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November 12, 2004

Election aftermath: Go right? Go left? Debate starts for Dems

Poll trolling: union members divided on Bush, Kerry

Trades operate in new surgical addition at Oakwood Hospital

Your health and safety matters…Water thrown on asbestos removal plan

U.S. has higher health costs, lower outcomes, analyst tells labor

Local 324 training helps bring GPS technology down to earth

Construction tops worker fatality list

News Briefs

 

Election aftermath: Go right? Go left? Debate starts for Dems

Or is love all we need?

Union workers and their families were among the more than 100 million Americans who went to the polls on Nov. 2 to elect the next president of the United States.

It was the most important election in our lifetime, they were told. It was not difficult to see that the broad differences between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John F. Kerry. And the close race in 2000 provided impetus for both sides to redouble their efforts to get out the vote.

Democrats, wholly supported by organized labor, had every reason to believe that the higher voter turnout would a plus for Kerry and candidates for the House and Senate. They were right. But Republicans did just a little better in energizing voters in a few counties in Ohio to help win the presidency for Bush, and a lot better in other states, to help the GOP fortify its hold on the House and Senate.

In a post-election press conference Nov. 3, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney lauded labor's efforts at the polls, thanking union members for campaigning and turning out in
record numbers.

"Union households accounted for one of every four voters - 27 million voters," Sweeney said. "Union members voted two to one for Kerry, and the margin was a little bigger in battleground states. Our program was the biggest ever... I've never seen our members so energized."

But it wasn't enough.

Nearly complete unofficial returns showed Bush with 58.53 million votes (51 percent) nationwide, to Kerry's 54.99 million votes (48 percent). Ralph Nader and others got 1 percent.

Under the headline, "Beaten Again, Democrats ponder shift in philosophy," a Nov. 3 Wall Street Journal article asked: "Twice in four years, the Democrats seemed inches from the front door of the White House, only to be turned away. Now what?"

Indeed, it's difficult to imagine that organized labor and others in the Democratic Party could have worked harder to get out the vote. A record amount of money was raised. Voter turnout was at an all-time high. So were energy levels - much of it from volunteers who never dreamed they would take part in a political campaign.

Democrats wouldn't have even been in the ballpark during this campaign without the money and work provided by organized labor. Now comes the million-dollar question: after two successive hard-fought presidential campaigns which Democrats lost, is a change of political direction in order?

Timothy Noah, a writer for the Slate, summed up the quandary nicely:

"In the coming days, a heartfelt dialogue will begin in which Democrats ask themselves, in a refreshing spirit of constructive self-criticism, why they can't connect with the American middle class. I have been listening to, and occasionally contributing to, discussions on this topic for more than two decades, and they began well before I tuned in. By now, the very subject makes me want to scream. Three critiques tend to dominate this discussion:

  1. Democrats need to move right.
  2. Democrats need to move left.
  3. Democrats should sit tight and await the inevitable demographic shift that will put them on top again."

Noah concludes: "They're all wrong." But he acknowledges that he has no idea, how, or if, Dems should change.

The AFL-CIO's Sweeney seemed more inclined to stay the course: "We're going to take that energy, that momentum, that technology, that field operation and start right now building a movement that will keep turning this country around," he declared.

One of the frequent critics of the AFL-CIO, writer Harry Kelber, weighed in: " Having spent tens of millions of dollars on the campaign, the AFL-CIO should make a public assessment of what went wrong. Why did Kerry lose when Bush was hit with a lot of bad news from Iraq and a stock market slump in the two weeks before the election?

"Specifically, why did we lose Ohio, which had suffered the worst loss of manufacturing jobs in the nation and where the AFL-CIO had as many as 728 full-time staff people on the ground for weeks? We need to re-examine our relations with the Democratic Party. And we should know, as precisely as we can, what mistakes were made, so we don't repeat them in the next presidential election."

