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May 16, 2003

Trades' work at Fermi 2 generates acclaim from DTE

With big deficit due, Bush's tax cut plan leaves Dems dubious

No action yet on extension of jobless benefits

Time to revive an old 'innovation' - responsibility

Boilermakers, high schoolers get early introduction

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Trades' work at Fermi 2 generates acclaim from DTE

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

MONROE - The Fermi 2 Nuclear Power Plant is capable of producing 1,130 megawatts of electricity - about one-tenth of DTE Energy's entire production capacity. So it doesn't take a nuclear scientist to figure out that it costs the utility big money to have the plant off line for any length of time.

Through good planning and job execution, the building trades and The Washington Group worked hard to complete an intensive 41-day maintenance outage that ended with Fermi 2 coming back on line May 8. More than 600 building trades workers completed a series of tasks that included valve work, pump replacement, turbine overhaul and new computer wiring.

All the work was part of DTE Energy's Refueling Outage No. 9 at Fermi 2. Every 18 months or so since 1990, the nuclear plant has been taken off line so the building trades and the Washington Group can go in and perform necessary upgrades and renovations.

"I've been here 13 years and we've made some incredibly valuable step changes over the years that have improved our efficiency," said Allen Anderson, Washington Group site manager.

A change that has most recently offered "the most significant value," Anderson said, was the willingness of workers to go through in-plant training, submit to background checks and get processed several weeks at the nuclear plant before the project began. Including non-building trades personnel who were on hand for the outage, DTE Energy had to process more than 1,000 workers before the outage began - "and the building trades getting pre-qualified helped us diffuse the bow-wave," Anderson said.

DTE Energy Vice President of Nuclear Generation Bill O'Connor said it was obvious that building trades workers realized the importance of the outage to the utility.

"I'm extremely pleased with the building trades and the Washington Group," O'Connor said. "I'm so impressed that workers left jobs that they had to help us work our outage. They showed up ready to go, and they were extremely patient with all the security rules. They hit the ground running and did some great work on some big modifications."

Building trades workers performed about 200,000 man-hours during RF09 without any "disabling injuries," Anderson said, "and help continue our record of almost four million man-hours without a lost time. This is the type of building trades workers we should all be proud of, because I know I am."

Anderson said with hometown Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 671 workers "leading the way," United Association pipe trades workers performed maintenance and modification work on more than 300 valves. Many of the most difficult valves to work on passed their test on the first try.

Mike Lajiness, business manager of Local 671, said about 250 fitters, welders and valve technicians were processed through the local to work the Fermi 2 outage.

"It was just a very good outage," he said. "We're always happy to support DTE Energy anywhere they need workers in their system. They've been an outstanding owner to work with. And we've also had a great relationship with Washington Group over the years."

THE FERMI 2 Nuclear Power Plant near Monroe started up in 1988 and was the 93rd nuclear power plant to be licensed in the U.S. Over the years, the building trades have been the beneficiaries of millions of dollars spent by DTE Energy for plant upgrades.

DURING THE recent 41-day refueling outage at the Fermi 2 Nuclear Power Plant, Pipe Fitters Local 671 members Bob Schwartz (left) and Burt Calkins (right) test a pipe snubber under the watchful eye of Jack Green, a senior test technician for Wyle Labs.

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With big deficit due, Bush's tax cut plan leaves Dems dubious

With President Bush declaring major hostilities over in Iraq, his attention and that of the U.S. Congress has quickly moved to improving the state of the American economy.

There's a lot of work to be done.

The stock market, unemployment rate and federal deficit are all in a quagmire - unable to improve but noticeably slipping over the past two-and-a-half years. President Bush, like his father, knows that tremendous war-time popularity numbers can quickly head south.

But despite the costs of the war, despite the increasing federal deficit, despite a troubling unemployment rate, the president insists on applying the same remedy he has recommended throughout his presidency - implementing a tax cut that is now estimated to cost $550 billion over the next 10 years.

Bush began by lobbying for a $750 billion tax cut package, but Congress, including many Republicans, balked, saying the nation cannot afford some or all of it.

