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May 16, 2008

Nationwide IBEW training program seeks new home, finds it at U-M

'Hire Michigan First' clears some hurdles, but many remain

Union apprentices are an investment worth protecting

U-M envisions growth for expanded eye center

McCain's voting record shows worker issues not his priority

Iron Workers show off new training center

News Briefs


Nationwide IBEW training program seeks new home, finds it at U-M

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - Washtenaw County is proving to be a nationwide magnet for building trades training.

For the last 19 years, nearly 2,000 instructors for the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters have descended on Washtenaw Community College in August for the week-long annual Instructor Training Program.

Now, the sparkies are coming. Last month The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee for the Electrical Industry (NJATC) announced that their annual week-long National Training Institute (NTI) program is moving to the University of Michigan's main campus beginning in 2009. The train-the-trainer conference is moving from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, bringing in union instructors from around the U.S. and Canada.

"This just solidifies the relationship we have with the University of Michigan and the community," said Ann Arbor IBEW Local 252 Business Manager Greg Stephens. "I encouraged the move, and I think it's directly attributable to the fact that union electricians are doing about one-and-a-half million man-hours of work per year here in Ann Arbor, and union electricians are just about being shut out in Knoxville."

The NJATC expects total participation in the 2009 National Training Institute to be well in excess of 2,000 industry representatives. The U-M will host the NTI for the first time July 31 - Aug. 7, 2009.

Stephens said this is particularly good news because unions are helping to stimulate the area's economy. It is estimated that this will annually produce $4.5 million to $5 million in new revenue for the economy of the Ann Arbor area. "The community has really embraced the United Association," he said. "We're hoping with this training program coming to town, the local restaurants and businesses will see we're helping them, and those who aren't using union construction will take another look at us."

The National Training Institute, led by Executive Director Michael Callanan, has grown into the most comprehensive training program in the electrical construction industry. Serving all sectors of the electrical construction market, NTI offers hands-on technical training, advanced educational theories and practices for the classroom, and cutting-edge workshops and seminars for apprenticeship committee members and National Electrical Contractor Association contractors.

"The University of Michigan is pleased to host such an important training program and provide the setting for ensuring electrical workers and contractors have the most relevant skills and knowledge for today's world," said University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman. "A conference of this magnitude is also an important catalyst for our economy, and we look forward to welcoming so many visitors from around the country."

The NJATC had been in discussions about relocating with U-M Marketing and Conference Services and the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau for the last year. The electricians will meet in several U-M buildings.

A U-M spokesman told the Ann Arbor news that the NJATC group "is far more significant in size than most of the other conferences that come to campus."

The National Training Institute was jointly established in 1990 by the NJATC and the University of Tennessee. The University of Michigan employs IBEW members full-time in its facilities and operations departments. Additionally, the university retains the services of NECA contractors employing IBEW members to complete all of its electrical construction projects.

"We are so excited to welcome the NJATC to the Ann Arbor community," said Mary Kerr, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This announcement was the result of phenomenal collaboration between the University of Michigan and the CVB, and I'm very pleased that we're continuing to seize opportunities of this magnitude that drive direct economic impact to the area. "We're ready to roll out the red carpet for them next August."


'Hire Michigan First' clears some hurdles, but many remain

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - A series of bills that make up the "Hire Michigan First" initiative cleared the state House Labor and Commerce Committee last month, but the future of the package isn't clear.

"The State of Michigan gives away about $1.25 billion each year in the form of tax abatements and incentives to try and lure companies here to Michigan," said State Rep. Fred Miller (D-Mt. Clemens), "but what we find is that sometimes those dollars go to companies who hire workers from other states, sometimes from other countries. And so the 'Hire Michigan First' package is a 12-bill package that would reform the way we do economic development and state contracts to make sure that Michigan workers are the ones that are hired first. If Michigan taxpayers are putting their money towards creating jobs, it should be Michigan workers that get those jobs."

Miller chairs the House Labor Committee and crafted the legislation. State Sen. John Gleason (D-Flushing) is leading the legislation in the Senate, where they are awaiting the final bill from the House, which may come this month.

State Republicans either "dissented or abstained" from voting on the package of bills last month, according to the Gongwer News Service. The legislation is expected to similarly proceed along party lines through the full House and Senate, although Miller said he's looking forward to final approval on a bipartisan basis.

