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May 2, 2008

Clinton, Obama build their case before building trades delegates

Bringing foremen to the forefront is path to higher union share

MI Supreme Court maintains legal path for injured workers

Trades creating a bigger Big House

Unions show off May 16-18 in Detroit

News Briefs


Clinton, Obama build their case before building trades delegates

Clinton: 'We will give you the tools to enforce Davis-Bacon'
Obama: "It's time we had a president who didn't choke on saying the word 'union' "

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the two remaining Democratic presidential hopefuls, offered specific lists of pro-worker stands to the 3,000 delegates to the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department legislative-political conference.

The back-to-back speeches on April 15 (Obama) and April 16 (Clinton) came as the two joust for support among workers and their families. There were 2,405 delegates and 1,000 guests.

Both took sharp jabs at Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumed GOP nominee, after lambasting incumbent anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush. Clinton said Bush turned the Labor Department "into the Department of Anti-Labor." Obama said Bush converted DOL into "the Department of Management."

"Turning around all the damage from George W. Bush will not be easy," warned Clinton. Obama reminded the crowd that in addition, GOP Vice President Cheney, as a Halliburton executive, "raided workers' pensions for his golden parachute."

As for McCain, Clinton dismissed him as "a GOP nominee who has served his country with dedication and honor" in the military "but who is just dead wrong about everything." And Obama said, "I don't think America can afford four more years of the failed Bush policies and that's what he (McCain) is offering. We need to roll back the Bush-McCain tax cuts and invest in things like health care that are really important."

Both candidates got loud receptions and frequent ovations, sometimes prompted by turning the lights on in the hall. Clinton's was louder, as members of the Painters, who have endorsed her, were seated in front when she spoke, wearing pro-Clinton T-shirts. When Obama spoke, the Laborers - who have made no decision - were in front. The two agreed on many issues important to workers, including:

* Backing the right to organize. Obama repeated his line that "It's time we had a president who didn't choke on saying the word 'union' " and reminded the crowd that he walked away from a downtown Chicago corporate law firm to started his career as an organizer among steel workers at the city's shuttered South Side plants.
"We need to strengthen our unions by letting them do what they do best - organize. If a majority want a union, they should get a union. And that is why I'll fight for and intend to sign the Employee Free Choice Act when it lands on my desk at the White House," he declared.

  • Preserving Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws. Obama said that when he's in the White House, construction workers will not have to worry about GOP-inspired repeal efforts. He also said would restore project labor agreements for federally funded construction work. Clinton made the same pledge, noting that Bush's father also dumped PLAs and her husband restored them, only to see George W. Bush dump them again. "It takes a Clinton to clean up the mess the Bushes left," she commented.
  • Clinton added her Labor Department "will crack down on contractors who violate Davis-Bacon" and promised that "we will give you the tools to enforce Davis-Bacon," through "meaningful access to contractor pay records." Over its GOP governor's veto, the Democratic-run Minnesota legislature enacted its own statewide Davis-Bacon enforcement law, and a case involving that is on trial in the southern part of the state.
  • 'Independent contractors' dodge. Obama pointed out that, after hearing from construction workers and honest contractors in Illinois, he previously introduced legislation to outlaw contractor misclassification of workers as "independent contractors." That misclassification, widespread in construction, lets unscrupulous contractors avoid paying Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on behalf of their workforce, and evade workers' comp. Illinois has outlawed such misclassification statewide.

Clinton agreed, calling misclassification "wrong and against the law and un-American, and I'll put an end to it." She did not mention the legislation outlawing it.

(The same day Obama spoke, Reps. James McDermott (D-Wash.), Richard Neal and John Tierney (both D-Mass.) introduced a House bill outlawing the independent contractors' dodge. Change to Win Executive Director Greg Tarpinian praised the measure, saying firms use the dodge "to use tax fraud as a business model.")

