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May 30, 2003
Congressional Republicans delayed for months an approval of extension of benefits for the nation's unemployed workers.
When they finally did, on May 22, Democrats charged that the 13-week federal benefit extension isn't nearly enough to help the nation's long-term unemployed workers. The extension would mean extra benefits for 2.4 million people who have lost their jobs since President Bush took office - but Dems argued that a 26-week extension would help an additional million jobless workers.
Democrats said they had shamed Republicans into bringing the bill to the floor just before moving to legislation that would provide $350 billion in new tax cuts. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the planned tax cuts "economic sabotage" for the nation.
"You did absolutely the minimum you could do and keep a straight face and put out your press release that you did something for unemployment," said Rep. Jim (D-Wash.) The bill would extend the federal program to Dec. 31 at a cost of $6.5 billion. Without congressional action, new applicants who exhausted their state benefits would get no federal help after May 31.
With the nation's unemployment rate at 6 percent - two percentage points higher than when Bush took office - Republicans conceded the need to help the jobless.
"We must ... give displaced workers the peace of mind in knowing they have a little time in finding a job," said Rep. Jennifer Dunn R-Wash.), the bill's sponsor.
Passage of the unemployment benefits helps Republicans to shield themselves from attacks that the $350 billion tax cut package favors upper-income Americans, at the expense of the nation's 8 million jobless. Republicans claim that Democrats want to provide unemployment benefits indefinitely without a plan to create jobs - and all along President Bush has pushed the tax cut as a jobs stimulus package.
"I will admit my No. 1 economic priority is not to extend unemployment benefits," said Rep. David Dreier R-Calif. "My No. 1 economic priority is to create jobs."
For weeks, Republicans had been noncommittal about approving
the extension of benefits. They finally approved it just before
the Memorial Day weekend recess.
In April, President Bush said the Senate's proposed $350 billion tax cut was a "little bitty" measure compared to the $726 million cut he wanted.
On May 21, the president reassessed the political landscape, and endorsed the lesser tax cut as a means to stimulate the economy and create the one million jobs he has set as a goal. Congress approved the $350 billion cut late last month. The House had previously approved a $550 million cut in taxes, but a few moderate Republicans in the Senate joined the vast majority of Democrats in the House in questioning whether a tax cut will stimulate the economy - and whether the nation can afford the reduction in revenues at all.
Democrats, in the minority in both the House and Senate, were mostly frozen out of the negotiations, and according to the Washington Post, denounced the compromise as a backroom deal with little economic value. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, called the measure "a bill that would shift the tax burden to states and cities, and pile up more debt on the backs of our children."
The Post called the deal "a significant retreat for Bush."
The plan calls for freezing most dividends and capital gains at a 15 percent taxation rate through 2008. Right now, dividends are taxed the same as ordinary income or by as much as 38.6 percent for taxpayers in the highest tax bracket.
This has been labeled as a tax cut for the rich because about 80 percent of all dividend income goes to higher-income households - and about one-third of the entire tax cut will allow them to enjoy lower tax rates on dividend income from stocks and bonds
The deal would also expand the child credit, now $600, to
$1,000; immediately lower income tax rates that were scheduled
to phase in through 2006; reduce taxes for married couples,
"This bill misses a real opportunity to get the economy
back on track and help Americans who are struggling,'" Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said in a statement. "Instead,
it gives away billions to those who need it least and does very
little for those who need it most."
By Marty Mulcahy
FLINT - Now more than 50 years old, the presses currently printing the Flint Journal may be the oldest of their type still operating in the nation.
But that's not necessarily a source of pride at the Flint Journal, a daily paper which serves about 89,000 readers in Genesee County.
"We're probably about 20 years past when, optimally, we would have replaced (the presses)," said Roger Samuel, the Journal's publisher. "It seemed like every time we got close to a decision on new presses, we took a step back in our local economy. It is certainly time. Both our readers and advertisers deserve what we will be providing on these new presses."
