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May 10, 2002

Most jobless workers to see a bounce in benefits

Peaker plants boost employment; add to nation's power capacity, too

Laborers expand training center

Mark 1 Restoration signs with Bricklayers Local #1

Middle schoolers introduced to piping industry

9-11 iron worker volunteer gets token of appreciation



Most jobless workers to see a bounce in benefits

Michigan's jobless workers who are eligible for an increase in unemployment benefits should have started getting checks with the higher amount the week of May 6-10.

After nearly five months of wrangling, the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature approved a maximum increase in Unemployment Benefits from $300 per week to $362 per week. Gov. Engler signed the bill on April 26, and the increased benefits were due to kick in starting April 29. It is the first increase in benefits since 1995.

"Unemployed individuals should start seeing the higher checks in their mailboxes this week (May 6-10)," said Michigan Unemployment Agency spokesman Norm Isotalo. "Those who qualified for the old benefit maximum of $300 will be getting the new benefit amount of between $300 and $362 per week." He said the increase in benefits is not retroactive.

The Michigan AFL-CIO and the rest of organized labor complained that the more than 40 percent of all jobless workers won't receive an increase in benefits, since they're not receiving the maximum amount.


Peaker plants boost employment; add to nation's power capacity, too

By Marty Mulcahy

EAST CHINA TWP. - More power, produced by a 320-megawatt natural gas-fired plant that's currently under construction, is nearly ready to come on line in Michigan.

The electrical production industry refers to its kind as a "peaker" plant, a facility designed to be fired up quickly in order to generate electricity in anticipation of peak loads. Construction began on the plant in August 2001, and the four 80-megawatt, high-efficiency General Electric turbines are expected to be in full commercial operation by June 1.

"There's a nationwide effort to get these peaker plants on line," said Charles Bateman, construction manager at the site. "When they were ordered, companies were standing in line with GE to buy those turbines."

Peaker plants can be built quickly, and have become necessary in recent years to augment the capacity of the larger "baseload" power plants, which typically provide a consistent, less-expensive load of power around the clock. With the nation's electrical generating capacity straining to keep up with demand in some areas, peaker plants are proving to be a valuable resource.

The Washington Group International is the engineering, procurement, and construction manager on this site. The project peaked out at about 220 construction workers in March. Late last month, Unit 1 had already been fired up for testing, and the other three were scheduled to go on line in succession this month.

"Generally, the construction has gone well," said Washington Group Site Manager John McCutchen. "The quality of the work has been good, and the tradespeople have been working like gangbusters to bring the job in." Many Hardhats on the project have worked 60-hour weeks since November to get the job done in time for this summer's cooling season.

This plant is owned by DTE Energy Services, a subsidiary of DTE Energy, and its construction is a direct result of electrical industry deregulation. The facility is the first non-regulated power plant constructed since the merger of DTE Energy and MCN Energy (Mich Con). The power it produces will be placed for sale on the open market.

"This project is a great example of the integrated strength and synergy of the new energy company, with gas assets and electrical interconnections being used to optimum advantage," said Barry G. Markowitz, president of DTE Energy Services.

The peaker plant is being erected on 18 acres of land near DTE Energy's 1,200 megawatt, coal-burning Belle River Power Plant, which was built in 1984 and would be classified as a baseload plant for the utility. Having an existing power plant on the 2,200-acre site made the permitting process easier. In addition, the electrical transmission system is nearby, and the plant is in close proximity to natural gas pipelines, which will ensure that a source of fuel for the new plant will be available during peak demand periods.

According to unofficial information provided by the Michigan Public Service Commission, six peaker plants are currently under construction in our state, which will add a total of 2,030 megawatts of power to the region's electric grid.

The State of California, which underwent rolling power blackouts in the summer of 2000, is particularly fertile ground for the construction of peaker plants. One 95-megawatt plant in Hanford went up in a record 88 days, in good part because of the elimination of governmental red tape in getting permits issued

Overall in North America, construction of sufficient peaker plants and other electrical generators is expected to be "satisfactory" for the nation's energy needs in the near term, according to Michael Gent, president of the North American Electric Reliability Council. After several years of decline, he said projected capacity margins across North America show a marked increase over the next five years, as new merchant electricity generating plants come on line.

U.S. merchant plant developers have announced plans to construct more than 190,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation by 2004, although it is unlikely that much capacity will be constructed.

