The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index
May 12, 2006
LANSING - Issues over construction worker wages are a constant target of Republicans in Michigan, whether it's in the form of proposals to repeal prevailing wage or to institute a right-to-work law.
The latest attempt to attack Hardhat wages comes from State Rep. John Pastor (R-Livonia), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Joint Capital Outlay Subcommittee (JCOS). Pastor said he wants to kill the use of project labor agreements on construction projects. Most often, such agreements result in union-only contractors.
"It is imperative," Pastor wrote to the president of Western Michigan University, "that the university or community college not use Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), but are still meeting prevailing wage requirements." Pastor said he will "continue to study all projects that come before the committee and make sure that PLAs are not being used ."
Not so fast, said both the state's legal counsel to the governor, and Doug Bennett, former business manager of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Service Trades Local 174 in Muskegon, who was elected State Representative, 92nd District last year.
Kelly Keenan, legal counsel to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said Bennett is "right to be concerned about attempts by JCOS or its members to regulate the conduct of colleges and universities outside of the legislative process."
Keenan said that project labor agreements "can be a sound management technique," and that "decisions regarding the use of PLAs are best made at the college or university level. The Michigan Constitution places such management decisions in the hands of university administrators, not members of legislative committees in Lansing."
Furthermore, Keenan said the state Supreme Court "has indicated that the legislature may not interfere with the management and control of universities and that university governing boards have exclusive control over all university funds."
Typically attacks against project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws are done in the name of cost savings, but numerous academic studies have shown that repeal of such rules have had no effect on costs.
Bennett pointed out that PLAs have been in use in Michigan for many years and have been "successfully negotiated between our institutions of higher education and the building trades labor unions involved in the construction industry."
Bennett asked the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council to pass along the opinion of the governor's counsel to colleges and universities across the state.
"As you can see, Rep. Pastor has no legal basis for his
action," Bennett wrote in a letter to MBCTC President Patrick
"Shorty" Gleason. "We will continue to watch for
any actions in the state legislature that would have an adverse
effect on the citizens of our great state."
LANSING - Congress has wrangled for years with creating a trust fund for victims of asbestos-related diseases, a group that includes tens of thousands of construction workers. Federal lawmakers have come close, but have so far been unable to agree on the amount of the trust fund and a way to determine who is sick enough to get the money.
Now Michigan lawmakers are taking up the matter. And according to a leading attorney in asbestos-related disease cases, state lawmakers would best serve the state by doing nothing.
Senate Bill 1123, introduced by Sen. Alan Cropsey (R-Dewitt), would establish detailed rules and regulations for asbestos and silicosis lawsuits that would require plaintiffs to demonstrate that they were actually injured by exposure to these substances. The bill establishes detailed regulations and standards for physicians involved in such suits, expert witnesses, compensation levels, caps on legal contingency fees, health impairment definitions, diagnoses, etc.
The bill prompted a written response on April 27 by Birmingham attorney Michael Serling to Cropsey, who is the chair of the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee. Serling also spoke before the panel.
"Senate Bill No. 1123 is not based on medical science and the standard of care in Michigan for the diagnosis of asbestos disease by physicians," Serling wrote. "It was written by the asbestos industry to place numerous arbitrary roadblocks for victims to traverse and is intended to disenfranchise 90 percent of asbestosis victims with real, irreversible asbestos disease and asbestos-induced lung cancer."
Serling said the Michigan bill was brought up by companies that produced asbestos-related products and the Chamber of Commerce after the U.S. Senate failed to come to terms on setting up a trust fund earlier this year.
"The primary reason why that federal bill failed," Serling wrote, "was that some of the asbestos industry members believed that they could go state to state, particularly in states with total Republican control, and lobby for even more onerous asbestos industry giveaway legislation like the present bill before your committee."