Bush's version of the $550 billion tax cut, and the version that almost certainly will pass the House, would reduce levies on dividends, capital gains and small business investments, cut income tax rates and increase the tax credit for children.

The situation is not so clear in the Senate. On May 8, the GOP-controlled Senate Finance Committee has approved a more moderate $350 billion tax cut.

"A tax plan must apply market principles to the public interest," Bush said. "And my plan sets out to make life better for average men, women and children." But it depends on one's definition of "average" - Bush's package has been roundly criticized for favoring those in the upper income bracket.

"The President's huge tax cut package that goes primarily to upper income folks won't get it done," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin. "Hundreds of economists, including ten Nobel Prize winners, agree that the tax cuts the President proposes will not give our economy anywhere near the jumpstart it needs. It will drastically worsen our deficit at a time when we are back in a deep deficit ditch. The President's proposed cuts also would do virtually nothing to assist our financially strapped states; in fact, it might harm them, as his proposed dividend tax provision would actually strip Michigan, for instance, of about $111 million in 2004."

Bush's own budget director pegged the federal budget deficit at $230 billion for 2003 - a number that increased by 15 percent from only five weeks before - and the red ink may grow further.

"The new projections mean that the government's 2003 shortfall could soar to $400 billion if Mr. Bush's tax cuts are approved and if war costs this year run into the tens of billions of dollars," the New York Times reported.

Such numbers would make the looming deficit the largest ever in dollar terms but smaller relative to economy than deficits in 1980s and early 1990s, the Times said.

Democrats have complained that the GOP tax plan would deepen budget deficits, drive up interest rates and slow economic growth.

"Instead of investing in our children, we will in-debt them for years to come," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Senate Democrats are proposing a more modest $114 billion tax relief package over the next 10 years. According to Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle, "the centerpiece of my plan is a tax cut for every taxpaying American." A family of four, making $50,000 per year will receive a tax cut of $1,630 in 2003.

The plan also eliminates the marriage penalty and accelerates the child tax credit, and includes a 50 percent tax credit in 2003 to help small businesses pay their share of insurance premiums.

"The President said recently that 'tax relief creates jobs,'" Levin said. "If tax cuts automatically create jobs, how does he explain the fact that we've lost about two million jobs since he took office, notwithstanding the fact that he pushed through a huge, trillion dollar-plus tax cut back in 2001? Following the same approach that did not work before doesn't make sense."

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No action yet on extension of jobless benefits

On March 25, U.S. Senate Republicans voted unanimously to deny the extension of federal Unemployment Insurance benefits for six more months. There were 51 Republicans who voted against it and 48 Democrats who voted for the measure.

Since that time, organized labor has kept up pressure on Congress to extend the benefits. But at press time, no action had been taken, and the funding for the emergency jobless benefits program that has been paying for federal benefits is due to expire May 31.

"It is imperative that Congress not abandon long-term unemployed workers by ending the emergency jobless benefits program when it expires on May 31," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "And, Congress must move a real program to create jobs and strengthen the economy - not unfair and unaffordable tax and budget policies."

Sweeney pointed out that in the $550 billion Republican tax-cut package, there is no help in sight for the one million long-term unemployed Americans who have exhausted their state and federal benefits.

The Labor Department reported that the nation's unemployment rate jumped to 6 percent again in April, tying a high it set last November and December. Before that time, the last time the unemployment rate reached 6 percent was in July 1994. Another 341,000 people joined the jobless rolls in April.

There were 8.78 million unemployed in April - that's 2.83 million more jobless workers than when President Bush took over the White House in January 2001.

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Time to revive an old 'innovation' - responsibility

The annual NOVA Awards ceremony - the Nobel Prize for the construction industry - celebrates innovations that have had positive, important effects on the construction industry to improve quality and reduce costs.

This year as in the past, the award has gone to individuals or companies that find a better way to do things like make a concrete road, or use recycled plastic in creative ways.

At the April 24 NOVA Awards held in Dearborn, Edwin Hill, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, suggested that successful innovations don't only arise from the world of high-tech processes or plastics. He suggested that individuals taking responsibility for their work is an old concept that should be reconsidered as a new innovation.