THE THREE NATURAL gas units shown here at the DTE Energy Services peaker plant are scheduled to come on line this month. The fourth unit started producing electricity last month. The two stacks in the background serve the DTE Energy Belle River coal-burning plant.

ON AN UPPER PLATFORM on the Unit 1 draw stack are Boilermakers 169 members Archie Long, J.D. Yates and Jim Trousdale, working for the Washington Group.


Laborers expand training center

By Marty Mulcahy

PERRY - A bigger and better training center for Michigan Laborers is open for business.

On April 30, an open house to celebrate a 31,000-square-foot addition to the Michigan Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Institute was held to show off the center's new space and how it will help educate the union's workforce.

"Increased demand for training, along with significant advances in technology and the construction industry, led to the decision to modernize the facility," said Paul Gassell, the institute's training director. "It's expected the renovations will accommodate the training needs of Michigan's construction craft laborers for years to come."

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Perry facility, located northeast of Lansing, could comfortably train 12-16 construction laborers in each of its three classrooms at any given time. The newly expanded facility will allow 18 to 32 trainees to attend training in each of its four classrooms simultaneously.

Additions to the facility include:

  • A second hands-on training bay.
  • A cafeteria with vending machines.
  • A new welding, cutting and burning room.
  • Two new garage work bays.
  • A re-designed administrative area with the latest information and communication technology.

"We think we're among the top five Laborers training facilities in the country," said Michigan Laborers District Council Business Manager Gary Jorgensen. "We're proud of that. It allows us to provide the highest-skilled apprentices and journeymen in our industry."

The institute will soon begin offering computer-based training as part of its curriculum, and the new facility is equipped to allow each student in a class to be online at the same time, thanks to the addition of laptop computers and a T-1 Internet access connection.

"From non-sparking demolition tools needed in nuclear power plant decommissioning to satellite-guided measuring tools and pipe-fusion technology, the MLTAI will always strive to introduce construction craft laborers to the latest technology related to their careers," Gassel said.

Michigan laborers also operate training centers in Wayne and Iron Mountain.

IN FRONT OF the newly expanded Michigan Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Institute are (l-r) Assistant Director Lynn Coleman and Director Paul Gassel.


Mark 1 Restoration signs with Bricklayers Local #1

There's another welcome addition to the organized construction industry in Michigan.

Last month, Mark 1 Restoration Inc. of Howell became a signatory contractor with Bricklayers Local 1 of Michigan. The process took more than two years to complete, but it was worth the wait.

"The management of Mark 1 Restoration is excited to work with Bricklayers Local 1." said Mark 1 President Scott Evett. "We look forward to a good relationship and a productive future."

Mark 1 Restoration specializes in tuckpointing, caulking, brick and stone replacement, terra-cotta restoration, shelf angle/lintel repairs, façade cleaning, masonry coatings and structural repair of beams and columns.

"During the past few years I met their men working on jobs and I would tell them about the benefits of being union," said Local 1 Organizer Chuck Kaye. "We have had several meetings over the years with Scott Evett where we explained our health and pension plans. I am glad that this finally came together and I know that it will be good for their workers, Mark 1 and the union."

Mark 1 has 12 employees, and two Local 1 members have gone to work for them since they signed a union contract.

"We're very glad to have Mark 1 with us," said Local 1 Business Manager Ray Chapman. "They're a good, well-run company and they have a lot of quality workers. We're thankful they signed an agreement with us and we look forward to a great future with them."


Middle schoolers introduced to piping industry

SAGINAW - There are pros and cons about working in construction, and some school career counselors tend to focus on the negatives - if they mention the trades as a choice at all.

In an attempt to put the industry's best foot forward, the Bay Area Association of Mechanical Contractors and Plumbers and Steam Fitters Local 85 members pitched piping as a career choice to about 100 kids during the Swan Valley Middle School Career Fair.

The workers and contractors brought drawings, hard hats, tool belts and demonstrated the use of levels and how to thread copper pipe. The presenters talked about estimating projects, and how important their work is to getting vital water, sanitation and fire protection services to homes, schools, hospitals and businesses.

They also talked about training and the financial and professional opportunities the industry offers. Then the seventh and eighth graders were given handout materials to reinforce what they'd seen.

Volunteering at the event were Andy Baranic, president of the contractors' association, purchasing agent Judy Alere of John E. Green Co.'s Saginaw office, and Bob and Brian Schneider of Green and Local 85.

