May 30, 2008
for construction sites starts to move
group? History shows unions are good for America
for American wages, too, study reveals
A column about
safety training on the job, or 'When I Was an Idiot'
show gone, probably for good
get an elbow up during Boilermakers competition
legislation for construction sites starts to move
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - With a little pressure from the building trades,
this may be the best chance yet to improve the sanitary conditions
on Michigan's construction sites.
In past years this paper has championed the cause of getting
more well-maintained portable toilets on construction sites,
and just as importantly, requiring the placement of hand washing
stations or at least hand sanitizers close to portable toilets
on jobsites. There has been little action on the matter - until
now - and our state's lawmakers are going to need a push from
our readers to do the right thing.
"Frankly, this effort is being driven by the portable
toilet industry," said Todd Tennis of Capitol Services,
a lobbyist for the IBEW and Mid-Michigan Construction Alliance.
"We saw the legislation, put it on our watch list, and we
didn't think it would be controversial. But the ABC (the anti-union
Associated Builders and Contractors) and the home builders weighed
in and squawked that it's unnecessary regulation and is going
to increase costs. But the added costs are actually very small."
House Bill 5064 - Sanitary Facilities on Construction Sites
- would increase the quantity and quality of toilet facilities
on construction sites. The bill would increase the number of
toilets to one for every 10 workers. Current state regulations
call for a minimum requirement of one toilet for a jobsite with
1-20 workers, two toilets for sites with 21-40 workers, and an
additional toilet for each 40 workers after that.
One advantage to having a higher ratio of toilets is that
they're likely to remain cleaner, longer.
The bill's sponsor is Rep. Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing).
He introduced the measure after having a garage built on his
property Up North last year.
"At one point I asked how things were going, and the
workers said 'other than having to go to the bathroom in the
woods, pretty good,' " Meadows said. "A light bulb
went off. The subcontractor eventually got a porta-potty on the
site, but it got me to thinking that it wasn't right for workers,
and it must be affecting productivity when workers are wandering
around looking for a bathroom. Plus there are gender issues,
when you stop to consider the severe disadvantage women in the
trades have under those circumstances."
Tennis wrote in a position paper that an often-used loophole
in state regulations allows a contractor to classify a work crew
as "mobile," negating the requirement for any jobsite
toilets. Thus a group of homebuilding construction workers in
a subdivision who need to relieve themselves usually must find
the nearest fast food outlet, or some nearby tall bushes, because
a portable toilet isn't required.
"They designate crews as 'mobile' even if they're in
the same place for three months," Tennis said.
There are currently very limited state requirements for the placement
of alcohol-based hand sanitizers or hand washing stations near
portable toilets on construction sites. The existing statewide
rule only requires washing facilities be available to employees
engaged in the application of paint, coatings, herbicides, or
insecticides or in other operations where contaminants may be
harmful to employees.
And the sanitary condition of many portable toilets is often
simply ignored, and sometimes toilet paper can't be found.
"What's really important about this legislation is that
it puts penalties into the law for contractors if they don't
have hand washing facilities, or if they don't maintain their
toilets," Tennis said.
According the Michigan House legislative analysis on the bill,
the typical monthly rental cost for a standard portable toilet
runs between $85-$95. Sink stations are about $185 a month, hand
sanitizers, $100. On the high end, a 16-foot restroom trailer
costs about $1,250 a month.
Meadows said one homebuilder testified before the state Regulatory
Reform Committee that not having a portable toilet on site could
cost $2,400 a week in lost productivity, with workers leaving
the jobsite, looking for a place to go.
Still, the vote on that committee to improve the portable
toilet situation was only adopted along party lines, with majority
Democrats in favor and minority Republicans opposed. "There's
a different viewpoint from that side of the aisle," Meadows
said, adding that he expects the measure to pass the full House,
perhaps by the end of May, with some Republican support.
