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May 2, 2003

State's get-tough law on work-zone speeders gets first court review

A tuck-point here, a new panel there provide facelift for Maccabees Building

Steam crane still alive and scooping

Your health and safety matters…Since you're not stronger than dirt, make trench safety a priority

Trades take center stage at performing arts center



State's get-tough law on work-zone speeders gets first court review

Michigan's new law imposing tougher penalties on work zone speeders who injure or kill road workers is being applied for the first time in the courts.

Enacted on Oct. 1, 2001, Public Act 103 creates penalties of up to one year in prison for injuring and up to 15 years behind bars for killing a highway construction or maintenance worker. Michigan was the first state in the nation to adopt such stiff penalties.

Now, Stacey Ann Bettcher, 31, of Macomb Township is the first person to be charged under the law. Jury selection in Macomb Circuit Court began April 17. While driving on a restricted license, Bettcher is accused of killing Tanya Loewen, 26, a civil engineer from Canada, on Aug. 9, 2002. In the same accident, she also severely injured William Hattan, 41, of Portland, Mich. They were working on the shoulder of I-94 near Joy Road in Harrison Township.

The new statute is called "Andy's Law," named after Andrew Lefko, a 19-year-old road worker who was paralyzed after being hit while working on I-275. The law also imposed fines of $7,500 on guilty motorists.

State law says that in order to be charged under Andy's Law, the driver must be committing a moving violation that carries a criminal penalty. For example, a driver must be traveling under the influence of drugs or alcohol, have a restricted, suspended or revoked license, or be driving recklessly. Excessive speed and driving "carelessly" do not carry criminal penalties, so they do not apply under this law.

Examples include driving on a suspended, restricted or revoked license; driving recklessly or driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Speeding or driving carelessly are not included since they do not carry criminal penalties.

"When someone approaches a construction zone, we want them to realize it's time to put down the coffee, stop tuning the radio, slow down and put two hands on the wheel," said the Michigan Road Builders Association's Mike Eckert.

In the effort to get motorists to slow down, Michigan in 1996 doubled the fines of speeders through work zones. In 2002, state law was changed that increased points for drivers who speed by construction workers. Up to five points can be assessed for speeders who travel 15 mph or more through work zones.


A tuck-point here, a new panel there provide facelift for Maccabees Building

By Marty Mulcahy

Properly anchored and protected, the 76-year-old limestone panels on the Maccabees building in Detroit would probably adorn the exterior of the building for several lifetimes.

But over the years, wind-blown rain and freeze-and-thaw cycles have brought about failure in mortar, caulk seams and flashings. With those maintenance projects neglected, moisture seeped behind the limestone panels and ate away at the steel underpinnings of the limestone panels. The situation finally came to a head last year, when Chezcore Inc. and the building trades were called in to perform emergency work to shore up the Maccabees Building panels that were in danger of breaking loose.

"I think in the contract they were talking about taking care of 'imminent dangers,'" said Chezcore President Dave Cieszkowski. "No panels ever fell off the building. We caught it in time, but there's no question, some of the steel behind the panels was really bad and there were some pretty scary stones on that building."

Work began on the project on Aug. 1. Late last month, seven Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 masons and three laborers were on the project installing the final 40 panels of 500 that were scheduled to be replaced. Replacement was necessary because the failure of the underpinnings caused many of the veneer stones to spall, crack and heave.

The emergency portion of the project is coming to a close, but it's likely that a long-term renovation project will follow that should shore up the entire exterior for years to come.

Constructed in 1927, the 14-story Art-Deco-style Maccabees Building on Woodward and Warren was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn. It was built to be the world headquarters of the Order of the Maccabees, a fraternal and benevolent society. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Maccabees group moved to Southfield in 1960. The Detroit Public Schools (DPS) then purchased the building and made it their headquarters, renaming it the Schools Center Building. Now the DPS is selling the landmark structure to Wayne State University, where it will revert to its original name - but the fascia had to be fixed before the sale could be completed.

The original design called for most of the four-inch thick limestone panels to be held in place by two metal straps. It's a system that works fine if the joints between the panels are maintained properly, but as Cieszowski said, exterior maintenance on a limestone building is usually low on the priority scale for the owner.

Some of supporting steel for the panels failed and is being replaced. Other support steel that is still sound is being removed, sandblasted clean, getting two coats of epoxy rust inhibitor paint, and put back into place. New stainless steel anchors are being used to reinstall the stones.

