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November 14, 2008

AFL-CIO: unionists were 'firewall' for Obama in key swing states

In Michigan, labor flexed muscles, made a difference

Road back to prosperity should include infrastructure work, labor leaders say

Academics propose a new, New Deal for infrastructure work

Durant Hotel ready for renovation

'Slow it down': a phrase the industry could do without

News Briefs

 

AFL-CIO: unionists were 'firewall' for Obama in key swing states

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Overwhelming support from unionists and their families became the "firewall" of votes that provided victory for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, top AFL-CIO officials and their polling analyst said.

And the labor federation fully intends to take advantage of that key role to push its top cause next year, the Employee Free Choice Act, federation President John J. Sweeney said.

Speaking at a post-election press conference Nov. 5, after Obama soundly beat Republican John McCain in electoral votes and won a 52%-47% margin in the popular vote, Sweeney political director Karen Ackerman, pollster Guy Molyneux and federation Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka all presented evidence of labor's massive get-out-the-vote effort in the presidential contest, and its impact there and in lower-level races.
The total campaign cost for the federation and its member unions topped $250 million.

As a result, not only did Obama defeat McCain, but pro-worker candidates won in key Senate races, while several notably anti-worker House Republicans lost their seats, too. "In state after state, we defeated lousy candidates," Sweeney added. "America's working families and our unions were a steady force powering the engine of change throughout this campaign, knocking on door after door, talking person to person. This year we expanded our battlefield, reaching out to more than 13 million voters in 24 states."

Unionists distributed 76 million literature pieces, knocked on 10 million doors and distributed 27 million worksite fliers. Particularly crucial was face-to-face contact, Ackerman said. That intensified starting in August, after the federation identified 3 million undecided voters - and went to them with its economic pitch.

AFSCME and the Communications Workers alone each sent more than 40,000 volunteers into the field, and the Steel Workers mobilized tens of thousands more. The AFL-CIO effort concentrated on 13 swing states, notably the key state of Ohio. Only one presidential winner in at least the last half-century or more - John F. Kennedy in 1960 - has failed to carry it. Obama won Ohio 52%-47%.

Ackerman explained that not only did the federation and its member unions commit thousands of workers, out of more than 250,000 volunteers overall, to Ohio, but that Working America, the AFL-CIO affiliate for those who can't join unions, had tens thousands of volunteers and 800,000 members. That's one third of the group's nationwide total.

Neither Ackerman nor Molyneux could estimate the union and union-allied share of the total U.S. electorate on Tuesday, though some exit polls put it at 21%, above unions' 12% share of the workforce.

After the federation's endorsement of Obama, before the Democratic convention, "We began an intensive campaign to re-introduce him to union voters, in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, emphasizing his pro-working-family background," Ackerman explained. "We always said we were the firewall that would prevent a McCain victory."

The effort, which began in July, succeeded. Unionists averaged "25-35 contacts" per voter in the swing states. By the time they ended, Obama's lead over McCain in Ohio had grown by 16 percentage points, to 61%-32%. There was a 22-point increase, to 63%-27% in Pennsylvania, and a 26-point change in Michigan, to 68%-23%.

Molyneux presented graphics from his organization's poll of 1.487 union voters nationwide, including 855 in battleground states such as Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan Pennsylvania and Ohio. The overall picture showed a 67%-30% edge for Obama among all union voters, with 3% going to other candidates.

In the battlegrounds, the Obama-McCain score was 69%-28%. Molyneux also took a separate poll of Working America voters in four battleground states--Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania--and they backed Obama 67%-30%. The margins of error were 3.5% in the larger poll and 4% in the battlegrounds.

Those figures included huge margins among unionized white men, thought to be a key vulnerability for Obama. By contrast, all non-union members went for Obama by a 51-47% margin "though that will probably drop" as further data from absentee ballots are counted, Molyneux said.

The Working America figures were especially important, he added, because that group is more white and more conservative than unionists as a whole. One-third of Working America members own guns and one-fourth are members of the National Rifle Association. Yet majorities of those groups in battlegrounds went for Obama.

The big issue - no surprise - was the economy and jobs. Molyneux said 60% of respondents named it as their top issue. That was followed by the war in Iraq (28%) and health care (26%),

Four years ago, when anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush narrowly beat labor-backed Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the economy (42%) barely edged the war (40%) as the top issue.

Molyneux noted that race was a factor, for one of every eight union voters (13%) polled--but not in the way that had been forecast, since Obama is the first African-American major-party nominee. Only 4% of union voters, at the end, called race their "single most important factor," and another 9% called it one of their key factors. Of the whites in that group, three-fourths (73%-24%) voted for Obama.

