May 25, 2007
Booming out to
Michigan tradesmen play key role in building U.S.
embassy in Iraq
transforms nurses into supervisors; what group is next?
workers would 'negatively impact' U.S. security, Bush Administration
Trades work to
reopen gate to the past
Pipe trades apprentice
contest is taking root
out to Baghdad
Michigan tradesmen play key role in building
U.S. embassy in Iraq
By Marty Mulcahy
A contingent of building tradesmen from Michigan are truly
putting the "journey" in journeyman, working 7,000
miles from home constructing a $592 million embassy complex on
And it's not just any embassy: it's located in Baghdad, Iraq,
in the midst of the longest and largest U.S. military operation
since the Vietnam War.
Many of the Michigan Hardhats arrived in Baghdad last Thanksgiving
weekend as part of a contingent that's constructing the secrecy-shrouded
U.S. embassy in the "Green Zone," a three-mile-long,
half-mile-wide cordoned-off area that houses the major base of
coalition military operations in Iraq.
The U.S. embassy is moving toward completion, and Michigan
tradespeople had a lot to do with its construction. According
to union construction workers we talked to, about half of the
70 tradespeople remaining on the job as of mid-May were union
Hardhats from Michigan - and the percentage was even higher several
How did that happen?
If you guess that limited opportunities for work in our state
has been a factor, you would be correct, although there were
other reasons. The pay varies by craft, with 70 hours per week
More than a year ago, one of the higher-ups in the U.S. State
Department learned that Michigan might be fertile ground for
recruiting workers to build the embassy, and approached several
union locals about seeing if workers would be willing to go to
Baghdad. A number of tradesmen accepted the offer, and have spent
the last six months of their lives in the capitol of the most
dangerous country on Earth, for Americans.
We obtained phone numbers for three of those workers, and
each were surprisingly easy to get ahold of, all things considered.
We talked to three foremen, Tom Donahue, 60, of Milford, a 42-year
member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80; Mike Woodley, 62, of
Port Huron, an un-retired 40-year member of IBEW Local 58, and
Bill Packer, 35, of Grosse Ile, a seven-year member of Pipe Fitters
Following is their take on working, eating, sleeping and "recreation"
in Baghdad First we asked them the question they say everyone
Why would you go to Baghdad?
Donahue said he was laid off and looking for work when the
opportunity arose to work on the embassy. "It was what you
might call a challenge," Donahue said, "to see whether
you could do it. Everybody says 'you've got to be crazy to go
over there.' My oldest son calls and sometimes asks if I'm alright.
I say, 'alright from what?' "
Woodley said a Local 80 business agent asked if I'd be interested,
and I was," Woodley said. "I was interested in the
challenge. For myself, the money wasn't a factor. For others,
Packer said he's with a group that he's worked with for a
few years. "The money played a part but it wasn't a motivating
factor," the former Marine said. "I was excited to
have the opportunity to work with people I know in building a
U.S. embassy." He said working in Baghdad may open the door
to other opportunities to build future U.S. installations overseas.
Once workers pass the extensive background checks, that valuable
clearance stays with them anywhere in the world, Packer said.
Getting there: The first leg is a commercial flight
from Detroit to Kuwait. Then a military flight to the Baghdad
airport. Then came a 3 a.m. ground ride to the Green Zone in
a convoy via an armored "Rhino" personnel carrier.
Helicopter air support was provided. No one reported any incidents.
"When we were riding to the Green Zone I kind of wondered
what I had gotten myself into," Donahue said. "When
I look back on it, it wasn't bad."
Going to work: They technically work for the Kasemen
Co. Packer said. He said a division of the U.S. State Department,
Overseas Building Operations, supervises construction. "The
job is generally run the same way as in the U.S." Donahue
said, "except we are actually individual subcontractors
ourselves." He said each worker reports to the foreman of
Most journeymen bring their tools on the trip. Larger items
like pipe threaders are provided. Woodley, the electrician foreman,
said materials were readily available, but shipped to the job
site in secure, diplomatic containers. He said on-the-job practices
were similar to those in Michigan - while some "requirements"
that he would not specify "were outside the industry norm."
Security was tight, with materials kept under lock and key. The
embassy is a multiple-story, highly secure building.