In 2001, the Flint Journal made the commitment to build a new press facility, and now general contractor Christman Co. and the building trades have most of the building's iron up and are in the process of roughing in the mechanical systems. Christman and the building trades are expected to complete work on the project in September, and the new presses on the $9 million project (construction cost) are expected to start rolling early next year.
The new 85,000 square-foot building is being erected just east of the existing Flint Journal building on First St., and the newspaper now owns two square blocks of contiguous downtown real estate. The new building will consolidate press operations, distribution, newsprint storage and advertising circular insertions in one location.
"We're doing great, no surprises so far," said Rick Rushton, Christman's project superintendent. "The printing presses are the most important part of this building, so we're making sure everything is lined up and coordinated with the owner's reps for installing the presses. The building trades have been great to work with." There are currently about 75 construction workers on the job.
Most of the site served as an employee parking lot before construction started, and a one-story building on the land was razed to make room for the new construction. Rushton said there were old foundations "up the wazoo" on the land that they had to deal with.
According to the Flint Journal, about 50 full- and part-time employees will move downtown from the warehouse when the new building is complete. The new presses will allow for the use of full color on all pages, something not possible with the current presses. "The biggest advantage is in the reproduction," said Samuel, who described it as "very crisp, with improved readability, and full color available on every page."
Two efforts to enhance Gender And Racial Diversification Excellence were presented with the 2003 GARDE Award, sponsored by the Great Lakes Construction Alliance, at May 13 ceremonies conducted at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
In addition, Tom Storey of the Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors of Detroit, received the GLCA's Community Service Award, and Awards of Merit were given to Carrie Harding and Sue Jantschak for establishing support groups for women entering the construction industry.
The two projects were the Compuware Headquarters Project and the Workforce And Career Enhance (WACE) Program of the Detroit Public Schools, which was honored for the second year in a row. The award nominees were judged by an independent panel on their success in increasing the number of minorities and women involved in construction. To be considered, nominees must have achieved and sufficiently documented a significant, proven success record while promoting superior professional practices.
Details on the winners of the 2003 GARDE Award include:
Community Service Award Winner Tom Storey's service has spanned more than 30 years. He participated in the creation of the original "Detroit Home Town Plan" with the U.S. Department of Labor/Office of Contract Compliance Programs.
In 1999, PMC Detroit, along with the Pipefitters Local 636 and the Plumbers Local 98, joined forces with David Smydra and Regenia Simmons of the Detroit Human Rights Department in a good faith effort to comply with Executive Order No. 22. This agreement centers around providing lifelong careers for minorities, women, and Detroit residents on both private and governmental construction projects in Southeastern Michigan. For more than 36 years, Storey has recruited potential tradespeople from within the City of Detroit, and conducts bi-monthly information sessions with those interested in pursuing a career in the pipe trades.
A 15-year veteran of the construction industry, Merit Award Winner Carrie Harding is an instructor at the Operating Engineers Local 324 Education Center in Howell.
Two years ago, she started a mentoring program to get women starting out in construction industry apprenticeships to meet with seasoned female equipment operators, who average 7-8 years of experience. Through this program, guest speakers have given presentations on women's issues in the construction field, including health care, pensions, and workplace safety.
Merit Award Winner Sue Jantschak, a member of the Michigan
Regional Council of Carpenters (MRCC), which represents more
than 23,000 journeymen carpenters and millwrights across the
state from its headquarters in Detroit, has been in the industry
for 13 years. She was hired as the MRCC's first female organizer
in Michigan. In 1995, Jantschak founded the Michigan Tradeswomen
Association, Inc., a non-profit group dedicated to helping women
- especially impoverished women-find work in the construction
industry. It also serves as a support group for women in a male-dominated
industry. At first the meetings started out in Jantschak's kitchen
but membership grew so much, they were soon held once a month
at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor.
By Marty Mulcahy
At first, it sounded like a typical construction job for Ken Gilbey, Joe Malinao, and Craig McEntyre - three skilled iron workers who are used to placing, welding, and bracing steel structures high above the ground. Their goal: erecting a six-story structure in downtown Detroit.