"It was impressive that it was that low," Molyneux said. "By the end, among all voters caring about it, they voted for Obama 76%-21%."

"Led by a candidate of uncommon ability to inspire hope, we reclaimed our country from those who are serving corporate interests and the privileged at the expense of everyone else," Sweeney said.

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In Michigan, labor flexed muscles, made a difference

Labor-friendly candidates received a friendly reception from voters in Michigan on Election Day, mirroring national trends.

Although state-by-state post-election totals were not available at press time, pre-election polling showed Michigan union members supporting Barack Obama over John McCain by a 68%-23% margin.

"Citizens across the nation clearly demanded change this week, and the loudest voices were heard right here in Michigan where we've borne the brunt of federal policies that don't stand up for working people," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "In Washington and Lansing, we must act now to answer that call for change by working in a bipartisan way to craft solutions that help citizens and stimulate the economy."

Michigan Democrats increased their numbers in the state House, 67-43, their biggest margin in 30 years. Republicans still control the state Senate.

Michigan voters also defeated two incumbent anti-labor Congressmen: Democrat Mark Schauer narrowly beat Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg in the 7th District seat, and Gary Peters defeated long-time incumbent Joe Knollenberg in the 9th District.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Supreme Court Justice Cliff Taylor was defeated by labor-endorsed challenger Diane Hathaway. Her win tips the balance of the state Supreme Court from 5-2 Republican to 4-3 Republican.

Michigan State AFL-CIO President, Mark Gaffney, summed up the influence of the "Labor 2008" get-out-the-vote program in our state, saying on election night: "Tonight we are witnessing big wins for labor in Michigan. Sen. Obama's win coupled with the wins of Peters, Schauer and Michigan Supreme Court candidate Diane Hathaway, is clear and convincing evidence that the labor movement in Michigan remains strong and continues to be a powerful force in Michigan elections."

Overall, more than 5 million Michiganians voted, a record number. Of those registered to vote, 68% cast a ballot, which was short of the record 73 percent mark set in 1960.

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Road back to prosperity should include infrastructure work, labor leaders say

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - With the economy tanking and with Congress headed for a lame-duck session at which a second stimulus package - which may total upwards of $300 billion - could come up, there is no shortage of ideas from unions and their allies about measures to get people back on the job and dollars back in their pockets.

From reconstructing 40-year-old schools to rebuilding the nation's roads, from extending unemployment benefits to expanding Medicaid aid to the states, unionists trooped up to Capitol Hill in late October to tell lawmakers about how to get the nation moving again.

But whether any or all of these ideas are enacted on the attitude of one key player who wasn't at the hearings: Lame-duck anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, whose staffers now only grudgingly admit a "Stimulus II" might be necessary.

The latest piece of evidence the economy is in the tank was an 0.3% decline in gross domestic product from July 1 through the end of September. It led AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney to say even Bush should realize something must be done. He left many specifics to others, and to Congress, which will reconvene Nov. 17-19.

"We need a genuine economic stimulus package now, in the next 30 days, to boost our economy before already struggling, hard-working families suffer even more from a downward spiral," Sweeney said. And Bush should "announce that he will, in fact, sign this legislation.

"Such a package must provide relief for the 1 million unemployed workers who will exhaust their benefits before the end of the year, aid state and local governments" to "provide needed services and jobs and jump-start infrastructure investments to create jobs quickly and rebuild our crumbling schools, bridges, and roads. Surely we can agree rescuing Main Street is just as crucial as rescuing Wall Street," Sweeney said.

The witnesses before the congressional committees were more specific:

Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan told the Transportation Committee on Oct. 29 that two prior stimulus packages - the tax rebates to consumers early in the year and the $700 billion Wall Street bailout - "provided no lasting impact, left no sustainable jobs behind and did not provide tangible assets to taxpayers," he declared. A jobs-based stimulus should have construction as a centerpiece, O'Sullivan advocated.

Citing figures from engineering and construction groups, O'Sullivan said thousands of construction projects are ready to go and could start almost immediately. And the workers are available, he noted, since the jobless rate in construction is 9.9%.

In the public sector alone, starting now to retrofit buildings - including schools - to save energy would not only help the U.S. in the long run but put up to 800,000 people to work, at an average construction worker's pay of $40,000 each, he added.

"Building America will build our economy now and for future generations in places such as Michigan, where 24,500 good construction jobs have been lost since 2007, Illinois, where 19,300 construction jobs disappeared, Minnesota, where 11,300 construction jobs have been lost and in Oregon, with 10,100 construction jobs lost," O'Sullivan said.

