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May 26, 2000

Whether you know it or not, GOP feels you need 'empowerment'

GENERAL MOTORS letters retired gracefully, thanks to work of MBM, trades

Trench safety is expensive; the cost of life is incalculable

Don't vouch for vouchers: plan would hurt all students

Wayne State's construction boom a boon to the building trades

Monument planned to honor Michigan vets killed in Vietnam

Young people can use help to work safe this summer



Whether you know it or not, GOP feels you need 'empowerment'

There's a new name for "Paycheck Protection."

It's called the "Worker Information and Empowerment Act," and its sponsor wants to "make it easier for workers to determine if they want to continue subsidizing the union's non-bargaining related activities or whether they want to seek a refund."

The sponsor is U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-Kentucky), who said the legislation would give union workers more information about the "ideological and political causes" that their unions support, according to the Construction Labor Report. The legislation would require annual reporting to members about the use of their dues.

Actually, this proposal is not particularly oppressive, and probably wouldn't raise any eyebrows if it were done outside of today's anti-union climate.

McConnell's proposal is part of a growing trend of state and federal legislation outwardly designed to better inform union members about their "rights," but union leaders charge that Republicans are much less interested in supporting the interests of union members than they are in putting a crimp in the way unions spend money on politics.

That's what "Paycheck Protection," - or as unions called it, "Paycheck Deception" - is all about. So far it has failed to be adopted in Lansing or in Washington. The legislation would require annual written authorization by union members for the expenditure of dues money on anything other than collective bargaining, including organizing, member communication, lobbying and charitable contributions.

Unions are already run like a democracy, with freedom of speech at union meetings and constitutionally required voting of union officers and changes in union bylaws. If members don't like how their dues money is being spent, they already have the right to openly comment on the matter, or to vote for union officers who share their views.

If a union member still doesn't like what's going on, he or she has the right to leave the union.

"Membership in a union is completely voluntary," AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Laurence Gold told the CLR. "There is no such thing as that oft-repeated canard, 'compulsory unionism.' "

Republicans never seem to want to place these types of impositions on corporations, requiring stockholders to sign off on every expenditure of a corporation that's not related to running the company.


GENERAL MOTORS letters retired gracefully, thanks to work of MBM, trades

By Marty Mulcahy

General Motors has (almost) left their building, but gone are the letters that formed the sign that identified the automaker's headquarters for more than 40 years.

On Sunday, April 16, MBM Fabricators and Local 25 iron workers, with an assist by a helicopter, took two hours to carry away 26 letters from their iron-frame perches atop the east and west frontages of the old GM Building.

The landmark 18-foot-tall by 15-foot-wide letters spelling "GENERAL MOTORS" and the red neon tubes that lit them were placed in storage, awaiting a decision by GM about what to do with them. There's speculation that the metal letters may end up at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, at another GM facility or possibly at the Smithsonian Institute.

The signs weren't original to the GM Building, which was built in 1921. One set was added in 1956, the other in 1960.

The removal of the signs came two weeks after the State of Michigan signed a 20-year lease to become tenants in the building. Several state agencies and 4,000 workers will be combined in the building, which has 1.3 million square-feet and was at one time the second-largest building on the planet in terms of space. The building trades will substantially renovate the building.

General Motors is leaving the building in the New Center area for the Renaissance Center, which it purchased in 1996 for $73 million and is spending more than $500 million to renovate. The last of GM's employees should be out of the automaker's old headquarters by October.

MBM Fabricators and Erectors Director of Business Development Eve Mackin said GM hired MBB because of their "close working relationship and similar views on the importance of safety and expertise." She said a safety site plan was developed, the latest in fall protection technology was used, and "both General Motors and MBM Fabricators and Erectors are pleased with the outcome."

MBM acted as general contractor on the project, with Metro Signs (bulb removal), Hall Engineering (electrical), and TF Beck (roof patching) acting as subcontractors.

The letters that spelled out the name of General Motors, on the building the automaker has used as headquarters since 1921, have been moved into retirement.


Trench safety is expensive; the cost of life is incalculable

By Richard J. Mee
Chief, Construction Safety Division

MIOSHA records show that 88 Michigan construction workers have died in excavation cave-in incidents, just since the Construction Safety Division has been keeping records.

Eighty-eight people who left home in the morning for work, never to return alive. This number, of course, does not include the hundreds of thousands who died before we started keeping records. Neither does it include the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands who were seriously injured or disabled in cave-in incidents.

