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November 10, 2006

The other shoe drops after anti-union NLRB decisions

New heart, surgery center added to Ingham Regional

Residential housing doldrums may bring 1st decline in U.S. construction in 16 years

Workplace injuries, illness down a bit; construction still leads

Men: it's time to talk prostate with your doctor

This Book starts a little slow…

News Briefs


The other shoe drops after anti-union NLRB decisions

(PAI) - The first in what could be a series of unhappy steps took place in conjunction with the National Labor Relations Board's Oakwood/Kentucky River decisions, in which nurses and potentially millions of workers could be declared supervisors and thus unprotected by U.S. labor law.

In Roseburg, Ore., before the board's ruling was announced Oct. 3, five full-time charge nurses at recently unionized Mercy Medical Center were excluded from the Oregon Nurses Association local, the Northwest Labor Press reported. Both the local and the hospital managers anticipated the Bush-named majority on the board would rule the way it did.

Furthermore, currently before the NLRB are 54 labor cases that involve determining employee or supervisor status in various professions besides nursing - including construction.

"It's the latest example of how the Bush-appointed NLRB is prepared to use legal maneuvering to deny as many workers as possible their basic right to have a voice on the job through their union," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "The NLRB should protect workers' rights, not eliminate them."

Unions maintain that the Oakwood decision could declare everyone from construction workers to newspaper reporters "supervisors." That, in short, is what the board majority, by identical 3-0 votes, told regional officials to decide in the 54 cases.

In each case, the board said the union and the company must get a new ruling on who is a supervisor and who isn't. Unions contend firms will use that issue to halt organizing, delay elections, clobber bargaining units and cripple workers' rights. And when new contracts come up, firms will cite Oakwood and demand workers' exclusion.

That round of upcoming decisions illustrates a comment by former NLRB General Counsel Fred Feinstein. He said the board opened the way to declaring a worker a "supervisor" even if all he did was tell another worker that the heaviest items should be put at the bottom of a flatbed truck.

In their dissent, NLRB members Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh say the decision "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."

In other news about the NLRB's landmark ruling, the AFL-CIO took the extraordinary step of filing a formal case with the International Labour Organization contesting the National Labor Relations Board's ruling declaring new groups of workers are supervisors.

The federation wants not just a decision against the U.S. government, but a full-scale international investigation, saying the ruling broke international compacts the U.S. signed.

In its 23-page complaint to the ILO, signed by federation President John J. Sweeney, the AFL-CIO said the ruling in Oakwood Health Care vs. UAW is part of a pattern of destruction of workers' rights in the U.S. that breaks international norms.

"Oakwood strips employees in the new 'supervisor' status of any and all protection," the AFL-CIO told the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association, which would investigate the complaint. Sweeney, in a statement, said "Bush has stripped millions of America's working people of a fundamental human right recognized all over the globe: The freedom to bargain collectively and have a voice on the job."

Among other things, "employers may fire" newly named 'supervisors' "with impunity if they do not relinquish union membership or if they participate in union activities. Employers can even force these employees, under pain of dismissal, to participate in management's anti-union campaigns," the federation pointed out.

And it quoted internal memos from two notorious union-busters - which pose as law firms - as ready to encourage employers to classify workers as supervisors, removing them from labor law protection and opening them to management dictates.


New heart, surgery center added to Ingham Regional

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - Fifty percent growth in patient admissions over the last seven years has prompted growth in the Ingham Regional Medical Center.

Ingham's new Chi Heart and Surgery Center, now under construction, will be a five-story, 170,000 square-foot facility, connecting with the main hospital campus at 401 W. Greenlawn.

The new construction on the east side of the hospital campus is being built over a demolished four-story structure and will place all heart and surgical services under one roof. Two new floors of patient rooms will also be added.

Construction is being managed by the Hospital Building and Equipment Co. (HBE). The new heart and surgery center will cost $50 million. About 100 Hardhats were on the job last month.

"I can't say enough about the workforce out here," said HBE Senior Supt. Mark Erickson, a Wisconsin native. "When I found out I was coming on the job, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard it was an all-union job. It's so much better when you don't have to deal with incompetent people."

Erickson said tradespeople will be "nice and warm" this winter with the addition of windows this fall. He said the main challenge on the project was the "ugly" soil at the site - including buried cans and an old fuel tank. Foundation work included the sinking of 117 caissons about 65 feet deep.

Construction is expected to be complete late next year.

"This center," said Robert Heintz, vice president of Development for Ingham Regional Medical Center, "has long been needed to consolidate heart and surgical services for more efficient patient surgeries and outpatient services, and enhanced quality of care."