Democrats were waylaid this election cycle by issues that zoomed to the top of voter concerns: terrorism and morality. Unions have endorsed Democratic candidates based on their traditional support of economic, safety and pro-worker issues - but in hindsight, those things sort of fell off the radar screen this election cycle.

One issue that's sure to get more attention is for Democrats to do a better job of explaining where they stand on traditional family values. It's a subject that's difficult to define - but Republicans embraced the general concept, and used it to energize their base.

Bruce Reed, head of the moderate Democratic Leadership Conference, told the Journal: "There are part of the country where our message isn't getting through because concerns of moral issues and security are keeping just enough people from voting their economic interests."

It was only 12 years ago that Bill Clinton stuck to the basic premise that the 1992 election "was about the economy, stupid" and went on to defeat incumbent George Bush the Elder.

Now, after 9-11 and the war on terror, the nation's attention has apparently shifted away somewhat from the economy. But where it's going to be four years from now is anyone's guess.

Florida Sen. Bob Graham told the New York Times that the Democratic Party has to address some basic positions as well. "We ought to debate what our strategy should be in the war on terrorism," he said. "We also ought to have a debate, on how we can move the debate on values beyond God, guns and gays - to tolerance, concern for others, love."

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Poll trolling: union members divided on Bush, Kerry

The polling numbers that emerged from the Nov. 2 general election hold some good news - and some sobering news - for people who wonder if American union political clout is diminishing:

  • It's clear that political activism is alive and well among union members. According to exit poll data commissioned by the AFL-CIO, union households comprised 24 percent of all voters this year, and in absolute numbers, more unionists voted than ever before, pollster Geoff Garin said. That sounds good - but the number is two percentage points below the 26 percent figure that labor achieved in both 2002 and 2000. That's due in good part to the fact that the number of union members in the country is slowly but steadily shrinking.
  • Union households backed Kerry by a 5.8-million vote margin, or 65-33 percent, according to the union-backed poll conducted by Peter Hart Associates. A CNN exit poll of 13,531 respondents showed a lesser 60-39 Kerry lead. It's worth reiterating the obvious flip side of those numbers: at least one third of all union members in the U.S. voted for George W. Bush, despite massive union endorsements and information campaigns.
  • The AFL-CIO said union members tripled their mobilization efforts over 2000. Nearly 50,000 union volunteers were active in four states alone: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. More than 32 million leaflets were distributed. The AFL-CIO spent $45 million on the campaign.
  • In Michigan, amazingly, Democrats gained five seats in the Michigan House, more than anyone expected. The new House has 58 Republicans and 52 Democrats. More than 6,500 union volunteers in Michigan participated in 75 walks, knocking on more than 100,000 doors from June to Election Day. Twenty three affiliates provided 125 release staff from all over the country to work on phone banks, walks and at worksites.
  • Among the new state reps will be former Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Service Trades Local 174 Business Manager Doug Bennett, who won his race for State Representative in the 92nd District (Muskegon area).
  • Democrats gained four seats on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners; they have 10 of 25 seats. They gained three seats on the Macomb County Board of Commissioners to take a 17-9 advantage over Republicans.
  • Democrat Eric Smith, endorsed by the building trades, was elected Macomb County's new prosecutor.

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Trades operate in new surgical addition at Oakwood Hospital

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Operations are ongoing at Dearborn's Oakwood Hospital - both the kind with scalpels and the kind with shovels.

Construction manager Barton-Malow and the building trades are erecting a $62 million, 180,000-square-foot North Surgical Addition that will allow Oakwood to expand its medical services. The trades are building 17 new operating rooms in the addition, which is a two-year project expected to be completed in the fall of 2005.

The addition consists of two levels atop a basement - and the basement sits atop 134 concrete foundation caissons that extend 90 feet below ground. That's a lot more caissons than a building this size would normally require, but the high level of moisture in the clay soil decreases the stability of the ground. Getting out of the ground was the job's biggest challenge to date, said Jay Harshe, senior project manager for Barton-Malow.