Gongwer said dissenting Republicans feel that the legislation would place more of a burden on businesses when Michigan needs jobs.

The Hire Michigan First plan would:

  • Give preference for tax breaks and other economic development tools to companies that will hire the most Michigan residents. This rule would apply to projects handled by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and certain state-funded programs, including the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, the Renaissance Zone Act, and several others.
  • Require companies that receive state construction contracts to hire 100 percent Michigan residents, strengthening the current requirement of 50 percent.
  • Require companies that take economic development incentives to report on who they are hiring to ensure that Michigan residents are put first, encouraging transparency and accountability.
  • Crack down on companies that exploit undocumented workers by canceling their state contracts and tax incentives. A "clawback" clause in the plan would require them to pay back incentives already received and bar them from future contracts.

The driving force behind the Hire Michigan First policy is the state's approval of a tax-free Agricultural Processing Renaissance Zone to support the construction of an ethanol plant in Marysville. An out-of-state company brought in its workers from Texas for this project.

The Hire Michigan First concept has its share of loopholes and potential pitfalls. For example, a bipartisan bill that was signed into law last month by Gov. Jennifer Granholm created some major tax incentives for filmmakers to do their work in Michigan. In such a specialized industry, exemptions were included to allow the hiring of "key management personnel or individuals with special skills" who are not Michigan residents.

Furthermore, businesses in border counties with Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin- especially those in the construction industry - are pushing for exemptions for businesses that hire workers who move back and forth across state lines. Miller said there are already exemptions in state law that allow for collective bargaining agreements, and other issues "are being worked on."

Sen. Gleason hinted to the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Conference in March that there may be a battle over the bill when it hits the Republican-controlled Senate. He said last year, when a limited version of the Hire Michigan First policy was attached to Strategic Fund funding and put to a vote, it went down along party lines, 21-17, with all 21 Republicans voting against the measure.

"When you go home and talk to your members, let them know about the Republicans, that that nice guy or nice lady representing them isn't so nice at all," said Gleason. "People who get grant money, which is our tax money, should employ Michigan workers. We cannot expand our economy unless we put our hard hats to work."



Union apprentices are an investment worth protecting

By Mark Breslin
(Eleventh in a series)

What would you do if you watched someone kick a big dent in the door of your new F-150? Or someone spit on your new Justin boots? Or let their dog crap on your front lawn right in front of you? Or worse, what if someone was bullying your little brother every day by treating him with disrespect and negativity? Would you allow any of this? Would you take swift and terrible justice? Me too.

So why do we allow this to happen every day in our industry? Why do contractors and unions sit back and watch our most precious asset be dinged and damned and call it the price of admission. The asset: the fine young men and women apprentices that come to this industry hopeful, optimistic and malleable.

The scenario; the negative impact of 50 weeks a year being around one or more journeymen who influences them in a manner unacceptable to you, me and this proud industry. And it happens all the time on nearly every jobsite and we are doing very little to address it.

Before we look at the solutions, lets look at the impacts to our young apprentices:

  • How many of you have seen a fine young apprentice absolutely ruined by the negativity, bad attitude or poor work ethics of a limited number of journeymen?
  • At the end of the day, what do you think the impact is on our apprentice morale, buy-in, enthusiasm and retention?
  • How do you think the apprentice feels when he or she is making less money than some of these co-workers and they clearly see that performance and compensation do not tie together?
  • What do you think a third-year apprentice would say about this and their career choice?
  • How do we build an industry for the future if we allow the rationalization of this to continue?
  • How much money do we spend on training apprentices that do not perform to their potential as a result of this?

Across the nation tens of millions of dollars are wasted and thousands of impacted kids and careers are damaged every year; it is time for us to say enough is enough. And several methods need to be employed to protect both the apprentices and our investment in them.

First we must include positive treatment of apprentices in the various union codes of conduct and excellence. Apprentices must be valued and mentored by their older peers, not beat down or poorly led.

Secondly we must put the apprentices under "game conditions" before they go to the field. By using role-playing exercises in the classroom we can help apprentices prepare for many real-life challenges that absolutely will occur on the jobsite. Today, how do you think the average apprentice would react to:

  • Journeymen telling him or her to slow down?
  • Working on a crew where guys are cutting corners on quality or safety?
  • Witnessing drug use on the job?
  • Hearing a journeymen run down the contractor, the union or co-workers?
  • Seeing someone sexually or racially harassed?
  • Being asked to pad a time card or be complicit in something ethically unacceptable?