The new center's features will include:

  • Total replacement of the surgery department, including 10 operating rooms, and five cardiac catheterization rooms;
  • A dedicated outpatient floor with new imaging and non-invasive technology;
  • An increase in private rooms from 95-145.

The facility will be named for Dr. and Mrs. Seong Chi. Dr. Chi holds a longstanding reputation as a pioneer in open heart surgery, performing the first such surgery at Ingham in 1966.

A MEDICAL GAS pipe is installed at Ingham Regional Medical Center by Tony Dingley of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333 and Keebler Plumbing.

RUNNING A BRANCH CIRCUIT ARE (l-r) Justin Larrison and Jaime Lugo of IBEW Local 665 and Delta Electric.


Residential housing doldrums may bring 1st decline in U.S. construction in 16 years

Overall U.S. construction spending is expected to drop next year, led by a rapid decline in housing construction.

So says a report released late last month by McGraw-Hill Construction, which forecast the first decline in overall U.S. construction spending since 1991. It said the value of new construction is expected to decline 1 percent to $668 billion in 2007, compared to an anticipated rise of 1 percent for 2006 and a 12 percent hike in 2005.

McGraw-Hill told the Wall Street Journal that the decline in housing construction will have other unhappy side effects on the U.S. economy, such as in job growth and in real estate development.

"Single-family housing has fallen more steeply than what we had anticipated and the correction is taking place faster," said Robert Murray, vice president at McGraw-Hill Construction. The industry "no longer has single-family housing to bolster total construction."

But several other segments in the construction industry - which are in the wheelhouse of the unionized building trades - are expected to have a good 2007. Associated General Contractors Chief Economist Ken Simonson said Nov. 1 that "nonresidential construction spending climbed to its 13th consecutive record in September (up 1.1 percent), showing that the homebuilding slide hasn't carried other segments downhill with it."

He said in the first nine months of 2006 (compared to that period in 2005), overall construction spending was up 6.6 percent, private nonresidential construction moved ahead 17 percent, and public construction rose 10 percent.

"Nearly all of these categories should continue growing over the next year," Simonson said. "I believe the economy is still fundamentally strong, and the housing slide will have limited impacts on other segments." The McGraw-Hill forecast agreed, calling it "reassuring" news that construction of hospitals, schools, hotels and factories is expected to remain strong. Commercial construction is expected to increase 2.5 percent next year.

The Journal said the construction industry accounts for almost a tenth of U.S. economic activity, and its contraction in housing "could have a ripple effect through the economy as it is a major buyer of finished products and generator of jobs." Retail construction, which is related to housing, is also expected to drop in 2007.

However, inflationary pressures on construction materials may moderate due to slackening demand.


Workplace injuries, illness down a bit; construction still leads

WASHINGTON (PAI) - The rate of workplace injuries and illnesses declined slightly in 2005, the Labor Department reported, citing numbers from the the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The BLS reported 4.6 cases of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses per 100 private sector workers last year, down from 4.8 cases per 100 workers in 2004. "The rate resulted from a total of 4.2 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses in private industry workplaces during 2005, relatively unchanged compared to 2004, and a 2 percent increase in the number of hours worked," BLS added.

Construction workers suffered 6.3 cases of illness or injury per 100 workers in 2005 - the highest rate in goods-producing industries - with little change from the year before. The highest rate of injury in the industry was among masons - 13.4 cases per 100 workers. Individual trades - roofers, plumbers, electricians painters and masons - accounted for 64 percent of all construction workers injuries.


Men: it's time to talk prostate with your doctor

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Prostate cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer among American men, especially African-Americans. By age 75, 50 to 75 percent of American men will have cancerous changes in their prostate.

About 80 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are over age 65, and one-third of all American men over age 50 have microscopic signs of prostate cancer. The cancer will be diagnosed in more than 200,000 American men this year, and about 29,000 men will die from the disease.

Those are a few facts about the cancer, from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. They also point out that it is a slow-acting, treatable cancer.

But first, it has to be found.

Three men who learned of prostate cancer in their body this year are members of IBEW Local 252 in Ann Arbor. This year, all three were diagnosed or being treated for the cancer.

"They're all in their fifties, and I realized in talking to them how important it is for guys to get an annual physical and talk to their doctor about getting a PSA test," said IBEW Local 252 Business Manager Greg Stephens, who suggested this article to our readers. "So I thought this would be a good reminder to spread the word."

One of those members, Jim Burns, 54, a business agent with IBEW Local 252 for the last six years, was diagnosed with prostate cancer about 18 months ago and subsequently had his prostate removed.

"It is so important to get an annual physical and have a PSA test," he said. "Especially if you have a history of it in your family. They say if you have a family history of prostate cancer, you either got it and you don't know it, or you're going to get it."