"That's a lot of concrete down there," he said "But we're building on what was a swamp at one time."

The addition will tie into the existing hospital on two levels. Mounir Karam, senior construction administrator for project architect SSOE, said the modern medical applications in the north addition will "touch nearly every area of the building code."

"Since these are operating rooms, the building will be crowded with different mechanical systems," he said. "Vacuum, medical gases, oxygen, waste, lighting, you name it. When you build to hospital standards, the rules are very stringent."

Karam said the addition's design team spent many hours with Oakwood doctors and medical staff, to find out what they want and don't want in a surgical environment.

The North Addition will also include room for an additional CT scanner, office space and expansion of diagnostic imaging and laboratory services, according to Oakwood. The building trades are also erecting a 300-plus spot parking deck on the site.

In August iron workers substantially topped out the project, having place 1,700 tons of steel on the job. Overall, said Barton Malow Project Supt. Bruce Belisle, about 135 Hardhats will be on the project in the coming weeks, which will be peak employment.

"The trades and the subs have been outstanding," said Jay Harshe, senior project manager for Barton-Malow. "We've worked with a lot of them before, so it's a huge advantage."

OPERATORS Sal Patrico, left, and Mike Stuben of Local 324 move dirt at the new North Surgical Addition at Oakwood Hospital.

GET YOUR MOTOR running - Gary Antonelli of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 pull-starts a troweling machine at the Oakwood Hospital project.

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Your health and safety matters…Water thrown on asbestos removal plan

A brain-dead asbestos-removal scheme has received a well-deserved burial.

On Oct. 13, the city of Fort Worth, Texas abandoned the use of a "wet method" for asbestos remediation during the demolition of an old building. The city proposed to spray water on the site during the building's demolition, claiming that the water would prevent microscopic asbestos fibers from becoming airborne and inhaled by clean-up workers and local residents.

The Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America reports that the Environmental Protection Agency actually gave "tentative authorization" for a contractor to tear down the building without employing safeguards normally required under federal regulations.

The Fund said the EPA withdrew permission after a series of internal memos were leaked to the media. EPA scientists also criticized the shoddiness of the project's proposed monitoring and tracking methodology. The city has now budgeted $1.1 million for the building's demolition.

"I understand the desire of cities to find a cheaper way to remove asbestos," said Laborers General President Terence M. O'Sullivan. "Many of them own tax-delinquent, asbestos-filled properties. However, it is the duty of the EPA to protect the environment, the public and, also, in particular, the workers who risk their health to remove this dangerous material. Unfortunately, the EPA continues to ignore the science and allows financial considerations to dominate its judgment."

Asbestos deaths on the rise

A study published in the July 23 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that deaths due to asbestos exposure are increasing in the U.S. and are now the most common lung-related deaths in the country.

The other major causes of pneumonoconiosis death, including silicosis and black lung, are in decline.

The increase in asbestosis occurred despite a sharp reduction in the use of asbestos in the U.S. due to regulations imposed in the 1970s. The researchers noted that asbestos mortality peaks 40 to 45 years after the initial exposure. In 1968, 77 deaths were attributed to asbestosis, compared to 1,493 in 2000. That number will continue to rise for another decade or so.

OSHA ignores recommendation on Portland cement.

Despite the recommendation of its own Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to include a key provision in its proposed rule on hexavalent chromium that would have lessened the dangers of exposure to Portland cement.

Portland cement contains small amounts of hexavalent chromium as a contaminant. Persistent skin exposure among construction workers leads to contact and allergic dermatitis (skin rashes). In severe cases, this dermatitis can end a worker's career. Cement workers can protect themselves by wearing rubber gloves and other personal protective equipment that prevents direct skin contact with wet cement and by washing frequently with clear water and pH-neutral soap.

Years ago, the Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America said, OSHA announced its intention to issue a rule on hexavalent chromium but failed to do so. The agency was sued, and the courts forced OSHA to issue a proposed rule this fall. A final rule must be completed by 2006.