Overall, each tradesman praised the construction process,
their supervisors, and their co-workers. Donahue said as far
as he could tell their portion of the embassy job was done 90-95
percent union, and there have been only very minor injuries on
the job. A Kuwaiti firm managed a larger portion of the embassy
"I have no complaints at all," Woodley said. Added
Donahue: "Everything has been taken care of. It's been a
very well-organized job." Said Packer: "It's been positive
Steve Sutton, the Local 80 BA who helped arrange the trip
for the sheet metal workers, said the trades are earning a "significant"
wage over the scale in Michigan, plus fringes. "I'm really
proud that the government came to the unions for workers, because
they came to us specifically because of our productivity,"
Sleeping, eating and entertainment: Foremen get their own
trailer; two journeymen share a single trailer. They were reported
as being comfortable.
What limited recreation they have includes pool and ping-pong
in the villa. "We hang out on Saturday nights and have a
barbeque on Sunday," Packer said. Sunday is their only day
off. "There's not much to do when we're not working, we
usually just pull up benches and shoot the bull."
The food is good (and free), but the eating schedules are
regimented. Bus transportation takes workers to mess halls in
the Green Zone. Workers rub elbows at the tables with U.S. soldiers
and support personnel as well as those from various other nations.
A Subway and Burger King are also available. A PX (which is like
a grocery store) is available to buy sundry items, and there
are shops to buy clothes.
"Most of the soldiers are just kids, and they're great,"
Donahue said. "We talk to them all the time and get along
A small watering hole was recently closed down in the Green
Zone after it was mentioned in a Time Magazine article. Alcohol
is available for purchase, but in limited quantities.
As the world turns: The good news is that tradesmen
have access to cable television and the Internet. The bad news:
There are more than 100 cable channels available, "but only
three of them are English language," Woodley said. "None
of them is from the U.S. The news we get from the U.S. is mostly
from the headlines on the Internet." Tradesmen have their
own phone numbers, but they can only receive calls. The mail
system works well.
The ties that bind: Working in a war zone 7,000 miles
from home seems to bring the workers together.
"Originally a large percentage of workers our here was
from Michigan, but it's about half right now, and we're getting
people from all over the U.S." said Woodley. "We're
a pretty tight crew - way more than you'd see on a normal job.
We're together all the time, we work together, we ride the bus
together, we eat together. We look out for one another."
Donahue added: "A few spark plugs in the bunch
keep everybody together. People are away from their families,
but everybody is really nice to each other, and it's amazing
how we've meshed together."
Donahue and Woodley are divorced, with older children. Packer
is unmarried but has a girlfriend back home. Packer said tradesman
are mostly older with grown kids or younger with no kids - but
there are a number of workers who have younger children, who
are working in Iraq because they need the money.
Missing family members was mentioned as the number one difficulty.
"I miss my kids, my family, seeing them and talking to them
in person," Donahue said.
The Green Zone: Construction workers building the embassy
might be described as living in a bubble. "I've been in
Baghdad six months and have never left the Green Zone,"
Donahue said, which was the case for all three workers we talked
Security in the zone is in the eye of the beholder. Sirens
are turned on sometimes to "warn you there may be a problem
in your area," Donahue said. Still, "I don't think
workers here have felt threatened. Security is very well thought-out.
It's possible something may happen, but so far, so good."
The nearly completed embassy, he said "is one of the
safest places you can be."
There are concrete shelters scattered in the zone, which are
used with some regularity. Woodley and Packer said explosions
are heard outside the Green Zone walls on a daily basis. Donahue
reported a "number of duck-and-cover incidents" when
explosions have hit inside the Green Zone.
"Things are heating up a bit, but we're still safe,"
Packer said. "You can see that everybody has a different
comfort level. The thing about our situation, we have no contract,
so you can leave today. You can be home in three days. A lot
of guys just say they've had enough and they're out of here by
6 p.m. the same day."
Packer added: "People at home will tell us they
watch the news and they see the violence going on in Iraq, but
they don't distinguish what's going on out there with what's
going on here in the Green Zone. For the most part, that stuff
doesn't happen inside here."
Donahue commented on the city inside the Green Zone. "The
buildings, the architecture, the date palms
it's an awesome
city, from what I can see. You see all this and wonder why these
people want to kill each other."