AFL-CIO chief economist Ron Blackwell laid out seven recommendations for putting money in workers' hands, headed by extension of jobless benefits from their current 26 weeks to 39. But he didn't just stick to the script of talking about an immediate stimulus at the Oct. 24 Education and Labor Committee hearing.

Blackwell also said Congress should start correcting "long-term economic imbalances." One is the nation's trade deficit, which should be fixed by making the terms of trade equal so that U.S. workers can fairly compete. The other is the imbalance between workers and bosses, by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

"The imbalance of bargaining power between workers and their employers is responsible for the stagnation of wages and the rupture of the crucial relation between wages and productivity that served as the foundation of the social contract," Blackwell said. "Stagnation of wages motivated workers to work more, save less and borrow imprudently against appreciating assets to maintain their living standards. Correcting this imbalance requires…something close to full employment, a meaningful minimum wage and reforming our labor law to allow workers to freely associate with their fellow workers and form a union to bargain collectively."

IRON WORKERS place a beam during bridge construction of South Huron River Drive over I-75 in Monroe County earlier this year. Road and bridge work is expected to drop in Michigan and numerous other states next year because of gas tax shortfalls and legislative (in)action.

RECONSTRUCTION OF I-94 this summer in Kalamazoo County. In July, a task force appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm estimated that Michigan needs to spend about $6.1 billion a year to fund road and bridge improvements to bring the system up to an overall "good" condition. That amount is double what Michigan is currently spending. Michigan is not alone in underfunding transportation, however, and public works construction is being proposed as an effective job creator. Photos courtesy MDOT Photo Lab/Bill Phillips above, Jim Lemay (top)



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Academics propose a new, New Deal for infrastructure work

When it comes to making a quick and beneficial fix for the nation's ailing economy, an investment in improving the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure is just the ticket.

That's according to an Oct. 24 letter signed by a group of 11 professors and sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. The letter suggested investments in infrastructure could be channeled "through state and local governments as a fiscal stimulus package for the American economy."

The group of professors, many of them from engineering and business departments, hailed from schools that included Standford, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Columbia and Virginia Tech.

"You have a legitimate concern about the potential lag time between investment in infrastructure and the resulting effects on job creation and economic activity," the professors wrote to Bernanke and Paulson. "But unlike during the Great Depression, there are already many permitted, approved infrastructure projects across our nation
that could be funded to immediately jumpstart the economy."

The group attached a letter to illustrate their point, showing more than 90 transportation projects in eight states worth $4 billion that are "now ready to go."

"Extrapolating these findings across all 50 states, we project that there are $15-$20 billion worth of transportation projects that could be put out to bid in the next 30 days, leading to contractors on site in the next 60-90 days - and generating a considerable flow of money back into the economy."

They added: "This amount could be increased dramatically by adding ports,
airports, hospitals, roads, rails, sewers, and water systems. Let's get back to building a 'real' economy!"

Earlier, Bernanke said he was concerned that infrastructure investment would take too long to make a fast enough change in the economy.

The academics acknowledged that the oncoming winter season, contractor lead time and worker shortages in some areas could be among the "challenges" to their idea. Still, they suggested a Phase I with an "immediate capital injection" of up to $50 billion. Following this investment, a bipartisan panel of engineers and planners should "triage" the nation, "to identify projects that could potentially add value to the American economy."

Then a third phase would include a capital injection of between $100 billion and $500 billion in the spring and summer of 2009 for projects identified during the triage.

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Durant Hotel ready for renovation

FLINT - The final piece of the puzzle in the redevelopment of the historic Durant Hotel has fallen into place.

On Oct. 27, city officials announced the sale of the hotel to an East Lansing developer, which intends to spend $30 million converting the building into about 100 apartments. The eight-story Durant Hotel, at Second and Martin Luther King avenues, was constructed in 1920 but has been closed since 1973.

While there was a significant presence of nonunion workers during the hazardous materials remediation of the hotel last summer, Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 370 Business Manager Mark Johnson said last week, "so far, everything looks good for the future" for the redevelopment to utilize predominately union labor.

The developer - 607 E, Second Avenue LLC - is a new, limited liability company created by Karp & Associates and Prater Developments of Lansing. The Durant was purchased in 2005 by the Genesee County Land Bank. A preliminary engineering report prepared last year determined the building is still structurally sound.

When it opened at the dawn of the "Roaring Twenties," the Durant was considered the most elegant hotel in Flint. The 250-room facility was designed in the Renaissance revival style for William C. Durant, founder of the Durant Motor Co., a forerunner of General Motors Corp.