Health care for all. Clinton said she was "the only candidate with a plan for universal health care," but did not give details. Obama's universal plan would cover kids, but he said its pro-competition aspects would make insurance affordable to all adults by driving premiums down by $2,500 per family per year. "And for those who don't have health care, we're going to set up a plan as good as he one I have as a member of Congress," he stated.
Each hopeful offered some details that the other did not cover:

  • Obama promised to support federal funding for the Building Trades' helmets-to-hardhats program, which offers returning war veterans apprenticeships and training in skilled construction trades, followed by job placement - and union membership. Clinton also praised helmets-to-hardhats, but did not discuss money.
  • Clinton pushed her "Rebuild America" plan, to sell $3 billion in bonds "as we did in World War II" but for rebuilding infrastructure. She also pledged to "crack down on countries like China that steal our defense secrets" and to "keep defense jobs in America," both key causes of the Machinists.

She specifically cited the case of then-unionized MagnaQuench in Indiana, now closed by its new Chinese owners. Plant workers made magnets for smart bombs, she noted, adding: "The jobs went to China; so did the technology. Bush did nothing. This makes no sense at all."


Bringing foremen to the forefront is path to higher union share

By Mark Breslin
(Tenth in a series)

Our industry can double both market share and union membership in ten years. I firmly believe this and also have a strategy for you to consider that supports the objective.

First let's look at what we are doing now. Training. Organizing. Client Service. Codes of Conduct. Restructuring. Apprenticeship. Marketing. Politics and PLAs. Workforce Development. All these are essential components of a viable business model, but none of them are direct engines of growth. They are cylinders only.

The key to growing market share and membership is to grow union contractor capacity.

The union construction industry is self-restricted in its current ability to grow due to limited capacity. Capacity being defined as, "how much total work can all union contractors and workers perform at maximum output." I propose that the primary obstacle to our growth and expansion is the lack of qualified field management. If contractors cannot find foremen and superintendents to build crews around, there is nothing else that can assist them in increasing the size of their firms.

Union contractor capacity is directly constrained by the amount of work they can profitably manage. Thus in many instances a contractor comfort zone exists at current volumes and especially in their current markets. Conversely, if there are increases in qualified field management, contractors will build crews around these individuals. Also contractor risk is directly tied to the capability of their field foremen and superintendents. By increasing their qualifications and ability, we reduce contractor risk in their profit vs. growth calculation.

We cannot build market share on apprentices. They are a critical investment for the future, but they do not increase contractor capacity except at a basic level. Organizing importantly increases capacity by adding new union contractors and workers; but if more workers are added without foremen to lead them, they are destined for a lot of bench time. Our other tools do not relate to capacity. Contractors need to have real building blocks for additional capacity and they will not expand further into current or new markets without them.

To examine the impact of qualified foremen and field leadership, let's review the following numbers.

In 2008, for example, let's use 1.5 million union construction workers in the U.S. and Canada as our benchmark.

Now how many workers are usually on a crew under one foreman? Obviously, this depends on the craft. But again, for example, let's say six guys per crew.

With this example, that would mean that there are around 250,000 foremen leading crews of six to seven guys on any given day in North America.

If you agree that contractors can only perform as much work as they can profitably manage, that means that adding management capacity equals growth in crews. If 250,000 foremen = 1.5 million union craftsmen, then one net new qualified foreman = six to seven craft workers. If you question this model you might want to look at our competition, whose ownership of 85% of the market is based on this principle (one good guy and six warm bodies).

Now, how to really grow union construction capacity? By providing every union contractor in the U.S. and Canada with one new qualified foreman every year for ten years. That does not seem like such a large number. Only one guy per company per year? Well let's run these numbers and see what kind of impact it has.

Take all the building and construction unions in the US and aggregate all their signatory contractors. I wonder how many there are? Well, if the average size company out there employs 20 union guys, that would mean there are roughly 75,000 union contractors. If you don't like those numbers, try 40 (a very high estimate) as the average number of employees and you still get 37,500 union contractors. Let's add just one foreman a year per company for a contractor to build a crew around and see what happens.

If 37,500 union contractors add one net new foreman per year x six field craft persons = 225,000 new possible capacity and union members per year.

75,000 contractors add one net foreman per year x 6 field craft persons = 450,000 new possible capacity and union members per year.

Now multiply these numbers times ten years.

I know that the numbers above are rough and are not statistically perfect. So I invite you to cut them in half again. You will still come up with a very large increase in contractor capacity and double existing membership in ten years. And where will the workers come from, you ask, in this era of hand-wringing on workforce shortages? Right from our competition; decreasing their capacity, volume and market coverage.