In 1999, four more workers perished in Michigan trench cave-ins. This tragic upturn in trench deaths came during a period of reduced excavation accidents. In the four previous years, 1995 through 1998, one cave-in death each year was recorded. Statistics reveal a long decline in cave-in deaths with the last several years among the lowest average period.

Excavation and trenching work have proven to be very dangerous. Removing soil to create a trench or other cavity disrupts an equilibrium and will exert powerful forces to return the earth to that condition. Sometimes, natural forces work slowly and man-made scars in the landscape heal gradually over months or years. All too often, however, natural forces begin the healing process in bursts of great force that have no respect for the unfortunate worker who gets in the way.

These bursts of great force are the cave-ins that kill, maim and injure workers. Most soils weigh over 100 pounds per cubic foot, so it doesn't take a large chunk of earth falling off the side of a trench to have the effect of a moving automobile striking a person.

A slab of trench side only one foot thick, six feet long and four feet high can weigh as much as a typical mid-size car. Few cave-in deaths are caused by suffocation; most victims are crushed by the weight of the soil chunks.

Is trenching work inherently unsafe? No, if adequate precautions are taken no one need die or suffer serious injuries from a cave-in. Trench sides can be supported by shoring, a trench box, or can be sloped back to an angle appropriate to the type of soil encountered to eliminate the possibility of a large trench-side collapse. Indeed, the death toll could be eliminated if current MIOSHA standards were followed.

Looming large among the reasons hazardous trenches may still exist in this safety-conscious, modern era, is simply the cost. Excavation and trench safety can be very expensive. Trench box use and shoring installation slow down production and in some cases might result in doubling the time required to complete an underground project.

Sloping the excavation sides out to a safe angle can be even more expensive. In most cases, excavated spoil must be hauled away to distant fill sites and the voluminous trench back-filled with sand, which must be purchased, trucked to the site, and compacted.

Often, unsafe trenches exist because of the lack of a trained, qualified person. The MIOSHA standard requires that an ongoing inspection of an excavation or trench shall be made by a qualified person. The qualified person described in the standard is trained to recognize soil types, understand the characteristic hazards of each one, and design shoring and/or soil sloping as dictated by the unique site conditions.

The qualified person also monitors the progress of the work to identify hazardous conditions as they develop.

Because most soils can support themselves temporarily while a trench is open to install a pipe, inexperienced and uninformed workers may not realize the dangers to which they are exposed. Some clay soils are known to support themselves so well that a mile of vertical-sided trench can be excavated with not even a shovel-full of soil caving off the sides. Then suddenly, a thousand pounds or more can cave in and crush an unsuspecting worker.

Although the numbers of cave-in fatalities have been at lower levels on average during the six to eight years previous to 1999, last year's trend is alarming and cannot be ignored. Enforcement of the standards that apply to excavation and trenching workplaces will be receiving increased attention consistent with the MIOSHA Strategic Plan as the 2000 construction season gets underway. Each employer in the underground industry must pursue the goal of 100 percent compliance with the MIOSHA standards and zero cave-in injures and fatalities.

As tragic as the 1999 deaths were, the real tragedy would be to repeat the agony suffered by the survivors of the workers lost in trenches last year.


Don't vouch for vouchers: plan would hurt all students

By Thomas Boensch
Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council

The future of public and private education in Michigan will soon be at a crossroads. Will we be able to have real choices for our children's education? Or will our public and private schools be blended into an academic and moral hodgepodge that will blur the critical distinctions between both institutions?

The Michigan Constitution guarantees a free public education for all Michigan children. However, the constitution prohibits using public taxpayer funds, either director or indirectly, to support private schools.

Currently, there is an initiative underway to eliminate Michigan's constitutional ban on using public tax money to fund private and religious schools. It appears the current petition effort will result in a referendum on the November ballot asking Michigan voters to remove this constitutional prohibition.

Using public tax dollars to finance a school voucher program will redefine both public and private education funding.

Many of our hard-working members have children in public schools. The state of Michigan guarantees these taxpayers a proper public education for their children funded by tax revenue.

Many other of our hard-working members send their children to private or religious schools. These parents make many financial sacrifices to ensure that their children receive an education according to the parent's discretion. These schools are chosen because of the teachings and codes of conduct they impart on their students.

Additionally, many of our other hard-working members have no children in either of these schools. They pay taxes to the state and to local school districts to support public education. They may contribute financial aid to support private schools through their church or by direct voluntary contributions.

In the end, what do school vouchers mean to us?