A stronger standard for portable toilets on jobsites was almost
adopted by federal OSHA earlier this decade. The effort began
under the Clinton Administration, but withered away when President
Bush's appointees moved in. The argument that OSHA had more important
life-and-death issues to consider won the day, and a better portable
toilet standard has fallen by the wayside.
Scott Schneider, Director of Occupational Safety and Health
for the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America, said
"improving sanitation on construction sites is a critical
issue for members. It is important to help prevent illnesses
among workers as well as an issue of treating them with dignity.
It is also hard to recruit people into the trades and it is even
harder if the conditions they have to work under include unclean
toilets and no place to clean up before lunch or after work."
A fitting quote from earlier this decade came from Mark Erlich,
a New England carpenter and an author on labor issues. He said
comparing bathroom conditions on today's construction sites to
general sanitation in the era of King Arthur isn't accurate.
"That's medieval," he said. "You're talking construction.
We're in the Stone Age."
Get ready to make calls, send messages for better toilet
LANSING - House Bill 5064 - "Sanitary Facilities on Construction
Sites" - has been OK'd in committee and is currently on
the House floor, where it looks good for passage by majority
the bill faces a less certain future in the Republican-controlled
Senate. "We send so much legislation related to labor over
there, and nothing moves," said State Rep. Mark Meadows
(D-East Lansing). "The Senate doesn't seem to take up anything
that might be considered pro-labor."
When the bill does make it to the Michigan Senate, we will
be back with information to contact your state senator.
At least two Republican lawmakers are treating this legislation
as a joke. One suggested that football schedules be posted on
the inside of portable toilets. Another actually took the time
to write this amendment to the bill, slamming unions at the same
The amendment by Rep. Ken Horn, R-Saginaw Twp., reads: "Amend
page 2, following line 13, by inserting: "A collective bargaining
unit must provide its members with instruction on the sanitary
use of a toilet facility. These instructional classes are to
be administered by the collective bargaining unit in cooperation
with the Department of Community Health."
If you would like to personally comment on Rep. Horn's
amendment, his office phone number is (517) 373-0837. His e-mail
address is email@example.com.
interest group? History shows unions are good for America
Editor's note: Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act
is seen as the single most important issue for organized labor
after the November elections. Passage of the Act is expected
to even the playing field during union organizing efforts.
By David Brody
In a rights-conscious society like ours, the regulation of
labor-management relations is bound to be defined in terms of
rights. That's how our labor law is written, and that's how the
looming debate on the Employee Free Choice Act will go. (Every
member of the next Congress, pro or con, will be rising in defense
of labor's rights.)
But attend more closely, and you'll hear talk (from Republicans)
about job growth and global competitiveness, and (from Democrats)
about the plight of the middle class. Collective bargaining,
that's what they're talking about. The Employee Free Choice Act
will mean more collective bargaining - maybe a lot more collective
bargaining - and for employers, collective bargaining is not
about rights, but about power or, more precisely, a surrender
of power. If you're curious about why this particular bill elicits
so much fury, that's why.
But there is one big question that, however hard we listen,
we're unlikely to hear addressed: What's at stake for America's
Conservatives have had a grand time over many years tearing
down the union movement. Even good reporters routinely refer
to "Big Labor." And right up there with union corruption
and labor bosses is the suggestion that unions are just - to
use our esteemed secretary of labor's words - "special interest
groups." Unions have members; they pay dues; and they expect
results. So in that sense, yes, unions are interest groups, just
like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) or the National
But organized labor is a special interest with a difference.
When the stakes are high, it puts the public welfare ahead of
We can trace this strange behavior back a hundred years to
the Progressive era when, having started out viscerally against
an interventionist state - unions would be stronger, argued AFL
President Samuel Gompers, if workers depended on their own collective
power - the AFL grudgingly sided with middle-class reformers
after they demonstrated that decent social legislation was actually
In the Depression, the union movement jettisoned Gompers's
voluntarism entirely and steadfastly backed the New Deal. And
when civil rights became a big issue in the 1960s, there the
AFL-CIO was, in the thick of the fight.
As a special interest, labor should have been somewhere else.
