Filter the existing workforce. The union cannot do this for the industry due to "duty of fair representation". Every contractor has the right to reject or terminate employees based on their being unqualified. The agreements permit contractors to write letters to the unions so that they can re-assess these employees and even restrict or eliminate their dispatch eligibility. What do contractors do now? RIF. Reduction in force. Make that guy someone else's headache. Spin him, replace him and move on. Foremen won't play the heavy or the company does not care enough to document a poor performer. How does this serve our competitive interests?
  • Build a reputation for zero tolerance. There are quite a few contractors who operate like this. When you get to a job, you are assessed immediately. If you don't cut it, you go right back to the hall. Every job, every time. Guess what? Poor performers will often not take dispatches to those companies.
  • Contractors cannot refer someone to the union based on a relationship unless they are sure they are suited for this industry. Maybe that brother-in-law belongs at an In-and-Out Burger instead of the jobsite. Pre-assess attitude, work ethic, transportation, skills, personality, willingness to learn and more. Contractors need to think carefully so they do not create another drain on the competitive system out of obligation or desperation.

In the next ten years the Baby Boomers are going to start retiring. The huge bell-shaped curve that represents the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of union contractor employees over the age of 45 is going to start moving out. And these are the money-makers. These are old-school work ethic guys. These are in many instances, irreplaceable. So it is the responsibility - no the OBLIGATION - of every contractor in this industry to make damn sure that any hands who come onto a jobsite are worth that premium wage and fringe total package. Anything less is just a slow death at our own hands.

Labor and management are together at last in raising the jobsite performance bar and the plan is simple. Use whatever terms apply, but it comes down to a ruthless and efficient means of ensuring our future, that is fair but uncompromising.

Mark Breslin is a trainer and author specializing in labor-management challenges and solutions. He is the author of the recently published Attitudes and Behaviors: Survival of the Fittest curriculum for apprentice training centers. The curriculum is now being used by union training centers, and has been established as standard course programming by other International Unions and apprenticeship programs. Instructional material including books, CDs, workbooks, instructor guides and support media information is available at


'Gateway' work to improve border, freeway exchanges

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT - The Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project is the largest single construction contract ever undertaken by the Michigan Department of Transportation - and it looks like it.

The $230 million investment is expected to improve traffic flow at the Ambassador Bridge, and help drivers navigating the area freeway interchanges leading to I-75 and I-96 and Mexicantown.

But before the project concludes, there's going to be some suffering for motorists. Their pain began Feb. 25, when MDOT closed a portion of I-75 - the most heavily traveled north-south artery in the region - and the freeway is not expected to reopen until December 2009, at the latest.

"The Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project is the front porch to commerce
and trade in Michigan, creating jobs through the busiest border crossing in
North America," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "I am proud to say that this project will transform the local community and stimulate investment in our central city and beyond."

The closure of 1.5 miles of I-75 between Rosa Park Blvd. and Clark St. is part of Phase 4 of the entire project. That phase began last summer, and includes construction of a Bagley Avenue pedestrian bridge to unite portions of Mexicantown separated by I-75.

"Phase 4 alone costs $170 million - it's the big one," said Victor Judnic, senior delivery engineer for MDOT. He said construction crews are working long single shifts, mostly during daylight hours. He said after-hours work will also take place, for tasks like concrete pours and site cleanup.

"We've moved down in the hole, we're now working more on the freeway itself," Judnic said. "There's now less interaction with the neighbors who live pretty close to the work, and that's generally a good thing."

Phase 4 also includes I-96 freeway reconstruction from I-75 to Warren Ave, new ramps for the proposed Ambassador Bridge Plaza, new ramps between the freeway and Vernor Hwy. and Mexicantown, reconstruction and rehabilitation of more than 20 bridges over I-75 and I-96, and a new sound wall along a portion of southbound I-75.

Walter Toebe is the prime contractor on the project. Judnic said MDOT has $8 million in incentives built into the contract, which is expected to shave months off the December 2009 deadline.

According to MDOT, the Detroit-Windsor border is the busiest border crossing in the world. About 11 million vehicles cross the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor each year, and about $1.1 billion in goods cross the border each day. Detroit handles at least 43 percent more trade than the second
busiest crossing in Laredo, Texas.

More than 40 percent of the trade between the U.S. and Canada takes place at Detroit or Port Huron.

WORKING ON A CONCRETE wall alongside the I-75 and I-96 freeway split in Southwest Detroit is Edward Gaddies of Laborers Local 1191. The entire closure of a 1.5 mile-section of the I-75 freeway - rather than closing just a couple lanes - is expected to reduce the construction timetable down from four years to less than two years.


Turtle Creek Casino coming out of its shell

WILLIAMSBURG - Construction of the new Turtle Creek Casino in this town east of Traverse City has been "a smooth-running process," with the gaming facility and attached hotel set to open in June.

That's according to Andy LaPointe, owner's representative for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. "All the trades have done a super job, and it's been a great working atmosphere under PCL (the general contractor)," LaPointe said.

About 300 Hardhats are currently on site. They're building a 350,000 square-foot facility, which includes an eight-story, 137-room hotel. The space will include 65,000 square-feet of gaming area, as well as several eating areas, bars and a nightclub.

Photos of interior construction were not allowed - Lapointe said the tribe wants to keep the project under wraps until the facility opens.

"It's going to be an atypical facility, unlike any casino in northern Michigan," LaPointe said. "It will look very modern, very eye-catching, with sleek, clean lines. It's going to have a unique lighting and a.v. (audiovisual) system that will really be neat. We're trying to keep it a bit of a surprise, but it's going to be a very cool place."