Weather-wise, the Michiganians arrived at the best time possible
in Iraq. Wintertime temperatures were said to be like springtime
temperatures here. But rains turn the soil "into some of
the worst mud you've ever seen," Woodley said. And now comes
the summer: last week, the 100-degree temperatures had already
kicked in, and a fine-powdered dust was in the air. They have
been told Iraq experiences 130-degree temperatures in the summer.
The embassy: Construction of the complex is said to
be the only on-time project going on in Iraq. News reports (there
is very little official U.S. government information about the
embassy) say the complex will be a self-sustaining cluster of
21 buildings reinforced to 2.5 times usual standards. It is said
to be the most secure diplomatic embassy in the world, anticipating
a day when the Green Zone walls no longer exist.
More than 1,000 U.S. government officials who will work there
will have access to a gym, swimming pool, barber and beauty shops,
a food court and a commissary. There will also be a Marine barracks,
a school, locker rooms, a warehouse, a vehicle maintenance garage,
and six apartment buildings with a total of 619 one-bedroom units.
Water, electricity and sewage treatment plants will all be
independent from Baghdad's city utilities.
After six months in Iraq: "I've been impressed with what
I've seen," Donahue said "I didn't have high expectations
going in, and I certainly didn't think things would be as good
as they've been. But six months is long enough for me, I'm ready
to go home for some R and R."
Woodley said he's coming home for two weeks at the end of
May, and will then return to the embassy to see it through to
completion for another three months or so. "I do miss my
kids, and the green grass, and flying," said Woodley, a
pilot. "Phone calls and e-mails aren't the same as being
there." Still he said, "I have no regrets. I'd do it
Packer isn't going anywhere, for now. He and six others in
his group that went to Iraq plan on working at the embassy until
July or August, and may return if more work becomes available.
"We have a great group of guys here," Packer said.
"There's a lot of camaraderie. We get at each other's throats
sometimes, but we stick together, and we're always looking out
for each other."
SHEET METAL WORKERS from Local 80, as well
as other tradesman from Michigan, have been in Iraq for six months
building the new U.S. embassy. Pictured are (l-r) Brian Wilson,
Al Manikas, Dave Angelo, Tom Donahue, Joe Czarnecki, Jerry Costello,
Hector Torres and Dean Smith. Behind them is a bronze set of
crossed swords ordered up by Saddam Hussein, the "Hands
of Victory," which was constructed in1989 as a monument
to what he said was victory in their war with Iran. The monument
is in the Green Zone.
HERE IS PART of the Michigan pipe trades contingent
working in Iraq. Back (l-r) are Nick Tacolla, Pipe Fitters 636,
Piping Foreman Bill Packer (636); Vince Brinker (636); middle
row (l-r) Stephan Goudy (636), Ira Miller (Plumbers 98), Ron
Babish (98), and Eric Bondy, 636. Kneeling is Bruce Kremhelmer
(98). Not pictured: Joe Sloop, (190).
HERE'S THE CONTINGENT OF IBEW electricians
working on the American embassy in Iraq. Most are from Local
58. (L-R) Greg Wells, Dan McGlynn, Rusty Bennett, Paul Militello,
Pete Trajcevski, Chuck Hill, Lamarr Jones, Chris Williams, Keith
Kennedy, Larry Buice, Mike Minenga, Brian Johnson, Mike Woodley,
Brian Burtch, Ron Theilman, Dennis Addington and Kevin Weddington.
ruling transforms nurses into supervisors; what group is next?
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Some nurses who make out schedules for
co-workers, and construction journeymen who direct apprentices,
are at the top of the list of U.S. employees who may be declared
"supervisors" under a new National Labor Relations
Reclassifying such workers as "supervisors," which
the NLRB did last year, would allow employers to deny them union
rights. The ruling is still being assessed and could affect anywhere
from 8 million to 34 million U.S. workers. It is widely understood
in the labor community that the majority of five-member NLRB,
picked by President Bush, is anti-union and made the ruling to
benefit business interests.
In March, three lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Congress
introduced a bill to overturn the "workers are supervisors"
ruling. The bill states that a worker cannot be a supervisor
unless "for a majority of the working time" he or she
is "acting in the interest of the employer" in hiring,
firing, disciplining or otherwise managing workers.