Why alienate racist members? Or make trouble for discriminatory
affiliates? Or, more fundamentally, undercut labor's work by
fostering a parallel civil-rights enforcement system? Yet it
was the AFL-CIO that pushed for Title VII (prohibiting job discrimination),
and the AFL-CIO, thanks to its clout on Capitol Hill, that got
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through.
Or consider, finally, this thundering might-have-been. Forty-seven
million Americans currently lack medical insurance, and our health
delivery system is a shambles. The last best chance for something
better came after World War II, in a simpler medical age when
universal health care stood high on the Fair Deal agenda, only
to be met by the reactionary American Medical Association, the
insurance companies (who knew a profit center when they saw one)
and the organized health care industry.
And who led the charge? You guessed it: General Motors and
other once-fat corporations now sinking under their legacy costs.
The union movement should have laughed out loud, because if
health coverage came from companies, then unions could - and
quickly did - enfold it within collective bargaining. Instead,
the unions fought for national health insurance, and lost. At
the time, after World War II, a third of the labor force was
organized, and pundits talked about union power (which was why
in 1947 the Republicans got the Taft-Hartley evisceration of
the labor law).
Organized labor too strong? Not strong enough when it came
to health care.
That was then. Today, the labor movement represents 7.5 percent
of private-sector employees. Union density hasn't been so low
since Gompers rolled cigars for a living. No one really knows
how much impact the Employee Free Choice Act might have. That
depends on how American workers respond to the real freedom to
choose that the Act offers them. But we can be sure that without
that freedom, labor's decline will continue. Just think what
American politics would be like operating-to use a favorite National
Association of Manufacturing expression - in a union-free environment.
Is that good for America?
David Brody is a professor emeritus at the University of
California-Davis and the author, most recently, of Labor Embattled:
History, Power, Rights (2005). Via the AFL-CIO
good for American wages, too, study reveals
WASHINGTON - "Economic data have long demonstrated a
substantial wage premium for unionized workers" - on the
order of 10 to 20 percent - for average U.S. workers, said a
new study by the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The report said for the typical U.S. worker - the earner right
in the middle of the national pay scale - unionization raises
wages about 13.7 percent. For high wage earners, in the top 10
percent, unionization raises incomes by 6.1 percent.
But the focus of their study was on the affects of unionization
on low-wage workers, where the news is even better.
"Unionization raises wages for all workers, but unions
have by far the biggest impact on the wages of the lowest-paid
workers," said John Schmitt, a Senior Economist at CEPR
and the author of the study. The report, "The Union Advantage
for Low-Wage Workers," finds that unionization raises the
wages of the typical low-wage worker by 20.6 percent.
"Unions give the biggest boost to low-wage workers because
these are the workers that have the least bargaining power in
the labor market," Schmitt said. "Unionization has
a large and measurable impact on the bargaining power, and therefore
the wages, of low-wage workers."
Over the period covered in the report, 13.8 percent of American
workers were either members of a union or covered by a union
contract at their workplace. Over the same period, the unionization
rate varied widely across the United States, from 3.9 percent
in North Carolina to 26.4 percent in New York.
Michigan's 21.8 percent unionization rate brought a union
premium of 13.9 percent for the lowest paid workers, and 4.1
percent for the highest paid.
Commenting on the study, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said
"For millions of workers who work hard and take home less
to show for it, being part of a union that provides a say on
the job is all the more important. This study proves that for
workers on the bottom rungs of the pay scale, bargaining power
is the best, and often only, means to gain a leg up to the middle
column about safety training on the job, or 'When I Was an Idiot'
By Mark Breslin
Twelfth in a Series
I'm sure that some people will disagree with the past tense
in the title of this article
but in recognition of my previous
sins, omissions and stupidity in the area of safety, I will confirm
my idiot status. Years later, I did finally figure it out, proving
that even the dumbest horse can be led to water and made to drink.
But the stories noted below are true. They are from a two-year
period (many years ago) when I put myself through school working
construction in downtown San Francisco. The company is long out
of business. Big surprise.