According to research, if a substantial number of students in school districts use vouchers, the economic impact on public education will be negative. If public schools serve smaller and smaller proportions of school-age children, they will lose not only millions of dollars in state funding, they will also experience dwindling public support for local funding.

The resources for public schools will diminish as more taxpayer money is diverted to private and religious schools. If public schools lose a majority of students, and consequently a majority of state funding, the districts will be faced with the same situation they had prior to 1994 and "Proposal D", which resulted in the local district millage funding most of the annual budget.

The solutions will include a host of unappealing options: closing schools and reducing choices, raising operating millages, paying off bonds levied for buildings that are no longer used, increasing the teacher-to-student ratio, decreasing staff development, cutting programs such as sports, arts and science and further threatening new technology and classroom equipment

The contrast between how private and religious schools operate compared to public schools is an important distinction. Private schools are free to operate as they wish and are subject to little or no public oversight. Public schools are democratically controlled and must follow publicly determined rules regarding admissions, special-education students, teacher qualifications, curriculum, testing, and information disclosure.

A recent U.S. Department of Education report states that private and religious schools are unlikely to participate in a voucher program that would require them to meet accountability standards in key policy areas such as admissions, student testing, curriculum and religious training.

The reports summarizes that a regulated voucher system would erode the autonomy and independence of private and religious schools. The report also indicates that an unregulated vouchers system may preserve private and religious autonomy, but will not allow taxpayers to determine how their tax dollars are spent.

A recent poll shows that the public would expect private and religious schools that received public dollars to be regulated and held accountable for the use of these dollars, in effect, turning them into public schools.

In a national survey of 1,000 adults, 75% agreed that "private or church-related schools that accept government tuition payments should be accountable to the state in the way public schools are accountable." The study demonstrates that if private and religious schools have an opportunity to accept vouchers, the school's governing principles will be drastically changed. Those changes will have a direct impact on the quality of education and admissions policies at private and religious schools.

If vouchers are approved, sweeping changes will begin to occur in private and religious schools. Right now, these schools have almost complete independence with regard to who they teach, what they teach, how they teach, how they measure student achievement, how they handle their finances and what information they disclose to parents and the public. Are they willing to provide the accountability necessary for public oversight?

As the public debate continues, the Council will keep you informed on this important election decision.


Wayne State's construction boom a boon to the building trades

By Marty Mulcahy

Two more projects are extending a building splurge that is transforming the look of the Wayne State University.

Building trades workers have been permanent visitors on the campus for most of the 1990s, putting up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new construction. Authorization to spend an additional $132 million was granted last year by the WSU Board of Governors, and Hardhats are glad to keep coming back, tools in hand.
Three on the largest projects currently on the campus are a $15.6 million addition to the Law School, a new $69 million College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions that was topped out earlier this month, and a new $14 million fitness center that's nearly complete.

"This is a milestone we are very proud to celebrate," said WSU President Irvin Reid of the pharmacy building. "When this building is completed, it will rank among the nation's finest health care education facilities, with the latest technology and high-tech teaching tools available to our faculty to provide the best possible education for the health-care leaders of tomorrow."

The six-story, 270,000 square-foot educational and research complex will open for the fall term in 2002. It will be located at John R and Mack, at the gateway of the city's academic medical center. The facility will replace the overcrowded and outdated Shapero Hall. More than 900 students attend the school.

Constructed by union building trades, the project is being managed by the team of Turner/Brinker/Capital Construction companies.

The fitness center is nearly ready for action, and is scheduled to be open next month. The building will feature a two-court gymnasium, a suspended walking/jogging track, a rock-climbing wall and a leisure pool. Students, faculty and staff will be able to take advantage of the new facility which Reid said will "establish better working relationships on campus and create more of a sense of community" at what is essentially a commuter school.

"The work has been good and we're on schedule," said Turner Project Supt. Duncan Wilson. He added with a smile, "we're one big happy family."

The 56,000-square-foot law school addition will house various student service departments, seminar rooms, moot and trial courtrooms, a publications office, a multi-media distance learning classroom and additional faculty offices.

The highlight of the building will be a 250-seat auditorium that will double as a courtroom complete with judge's chambers and a jury room. The auditorium will become the focal point for the Law School's instructional and public outreach activities. Building completion is slated for August.

Included in the overall $15.6 million project are improvements to the current three-story building, including expansion of the law library collections to the lower level and renovation of administrative and faculty offices. That work is set for completion by the end of the year.