By a 58-41 vote, the U.S. Senate on Feb. 14 sidetracked the asbestos trust fund bill. Though most senators backed the measure, S. 852, it needed 60 votes to overcome objections by senators who, citing studies, said the $140 billion trust fund for asbestos victims would run out of money, forcing future funding from the U.S. Treasury.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at the time that there is insufficient money in the fund, which would be established by companies and their insurers that created the asbestos-related products.
"The government," he said, "is obligated to pay regardless of the actual amount raised through company contributions... Experts conclude the amount will outpace the contributions to the fund not just in the near term but in the long term as well."
The trust would pay the medical bills to suffers of mesothelioma (a form of cancer), asbestosis and other asbestos-caused job diseases over 30-50 years. Construction workers have been hit particularly hard by asbestos-related diseases.
The asbestos legislation comes to roost in Michigan at a time when Republicans have been "among the leaders nationally in tort reform efforts," according to a blog of the Michigan Republican Party. Tort reform translates into reducing the ability of plaintiffs to file "frivolous" lawsuits against companies for damages brought on by companies.
Sherman Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, recently told the Michigan House Tort Reform Committee, "As successful as you've been, it's important that you continue the positive trend," including the need to "address the growth in asbestos-related lawsuits, particularly those by people exposed to the material but not yet showing symptoms of disease," Joyce said. He maintained that instituting "liability reforms," makes Michigan a more attractive place to do business.
Contrast that point of view with a recent expose by Detroit's WXYZ-Channel 7 news, which shed light on a 1996 Republican-sponsored law that gives drug companies total immunity from lawsuits in Michigan when the drugs like Vioxx kill or harm people.. Michigan Republican leaders have refused to allow hearings on a bi-partisan plan to repeal the law.
WXYZ reported that the drug lobby was using its influence on House Republican leaders to stonewall the plan to repeal the 1996 law.
Attorneys blasted passage of that anti-consumer law in this publication a decade ago, just as Serling is doing with this state asbestos today.
Passage of the Michigan asbestos bill "will only deprive
deserving Michigan victims of their day in court," Serling
said, "and will further wreck untold burdens on a court
system that was previously handling this complex litigation in
an extremely efficient manner."
By Marty Mulcahy
MONROE - Detroit Edison's Monroe Power Plant is one of the largest coal-burning power plants in the nation - and it continues to be one of the largest ongoing construction employers in Michigan.
The building trades, the Washington Group and Detroit Edison are continuing the nearly decade-long process of installing new pollution control equipment at the 3,200 megawatt plant, which is the sixth largest in the nation. The $700 million project will employ some 600 tradespeople at peak employment this summer, with about 2.5 million man-hours worked through the end of the project in 2008.
Detroit Edison Site Manager Ernie Svaluto said a spring outage at the plant was wrapping up earlier this month, but there's plenty left to do before the new SCR unit is tied in next spring.
"The people here have done an excellent job, the work has been good, productivity has been good, and the safety record has been good," Svaluto said. "It really helps productivity to have a lot of repeat workers here, who get to know the plant and learn from experience."
There are four boilers at the Monroe Power Plant. Over the last several years the building trades have completed the retrofit of Units 1 and 4 with selective catalytic reduction (SCRs) units to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. They are currently installing a new SCR on Unit 3, as well as the new associated ductwork, wiring, piping and stiffening of the plant's iron skeleton working to support the new equipment.
The trades are also installing on this project new FDG (Flue Gas Desulfurization) equipment on Units 3-4 that will remove 97 percent of those boilers' sulfur dioxide emissions. Re-agent preparation, limestone handling, gypsum handling, and water/wastewater pre-treatment systems are also being installed.
This work and similar efforts at fossil-fuel burning power plants around the country is designed to bring the facilities in line with tougher federal pollution standards. And at all the plants, designers have struggled with retrofitting pollution controls into plants that weren't designed to handle the new equipment.
A significant portion of the plant's new ductwork was prefabricated
in Onaway, Michigan and in Nova Scotia, and shipped on barges
to the Monroe Power Plant. Much of the new equipment has been
assembled on site on the ground, as a safety precaution, before
being lifted into place. The 1,000-ton capacity Manitowac crane
on site has done some heavy lifting: the largest pick being a
305,000-pound SCR catalyst platform.