Burns' father died three years ago at age 75 of prostate cancer, only eight months after the cancer was diagnosed. Burns said he has always had regular physicals, and had been especially aware of the risk of prostate cancer since his dad died.

He said about the time his father died, a routine physical with blood test showed his PSA to be borderline for prostate cancer. But despite that number and his family history, Burns' general practitioner at the time didn't press him to get checked out further. Burns said he blames that doctor and himself for not asking more questions and getting follow-up testing.

Eighteen months later, getting treated by a different doctor in that practice, Burns said his PSA test number nearly quadrupled. Further testing confirmed the presence of cancer. There are several treatment options for prostate cancer, and from the advice of his urologist Burns chose to have his prostate completely removed.

Follow-up blood testing on Burns revealed a 0.17 PSA number - very low, but which indicates that minute amounts of cancer may have spread to surrounding tissues. So Burns was scheduled to go in for four to five weeks of low-level radiation treatment this fall to eliminate any remaining cancer.

"It was caught pretty early and I felt that this wasn't a big deal," Burns said. "I have always had the attitude that I would get over it and beat it, and it hasn't phased me at all."

Early detection is vital. According to the American Cancer Society, health care professionals should offer the PSA blood test and digital rectal exam annually, beginning at age 50. Men at high risk, such as African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65), should begin testing at age 45.

Men at even higher risk (because they have several first-degree relatives who had prostate cancer at an early age) could begin testing at age 40.

But PSA screening is not a perfect process. Since the use of early detection tests for prostate cancer became fairly common (about 1990), the American Cancer Society points out, the prostate cancer death rate has dropped. "But it has not been proven that this is a direct result of screening," the ACS said.

There are potential problems with the current screening methods. Neither the PSA test nor the digital rectal exam is 100% accurate. Uncertain or false test results could cause confusion and anxiety. Some men might have a prostate biopsy (which carries its own small risks, along with discomfort) when cancer is not present, while others might get a false sense of security from normal test results when cancer is actually present.

Still, place Rick Kett in the category of believers in the PSA test. The prostate cancer survivor received an urgent call from his doctor's office last February after he had a routine physical and blood test. Upon learning he had cancer, he also chose to have his prostate removed.

"There are a lot of treatment options," said Kett, 58. "The worst option is doing nothing at all. I think one of the most important things I can tell people from the experience I've had is to take control of their own medical business. A lot of men who read your article are going to get prostate cancer. These are macho, tough construction workers out there who think that they don't need to see a doctor every year, or they don't question the results of tests or don't even ask for tests like the PSA.

"If they don't want to do it for themselves, I hope they get checked out for the sake of their wives and their families. There are so many sexual, family, lifestyle and life and death issues that are involved with prostate cancer."

The American Cancer Society concludes: "Until more information is available, whether you have the tests is something for you and your doctor to decide. Things to take into account are your age and health. If you are young and develop prostate cancer, it will probably shorten your life if it is not caught early. If you are older or in poor health, then prostate cancer may never become a major problem because it is generally a slow-growing cancer.

"Health care professionals should give men the chance to openly discuss the benefits and risks of testing at yearly checkups. Men should actively take part in the decision by learning about prostate cancer and the pros and cons of early detection and treatment of prostate cancer."


This Book starts a little slow…
DETROIT - If there are any more structural or logistical skeletons in the closets of the massive Book-Cadillac hotel - where a $180 million renovation project is ramping up - they shouldn't affect progress on returning the building to its former glory, its developer said last month.

Leading a group of journalists through the first four floors of the shelled-out hotel, John Ferchill, chairman and CEO of the Cleveland-based developer, The Ferchill Group, described the complex nature of the financing for the project, confidence in the skills of the building trades to do the job right, and projected a sense of certitude that the project will become a success.

"The Book is gradually working its way back to icon status," Ferchill said. We are proud to play a role in the preservation and renewal of one of the City's most storied assets. We respect the sentiment Detroit has for this architectural treasure."

Completed in 1924 during the city's decade-long pre-Depression skyscraper building boom, the 33-story Book-Cadillac hotel was one of the most opulent in the nation. Hosting presidents and entertainers, the hotel offered 1,200 guest rooms with grand public areas and ballrooms.

Today, those public areas are anything but grand. Low occupancy forced the hotel to close in 1984. For a few years, the building was guarded, but eventually there was no security and the public interior spaces were ruined by urban miners and the elements.

Two years ago the building trades stripped the Book-Cadillac of hazardous materials and any salvageable materials in what turned out to be a false start in the renovation of the hotel. Financing fell through until earlier this year, when the Ferchill team led a group of 22 investors in a remarkably complicated financing package to renovate the building.