This is real life. This is the jobsite. This is peer pressure in their face. What do you think they do today? Nothing. They go with the flow because they have not been prepared for that very difficult moment. Whether you use the role-playing exercises in the Survival of the Fittest apprenticeship curriculum (see or develop your own, this is a critical model that is used by police, fire, the military and other organizations to improve performance under game conditions.

These young candidates are the best asset we have. They deserve more from us.

They deserve to be protected from negativity and disrespect. They deserve to be well-prepared for difficult jobsite circumstances. They deserve to have someone they can go to that they trust to help them sort these issues out. Because if they do not receive this support our entire investment in them and their future can be wiped out by a very small subset of journeymen who have personal issues and problems that they take out on others in the jobsite environment.

Now some guys will write this message off as too touchy feely. Old school says, "hey you just have to deal with it." Or "that is part of paying your dues."

But we are talking about people's lives and careers. We are talking about people's fulfillment and happiness at work. We are talking about hundreds of millions of training dollars on the line. It is time to protect our investment. We need to provide support for our greatest asset and bring the hammer down on those who put it at risk.

Yeah, like you're just going to sit there while someone kicks in the door on your truck.

Mark Breslin is a strategist and author specializing in labor-management challenges. He is the author of Survival of the Fittest, Organize or Die and coming in 2008 Alpha Dog. He addresses more than 50,000 labor and business leaders each year in North America. More on his work and profile is available at


U-M envisions growth for expanded eye center

ANN ARBOR - When the $121 million expansion of the Kellogg Eye Center is complete, it will be "the largest and most comprehensive eye center in the Midwest," according to the University of Michigan.

The eight-story, 222,000 square-foot expansion project will nearly double the university's current space for eye care, education and research when it opens in 2010. It is being constructed adjacent to the existing eye center on Wall Street. Gilbane-Clark is managing the construction.

The Kellogg Eye Center has experienced 11 percent growth in patient visits in each of the last seven years and expects even faster growth as the aging boomer population peaks in the next 10 to 15 years. The center has current projections forecasting growing demand for technological vision-care advances, ranging from genetic testing for eye disease, to "bladeless" laser surgery, to new kinds of lenses that can be implanted to improve vision after cataract surgery.

The building's upper two floors will house advanced laboratories for Type 1 diabetes research, and cutting-edge facilities for communication and data-sharing among diabetes researchers throughout U-M and beyond. The setup will foster programs and that will allow collaboration for researching eye-related complications of diabetes.

In part due to Michigan's aging population, outpatient visits to the main Kellogg location in Ann Arbor increased from 36,852 in 1985 to 78,228 in 2005. When this project is complete, clinical space with the expansion will increase from 50 examination rooms today to 73 rooms.

"Models for understanding and treating eye disorders are emerging from our laboratories right now," said Paul R. Lichter, M.D., director of the Kellogg Eye Center "With additional resources and space, we will be able to transform these concepts into technologies for treatment. Several current projects have potential to yield major breakthroughs, including drug development, gene therapy, and a novel device that will detect eye disease well before symptoms appear."

THE EIGHT-STORY Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

PLUMBING an examination room inside the Kellogg Eye Center addition is Jack Colegrove of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190 and Western Mechanical.



McCain's voting record shows worker issues not his priority

Republican presidential nominee John McCain has been a U.S. senator from Arizona since 1987, after serving as a U.S. House member for four years. His 25 years of service as a lawmaker in the federal government has created an extensive paper trail in Congress that helps voters see where he stands.

Following is a record of votes and quotes by McCain as they pertain to union members and other working Americans, provided by the AFL-CIO.

McCain voted against a clean minimum wage increase for working families. McCain voted with the Republicans in 2007 to stall a clean minimum wage increase for working families - before bowing to public pressure and voting to pass the final bill that included tax breaks for businesses. He also voted to completely repeal the minimum wage laws in 45 states and allow the other five states to opt out of any future minimum wage increases above $5.15 an hour. [H.R. 2, Vote #23, 1/24/07; Vote #24, 1/24/07; Vote #25, 1/25/07; Vote #37, 1/31/07; Vote #39, 1/31/07; Vote #42, 1/31/07; S. 2766, Vote #179, 6/21/06; S. 256, Vote #26, 3/7/05]

Minimum wage II. When the Senate was debating a minimum wage increase in 2006 and the Senate's many pay raises over the past decade were brought up, McCain called the comparison "a very clever ploy." He defended his opposition to the minimum wage increase, saying he had foregone Senate pay raises, "…sometimes to the dismay of my family."