The hotel has been central to the most prominent events in the history of Flint, housing all out-of-town press during the 1936-37 sit-down strike. In 1942 it became a member of the Albert Pick chain of hotels but, after many years of financial setbacks, closed in 1973.

"I can remember attending many functions at the Durant," said Congressman Dale Kildee, who secured some federal funds toward the redevelopment of the hotel. "The Durant Hotel is a reminder to us all of the rich history of Flint and of the people who helped write that history. I am eager to see her restored to her former esteem and the economic opportunity it will bring to our community."

Developers will market the renovated hotel to professionals who work in downtown Flint, as well as older students at the nearby Flint campus of the University of Michigan. They hope to complete the project before the start of the fall 2009 semester.

Included in the redevelopment will be 14,000 square-feet of commercial space.

With the green light for redevelopment of the Durant, spending will approach nearly $500 million in new, planned or ongoing construction projects to transform pockets of downtown Flint, in what is hoped will be a renaissance for the hard-hit city.

(Michigan Construction News.com contributed to this report).

THE EIGHT-STORY Durant Hotel was built in 1920.


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'Slow it down': a phrase the industry could do without

By Mark Breslin
(Another in a series)

One small almost insignificant chain of words is uttered on thousands of union jobsites across North America every week. It is spoken to apprentices foolishly, impulsively and often with an ominous tone. This little four-word phrase is costing union contractors at least $1 billion per year. It is part of the root cause of loss of union market share. The jobsite phrase is: "Hey, slow it down."

I have the opportunity and privilege to speak to tens of thousands of apprentices each year. Training Directors, Business Managers and Contractors trust me to stand before their young members with messages of personal responsibility, commitment, opportunity and work ethic. For this I have generally an hour or two.

And most often I see on their faces an engaged and motivated hunger. A burning desire to "be something" as they sit there being empowered to change both an industry and their own lives. But this emotional and intellectual impression I am trying to leave upon them has its limits. And it must stand in contrast to the other messages that these young builders of our future are going to hear on the jobsite. And they hear these messages every day.

I guarantee you that one thing they are hearing with some regularity is, "slow it down."

How do I know this? Because I ask them. Recently I spoke to two groups of union craftsmen at opposite ends of the nation, in totally different unions. Each group was in excess of a thousand field guys, mostly apprentices. I simply asked them how many have had their fellow workers tell them to "slow it down."

Out of a thousand, approximately 600 hands go slowly up in the air. Why slowly? Because they are looking around to see if everyone is going to be honest or not. They don't want to be the only guy that admits that there is a stupid, outdated, low-performance tradition alive and well in today's competitive marketplace. The same results occur at nearly every program where I present.

Now in one case I had a bold young man stand up and ask me, "why do I need to finish the job today if I have 30 years to finish it?" There are a lot of ways to answer that interesting question and here are a few:

  • How in the hell did he get that mindset in the first place?
  • Who told him that was OK?
  • What kind of field culture is actually in play when no one is looking?
  • How do the rest of his peers feel about that statement?
  • Was his viewpoint shaped in apprentice school by instructors and contractors?
  • Has he read Survival of the Fittest or had apprenticeship peer to peer discussions on competition, productivity and the challenges of our industry?
  • Does he understand how his effort relates to his compensation, pension and continued employment status?
  • How much money is his substandard performance attitude going to cost his employers over the 25-year lifetime of his employment?

"Slow it down" is a mindset - not an event - on a jobsite. "Slow it down" should have died decades ago. Telling an apprentice to "slow it down" should, in my view, result in an automatic termination. So why does it occur? Because we are failing to focus enough on workplace attitudes, values, behavior and peer to peer performance expectations. And the really crucial question is, do they in fact slow down their performance as a result?

The amount $1 billion assigns a value of just $50 per year in lost productivity per union craft worker in North America due to "slow it down." A rough estimate of less than two hours of union wages and fringes per guy based on two million union craftsmen. I think that estimate is probably very low.

But worse than the billion dollars lost is the idea of our trying to build a High Value - High Performance brand and market share while dragging the anchor of old school union entitlement behind us. These mindsets cannot be allowed to expire naturally with the old school generation's retirement. In an era of unfunded liability, tough market competition and demographic change, we need to aggressively and ruthlessly stamp it out. We need to focus intensively on giving apprentices the tools to respond to these challenges in the field.

High Value = High Performance. If we allow anything less, we will not just slow ourselves down, but invite the union industry to come to a grinding halt.