But the trio and their co-workers in the construction trades soon discovered that this would be no ordinary job. The 63-foot-high stainless-steel arch they were asked to build would be a lifelong tribute to each of them and to the hundreds of thousands of other union members in southeast Michigan.
The graceful, curving arch is the centerpiece of the Michigan Labor Legacy Landmark, designated as a gift to the people of Detroit from all of labor, a place where visitors can study and contemplate the contributions of working people past and present. It rises from the green space in front of Hart Plaza on Jefferson just west of Woodward, a site passed daily by thousands of pedestrians and vehicles.
Ironworkers, Operating Engineers, Carpenters, Electricians, Laborers, Stone Masons, and other union members all helped construct the arch, marking a new chapter in this area's rich labor history.
Many of them were moved by the idea of building a monument to honor labor.
As the arch rose in sections day by day in early May, for example, union workers would cross Jefferson to view the structure from all different angles. Because the arch is open at the top, it was critical that the two sides line up both horizontally and vertically. On the last day of construction, most eyes would have judged the job okay, but to the workers it needed more fine-tuning.
"I'm a perfectionist," said Gilbey, "and I want to make sure it's just right." He and his colleagues spent an extra four-and-a-half hours unbolting, moving, and refastening the two bases ever so slightly until they tops lined up to their satisfaction.
It was no easy job. The steel in the arches weighs 30 tons, even before cement was poured into the hollow interior to stabilize it. Meanwhile, members of Electrical Workers Local 58 ran connectors from the bases to each top, where an arcing light between the two sides will light up the night sky, symbolizing labor's energy.
At the base of the arch, which was designed by David Barr, are 14 granite boulders bearing bronze sculptures by artist Sergio De Giusti depicting construction trades members, assembly line workers, and others who contribute to the city's day-to-day life. Other sculptures recall labor's heritage and project labor's vision for a better future.
"There's a lot of engineering that went into this,"
Barr said as the sections in the arch were being placed. "But
while everything might look good on paper, there's a lot of anxiety
about whether everything will line up. But it's good to know
that every step of the way we're working with skilled pros."
Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council, has been a member of the project's fund-raising committee and an enthusiastic backer of the project.
Final touches, including landscaping improvements, should be finished by early June, according to the officers of the non-profit Michigan Labor Legacy Project inc. - UAW Vice-President Gerald Bantom, Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Donald Boggs, and UAW Region 1 Director Ken Terry. They are planning a major dedication ceremony later this summer, where the construction trades workers who helped build the project will be recognized.
The Landmark was conceived more than two years ago as a gift from the labor movement to the people of Detroit on the occasion of the city's 300th birthday. A nationwide competition drew registrations from more than 120 artists and sculptors, and a jury of five persons representing the labor, arts, and academic community chose the winning design.
Barr and De Giusti won the competition with their collaborative proposal that they call "Transcending." Both have labor roots: Barr was one of the founders of the faculty union at Macomb Community College and served on its bargaining team, and De Giusti's father was a cement worker who emigrated from Italy.
More than a thousand rank-and-file union members contributed $100 or more to help build the arch. Unions and local organizations and businesses also weighed in with major donations to help raise a total of $1.4 million.
Each donor will have a listing or plaque on the wall of honor at the Legacy Landmark site. Contributions are still welcome and space has been reserved for future donors. Donations can be sent to: Michigan Labor Legacy Project, Walter P. Reuther Library, 5401 Cass, Detroit MI 48202. Donations are tax deductible and can be charged to VISA or MasterCard.
In the late 1990s, some areas in Michigan briefly flirted with a shortage of construction workers. In other areas of the country, the worker shortage was more severe, causing much hand-wringing in the owner and contractor communities about the lack of skilled workers.
In today's sickly construction economy, a worker shortage isn't much of a worry. But the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department is preparing for the future, and has begun a "North-South Mobility Initiative" to facilitate the movement of workers between the U.S. and Canada.