Scott Schneider, Director of the Laborers' Occupational Safety and Health Division and a labor member of ACCSH, succeeded in uniting labor and management members on the need to include Portland cement in the proposed rule. OSHA claims that other standards and guidance adequately addresses this hazard.

NIOSH issues hand tool guide.

A new publication by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Cal/OSHA Consultation Service provides easy-to-use guidance for evaluating and selecting non-powered hand tools to reduce risks of job-related disorders from repetitive movements.

"Easy Ergonomics: A Guide to Selecting Non-Powered Hand Tools," includes user-friendly, illustrated discussions of factors to assess in choosing tools, and a checklist for comparing tools and making a selection.

The document is designed to help employers and employees evaluate different non-powered hand tools to identify those that can be used effectively with less force, less repeated movement, and less awkward positioning of the body for a given task.

By selecting a hammer, screwdriver, wrench, or other type of hand tool that meets such design and performance criteria, the risk of musculoskeletal injury can be reduced.

"A wise investment in the right tool can repay itself many times over through savings in medical costs, lost work time, and lost productivity, but selecting the right tool can be complicated and time-consuming without assistance, especially for small businesses that lack specialized in-house resources," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "We are pleased to partner with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration to fill the need for such assistance in the concise, non-technical, easy-to-follow format that this new guide provides."

To the untrained eye, it may be difficult to evaluate tools from an ergonomic perspective, the new document notes.

"Easy Ergonomics: A Guide to Selecting Non-Powered Hand Tools," DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-164, is available on the NIOSH web page at www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-164/default.html or by calling the NIOSH toll free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).

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U.S. has higher health costs, lower outcomes, analyst tells labor

WASHINGTON (PAI) - The U.S. not only has the most expensive health care in
the world, but its outcomes are often far lower than results in comparable countries, a top analyst told a forum sponsored by organized labor.

As a result, said Dr. Gerard Anderson of the Johns Hopkins School for Public Health, "I don't see any clinical evidence that we have the best health care in the world." Instead, he said the studies show that while the U.S. has high technology and well-trained staffers, its health care system is broken and costly and needs extensive change.

Anderson told the latest health care forum sponsored by the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees that trans-national data, comparing the U.S. to other advanced nations, shows U.S. health care often lags far behind them.

On measurements ranging from safety to satisfaction to infant mortality to life expectancy, the U.S. ranks at best in the middle of the group of 25-30 member nations of the world's industrialized countries, he told the Oct. 19 session.

We lead, however, in several of 21 separate indicators of specific illness outcomes, such as the five-year survival rate from breast cancer, and in one unwanted area: cost.

"We spend almost $6,000 per person on health care, but that doesn't tell you whether it (the sum) is too high, too low or just about right," Anderson said. To make that judgment requires comparing U.S. results with those of other nations. "The point is that we spend a lot more dollars but our clinical outcomes aren't better than those in comparable nations," he said.

Other results Anderson cited include:

  • Hospital spending in the U.S. accounts for 38 percent of all medical spending, more than the percentage of the other industrialized nations - such as Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia - for which comparable figures at comparable institutions, or under comparable conditions, are available. He said the U.S. spends an average of $2,434 per hospital day while the other nations spend less than $1,000.
  • Other nations spend far less on overhead. U.S. overhead costs, mostly administrative costs by the private insurance companies, total 31 percent of all U.S. medical costs, Anderson said. That's more than double the percentage spent for overhead in the other nations. The others have national health care.
  • U.S. prescription drug prices are about double those of Canada, Great Britain and other nations. But Anderson was pessimistic about cutting drug prices here. Citing his own past sessions before Congress, Anderson said the pharmaceutical companies' wage intensive - and successful - lobbying to convince both Democrats and Republicans that drug price cuts would lead to cuts in research and development funds.
  • "We're dead last in efficiency. Some of that problem could be solved, Anderson said, through conversion of medical records to electronic forms and making records available to all practitioners. "None of our patients' doctors know what the others are doing," he said, adding that Great Britain is about to invest $25 billion to create electronic patient records to improve knowledge among doctors.
  • Anderson also said that aging of the population appears to have little effect, since some of the other industrialized nations, especially Sweden and Germany, have significantly older populations - and significantly lower costs.