It also says a worker cannot be named a supervisor just for
"assigning" other people to tasks or just for being
responsible for directing them on occasion.
One of those arbitrarily reassigned-to-supervisor nurses is
RN Lori Gay of the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, who testified
before a May 8 hearing in front of the House Education and Labor
"As a charge nurse, I'm in charge of the pencil,"
Gay testified. ""Typically, I spend 10 minutes at the
end of my shift filling out an assignment sheet for the oncoming
shift, making sure every patient has a bed and a nurse. I record
the traffic in and out. It's as simple as that. I don't have
the authority to hire, fire, evaluate or promote other nurses"
or discipline them.
All those factors, and more, are responsibilities of supervisors,
but the Bush NLRB majority said that if a worker engages in any
one of them for as little as 10 percent to 15 percent or his
or her working time, that worker is a supervisor and can be denied
Gay called the situation "absurd." Her union, the
United American Nurses, won a recognition election at Salt Lake
in 2002, but the ballots - including hers - were impounded for
five years until after the board's workers-as-supervisors ruling
came down last fall. The ballots then went back to Salt Lake
City for a recount under the new definition of supervisors.
"Sixty-four out of 153 nurses
including myself. All the RNs in the neonatal intensive care
unit were essentially 'supervising' each other on a rotating
basis. In inpatient rehabilitation, 10 out of 12
newborn nursery 10 out of 12
In the surgical unit, the ratio
was 10 (supervisors) to seven" non-supervisors, Gay said.
In addition to construction, other professions that could
be subject to the new supervisor rules include newspaper reporters
(who work with editorial assistants), teachers (who have teachers'
aides) and physicians' assistants.
Democrat-appointed members of the NLRB, Wilma Liebman and
Dennis Walsh said the NLRB majority decision regarding supervisors
"threatens to create a new class of workers under federal
labor law - workers who have neither the genuine prerogatives
of management, nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees."
Liebman and Walsh wrote that most professionals and other
workers could fall under the new definition of supervisor, "who
by 2012 could number almost 34 million, accounting for 23.3 percent
of the workforce." They went on to say the Republican majority
did not follow what Congress intended in applying the National
Labor Relations Act.
Homeland workers would 'negatively impact' U.S. security, Bush
WASHINGTON - President Bush has promised a veto of a Democrat-backed
bill that would allow 125,000 Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) workers to operate under a collective bargaining agreement.
Bush's stance is that allowing those workers to unionize would
be a threat to national security.
The new Democratic-run 110th Congress repealed the personnel
system Bush tried to impose at DHS, but which two federal courts
in D.C. have overturned. The personnel system gives DHS officials
virtually unlimited power over workers. It yanks whistle-blower
protections and the workers' right to bargain over just about
"Management must strike a careful balance between the
flexibility needed to defend against a ruthless enemy and the
fairness needed to ensure employee rights. This legislation threatens
that balance," Bush's Office of Management and Budget said
in a statement. Eliminating that flexibility would "negatively
impact the security of the nation."
American Federation of Government Employees official Beth
Moten was not surprised by Bush's veto. She noted that as a result
of his system, morale at DHS is among the worst in the federal
government. "DHS has had 4-1/2 years to take this extraordinary
and unprecedented authority it got" over personnel "and
come up with something that could meet the needs of both the
employees and the American public. They blew it," she said.
work to reopen gate to the past
By Marty Mulcahy
DETROIT - The Hurlbut Memorial Gate at the city's Waterworks
Park was completed in 1894 - in an era when communities were
willing to devote the resources to build public art on a grand
Unfortunately, over the last few decades it's been difficult
to find the resources for even basic maintenance for such structures.
But this year, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department loosened
the purse strings for the renovation of the Hurlbut Gate - and
now masonry contractor Chezcore and a crew of tradesmen are rebuilding
the structure and taking it back to how it looked in its glory
"When we're finished in July or August, we will have
disassembled half the monument, completely rehabilitated everything,
and then put it all back together," said Chezcore Executive
Vice President Pete Hanewich. "The intent is not to do a
quick hit. We're restoring it to its original luster, making
it safe and sound and watertight."