I was 20, immortal and clueless. I hefted the Sawzall again
and began cutting the tenth pipe that day. The pipe wrapping
exploded in a cloud of white dust and powder. It covered me as
the blade bit into the steel. Sweating in the crawl space, in
my paper dust mask, I cut those pipes for weeks on end as we
did the demo and conversion on an old San Francisco tenement
And at the end of those days, I looked like Casper the Ghost
covered head to toe in white dust and powder. Just another construction
guy doing his job. Except that the dust I was wearing and breathing
was mostly asbestos. Know what? If someone had told me that,
I probably would have kept doing it anyway.
Safety in the field is not about company rules, programs,
training or OSHA. Safety in the field is fundamentally about
influencing BEHAVIORS. Safety, when it comes down to it, is mostly
about the individual worker selecting the appropriate behaviors
in concert with his or her own interests as well as the company's.
You can give workers the information and tools all day long but
if you can't shape behavior, then you cannot create a safe jobsite.
In my experience, you have to craft these behaviors; they do
not appear on their own.
I dipped the steel wool in a canister of industrial JASCO
paint stripper. Nasty stuff, thick and poisonous as napalm. Cloth
gloves soaking through. Respirator with two-month old filters,
foam dust mask or sometimes just a bandanna. Stripping three
coats of paint off 50 old hardwood doors. Stuff stank up an entire
floor of the job. Just another construction guy doing his job.
I knew it couldn't be good for me but why do something different
if no one tells me why?
There are many barriers to effective safety and injury prevention.
The macho construction image. Poor pre-job planning. Employee
denial. The "It won't happen to me mentality." No employer-driven
rewards or consequences. Every year scores of workers die in
our industry and many more are injured. Some of these are flukes
but many more of them are workers who made a bad judgment call,
engaged in risky behaviors and ended paying the consequences.
So who then is the person most able to influence these jobsite
behaviors? The individual worker and his or her foreman.
I was stripping lath and plaster off of a ceiling that was
just out of reach. I used the second to-the-top step on the ladder;
the one that is labeled "This is Not a Step." I believe
the term to describe me at that time would definitely be "idiot."
With a 12- foot fall I only bounced once but the crew got a laugh
out of it. I was both an idiot and a construction crew foreman
doing his job. Setting a great example.
In the 1990s I taught many safety courses for construction
field personnel. Over 3,000 students in all. In each class, I
would ask them to anonymously write down the stupidest, most
unsafe thing they ever did on a jobsite and put it in a box.
The responses were very scary. After lunch I would read the worst
and finally nominate The Stupidest Guy in the Class. They loved
But what I learned, after talking to hundreds of students,
was that they KNEW they were not doing the right thing but THEY
DID IT ANYWAY and that EVERY STUDENT HAD DONE IT AT ONE TIME
OR ANOTHER. It wasn't ignorance or lack of training or anything
else. There was just no compelling reason to do it differently,
so they didn't.
Mike could not get the exact cut he wanted on his saw. So
he pulled up the safety guard. Again. Like lots of guys did.
Like I did. I was standing right there. Didn't say a thing. Dull
blades kick back. I knew it. He knew it. Combined with the open
guard it was no wonder that after it kicked, it sliced right
through his thigh. The wound was deep and nasty. But you know,
guys still had their safety guards up the same week. I changed
my blade; but that's about all.
Training and apprenticeship programs can only do so much for
influencing key behaviors. There is a difference between having
a safety program and implementing one. There is a difference
between having a set of rules and policies and enforcing them.
There is a difference between telling the hands that safety is
a competitive issue and rewarding them for it. To create safety
as a profit center takes proactive contractor involvement in
providing clear rewards and consequences. It takes setting up
safety as a non-negotiable value system for a company and thus
All this is just fluff without the tools and resources to
make it happen. But more importantly, the coordinated determination,
willpower and discipline to change the values and behaviors that
will dictate results. Everything begins and ends with attitudes
and behaviors. The training centers and instructors do an outstanding
job at forming the values and standards, but the contractors
need to implement and reinforce effectively.