Washington Group Construction Supt. John Mowrey, a Boilermakers Local 85 member who has worked on and off at the plant for 33 years, said the new pollution control equipment is tested technology that works well.
"Our productivity numbers are up, we're working safely, and there's never been better cooperation between the trades, DTE Energy and the Washington Group," Mowrey said. "They have been excellent to work for."
Walbridge Aldinger and Barton Malow Company joined with the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG), the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) to sign a major partnership to ensure the safety and health of workers on a Detroit Metropolitan Airport construction project.
Walbridge Aldinger and Barton Malow formed a joint venture, Walbridge Barton Malow LLC, to demolish the existing Davey Terminal/Hotel complex at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and create the new North Terminal. Construction is underway to build the 26-gate, 820,000 gross square foot North Terminal to process domestic and international flights.
"Walbridge Aldinger and Barton Malow are two of Michigan's premier contractors and have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to protect their workers," said DLEG Acting Director Robert W. Swanson. "This $418 million project will have a major impact on Michigan's economy - while all partners combine their efforts to protect every worker on the project."
MIOSHA has an existing first partnership with Walbridge Aldinger for their City of Dearborn Combined Sewer Overflow Contract # 3 project. All partners have worked diligently to protect the workers on that project for nearly 16 months - and to date, there has not been a lost-time accident.
The construction industry is one of the most hazardous industries in Michigan. Only about four percent of Michigan's workforce is employed in construction - however, construction fatalities account for nearly 50 percent of all fatal workplace accidents.
"Safety and security are top core values at Detroit Metropolitan Airport," said Wayne County Airport Authority CEO Lester Robinson at the May 3 signing.. "I commend the North Terminal contractors and the state of Michigan for developing this innovative and efficient partnership"
Signing partners include: Dennis Jones, Safety Supervisor, Walbridge Barton Malow; Charlie Pfeifer, Project Executive, Walbridge Barton Malow; Paul Tantalo, Project Manager, Walbridge Barton Malow; Mark S. Klimbal, Safety Director, Walbridge Barton Malow; Robert W. Swanson, Acting Director, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG); Douglas J. Kalinowski, Director, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA); Patrick Devlin, CEO, Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council; and Walter R. Mabry, Executive Secretary/Treasurer, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights.
"When the building trades hear about industry owners, contractors and state government taking the initiative to commit to a goal of zero injuries on construction sites, it gets our attention," Devlin said. "This pro-worker initiative has all sorts of benefits, the most important of which is that perhaps it will mean fewer construction workers will end up injured - or worse. As we go forward with the construction of the North Terminal, we are extremely pleased that this initiative has been put into place to help workers."
Partnerships are an important emphasis in MIOSHA's Strategic Plan to improve the health and safety of workers through cooperative relationships with groups, including trade associations, labor organizations, and employers. Partnerships move away from traditional enforcement methods and embrace collaborative agreements.
"This joint venture between Walbridge Aldinger and Barton Malow brings together two great organizations with the same philosophy - zero tolerance for unsafe acts and conditions. Partnering with MIOSHA allows us to utilize all the team members in the pursuit of that goal," said Mark S. Klimbal, CSP, Corporate Safety Director, Barton Malow Company. "Through this cooperative effort, we can focus even more resources on the requirement to run a project driven by safety, quality, and productivity."
"This partnership agreement will help us in our ultimate goal of zero injuries on a very large and complex construction project. The active integration of the Walbridge Barton Malow Safety and Health Program will further the fundamental goal of zero injuries," said Steve Clabaugh, Asst. Vice President - Safety, Walbridge Aldinger. "We share a common vision with our partners, and supporting partners, to be committed to sending each and every trade's person that works at the North Terminal Redevelopment Project home safely."