Labor and management have been far too concerned with the bottom of the construction field workforce pyramid. Easily $500 million to $1 billion a year is spent collectively by all the unions and employers on apprenticeship and training. How much of that is directed at foremen and supervisory personnel? How many net new foremen are coming on-line annually (and what will that look like as the Boomers retire)? Ten years and five to ten billion dollars in training funds from now where will we be? Where else do we grow our capacity if not here and now?

Contractors can and will grow their businesses if given the right tools. There is no tool more powerful and compelling to build around than highly qualified foremen. They make the money. They drive the jobs. They mentor the young. They are the key. And simply matching that foreman with one key man is how each crew begins and each company expands.

Want to double up our market share and membership? It's going to require different strategies, allocation of resources and a new leadership development mindset. I think it can be done if we build a new leadership culture that drives capacity. Ten years. Let's start now.

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. Coming soon a new Breslin Book for apprentice instruction: Million Dollar Blue Collar: Managing Your Earnings for Life and Work Success.
More on his work and profile is available at



MI Supreme Court maintains legal path for injured workers

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - A recently settled personal injury case for an injured electrician showed, if nothing else, that the Michigan Supreme Court moves in mysterious ways.

The majority of justices on the state High Court, which is a 5-2 bloc of conservative vs. liberal justices, has rarely missed an opportunity to limit the ability of aggrieved workers to win damages from companies. But this time, a 7-0 ruling by the Supreme Court opened the door to a settlement for an injured electrician, and (soft of) maintains a legal path for how construction personal injury cases can be litigated in Michigan.

According to Southfield attorney Marshall Lasser, who litigated the case for the electrician, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a company acting as a construction project manager "has a duty to fix a safety hazard in a common work area which poses a high degree of risk to workers…."

Curiously, however, the Supremes also dismissed from legal liability the subcontractors that were responsible for the actual placement of the pipes on the floor. The High Court ruled the subcontractors "owed no duty" to the electrician to move their pipes from the walkway floor - "even though their contracts required them to obey OSHA," Lasser said.

He added: "Given the history of this Supreme Court, it's an odd ruling." The legal lesson to be taken away from the case, he said, is that injured workers continue to have a legal target: general contractors/construction managers. Another legal observer at the same time said the ruling "raises the bar" for legal action against subcontractors.

The injury took place in August 1999. The electrician rounded a corner and stepped on a set of pipes that were on a floor in a common work area of the IMAX theatre under construction in Dearborn. The electrician fell and had to undergo surgery on his wrist and shoulder. Bones were removed from his wrist, which was fused so that it couldn't move up or down or side to side. He hasn't worked in the trade since.

In 2000 Lasser filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client against the construction manager and three piping subcontractors. Lasser claimed that the construction manager/general contractor has a duty to fix safety hazards which "posed a high risk to a significant number of workers in a common work area," even if they are "open and obvious" - such as pipes on the floor of a walkway.

He also claimed the subcontractors owed a duty under their contracts - which obligated them to obey safety regulations - to move their pipes out of the passageway, as required by OSHA.

In 2001, the trial court dismissed the case, ruling that because the pipes on the floor were "open and obvious," neither the construction manager nor the subs owed the injured electrician any duty to move the pipes from the walkway floor. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. But the state's ultra-conservative high court - whose rulings have made it extremely difficult for workers to win judgments against companies - looked at the case on appeal in 2005 and assigned responsibility to the general contractor/construction manager.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Wayne County Circuit Court for trial against the general contractor. From there, the case bounced around the trial court and the appeals court, and during that time one of the subcontractor's insurance companies cut off the electrician from workers' compensation benefits, claiming he had no work-related disability.

Both the negligence case and a lawsuit to re-institute the disability award were slated for trial in April. At the last minute, however, the insurance companies for the general contractor and the subs agreed to pay the victim's settlement demands, "which ran into "many hundreds of thousands of dollars," Lasser said.

Case closed.


Trades creating a bigger Big House

By Mark Breslin

ANN ARBOR - It's first and ten for the expansion of Michigan Stadium, a project which will extend over three years and result in dramatic changes in the appearance of the big bowl.

Iron work substantially began this season on two multi-story additions above the east and west sides of the stadium. On the outside of the stadium, the appearance of the design will be dominated by masonry, which will blend with the rest of the stadium and nearby buildings.