Otherwise we'll just end up with a bunch of boys (and girls)
behaving badly; at our industry's expense and their own. Take
it from me. A reformed idiot.
Mark Breslin is a trainer and author specializing in labor-management
challenges and solutions. He is the author of the recently published
Attitudes and Behaviors: Survival of the Fittest curriculum for
apprentice training centers. The curriculum is now being used
by union training centers, and has been established as standard
course programming by other International Unions and apprenticeship
programs. Instructional material including books, CDs, workbooks,
instructor guides and support media information is available
Industries show gone, probably for good
By Marty Mulcahy
DETROIT - The three-day Union Industry Show made a return
engagement to Cobo Center May 16-18, showcasing services and
products by organized labor.
It was a bittersweet event: scores of displays showcased union-made
cars, clothing, glasses, and the good work of union Hardhats.
But the event - which has taken place every year since it began
in Cincinnati in 1938 (except during World War II) - likely ended
its run with its visit to the Motor City this year.
"The 2009 show has been postponed, and I sincerely doubt
that it will come back," Charlie Mercer, president of the
AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department, told us on
the show floor. "We have fewer exhibitors. So much of our
work has gone offshore, and there have been so many mergers among
unions. That has reduced the number of booths. Ending the show
isn't definite, but it seems as if our board is going to look
at better ways to promote union products."
Displays by building trades unions were a significant part
of this year's show, as virtually all the crafts had a presence.
Visitors to the free show also saw displays for a diverse number
of products and services, from union-made knives, to the U.S.
Postal Service, to Harley-Davison motorcycles, Kohler plumbing
products, and SVS Vision.
This show was significantly smaller than the last time it
came to Detroit, in 1995, when an estimated 300,000 visitors
walked through Cobo's doors. Mercer said this show probably welcomed
about 50,000 visitors, and featured about 125 vendors.
Mercer said the Executive Board which governs the show had
some major beefs in 1995 with Cobo and its contractors over high
costs associated with setting up the show - but not this time.
"Things have changed 180 degrees," Mercer said.
"Detroit has gone out of its way to help us. Today the International
Union wouldn't hesitate to consider Detroit for a convention.
Everyone has gone out of their way to make sure it's a success."
THE 2008 UNION INDUSTRIES SHOW in Detroit
attracted about 50,000 visitors. The Sheet Metal Workers Local
80 display in the foreground took up quite a bit of real estate
at Cobo Center.
HEAT AND FROST Insulators Local 25 JATC Coordinator
Steve Boyd and instructor Robert Ducker talk to visitors to their
welders get an elbow up during Boilermakers competition
Anticipated power plant construction, as well as maintenance
and expansion of existing boilers around Michigan, is expected
to bring about a boom in the need for welders during the next
Enter the annual Boilermakers Local 169 "High School
Welding Invitational," a competition that took place this
year on May 2 at the local's Training Center in Dearborn. The
competition brought in 60 high schoolers from 14 schools statewide,
allowing them to learn who the boilermakers are and what they
do, display their welding skills, and perhaps get a leg up when
it comes time to get hired.
This is the sixth year that Tony Najor, an instructor from
the Lapeer County Education Technical Center, has brought his
students to the boilermakers competition.
"I like everything they do here," he said. "What
they're offering is employment, and it offers a great opportunity
for our kids. I wish more places offered these kinds of opportunities."
Najor and other instructors said the Boilermakers' program
offers a career path that veers from the traditional course suggested
by high school counselors and curricula - that is, getting a
college degree. "Half the students we have aren't going
to college," said Michael Schmidt, an instructor with the
Mecosta-Oceola Intermediate Career Center. "This gives them
something to work toward."
The students were reminded that they would be drug- and alcohol-tested,
the job can involve extensive traveling, and that their skills
and work ethic would determine whether they could stay in a career
as a boilermaker.