The monument is named for Chauncey Hurlbut, a Detroit Water
Board commissioner who died in 1885. He left nearly his entire
estate, about $250,000, for maintaining a library and improving
the grounds belonging to the commission.
The Water Board opted to use $27,266 to build the memorial
- which acted as a gate to Water Works Park. According to the
Detroit Water and Sewage Department, the 110-acre park along
West Jefferson on the east side of Detroit park was a popular
attraction open to the public. It contained a pumping station
for the city - and much more.
In 1894 it contained a man-made waterway encompassing two
islands, three bridges, a small wading lagoon and a winding canal
where rowboats could enter the park. Visitors strolled along
pathways lined with chestnut trees, intricately-landscaped shrubbery
and floral displays.
Water in the channel attracted schools of fish so numerous
that anglers could catch all they could carry without baited
hooks. There were tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a picnic
area, teeter-totters and swings.
A 185-foot brick tower, dismantled in 1962 after it became
a hazard from falling bricks - acted as a standpipe and a famous
landmark for the water works. A floral clock was another attraction
to the park that is now put away in storage. The gates were kept
locked for security reasons during World War II and then the
Korean War - and the park has remained closed since. The lagoon
has been filled in and except for water distribution buildings
that have been modernized in recent years. Today the Hurlbut
Gate is the entrance to an empty field.
The gateway is 132 feet wide by 50 feet high and is adorned
with scrolls and figures. Dual stairways lead to a terrace 12
feet above ground. A stone eagle, with wings outspread, occupies
the crest at its dome. A granite bust of Chauncy Hurlbut, the
monument's namesake, was located in the center of the monument
but was stolen in 1974.
The years have not been kind to the nearly all-limestone structure,
which is listed on state and national historic registers. Copper
lining the dome has long been scavenged, and water incursion
into the structure, plus the freeze and thaw cycle, caused the
east and west walls to heave outward. Rusted anchors loosened
numerous stones, and new tuckpointing and flashing is necessary
Mike Kroll, the foreman on the site from Chezcore and Bricklayers
and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, said 123 limestone pieces of
various sizes will be removed, replaced and secured with epoxy
and new stainless steel anchors.
"It's really an ornate piece of work," Kroll said,
running his hand along across some fancy stone edge work. "They
did this in 1893, and this wasn't machined, a lot of it had to
be hand-chiseled. It's really nice work. Can you imagine the
hours they spent doing this? We just never see the detail that
you see here any more."
Plumbing and electrical within the structure will also be
restored. There are two public restrooms in the memorial, and
a pair of lion's heads guarding the entrance will once again
spout water when the project is complete. And, wrought-iron gates
at the monument that lead to the park are being re-fabricated.
The monument was listed last year as one of the 50 greatest
architectural structures in the book "American City: Detroit
"It is one of the most important structures from that
period currently standing in the city," said author Robert
Sharoff said in an interview, as quoted in the Detroit News.
"It is a beautiful Beaux Arts monument. There's not a lot
of that left in Detroit, and that's one of the really coolest
examples of the whole era."
CHEZCORE workers (l-r) Rudy Leon of Laborers
Local 334 and Ed Raymond of BAC Local 1 place a refurbished limestone
section on the upper level of the Hurlbut Gate.
THE GROUP OF WORKERS restoring the Hurlbut
Gate include (l-r) foreman Mike Kroll of Bricklayers and Allied
Craftworkers Local 1, Ed Raymond of Local 1, Rudy Leon, Jeff
Gray and James Mahone of Laborers Local 334, and Jim Strong of
Operating Engineers Local 324.
The Hurlbut Gate, in a photo taken a few years
ago without all the scaffolding that currently adorns the structure.
trades apprentice contest is taking root
ANN ARBOR - The long-dormant United Association of Plumbers
and Pipe Fitters Michigan State Apprentice Contest is starting
to become routine, again.
For the second straight year since the contest was abandoned
33 years ago, contestant-apprentices from around Michigan competed
in events that tested skills in HVACR service, pipefitting, plumbing
and welding. In 2007 - also for the first time in years - winners
of the state contests like this one will compete in a UA-sponsored
regional contest (held this year in Pittsburgh).