"In addition to funding improvements to the game-day experience for all fans, this project will provide a strong financial foundation for the competitiveness of Michigan athletics in the decades ahead," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

Barton Malow is managing the $226 million project, which began late last year but is really starting to take shape as the weather warms.

According to the U of M, the west-side structure will include an elevated concourse, a new press box for media and game operations, new club seats with chair backs, and enclosed seating. The east-side structure will include an elevated concourse with new concessions and restrooms, and additional indoor and outdoor seating. All told, the additional room will total 400,000 square feet of space.

The structures, which at their highest point will stand 10 feet higher than the current scoreboards, include 83 suites and 3,200 club seats. Construction work will be phased over a period of three years in order not to interrupt home football games. The entire project is expected to be completed prior to the 2010 fall football season.

Some seats will be lost during the expansion, but the additional seating will boost University of Michigan Stadium capacity from its current 107,501 to 108,000 - maintaining its designation as the largest college football venue in the nation. And for wide-bottom Maize and Blue fans - or those who sit near them - the news gets better. Nearly every bench seat in the bowl will be widened between a quarter of an inch or just over an inch as part of the renovation.

The plans also call for buildings to be constructed on the concourse at the north and south end zones. These buildings will house additional restrooms and concessions, and support functions such as first-aid, police/security and will-call. The structures will be covered in the same brickwork as the new sideline buildings.

Other improvements to the stadium will include an increase in the number and quality of restrooms; an increase in the number of concession stands and a greater variety of fare; widening the aisles; adding handrails; increasing the number of points of entry and exit for improved crowd circulation and a safer environment; and adding dedicated seating for fans with impaired mobility.

Athletic Director William C. Martin said the goals of the expansion project are to "improve the safety and overall game-day experience for all fans and provide a strong financial foundation for the competitiveness of Michigan athletics in the future."

(Information provided by the University of Michigan)

THE PRESS BOX at the University of Michigan Football Stadium is getting surrounded by iron, as iron workers start building the framework for a new press box, club seating, and luxury suites.

CONDUIT FOR scoreboard wiring is installed in a concourse at the U-M Stadium by Ed Swift Jr. and Nick Apostoleris of IBEW Local 252 and Shaw Electric.

HERE'S A RENDERING of the massive structure to be built above the stands of U-M Stadium, aka The Big House. The west side is shown here, the east side will have a similar structure. (Rendering from the U-M)



Unions show off May 16-18 in Detroit

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

Union members, their families and the general public are invited to attend what may be the final America-at-Work Union Industries Show, slated for the weekend of May 16-18 at Cobo Center.

Show hours that weekend are Friday, Saturday & Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information go to

Since its inception in 1938, the Union Industries Show has been held in Detroit only twice: 1961 and in 1995. The 2008 show will spotlight the newest union-made products in the country, including automobiles, motorcycles, tools, work clothes, appliances, work boots, sporting equipment and building products. Admission is free.

"We're looking forward to working with the Michigan State AFL-CIO and the Detroit Central Labor Council to make this show a breakthrough for our exhibitors and the Department," said Union Label and Service Trades Department President Charles Mercer.

For the first time, the show will include the sale of union-made-in-the-USA products and services from the show floor. Show organizers are also encouraging local contractors to market union construction services, too, so several local building trades unions will have a presence at the show.

The 1995 show in Detroit featured products like Right Guard antiperspirant, Pennzoil Motor Oil, Rice Krispies and Vlasic Pickles. Numerous sample items were given away. Organizers estimated a record 300,000 people attended the show, a record at the time.

The site of the first union industries show was in Cincinnati in 1938. "The public does need to look for the Union Labels of the American Federation of Labor and its affiliated national and international unions, plainly imprinted upon thousands of products in various fields, proving that the particular articles were produced under ideal conditions by fairly paid workers who feel a just pride in their craftsmanship," declared AFL President William Green at the time.

The Executive Board of the Union Label & Service Trades Department has approved the selection of Detroit as the site for the 2008 America-at-Work Union Industries Show, along with significant changes in how the Show will work-including the sale of union-made-inthe USA products and services from the Show floor.