However, McCain's 2005 personal financial disclosure reported that his family held assets worth between $27 million and $42 million, which generated income between $1.8 million and $4.6 million. [ABC News, 7/2/06; McCain 2005 Personal Financial Disclosure Statement]

But McCain supported tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. McCain voted for a budget reconciliation bill in 2005 that included a $60 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, with more than three quarters of the benefits going to families with $100,000 or more in annual income. [S. 2020, Vote #26, 11/18/05]

McCain tried to limit the nation's prevailing wage law. McCain supported an amendment to prohibit application of Davis-Bacon (prevailing wage) requirements for fair wages in declared federal disaster areas. It would have undercut the wages of people working in the harshest conditions. Prevailing wage laws are the single most important factor in upholding construction worker wages, both union and nonunion. [S. 1650, Vote #320, 10/7/99]

Then he did it again. McCain voted to table - but not approve - a "sense of the Senate" measure saying the Davis-Bacon Act, which protects workers' paychecks on public construction projects, should not be repealed. [S Amdt. 4031, Vote #134, 5/22/96]

…And again. McCain voted to waive Davis-Bacon Act wage requirements for contractors on federal drinking water projects. [S. 2019, Vote #118, 5/18/94; H.R. 5132, Vote #105, 5/21/92; H.R. 2916, Vote #181, 9/19/89]

McCain voted to create an underclass of construction workers not subject to prevailing wage laws. He voted to allow the Bush administration to create a new class of workers called "helpers," who would have no formal training and would not fall under Davis- Bacon wage protection requirements. [H.R. 2518, Vote #289, 9/28/93]

McCain voted against protections for workers' overtime rights. McCain voted against protecting workers' overtime pay from Bush administration rules that would remove the overtime rights of 6 million workers. [S. 1637, Vote #79, 5/4/04]

McCain opposed worker safety and ergonomic standards. McCain voted to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from issuing, implementing or enforcing standards to protect workers from ergonomic injuries. [H.R. 4577, Vote #143, 6/22/00]

McCain voted to gut the Family and Medical Leave Act. In 1993, before finally voting for the Family and Medical Leave Act, McCain voted to jeopardize leave for millions of workers by gutting the bill. He voted to suspend the act unless the federal government either certified that compliance would not increase costs for business or provided financial assistance to businesses to cover any costs associated with implementing the law. [S. Amdt. 16, S. 5, Vote #7, 2/4/93; H.R. 1, Vote #11, 2/4/93]

McCain opposed extending federal unemployment insurance benefits for jobless workers. McCain voted against extending the expiring Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for another six months, with an additional 13 weeks of benefits for workers who exhaust their federal benefits while looking for a new job. The amendment also called for unemployment benefits for low-wage workers and workers seeking part-time employment. At the time the program was due to expire, more than 1 million long-term jobless workers were nearing the end of their state benefits. [S. 1054, Vote #152, 5/15/03]



Iron Workers show off new training center

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

WIXOM - The new and improved Iron Workers Local 25 Training Center is open for business.

A ribbon-cutting on April 25 marked the grand opening of the facility. It was attended by Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry, local officers, and contractors. A similar celebration and open house for members and their families was held the following day.

"This facility empowers members of the iron workers to keep abreast of their craft, and make sure jobs are done safely and well," said Lt. Gov. John Cherry, who was on hand for the ribbon-cutting. "On behalf of the state, congratulations on putting this facility here and making sure our society's workforce is trained and ready."

Ground was broken on the project in November 2006 after a process that involved several years of consideration, site selection and design. Local 25 and its contractors were looking to replace a cramped facility along I-96 in Livonia, and opted to purchase a six-acre site off Pontiac Trail. Schonsheck, Inc. managed the construction of the new building.

Also in attendance was Walt Wise, general secretary of Iron Workers International Union, who called the new training center "a flagship facility."