Boilermakers Local 169 Business Manager Tony Jacobs said in
the next five to six years, he anticipates that the local will
draw about one-third of its workforce from vocational education
"We are busy and we are going to be busy," he told
the group of assembled students. "Your teachers have done
a great job of teaching you welding. We offer a career, but it's
not a kid's game. We have to keep owners and contractors happy
by getting jobs done right, on time and on budget."
The students displayed their welding skills and had their
work judged to give them an idea of how they can improve their
skill. They also took a written test to show their knowledge.
Chris Lanzon, president of Detroit Boiler Co., told the students
that entry into the Boilermakers apprenticeship program "is
one of the best opportunities you can be given in the building
trades. There are situations in the country where employers don't
know where they're going to find people to do their work."
BOILERMAKERS LOCAL 169'S Rob Theisen, right,
talks to high schooler Demarco Hunt after he put down his "welding
elbow" during the Local 169 High School Welding Invitational.
Theisen won the first annual Local 169 Invitational. He also
competed in the Great Lakes Area Boilermaker Apprentice of the
Year Competition earlier this month, and will find out how he
placed on June 11.
ENR ranks nation's top contractors
One barometer of our state's building climate is the revenue
ranking of Michigan's largest construction contractors.
The rankings (by earnings) for all U.S.-based general contractors
are listed every May by the Engineering News Record. This year,
most Michigan-based general contractors dropped a little in the
rankings, but nothing that would indicate a trend - yet.
"For large contractors, 2007 was close to the best of
times," the ENR said. "While the housing market was
collapsing, most other markets continued to show strength. But
contractors now are seeing signs of a downturn and are bracing
for tougher times ahead."
The ENR called 2007 "an exceptional year" for its
Top 400 contractors. The Top 400 generated $304 billion in revenue,
up 15.8 percent from 2006.
But, "the view in the rearview mirror looks a lot better
than what we are seeing through the windshield," said Douglas
Barnhart, CEO of Douglas E. Barnhart Inc., and this year's president
of the Associated General Contractors, Arlington, Va., to the
Year after year, Southfield-based Barton Malow is consistently
Michigan's biggest revenue earning contractor on ENR's list.
This year Barton Malow dropped to #43 on the list from #39. Detroit's
Walbridge (formerly Walbridge-Aldinger) was #51 in 2007, a drop
of five positions from 2007.
The rest of the top Michigan-based contractors for revenue
on ENR's Top-400 list include: Angelo Iafrate Co., Warren, (#139,
-21 from 2007); The Christman Co., Lansing (#164, -15); Rockford
Construction Co., Grand Rapids (#195, +32); Granger Construction
Co., Lansing (#254, -41); Roncelli, Sterling Heights (#298, -2);
Owens-Ames-Kimball Co., Grand Rapids (#305, +47); Aristeo Construction
Co., Livonia #323, unranked in 2007); Commercial Contracting
Corp., Auburn Hills (#337, unchanged); Clark Construction, Lansing
(#351, -23), and Pioneer General Contractors (#358, unchanged).
Nationwide, the three largest general contractors were unchanged
from 2007 to 2008: Bechtel, Flour Corp. and The Turner Corp.
Other construction contractors (and their 2008 rankings) that
do a significant amount of business in Michigan include: Skanska
(#6); Alberici Corp. (#51); The Boldt Co. (#85); Graycor (#91);
Miron Construction (#152); Rudolph/Libbe (#213), and Lunda Construction
Ex-NLRB chairman's stripes never change
The President-Bush appointed majority of the National Labor Relations
Board is widely seen by organized labor as the most anti-union
panels in its 80-year history.
Their anti-union bias culminated last year in the "September
massacre," a series of rulings that seriously weakened union
protections and workers' rights.
The three-member majority of the NLRB was led by Robert Battista
of Michigan. On May 6, the Bush Administration withdrew his re-nomination,
because Battista decided to move on to greener pastures. His
new employer: the law firm of Littler Mendelson, a notorious
union-buster. Battista was also a management attorney during
the Detroit newspaper strike.