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Local 324 training helps bring GPS technology down to earth

By J.D. Booth

From the reaches of space to the depths of a roadbed or other construction surface: users of technology developed around the U.S. government's Global Positioning System (GPS) have the ability to accurately pinpoint a location well beyond the traditional marine navigation or even outdoors enthusiast applications.

Indeed, in the nine years since the U.S. Air Force Space Command declared the system fully operational, the ability to generate a digital "you are here" signal has found its way into the field of construction and excavating - and with profitable results.

As Trimble Navigation's Pete Kaz points out, contractors are using the company's GPS-based technology to bring enhanced levels of safety, accuracy and productivity to their projects.

"Having the ability to pinpoint the location of a piece of equipment and know on an interactive basis how much material is being moved and where the equipment is in any given moment is taking the industry to an entirely new level," he said.

Kaz made the comments last month at "GPS: 2," a workshop hosted by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 at its Howell Education Center, a 515-acre state-of-the art training center 40 miles west of Detroit. Presented jointly by Local 324, Trimble Navigation and Michigan CAT, the two-day workshop featured presentations and hands-on demonstrations of the latest in GPS technology and heavy equipment.

Trimble's SiteVision was created to receive satellite signals and "fine-tune" the accuracy through a local radio system that broadcasts a correcting signal to the earth-moving equipment, the result being accuracies never before achieved, even by the highest of GPS standards.

"We know within 1/10th of a foot exactly where the equipment is at any given time," said Kaz, who points to a base-station broadcast as key to the system. For contractors such as M&M Excavating, a 75-employee firm based in Gaylord, Mich., that accuracy means new levels of productivity.

"We've increased our fine grading operation by about 30 percent," says Ken Nowicki, M&M's president.

The comments are echoed by Brian DeLong, project manager with Muskegon-based Jackson-Merkey Contractors, Inc., which has the Trimble system on two of its dozers as well as a grader. "The system has helped us increase productivity, especially as it relates to closer tolerances," says DeLong. "It has also given us better yields on materials."

Trimble's SiteVision system complements an even more precise 3D BladePro system that uses a combination of laser guidance and the GPS technology to achieve even closer tolerances.

But having the technology is one thing; being able to have qualified operators who know how to run the equipment is quite another.

"And that's where we come in," says Gregg A. Newsom, training director of the Local 324 Journeyman & Apprenticeship Training Fund, Inc. (JATF) and its Howell Education Center, which provides substantial, year-round training opportunities for workers to operate the GPS-enabled units (dozers, excavators, graders, and other earth-moving equipment).

Newsom says Local 324 is committed to delivering the latest training to operators.

"Our members know how important this new technology is to the success of contractors," says Newsom. "We're providing that talent and working with contractors throughout the region as the benefits of this technology are becoming known."

Trimble's Kaz says company's employing the GPS-enabled technology are seeing a payback typically measured in months, not years. That payback comes directly from the new levels of accuracy.

"Contractors are able to get more productivity out of a piece of equipment," says Kaz. "They're also able to control more precisely the amount of fill that's being used on a project."

Graphical displays available to the operator show what sensors on the blade or shovel of the equipment send to Trimble's base station. And audible alarms indicate exactly when pre-set measurements call for as far as a project is concerned. Contractors also gain the advantage of reducing the amount of manual staking required on a project site.

By mapping out the construction site beforehand, users of the Trimble technology have a digital blueprint of what an equipment operator will ultimately see when the earth is being moved. "They don't need nearly as many stakes in the ground," says Kaz.

That in itself can help contractors in another way.

"We see safety as being among the benefits," says Jackson-Merkey's Brian DeLong, who points to a reduced need for string lining with the Trimble system.

