March 7, 2008
to state's unions: drop dead
Whining by contractors:
Now there's a lousy plan for removing deadbeats
to improve border, freeway exchanges
Casino coming out of its shell
unions vs. Bush: 'We won. They lost. Game over.'
Republicans to state's unions: drop dead
By Marty Mulcahy
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
It reads simply: "The Michigan Republican Party supports
Right-to-Work [legislation] and Paycheck Protection from personally
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
"Right-to-work isn't the answer for Michigan," Bennett
said. "I don't know what the hell Republicans are thinking."
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
work to improve border, freeway exchanges
By Marty Mulcahy
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
and trade in Michigan, creating jobs through the busiest border
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
"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
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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.