Arrangements are underway to showcase and sell automobiles, motorcycles, sporting goods, clothing, housewares, appliances, food stuff, glassware, computers, furniture-the entire gamut of goods typically on display. The Department will be encouraging local contractors to also market union services-from painting, roofing, electrical and brickwork, plumbing, and more.

Since 1938, the Union Industries Show has been held in Detroit only twice: 1961 and in 1995. The 2008 Show is expected to spotlight the newest products of the United Auto Workers (UAW) from its own back yard in Detroit's massive Cobo Hall-a 700,000 square foot convention and exhibition center in the city's downtown. Named for Alfred Cobo, Detroit's mayor through most of the 1950s, the center was built in 1960 and renovated in 1989. The last time the Show visited Detroit was in 1996. In the 12 years since, Cobo Hall management has instituted a number of improvements in how the facility operates. "In our negotiations with Cobo Hall management we discussed the concerns that exhibitors raised from the 1996 experience and we have been assured that those concerns have been resolved," said UL&STD President Charles Mercer. "We're looking forward to working with the Michigan State AFL-CIO and the Detroit Central Labor Council to make this Show a breakthrough for our exhibitors and the Department," he said.

With the U.S. economy still in the throes of the Great Depression, the 24 international unions and 58 exhibitors staffing 230 booths at 1938 Union-Industries Show in Cincinnati welcomed more than 178,000 visitors and gave away some $20,000 worth of prizes and premiums. The Show featured daily entertainment from actors, singers and musician, and a daily newspaper spotlighting Show events for the day

Cincinnati's Building Trades erected a complete home illustrating modern craft products and state-of-the-art plumbing, heating, flooring and roofing-described as a "splendid advertising media for various Union Label products used in construction and for the skilled craftsmanship of Union workers."

Visitors also saw a complete Post Office which issued a special stamp commemorating the event, along with displays by various service organizations, including the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. Union clothing manufacturers displayed their wares during fashion shows alongside displays of union made work clothes and high fashion items.

A random look at some of extraordinary pictures from Union-Industries Show down through the years provides an interesting look at how the Show has changed; and how some aspects have remained the same. Show visitors were often entertained by many of the biggest stars from the entertainment world-including Bob Hope and Lana Turner, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

"The public does need to look for the Union Labels of the American Federation of Labor and its affiliated national and international unions, plainly imprinted upon thousands of products in various fields, proving that the particular articles were produced under ideal conditions by fairly paid workers who feel a just pride in their craftsmanship," declared AFL President William Green in announcing plans to hold the first Union Industries Show in Cincinnati on May 16th as a "momentous national educational campaign never before attempted."

Conceding that typically consumers "are only remotely conscious" of goods carrying a label, Green said "We propose to leave no stone unturned in delivering the union market to the worthy American manufacturers who employ members of unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor."


News Briefs

Ypsilanti highlights school elections
Local boards of education preside over the spending of billions in construction every year in Michigan.
Some of it goes union, much of it doesn't - which should provide an incentive for union members to pay attention to the actions of school board members in their communities.

The Ypsilanti Board of Education is providing a timely lesson. Fred Veigel, president of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, wrote a letter to union members in that area and explained that the Ypsilanti School Board voted to give a $50 million, three-year school remodeling contract to "notoriously anti-union" Wolgast Construction.

"Here, we have a very serious situation where the local union tradesman who voted for millage and bond issues, many of whom are unemployed due to the recession, watching local jobs going to outside the area nonunion forces," Veigel wrote.

He added that local building trades union leaders tried to arrange a union-only project labor agreement for Ypsilanti schools, but a majority of the Board of Education refused.

As a result, union labor is supporting three candidates for the Ypsilanti Board of Education in the Tuesday, May 6 election.

Laborers leave; alliance dissolves
The National Construction Alliance: we hardly knew ye.

The group was formed in 2006 by the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Laborers International Union as a breakaway group from the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department. The group's main beefs with the department were over voting rights for international unions and the way jurisdictional disputes were settled, as well as how dues were being spent on organizing.

Shortly after the Laborers opted to rejoin the Building Trades on March 13, the group disbanded. Laborers President Terrence O'Sullivan said new Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers had sufficiently addressed their concerns.

A spokesman for the Operating Engineers told the Engineering News Record that the Operators and the Carpenters would form a new alliance outside of the Building Trades Department. "We still have some concerns about its operations," the spokesman for the Operators said.


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