The building trades are looking to streamline the process of obtaining work visas by Canadian workers, whittling down the process from four to six months down to just several days. Plans call for visa applications to be handled in Washington, rather than locally, which should also simplify the process.
Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan told the Construction Labor Report that many of the 400,000 Canadian building trades workers would like to cross the border to work, but find the visa process "hugely cumbersome and time consuming." Working with the White House, the Labor Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Sullivan said he expects the new policy to be implemented this year.
Presumably, if work opportunities exceeds the supply of workers in Canada, similar arrangements will be made for American workers.
The organized construction industry is reaching out to the military services to find new members.
"Helmets to Hard hats" is the name of the program, wherein military veterans are offered a one-stop center where their military training can be credited toward apprenticeship or journeyman status. The first year of the program was funded by a $3.4 million federal grant.
Since the program started in December, 2,700 military personnel registered on the program's web site, www.helmetstohardhats.org
Another way the building trades will be attempting to make members more marketable to contractors -and make life a little easier for workers - is the use of the "Smart Card" program.
With the nation's 700,000-member construction workforce as transient as ever, the Building Trades Department listened to contractors and have come up with a system that places a workers' training and experience on a credit card. Workers going from job to job will have credentials to show that they have been safety trained and have been certified in specialty skills necessary for certain types of welding training or for nuclear facilities.
Employers will swipe the card, and information on cardholders will be available via the Internet through secure encryption and authentication methods.
Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan said the trades will be approaching employers to determine whether a standardized system can be set up. Having the information on the card would immediately allow the employee to go to work, and would save employers from paying for redundant safety or specialized work training. Such a program could also lead to increased safety and training standardization among employers.
"The North American Contractors Association (NACA) fully
endorses the Smart Card system and is committed to fostering
its development in the unionized segment of the industry. The
technology is here and it is time the industry adapts to it,"
said Ken Hedman of the North American Contractors Association.
ENR ranks top U.S. contractors
As it has for the past several years, Barton-Malow of Southfield ($965 million in domestic revenue) was the largest contractor in Michigan, coming in at #28 on the list of national contractors. Detroit-based Walbridge-Aldinger was #46 on the national list, and second in Michigan, with $703 million in domestic revenue. Both contracting giants moved up six spots nationally from 2002.
Other Michigan-based companies in the top 400 U.S. contractors were Balfour Beatty Inc. of Novi (#55) and Angelo Iafrate Construction Co. of Warren (#61), The Christman Co., of Lansing (#105), Granger Construction Co. of Lansing (#162) John Carlo Inc. of Clinton Township (#163) , JM Olson Corp., St. Clair Shores (#183), George W. Auch Co. of Pontiac, (#278), Pioneer General Contractors Inc., Grand Rapids (#287), Roncelli Inc., Sterling Heights (#300), and Rockford Construction Co. Inc., of Belmont (#375).
The top three largest construction companies in the U.S. are Bechtel, Fluor Corp. and Centex.
Other ranked contractors who have had a presence in Michigan include The Washington Group International (#9), The Hunt Construction Group (#20), The Walsh Group (#22), Black and Veatch (#31), Alberici (#47), The Boldt Co. (#104), Lunda Construction (#205)
Endorsees, bond issue on June 9 ballot
Plymouth-Canton Board of Education: Mark Slavens
Wayne-Westland Board of Education: Debra Fowlkes (write-in), Martha Pitsenbarger
Building trades union members living in the Waterford School District are asked to go to the polls on Monday, June 9 to support a bond issue to pay for infrastructure, technology and building improvements. The building trades will be seeking agreements with the school district to ensure that union members perform this work.
Egerer reappointed to Elevator board
Egerer, who has been Local 36's business manager for 11 years,
has served on this board since his original appointment in 1994.
The board enforces the state elevator code and handles requests
from contractors for variances to the code. The 10-member safety
board includes two labor representatives, two contractor reps,
an architect, a representative of the general public and the
insurance industry, among others.