But both DeLong and M&M's Ken Nowicki say the new levels of precision mean contractors must pay closer attention to the accuracy of the pre-construction plans.

"You have to make sure the data in the machine is correct," says Nowicki. "That means double checking."

DeLong agrees. "Spending the time looking at the digital files is something that's very important," he said.

For Newsom of the Operating Engineers Training Center, the investment the union has made in the technology means contractors will benefit for years to come.

"We've developed the curriculum and we're building that pool of operators that contractors will be able to draw from," says Newsom. "It's a program we've worked hard to develop, and are committed to supporting."
(J.D. Booth is a freelance writer.)

A GRADER OPERATOR can adjust the rig's blade according to information obtained from the GPS receiver, shown attached to the blade.

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Construction tops worker fatality list

Construction once again made its annual appearance at or near the top of the list of the nation's most dangerous industries, ranking first in the number of total workplace fatalities in 2003.

In numbers released Sept. 22, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 1,126 construction workers died on the job in 2003 - accounting for more than one in five worker deaths.

A total of 5,559 fatal work injuries were recorded in the U.S. in 2003, a small increase from the revised total of 5,534 fatal work injuries reported for 2002, according to the federal government. Despite the increase, fatal work injuries for both 2003 and 2002 were the lowest ever recorded by the fatality census, which has been conducted each year since 1992.

Worker fatalities for all industries in 2003 were led by 1,350 fatal highway incidents. Fatal falls claimed 691 lives. The overall fatality numbers include 631 workplace homicides - which were down from 1,080 workplace homicides recorded in 1994. Electrocutions killed 246 workers.

While construction had the highest number of fatalities of any sector, the highest fatality rate was in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (31.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers). The second highest rate was in the mining sector (26.9 per 100,000), followed by transportation and warehousing (17.5 per 100,000) and construction (11.7 per 100,000).

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News Briefs
ABC hails Bush election victory

The Associated Builders and Contractors - the nationwide nonunion contractor group which opposes all things union - hailed the re-election of President George W. Bush.

"The re-election of President Bush and Vice President Cheney was ABC's number-one priority in 2004," said Kirk Pickerel, ABC president and CEO. "This election is an historic victory for those who support free enterprise. The record turnout of voters for President Bush and Vice President Cheney is an enormous testament to the success of the intensive grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts that ABC and other organizations conducted nationwide."

The ABC has consistently led the fight to abolish prevailing wage laws on state and federal levels. The association has gone to court numerous times on behalf of its contractors to overturn union-only project labor agreements. Lousy worker pay by ABC contractors has dragged down pay scales for all the building trades in Michigan and around the nation, which has brought about lost man-hours for union trades workers.

The senior vice president of a huge ABC contractor in Texas said in 2002, "If low pay was a felony, I think most of us would be on death row today."

In return for the support of the ABC, President Bush refused to loosen bookkeeping rules to help building trades union pension plans hit by market declines earlier this year - although he approved relief for other types of pension plans.

One of the president's first acts in office was to attempt to outlaw project labor agreements on federally funded projects. He also deactivated the National Partnership Council, created by President Clinton to encourage cooperation between unions and government agencies.

"The reality," said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan, "is that George Bush … is continuing to eliminate project labor agreements that create jobs" for union workers. "He undercut their rights to organize and to bargain fair wages. He put their health care and pension plans in extreme jeopardy of collapse. He weakened regulations to protect their safety and security on the job."

In the months leading up to Nov. 2, the ABC said it led a major nationwide grassroots election program in critical swing states, distributing nearly 900,000 voter guides, 40,000 "Bush for President" bumper stickers and 20,000 "Bush for President" yard signs.

"President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been true friends of merit shop construction," said Pickerel. "We salute the Bush administration for its commitment to open competition on federally funded or assisted construction projects, growth-oriented budget policies, advocacy of association health plans and dedication to sensible regulatory practices.

More than one third of the nation's union households also voted for President Bush.

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