The "North Terminal Redevelopment Project" partnership agreement has been established to raise awareness and promote safety for all personnel employed in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport construction project. Recognizing that engineering techniques alone are not enough to ensure that exposure to hazards are controlled, the program includes coordination, monitoring and educating the personnel involved in the project. These components will be implemented through the same principles of management control applied throughout all phases of the project.
Key elements of the plan include:
By Marty Mulcahy
SAGINAW TWP. - HealthSource Saginaw, construction manager Spence Brothers, its subcontractors and the building trades have embarked on Phase 1 of a $35 million building replacement and improvement project for HSS.
Ground was broken last October on the renovated health care facility, which will have a bank, beauty shops, drug store, clothing shop, ice cream parlor, gift shop and post office, along with expanded parking. The project will demolish 180,000 square-feet of the existing structure and rebuild 160,000 square-feet of space that will feature larger rooms for residents.
"We're due for completion in the summer of 2008," said Bob Bison, project manager for Spence Brothers. "We're doing well, we're on schedule, and we have very good people and subcontractors on the project."
Originally known as Saginaw County Hospital, HealthSource Saginaw was established by county officials in 1930 as a tuberculosis sanitarium. In 1991, it became a Municipal Health Facility Organization and qualified for non-profit status.
HealthSource employes 400 and has 319 inpatient beds. HSS is the only provider of adolescent psychiatric inpatient and chemical dependency detox services in Saginaw County.
Bison said only 20-25 percent of the existing building on Hospital Road would be retained in the new design. The rest will be demolished. The building is a victim of having too many small patient rooms and a lack of infrastructure for making upgrades.
"It's an old building and it's difficult to incorporate new services and technologies into it," Bison said. The new building will be on a single level and include a better design, including allowing in more sunlight.
Saginaw County voters narrowly approved a 25-year, 0.49 mill tax request for the project in August that will provide the funds to rebuild and renovate the 74-year-old facility.
"We're working around an operating hospital, so it's a dynamic situation all the time," Bison said. "We take a lot of steps to work carefully so we keep the environment safe for construction workers, patients and hospital personnel."
To highlight the need for the new building, before construction
started last June, a large section of the building's brick façade
collapsed through the ceiling of a one-story structure on the
campus, narrowly missing two people.
Construction jobs record set in April
"The construction industry has added jobs more than twice as fast as the 1.5 percent growth rate for total non-farm payroll employment," said Ken Simonson, the AGC's chief economist. "Furthermore, all five BLS construction employment categories are up by more than 1.5 percent. Even homebuilders have continued to add workers, despite an expectation that housing would have tapered off by now. There is evidently still a backlog of sold but unbuilt houses."
BLS figures showed seasonally adjusted payroll employment in construction reached 7.51 million in April, a gain of 267,000, or 3.7 percent, from a year ago.
Simonson said he expects residential employment to flatten and eventually decline slightly, "but nonresidential activity seems to be gaining momentum." The Census Bureau reported this month that private nonresidential construction spending was 10.6 percent higher in the first quarter of 2006 than the first three months of 2005, while private residential and public construction each grew 8.8 percent.
In addition, he said "construction labor costs have remained tame in spite of the big employment growth. The BLS report says the average wage in construction rose just 1.5 percent over the last 12 months, in contrast to the 3.8 percent gain for all private-sector production workers.
He said construction faces much higher materials cost increases
than the economy as a whole, and "availability of some materials
may be a problem."
Who protects the plumber?
Murray, who is also on the board of the American Society for Sanitary Engineers, gave a presentation on health hazards of plumbing--notably bloodborne pathogens in sewage treatment plants--to an international conference on plumbing health and safety, in Beijing, China. Local 290, he explained, discovered high rates of Hepatitis C among its members in the plants and with the help of a state grant, created a training program on how to minimize the risk.
The WHO heard his presentation in Beijing and asked him to
write an international standard for safety for plumbers who have
to respond to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. "Plumbers
protect the health of the nation, but no one's protecting the
health of the plumber. When the world comes to you and says it
needs your help, what can you say?" Murray asked.