Schools are increasingly talking about careers to younger students, even at the elementary levels, said Swan Valley counselor Sandy Kreager.

"We didn't want a career fair where they only talk about college, that's not realistic," she said. "I've been told over and over about the availability of jobs in the skilled trades, and that there's money to be made. The kids need to know about that. And the presenters did a wonderful job. The students really liked the hands-on demonstrations."


9-11 iron worker volunteer gets token of appreciation

By Marty Mulcahy

Iron Workers Local 25 member John LaPointe wasn't seeking any attention or recognition for his efforts helping in the search and rescue mission after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center site.

He drove into New York on Sept. 12, and for the next week, participated as a volunteer in the effort to remove bodies and clear rubble. After the first week, LaPointe was a paid construction worker, helping to clear debris from the site until he was laid-off on Nov. 10.

Wayne County Sheriff Robert Ficano and Lt. Greg Morris thought LaPointe deserved a permanent momento for his efforts. Last month, LaPointe, was called to the Sheriff's headquarters in Detroit, and was surprised with a large plaque including a certificate of appreciation, patches from the City of New York Police and Wayne County Sheriff's Departments, photos of the destroyed World Trade Center site, and a photo of LaPointe with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"I went because it was something in here, you know?" LaPointe said, thumping his heart. "By 10:30 that night, on Sept. 11, I was on the road. It was a calling. I had to be there."

LaPointe was working in Pennsylvania at the time, so his drive to New York was shorter than other volunteers who went to New York from Michigan and around the country. Law enforcement officers also went to New York - a contingent of officers from the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, including Lt. Morris, made the trip to help out.

"We were at the site, and John saw 'Wayne County' on my uniform, and said he was from Michigan, too," Morris said. "So that was the connection, and we hooked up for the rest of the week. He's a great guy, and we just wanted to do something to recognize what he did. John saw a lot of things that iron workers aren't supposed to see."

LaPointe, 52, is single and has been an iron worker since 1975. He said he toiled 87 straight hours when he first arrived in New York. He worked in the bucket brigade moving out bodies and body parts. Later he helped cut steel and rig it for removal. "I haven't talked much about it," he said. "It was awful." He added, "I'd do it again tomorrow."

In presenting the plaque, Wayne County Sheriff Robert Ficano said "the best quote I had heard about what happened after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center site, was that they didn't call in the heads of corporations to get the job done, the working people were already taking care of it."



Union members urged to re-subscribe
The bitter five-and-a-half year labor dispute between the Detroit newspapers and their union employees was brought to a conclusion in December 2000, but thousands of former and potential subscribers have continued to keep the News and Free Press on their boycott list

Now, the Michigan AFL-CIO is urging union members in Michigan to help union workers at the papers by subscribing to the papers.

"Today I re-subscribed to the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press," said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney, in an April 22 letter to affiliates. "I am now re-subscribing to assist the 2,500 union workers, retirees, and family members whose jobs and pensions depend on the success of the newspapers. The union workers have a new contract coming up, and we need to improve circulation so they can go into negotiations with a stronger hand."

Ups and downs due for building industry
The outlook for the nation's construction industry is "very uneven" in terms of volume and spending levels, said Associated General Contractors chief economist Ken Simonson, even as the general economy seems to be on the upswing.

Speaking to a convention of the AGC's national and regional contractors, he said there "is great variation" in the work outlook by industry segment. Consumers, he said, have continued to spend "as if there were no recession" and played a role in the expansion of the retail market.

As recorded in Construction Labor Report, Simonson said housing has continued its strong growth, with housing starts rising 2.8 percent in February. He said the federal government recently reported a two-month rise in industrial construction - the first two-month rise since 2000.

The outlook for federally government-funded construction is mixed, and state-funded construction is expected to drop over the next two years.

Ex-military personnel targeted by trades
Military personnel leaving the service are seen as an untapped resource for recruitment into the building trades.

According to the report by the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, trades unions and contractors have a goal of recruiting 700,000 ex-military personnel to work in the construction industry, which would help meet the industry's anticipated shortfall of workers.

The recruitment effort would be funneled through the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment, which is a nonprofit labor-management group that was started last fall.

Upon leaving the service, ex-military personnel could take advantage of the program, and undergo skills testing to determine how skills learned in the military could be used to obtain work in construction. Job candidates who are interested would be referred to a local union near where they live.


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