"Sometimes the most innovative thing you can do is to take a fresh look at your core principles," Hill told attendees in the keynote address at the annual banquet. "Sometimes the biggest and most important change comes not from new concepts, but in re-dedication to old ideas.

"What we are trying to do in the IBEW can be summed up in one word that I think includes all of our principles - responsibility.

"It's a tremendously powerful word - responsibility. Just to mention the term has a way of cutting through the jargon, the clutter and the small stuff. Responsibility demands that we take an honest look at where we stand and what we could be doing better. And it is a stark reminder that success is not guaranteed, and failure does have consequences."

Hill said there is no need to "throw away" the tactics and principles that have served unions well for more than a century. "But in some circumstances," he said, "there is a need to apply them differently, acting in ways that people might not expect a trade union to act."

For example, he said when the IBEW was planning its annual construction conference last year, planners decided to invite owners of companies that hire contractors to the event. They are, he said, "the most important people in our industry and our reason for being. We must never lose site of that."

Hill said "we somehow took for granted" that owners knew about the quality of union training and the union commitment to skilled workforce training - "but when talking to them many of them know no such thing."

He said the owners mingled with union reps and indicated a willingness to learn more. The head of construction for Johnson and Johnson, who also leads the nationwide Construction Users Roundtable, addressed the IBEW delegates this year, "and we're determined to keep the lines of communication open," Hill said.

"And all this happened," Hill added, " because we rediscovered the principle that even the hot dog vendor knows by heart - you've got to take care of your customers and show them that you can give them what they want and need - without caving in to their every whim or demand. I guess we can ask ourselves - what took us so long to figure that out?"

In too many markets, Hill said, union relationships with customers were being damaged by disputes and unauthorized actions. Unions demand respect and fight for good wages and benefits - but he said in some areas, "a lack of professionalism" was hurting the IBEW

"We took a hard look at ourselves, from the international office to the local job site," Hill said. "Were we living up to our commitments to quality? Were we being the best in the market? In too many places, the answer was 'no.'"

To combat the problem, International Union leaders "started spreading the word in our speeches and our columns in our publication and on our web site that responsibility is also a core union value," Hill said.

"The best news is that our words seem to have had an effect. Our reports from the field are much more encouraging. And I think it is a tribute to our members and our contractor partners that they have listened to a tough message and responded with professionalism."

Hill said, "Telling our members to live up to their responsibility is not always easy. Yet it is part of my own responsibility as International president of the IBEW to deliver that message. I have done so and will continue to do so whenever necessary.

"We are living in a time when any decline in market share has severe repercussions throughout our sector of the industry. As I have indicated many times, I am trying to get our members to see the big picture and understand that meeting the needs of our customers is the best path to a prosperous future."

IBEW GENERAL PRESIDENT Edwin Hill, right, is presented with a proclamation from the State of Michigan by State Rep. Gene DeRossett. At left is Construction Innovation Forum Chairman Roger Lane.

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Boilermakers, high schoolers get early introduction

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Boilermakers Local 169 has come up with a simple, proactive plan to attract bright, motivated workers to their industry.

The boilermakers put their plan in action on May 2, inviting 42 students to their apprenticeship school from around Michigan for a contest that allowed them to display their welding abilities. The students were approached in collaboration with their teachers because they have displayed a talent for welding in high school vocational training, and have shown an interest in a career that puts their skills to work.

The idea was fostered by Mark Wertz, a fifth-year Boilermaker apprentice who approached Local 169 Apprentice Coordinator Tony Jacobs and Business Manager John Marek about reaching out to the young, motivated workforce now - before they get snapped up by nonunion companies or employers in other fields of work.

"There are a lot of good opportunities out there for skilled workers," Local 169 Business Manager John Marek told the attendees. "When it comes time to make your decision, we want you to keep the Boilermakers in mind if you're looking for a great career opportunity."