The locale for both this contest on May 3-4, as well as the
national competition in August, is the UA Great Lakes Training
Center on the campus of Washtenaw Community College.
The participating local unions were 85, 174, 190, 333, 357,
370 and 636. Two days of competition in topics and tasks related
to the various trades were judged by industry and training representatives.
"The contest allows all participants, contestants, coordinators
and observers to view the knowledge and skill level our future
workforce has to offer," said Rod Jara, director of the
UA Regional Training Center at WCC. "And I can add that
it's refreshing to know that these young members will carry our
organization and trades well represented into the future."
In addition to a written exam, apprentices had to demonstrate
competency in various tasks such as: copper tube bending and
brazing, underground layout of pipe, knot tying and rigging,
blueprint reading and material identification, various welding
methods of pipe and plate, electrical and mechanical problem
solving, threaded pipe fabrication and assembly plus other specific
UA to Iron Workers: thanks for the lift
Apprentices from Iron Workers Local 25 and Cadillac Iron provided
a big assist to the United Association's Michigan State Apprentice
The apprentices, with a boost from Cadillac Iron's boom truck,
erected an iron rigging structure that allowed the pipe trades
to test their apprentices' skills in rigging.
The structure, which can be disassembled and moved, "simulates
the red iron of a building and allows us to teach and test apprentices
on the proper techniques for different rigging applications,"
said Scott Klapper, apprenticeship coordinator for host Local
190 who helped coordinate the contest.
The 10x10x20-foot-long frame was erected on the Washtenaw
Community College campus, but it's designed to be portable and
shipped to different UA training centers.
"I really wanted to let the Iron Workers know that we
appreciate their gesture of cooperation and support in setting
up the frame," said Rod Jara, director of the UA Regional
Training Center at WCC. "It really helped us and we will
be able to use it for years to come."
Cerebral palsy bike run is July 28
The second annual Benjamin Franklin Memorial Poker Run will be
held starting with registration at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July
28 at the Lansing at the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333
Last year's poker run, sponsored by Local 333, raised $5,200
for the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Michigan.
The motorcycle ride is held in memory of Benjamin Tyler Franklin,
who died at age three of cerebral palsy. He's the son of Plumbers
and Pipe Fitters Local 333 secretary April Franklin and Iron
Workers Local 25 member Benjamin Franklin.
In a poker run, drivers of cars and motorcycles make five
stops on a pre-planned route and draw a card at each stop. At
the final stop, prizes are given out for those who have the best
The ride will start at the Local 333 union hall, at 5405 S.
Martin Luther King Drive in Lansing. Bikers will head south before
ending at the Wooden Nickel Saloon in Dansville, where there
will be food, music and prizes. There will be first and second
place prizes, as well as door prizes for longest distance and
youngest and oldest riders.
The registration cost is $20 per bike/$5 per passenger. Call
April at (517) 749-9583 or e-mail email@example.com for
'Big Mac' work is a Dirty Job
Is working on the Mackinac Bridge considered a dirty job?
Apparently, the people at Discovery's Channel's "Dirty
Jobs" show think so. Mike Rowe, the show's host, will come
to Northern Michigan on May 25 to tour the Mighty Mac and highlight
the daunting work bridge maintenance crews perform each year
on the structure.
Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) officials said the project
is a unique opportunity to showcase the significant work done
in Michigan on the landmark structure, which turns 50 years old
"Our crews take an incredible amount of pride in what
they do," said MBA Administrator Bob Sweeney. "I would
describe our maintenance activities as daunting or difficult,
as opposed to dirty. But, it takes a special person to meet the
challenges of the job. Our crews are preserving the integrity
of the bridge. They are the reason it will be here at least another
The Discovery Channel program is expected to focus on a cable
painting project above the Straits, and/or preventive maintenance
inside one of the tower cells.
MBA Chief Engineer Kim Nowack said the visit by Rowe and his
show is an opportunity to "gain national exposure for our
employees and will showcase the awesome work they do that often
Arnold Line hires union
If you're headed to the Straits of Mackinac this summer, and
intend to take a ferry to Mackinac Island, now hear this.
The Arnold Line is the only one of the three ferry services
that employ union members. The International Longshoremen's Association
and the Seafarers International Union represent Arnold Line workers.