The first four floors are today just a shell of masonry walls. But with the money in place, the building trades are just starting to get busy. Ferchill offered the following information about what's ahead for the Book:

  • The completion of the financing package was announced on June 27. Since then construction activity has been slow - for one major reason. Ferchill said the construction team had an extremely difficult time getting their hands on a buck-hoist, or an exterior elevator. "They're all in China," he said.
  • There have been no construction problems so far associated with figuring out what's going on structurally under floors and behind walls. "We haven't seen anything we didn't anticipate that will cost us money," Ferchill said. "And there's not much left to uncover."
  • There will be three ballrooms in the hotel, including one that will offer sit-down dinners to 1,000 guests.
  • The building, slated for completion about two years from now, will have 455 hotel rooms and 67 condominiums. The developer's confidence in the project was buoyed by a pre-sale event last month, wherein condo buyers placed deposits on 40 of the 67 condominium units, which will be placed on floors 24-29. Their cost: $280,000 to $1.5 million.
  • Keeping in mind that the building's ballrooms and public areas received several major facelifts in its 60-year history, Ferchill estimated that 98 percent of the building would be restored to a previous condition. "What's here, we kept, what's gone - we really don't know," he said. He said fixtures like ornate stairwells and chandeliers can be fixed or recreated. As for the plaster, he pledged that they would try to replace "most of it, if not all of it. We have the craftsmen."

When asked for any "pleasant surprises," so far concerning the project, Ferchill said he had heard the building trades could be difficult to work with - which hasn't been the case. "The biggest problem we've had so far is getting that buck-hoist," he said.

With the 33-story Book-Cadillac a dead building and the interior elevators inoperable, getting an exterior elevator (or buck-hoist) in place has been critical to getting the project substantially under way.

When a buck-hoist was finally made available, the task was given to Darren Fisher (Elevator Constructors Local 36) and Mark Johnson (Iron Workers Local 17) of Elevator Technology to anchor it into place on the west side of the building.

"It's a really crazy design, nothing is really square and everything is custom," Johnson said. With the historic nature of the building, the iron to support the hoist had to be anchored on the interior of the building. Support tie-in iron was placed through the building's windows and anchored to floors with one-inch bolts.

"We've done a lot of buckhoists, and we know contractors want them in as soon as possible," Fisher said. "The stairs aren't very popular."

DETROIT'S Book-Cadillac hotel on Oct. 30.
Photo by Don Coles, Great Lakes Aerial Photos/(313) 885-0900

MOVING MATERIALS in an out of the Book-Cadillac hotel is Michael Ray of Laborers Local 334.


News Briefs

Mighty Mac has 50-year logo
Thanks to a great design and the good work of Michigan's building trades workers, our state's most recognizable landmark - the mighty Mackinac Bridge - is turning 50 years old in 2007.

To kick off the commemoration process, on Oct. 31 the Mackinac Bridge Authority released the official logo of the span's 50th anniversary year. The bridge first opened to traffic on Nov. 1, 1957.

The MBA Board recently approved special celebrations for July and November 2007, focused on the 50-year milestone along with plans for parades, honorary ceremonies, demonstrations by iron workers, live history presentations, photo displays, musical entertainment, fireworks, release of a commemorative medallion, and other Straits-area community events.

"We think it appropriate to celebrate this milestone in the history of our majestic structure, which has become a national icon and well-known Michigan landmark," said Barbara J. Brown, MBA Board member and chair of the 50th anniversary committee.


It's OK to go Krogering again
LIVONIA - The "Kroger Ogre" is no more.

For the last two months, the Teamsters Union has called for a boycott of Kroger stores, protesting the decision by the grocery giant to send hundreds of jobs from a Livonia distribution facility to a Kroger location in Ohio where workers would toil for about $4 less per hour.

Earlier this month Teamsters President James Hoffa credited Gov. Jennifer Granholm with playing "a key role" in protecting Teamster jobs and bringing an end to the dispute.

"Our victory at Kroger proved what we can accomplish when union members and the entire community come together to protect good jobs and the local economy," Hoffa said.

A Teamsters spokesman said there were initially 180 workers who would have been laid-off by the jobs transfer to Delaware, Ohio. But the Michigan jobs were restored when Granholm and the union convinced Kroger to transfer work to the Livonia perishables warehouse from another location in Cincinnati.

In its original plans disclosed last summer, Kroger had planned on closing its warehouse in Livonia and moving about 250 current jobs to Delaware, Ohio, and potentially 250 more by 2008.

Kroger was the nation's leading grocer in 2005, with a net profit of nearly $1 billion.


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