"This building reflects a commitment to provide good jobs and good futures for workers in the community by iron workers and their contractors," he said.

Bill Treharne of Midwest Steel, chairman of the Joint Apprenticeship Committee, told attendees that the new facility will teach skills that have been handed down from generation - "skills that you can sell in the marketplace."

"We train apprentices and journeymen to be the best that they can be," Treharne said. "Today we dedicate this training center so that iron workers can enjoy a successful career."

The new facility offers 31,560 square feet of space - three times larger than the old training center. It includes three classrooms, an indoor shop, and extensive mockups of all facets of the trade.

"We have a new facility that will provide apprentices with skills and hands-on training that will benefit our workforce now and into the future," said Local 25 Business Manager Jim Hamric.

The training center is a collaboration between Iron Workers Local 25, the Great Lakes Fabricators and Erectors Association, the Associated General Contractors of Michigan, Inc., the Michigan Conveyor Manufacturers Association, the ReSteel Contractors Association and the Great Lakes Metal Building Erectors Association.

"The key to this whole industry and the livelihood of the contractors rests on their shoulders" - apprentices, said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council President Patrick "Shorty" Gleason, a former Local 25 business manager. "Now they have all the tools in their gangbox that they need, going forward."

Training Coordinator Mike Relyin said a total of 43 technical, safety and certification courses will be offered at the school. He said the additional space at the school not only allows the school to expand teaching opportunities, it allows them to offer "on-demand" courses for contractors with special training requests. Currently, the center has 190 apprentices on its roster.

He said the actual move from Livonia to Wixom took place last summer, but it took months to get all the equipment set up in the new facility.

"During the planning we tried to think of everything we would need for classroom and hands-on training that would be second to none," Relyin said. "We incorporated ideas from training centers around the country, and I think we've built one of the best."

LISTENING TO Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry at the mike during the dedication of the new Training Center are (seated l-r) J. Michael Dornan, (City Manager-Wixom); William Treharne (Chairman IW Local 25 JATC, Midwest Steel); Patrick "Shorty" Gleason (President-Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, former Business Manager IW Local 25); Greg Hicks (General Organizer for the Iron Workers International Union, former Business Manager IW Local 25); Walter Wise (General Secretary for the Iron Workers IU) and Jim Hamric (Business Manager, Local 25).


News Briefs

Still good news in nonresidential
Washington, D.C. - The nation's nonresidential construction market apparently hasn't received the memo that the nation is teetering toward a recession.

"Nonresidential construction spending rose an impressive 1.3 percent in March and 12 percent compared to March 2007," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) on May 1.

He was commenting on the March construction spending figures released by the Census Bureau the same day. "The housing slump buried this news by dragging total spending down by 1.1 percent for the month and 3.4 percent for the year," Simonson added. "Yet nearly every category of nonresidential spending continued to exceed year-ago levels."

Simonson said private and public nonresidential construction is a sector that's still growing, "although public spending is losing speed." He said private nonresidential spending was up 15 percent from March 2007, while public spending grew 7.2 percent.

The AGC forecaster said public spending on construction is expected to flatten or shrink for highways, schools and other public projects. For private construction, he expects "ongoing vigor" in spending on power, energy, communications, hospital, higher education and military base-related projects, offset by a likely retreat by office and retail construction.

The biggest challenge this year: "runaway materials costs," Simonson warned. "Yesterday, a steel supplier told customers the price of re-bar was rising another $100 overnight, compounding increases of 40 to 70 percent earlier this year. The retail price of diesel fuel is now almost 50 percent higher than a year ago. Copper is close to its all-time high set in May 2006, and near-record prices for oil and natural gas may push up asphalt and plastics prices."

Laborers leave; alliance dissolves
Average hourly construction earnings moved up 4.4 percent from March 2007 to February 2008, according to a report issued last month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, taking the inflation rate into account, the increase only amounted to .01 percent.

The pay hikes for construction were an improvement over the average U.S. workforce, which jumped 3.9 percent. But adjusted for inflation, the pay hikes weren't hikes at all: the BLS numbers show that in real dollars, all non-supervisory American workers saw their earning power drop by .4 percent.

The average weekly wage in America for all workers as of February is $607.49, or $31,589 per year. The nation's construction workers do even better, on average earning $828.36 per week, or $43,074 per year.


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