Replacement panels - the biggest of which weigh 3,000 lbs. - have been cut from the same quarry in Indiana where the building's original panels were taken. However, decades of grime on the building's existing panels make matchmaking difficult.

Rich Montmorency, Chezcore's project manager for the Maccabees Building, said he is getting an on-the-job education in Albert Kahn's building techniques. He said there is a "logical, mathematical repeat in the placement of the limestone panels from floor to floor. You can tell that with the placement of the larger and smaller stones, he did it in the most economical way possible, and the result is a good-looking building."

He said Kahn used no more than 25 different sizes of limestone, and from floor to floor and column to column, the stones are basically the same, which no doubt simplified the construction process and now the reconstruction process.

"Isn't this a great building?" said Local 1 mason Bobby Johnson. "I'm glad they're bringing these old buildings back, and I enjoy being part of it."

A SMALLER LIMESTONE panel gets moved into place on a parapet wall atop the Maccabees Building in Detroit. Doing the work are (l-r) Bobby "Beaner" Johnson and Rick Krueger of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, and Jeffrey "Scooby" Gray of Laborers Local 334. All were working for Chezcore, Inc.

THE FRONT of the Maccabees Building.


Steam crane still alive and scooping

FRANKFORT - Michigan's last steam-powered crane is good to go for another season of work.

Last fall, we reported that the days were numbered for a barge-mounted Orton-Whirley steam-powered crane operated by the Luedtke Engineering Co, a commercial dredging and breakwater repair company that employs operating engineers and seafarers. The owners were seriously contemplating putting the crane out to pasture, so to speak, by selling it, donating it to a museum, or as a very last resort, cutting it up for scrap.

But in talking to Luedtke Engineering President Kurt Luedtke last month, "we've still got it, and we'll be putting her to work again this year," he said. "Right now, we're not actively looking for a buyer. It's still dependable, runs fine, and we've got the guys who know how to operate it."

The crane was built in 1939, and it's the only one known to still be working under steam power on the Great Lakes. The owners recognize the crane's historic value, but it doesn't have the lift capacity of more modern cranes, and they know the end of the line will come someday.

But for 2003, "we've got piles to drive, and this machine does the job," Luedtke said. "We're going to keep it running."

THAT'S STEAM, not diesel exhaust, emanating from the last known steam-powered crane on the Great Lakes.


Your health and safety matters…Since you're not stronger than dirt, make trench safety a priority

By Marty Mulcahy

At 2,700 lbs., a Volkswagen Beetle might be one of the lightest cars on the road. But you still wouldn't want one falling on your head.

The same theory applies to a cubic yard of soil, which also can weigh about 2,700 lbs. If you spend any time around that much excavated soil in a trench, the threat of being crushed or swallowed up by a ton or two of dirt should give any Hardhat cause for a pause before going in a ditch.

Each year, about 40 U.S. construction workers are killed in trenches. In addition, the fatality rate for excavation work is 112 percent higher than the rate for general construction.

The key to prevention, said OSHA's Jim Boom, "is the employer's leadership and commitment to a good safety and health program."

He said a crucial player in excavation safety is the company's designated "competent person." OSHA defines a competent person as one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards or working conditions that are hazardous, unsanitary, or dangerous to employees, and who also has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or control these hazards and conditions.

A designated person who is unfamiliar with the excavation requirements, who is unable to recognize hazards, or who doesn't have the authority to make corrective measures may miss a life-threatening condition.

At a minimum, OSHA said companies and workers should remember the three S's - sloping, shoring, or shielding - when planning an excavation.

OSHA's excavation standard requires employers to provide sloping (or benching), shoring, or shielding to protect employees in excavations five feet or more in depth. The only exception is for a trench dug in stable rock, where there is no loose soil or likelihood of a cave-in. Excavations less than five feet deep need not be protected unless a competent person has determined there is a cave-in hazard.

Here are a few other points to ponder, according to the Center to Protect Workers' Rights:

  • Keep the spoil pile two feet or more from the edge of the trench.
  • Prevent materials, rocks, or soil from falling into the trench; use barriers, if needed.
  • A competent person should test the air as often as needed to make sure it is safe.
  • If a trench caves in, call 911. Help your co-workers from outside the
    trench, if you can.
  • You must have a way to get out, like a ladder (within 25 feet of you), if the trench is four feet deep or more.

Boom pointed out, that the world weightlifting record for the "clean and jerk" is 573 lbs by Russian Andrey Chererkin.