The current law library and classroom buildings at the site will be connected to the new building by enclosed bridges. Other major projects that were completed during the 1990s building binge on the WSU campus were the new undergraduate library and the renovation of the landmark Old Main building.

PAINTER Melvin Redd dips a brush in the gym at the WSU Fitness Center.

TILE LAYERS Mark Austin and Paul Casciani of Local 32 work in the pool area of the Wayne State Fitness Center.


Monument planned to honor Michigan vets killed in Vietnam

LANSING - Building trades unions are part of an effort to construct a memorial to the 2,649 people from Michigan who died during the Vietnam War.

Proportionally, more Michigan residents died in the conflict than in any other state - but there is no state memorial to honor them.

Enter the Vietnam Monument Commission of Michigan, which is proposing to build a memorial on a parcel of state land three blocks west of the State Capitol Building in the center of what would be called Capitol Park. The design integrates a 117-foot-long, ten-foot high arc of steel suspended three feet above the ground. The plan calls for the names of the dead to be inscribed on the panels, and the grounds will offer a place of quiet reflection.

"We know that a lot of people from Michigan served and gave their lives in Vietnam," said Michigan Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "And a lot of our members are veterans. By supporting this monument, we're recognizing that the contributions of our Vietnam veterans are just as important as those of soldiers who served in Korea, World War II or World War I."

A state law adopted in 1992 established the one-acre monument site, and the design for the memorial was chosen from among 200 entries in a national competition. Boensch said the MBTC is attempting to help the Vietnam Monument Commission by encouraging contributions and securing union manpower when the time comes for construction.

A total of $2.4 million is needed to fund the project and The Christman Co. has been hired to manage the job. Keith King, chairman of the commission's public relations committee, said some major contributions in the last few months have brought the group tantalizingly close to its goal. About $200,00 more is needed before construction can start.

"State law says we can't start the project without having all money we need," King said. "We're hoping people will see how close we are and that we can make one last big push to reach our goal, especially since this is the 25th anniversary of the end of the war." Saigon fell on April 30, 1975.

Richard Eberhart, Wayne County captain for the commission, talked about the need for the monument at the Michigan Building Trades Legislative Conference in March. The Army veteran served in Korea, and nearly in Vietnam, too.

"I missed Vietnam, but I felt that our state owed a monument to those who gave their lives," he said.

For a $26.49 cent contribution - a penny for each Michigan life lost during the war - a donor gets a copper star with "2649" engraved in the center.

To make a tax-deductible contribution, send a check payable to the Michigan Vietnam Monument Commission, 611 West Ottawa, Lansing, MI 48013. For more information, call (800) 492-2649.

HERE'S A RENDERING of the proposed monument to honor Michigan's Vietnam War dead. It will be located in Lansing, just down the street from the State Capitol.


Young people can use help to work safe this summer

In today's tight job market, more and more employers, for the first time, will turn to younger people to meet these needs this summer. For many young people, this will be their first job.

The U.S. Department of Labor has instituted a program called "Work Safe This Summer," aimed at reminding employers and older employees that young people have special needs on the job - and they're especially vulnerable on construction projects.

"For most of the 3 million teens with jobs this summer, work will be a rewarding experience," said Labor Secretary Alexis Herman. "But, despite most employers' efforts to provide a safe workplace, some teens will be injured or even killed on the job. And they don't have to. It is vital that business owners know what teens are allowed and not allowed to do."

The first week of June has been selected to bring youth employment to the forefront of employers' minds. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Youths 18 or older may perform any job that any other worker would do, whether hazardous or not, for unlimited hours, in accordance with minimum wage and overtime requirements.
  • Youths aged 16- and 17-years-old may perform any non-hazardous job, for unlimited hours (except that, in Michigan, state law restricts 16-and 17-year-old minors to not more than 48 hours school and work combined). A number of restrictions apply to 16-17-year-old teens working construction projects, especially in working around a variety of power tools and hoisting equipment.
  • Some companies provide different colored smocks to employees under age 18 so supervisors can quickly see who isn't allowed to operate prohibited equipment.
  • It's the employer's responsibility to make sure all workers are trained properly, but veteran workers can help younger workers by double-checking tasks, giving clear instructions, correcting mistakes, and being willing to answer questions.
  • Older employees are encouraged to show the rookies how to use safety equipment such as safety shoes, hard hats or gloves. They need to know where to find safety equipment, when and how to use it, and how to care for it. They also need to be told to keep exit doors free from clutter, assure that safety guards remain on machinery or that equipment is turned off or disconnected at the end of each shift.


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