Himself a welder in high school, Wertz realized that the Boilermakers Union was missing out on a good pool of recruits if they didn't reach out to vocational students who have already displayed competency in welding. So together with Jacobs and the Local 169 training staff, they put together a one-day program that allows invited students - who were excused from school for a day - to have their welding proficiency rated, and to show how much they know in a written exam.

"I know there are a lot of good high school welders out there," Wertz said. "And they come in with a real good attitude. Most have the basic skills that are necessary and a lot of them are looking around at career opportunities. This is an opportunity for us to show them what they can expect if they want to enter our apprenticeship program and the skills they're going to need."

Doing just that was Jacobs, who told the recruits that entering into the apprenticeship program "is strictly business." Boilermaker apprentices are among the highest paid in the building trades, Jacobs said, "but we work hard for our pay. We build steel mills, refineries, water towers and repair ships. We weld in confined spaces and out in the open, where angels fear to go. It's hard work, but we're always looking for skilled and qualified men and women."

Eight judges from the contracting community rated the welds of the students. Three prizes were given, the top prize being a $500 savings bond.

"I see this as a good idea because we're meeting people who are interested in the trade at a very early age," said Gary Eff of Gem Industrial, who was acting as a judge. "We're able to show them what we're all about before someone else gets ahold of them."

The students were judged on the quality of a vertical plate weld with a backing strip - similar to the test given to apprentices.

"I've been welding since the eighth grade, and I really enjoy it," said Toby Downey, a senior from Bay City who attended the event. "This is what I want to do for a living, and working with the Boilermakers seems like a good way to go."

BOILERMAKERS Business Manager John Marek talks to high school welders interested in a career with Local 169. Standing next to him are Local 169 Apprentice Coordinator Tony Jacobs and apprentice Mark Wertz, who suggested the meet-and-greet event where the welders can show their skills.

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NEWS BRIEFS

Jury acquits driver who killed worker
A Macomb County jury found Stacey Ann Bettcher not guilty of killing a 26-year-old civil engineer on May 2 in the first test of the state's tough new law designed to protect road workers.

Bettcher, 31, was the first person tried under a state law adopted in October 2001 that makes killing a road worker punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Michigan was the first state in the nation to adopt such a stiff penalty for killing a road worker.

Published reports say the case hinged on the jury believing Bettcher, who claimed that the construction project on I-94 was poorly marked. Bettcher's lawyer said she swerved onto the shoulder - and into victims Tanya Loewen (killed) and William Hattan (severely injured) - in order to avoid a truck that had abruptly slowed ahead of her.

"If the jury didn't believe that was a work zone, I don't know how many more signs have to be put up, how many orange barrels we have to put out before it becomes one," said Gary Naeyaert, a spokesman for the Michigan Road Builders Association, to the Detroit News. "That jury declared open season on highway workers in Macomb County."

Lawmakers say there needs to be more than a single test case before changes are made in the law.

Unions urge final protection standard
Labor unions and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are urging U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to finalize an OSHA rule requiring employers to pay for workers' personal protective equipment.

The AFL-CIO and the Building and Construction Trades Department are among several unions that urged Chao to finalize the rule, which has stalled since it was first proposed under the Clinton Administration, the Construction Labor Report said.

The unions and the Hispanic caucus said the lack of a final rule affects the most vulnerable workers - especially immigrants and Spanish-speaking workers.

Under the rule proposed March 31, 1999, employers would have to pay for all "OSHA-required" personal protective equipment, with the exception of safety-toe shoes, prescription eyewear, and logging boots.

Georgine ousted at ULLICO
Robert Georgine, former president of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, has quit as chairman, president and chief executive of ULLICO rather than be forced out after a stock scandal at the union-controlled insurance company.

The Union Labor Life Insurance Co.'s new board of directors elected Laborers President Terrence O'Sullivan to succeed him.

Georgine and other board members were ousted in the wake of a stock insider trading scandal. Some on the ULLICO board used insider information to sell their personal shares in a failing stock owned by ULLICO - before the company failed.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, a leading critic of Georgine, said unions "must be just as willing to expose and remedy conflicts at ULLICO as we have been at other companies in corporate America."

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