"One cubic yard of soil weighs nearly five times the world weightlifting records, Boom said. "Could you push back 500 pounds of soil with your arms or legs or, more importantly, could you breathe or even survive under the weight?

"Plain old dirt is so heavy that when you get caught under it, you do not have the strength to move or breathe as the dirt presses against your chest. Think about it! That's why trenching work needs special protective systems - so workers can go home safe and healthy at the end of the day."


Trades take center stage at performing arts center

SAULT STE. MARIE - Northern Michigan's thespians, vocalists, hoofers and behind-the-scenes personnel next year will have a first-class facility in which to put their best foot forward, when Lake Superior State University's Fine and Performing Arts Center is scheduled to open its doors.

Currently the spotlight is on the building trades and Devere Construction, who began building the 725-seat, $15.3 million auditorium last fall.

LSSU says when the facility on the northwest corner of the campus opens in the fall of 2004 it will be "one of the best places in the region to see a performance or learn about how to produce one."

Lake Superior State pretty much knows what it's getting - the arts center is nearly an exact replica of a performing arts center built for Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, Michigan. The university's architect, TPI, suggested utilizing the Country Day design in order to save money and time by virtually eliminating construction change orders.

"This facility will fit in very nicely with Lake State's other campus buildings," said Rick Waligora, director of the LSSU Physical Plant. "In addition, the design is much more operations- and maintenance-friendly than previous designs. It will be easier to clean and take care of. It's a very user-friendly design."

He added, "The acoustics of the auditorium are wonderful. You can stand in the uppermost corner and listen to a normal conversation on stage with no amplification. Every seat in the house is excellent."

The new building also features classrooms, art studios, green rooms, set construction areas, rehearsal halls, faculty office space and an art gallery.

"The complex will provide a tremendous asset not only to fine arts students and patrons of the arts, but it will be a welcome addition to the cultural and social atmosphere of the Eastern Upper Peninsula and Northern Ontario, as well," said Bruce Harger, LSSU's acting vice president for academic affairs and provost.

PREPPING A PIPE for a weld at the Lake Superior State University's Fine and Performing Arts Center is Ben Eichhorn of Plumbers & Pipefitters 506 and Dressler Mechanical.
Photo by John Shibley/LSSU



Unions question plane maintenance abroad
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Citing security concerns, the Teamsters, the Machinists, the Transport Workers and the AFL-CIO asked the federal government to suspend U.S. airplane maintenance overseas.

They told Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy in an April 10 letter that security safeguards at most of the 600 foreign aircraft maintenance stations are unknown and that workers at those stations have not undergone security checks.

By contrast, domestic maintenance stations and workers have been cleared, said Transportation Trades Department and TWU President Sonny Hall and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka in their letter. As of April 15, there has been no reply.

"The State Department and other agencies frequently warned about threats occurring outside the U.S. but directed at U.S. citizens and interests. We are concerned that certified foreign aircraft repair stations...eligible to work on U.S. aircraft could provide terrorists with an opportunity to jeopardize U.S. aviation safety without having to enter this country," they said.

The Transportation Department's own inspector general "found security vulnerabilities" at the foreign repair stations, they noted. They added that the financially ailing airline industry might increase the risk by trying to outsource more repairs to the overseas stations, where labor costs are lower.

In fact, Northwest Airlines, using its contract with an independent mechanics union - which ousted the Machinists several years ago - has outsourced 40 percent of its DC-10 repairs to Singapore.

Unmanned trains A terrorist threat, too?
While we're on the subject of potential terrorist threats, here's another one no one thinks about: the use of unmanned train locomotives.

Several hundred unionists rallied against the unmanned locomotives in March outside the offices of the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington.

Ralf Schultz, a member of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Local 458, told PAI that "he could walk into a rail yard" on Chicago's West Side right now "and steal a locomotive." And so, for that matter, could an al-Qaeda terrorist.

There are a number of engineers around the country who don't spend any time looking out the windshield of a locomotive in a freight yard - they're operating engines by computer with a mouse from a control tower. The locomotives are empty.

The "engineers" are running the engines by computer mouse from control towers.

That development worries Schultz and union leaders. They say it leaves freight trains, many of them laden with hazardous materials, wide open to terrorist takeover.

BLE President James Hahs said, the major railroads want to expand" the area where unmanned locomotives can run up to 75 miles from a terminal. But even after 65 accidents involving the unmanned locomotives - including one that killed a rail worker in Syracuse, N.Y. - the federal agency refuses to require engineers on those locomotives.


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