The $80 million casino resort is going up next to the tribe's existing casino, which continues to operate. The casino was built about a decade ago, but will be demolished and replaced with a parking deck.

Ron Olson, CEO of Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos, said in a statement: "Our new casino resort will be unique to the Midwest in its design and business model. We will provide an enjoyable and secure gaming experience that our casinos have become renowned for, while bringing Midwest casino excitement and entertainment to a completely new level. It will be a truly outstanding experience for Northern Michigan residents and an exceptionally attractive vacation destination for guests from other regions."

HERE'S AN EXTERIOR view of the 137-room hotel attached to the Turtle Creek Casino near Traverse City. We can't show you any interior views: the owner won't allow photos.

AN AERIAL VIEW OF the Turtle Creek Casino and hotel in a photo taken last fall.
Photos courtesy of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.




Federal workers unions vs. Bush: 'We won. They lost. Game over.'

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Federal worker unions racked up two big wins against President George W. Bush after his regime, on Feb. 18, gave up its long-running attempt to impose new anti-worker personnel rules on the 135,000 employees at the Department of Homeland Security -and when Congress earlier dumped his similar scheme for 700,000 Department of Defense workers.

The wins led the government union employees General Counsel Mark Roth to conclude: "We won. They lost. Game over."

The federal worker union wins are important for all workers because American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage previously said that if Bush won at the two big federal agencies, he would try to extend the anti-worker personnel rules to other federal agencies, then state and local government workers and then to the private sector.

In both DOD and the Homeland Security Department, the Bush rules stripped workers of union rights, whistleblower protections, pay based on objective standards, and appeal rights, among other things. Pay and promotions would have been decided by presidential political appointees, and appeals of discipline rulings against DOD workers would have gone to a stacked board appointed by the Defense Secretary.

But all that was overturned in the defense bill Bush signed earlier this year, so the unions dropped their Supreme Court appeal against Bush's DOD plan.

The Bush surrender on the DHS suit was unexpected, Roth told Press Associates Union News Service. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C., which had ruled against Bush on the DHS rules, had scheduled a "status conference" to see if Bush would take the case one step further, to the High Court.

But in their Feb. 18 letter to the D.C. court, the Bush officials said the conference was unneeded. "We think it (the case) can be closed because we have no intention of going forward on implementing the labor regulations," Roth read from the letter. He said the unions believe the Bush regime "saw which way the wind was blowing" on Capitol Hill when lawmakers passed the defense bill, halting the personnel scheme in its tracks.

Not only that, but in each of the last three years, Bush asked Congress - under GOP control in the first two - for $100 million yearly to implement his personnel plans. He didn't get it: The two GOP-run sessions cut the funds to $50 million, then $30 million. For this year, the Democratic-run Congress gave Bush $10 million.

Roth said the Bush regime's anti-union, anti-worker personnel schemes also again showed "the law of unintended consequences." Alarmed federal workers, seeing their jobs threatened, have joined AFGE in droves, increasing its membership in each of Bush's seven years in office, including 6,000 more last year alone. "That's probably the opposite effect of what they (Bush officials) intended," Roth concluded.


News Briefs

Good early news for union show
Dozens of contracts have been signed for exhibit space at the 2008 America-at-Work Union Industries Show, an encouraging sign for the show, scheduled May 16-18 at Detroit's Cobo Center.

"We have had terrific meetings with the Detroit Central Labor Council and the Michigan Federation of Labor as well as with the United Auto Workers for the preliminary planning sessions for the show, said Union Label and Service Trades President Charlie Mercer. "Everyone who has participated in these planning sessions has been upbeat and optimistic that this could be our biggest and best show ever."

Exhibitors will be permitted to make sales on the show floor for the first time in the 70-year history of the show. Mercer said auto dealers are especially interested in that opportunity and that other producers also view that change enthusiastically.

The show has only visited Detroit on two occasions - in 1961 and 1995.

State pushes construction work
LANSING - The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced Feb. 27 that 34 road projects across Michigan will be accelerated from the 2009 construction season to 2008.

MDOT is accelerating almost $150 million in road and bridge projects, creating approximately 2,100 jobs in planning, engineering, and construction. The projects will extend the life of bridges or roadways by at least 10 years and will bring much needed road improvements and safety projects to roadways across the state.

"By accelerating these projects into 2008, we are creating jobs today for our Michigan workers," Granholm said. "In addition to creating new jobs, we are also improving Michigan's infrastructure and stimulating economic growth by making travel easier and more efficient for commuters and visitors who are traveling throughout our great state."

The 34 accelerated "economic stimulus" projects are located in communities throughout the state and were selected because they could be accelerated into the current year. Funding for the projects will be provided by bonding, taking advantage of current low interest rates, and by refinancing some existing bonds.

Free Choice Act to take back seat in '08
WASHINGTON (PAI) - A strongly pro-worker senator from one of the nation's most-unionized states and the chair of Change to Win agree the Employee Free Choice Act will not be brought up again in this Congress, but it will come up in 2009.

Replying to questions after a speech to the Economic Policy Institute on Feb. 13, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said "one of our top two or three priorities is the Employee Free Choice Act, once a new president comes in in 2009."

And last month, in an interview with reporters, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger said after a Senate GOP filibuster defeated it last year, "We're building for 2009 and the 60 votes we need" to overcome such a talkathon.

The Employee Free Choice Act would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing and in bargaining first contracts. Besides simplifying union organizing votes with simpler card-check rules, the act also will make it easier to get court orders against labor law-breakers and it will increase fines for labor law-breaking.


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