Mark Breslin is a strategist and author specializing in labor-management challenges. He is the author of Survival of the Fittest, Organize or Die and coming in 2008 Alpha Dog. He addresses more than 50,000 labor and business leaders each year in North America. Coming soon a new Breslin Book for apprentice instruction : Million Dollar Blue Collar: Managing Your Earnings for Life and Work Success. More on his work and profile is available at www.breslin.biz.

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News Briefs

State beefs up work zone penalties
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed two new laws into effect last month that will provide stiffer penalties for injuring or killing another person in a Michigan road construction work zone.

The legislation (Public Acts 296 and 297 of 2008) will impose fines of up to $7,500 in fines and 15 years in jail, for motorists who injure or kill anyone in a road construction work zone. Previously, under Andy's Law, similar penalties were applicable if a motorist injured or killed a road (or highway) worker.

"This legislation not only continues to protect our workers, but it protects the public as well," said State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle. "Unfortunately, the vast majority (95 percent) of the fatalities that occurred in work zones in 2007 involved motorists and their passengers. We hope that the potential for such stiff penalties will help motorists focus more closely on their responsibility to drive safely through construction zones, which will create a safer environment for everyone."

Construction jobs take a great fall
Washington, D.C. - "Today's unemployment report - grim reading on all counts - is especially bad for construction and shows the urgency of enacting infrastructure spending as part of a stimulus bill," Ken Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), said Nov. 7 following a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that showed the unemployment rate for construction workers jumped to 10.8 percent in October.

Construction easily had the highest unemployment rate of any industry and the largest increase, up from 6.1 percent a year ago. Simonson said that the industry accounted for nearly half of the million-plus jobs lost throughout the economy in the past 12 months.

Noting that many of those job losses occurred in heavy and civil engineering construction, Simonson said, "Those workers could quickly be re-employed if the states had enough money to award contracts for projects they have ready to go.

"Contrary to some assertions, this money would quickly make its way into the economy, supporting equipment and materials manufacturing and services jobs as well as construction. (see articles at right). State officials say they have thousands of projects ready to award without long delays."

The AGC urged Congress to act this month on a stimulus package "that includes funding for highway, bridge and other infrastructure work," Simonson stated. "In addition, the new Administration and Congress should give a high priority to renewing long-term highway, airport, water and wastewater funding bills next year."

In related news, the weak economy is leading the Portland Cement Association to adjust its cement consumption forecast. The latest PCA forecast of cement, concrete, and construction predicts a 12.8 percent decline in cement consumption in 2008, followed by 11.9 percent and 2.1 percent declines in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

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November 14, 2008

AFL-CIO: unionists were 'firewall' for Obama in key swing states

In Michigan, labor flexed muscles, made a difference

Road back to prosperity should include infrastructure work, labor leaders say

Academics propose a new, New Deal for infrastructure work

Durant Hotel ready for renovation

'Slow it down': a phrase the industry could do without

News Briefs

 

AFL-CIO: unionists were 'firewall' for Obama in key swing states

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Overwhelming support from unionists and their families became the "firewall" of votes that provided victory for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, top AFL-CIO officials and their polling analyst said.

And the labor federation fully intends to take advantage of that key role to push its top cause next year, the Employee Free Choice Act, federation President John J. Sweeney said.

Speaking at a post-election press conference Nov. 5, after Obama soundly beat Republican John McCain in electoral votes and won a 52%-47% margin in the popular vote, Sweeney political director Karen Ackerman, pollster Guy Molyneux and federation Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka all presented evidence of labor's massive get-out-the-vote effort in the presidential contest, and its impact there and in lower-level races.
The total campaign cost for the federation and its member unions topped $250 million.

As a result, not only did Obama defeat McCain, but pro-worker candidates won in key Senate races, while several notably anti-worker House Republicans lost their seats, too. "In state after state, we defeated lousy candidates," Sweeney added. "America's working families and our unions were a steady force powering the engine of change throughout this campaign, knocking on door after door, talking person to person. This year we expanded our battlefield, reaching out to more than 13 million voters in 24 states."

Unionists distributed 76 million literature pieces, knocked on 10 million doors and distributed 27 million worksite fliers. Particularly crucial was face-to-face contact, Ackerman said. That intensified starting in August, after the federation identified 3 million undecided voters - and went to them with its economic pitch.

AFSCME and the Communications Workers alone each sent more than 40,000 volunteers into the field, and the Steel Workers mobilized tens of thousands more. The AFL-CIO effort concentrated on 13 swing states, notably the key state of Ohio. Only one presidential winner in at least the last half-century or more - John F. Kennedy in 1960 - has failed to carry it. Obama won Ohio 52%-47%.

Ackerman explained that not only did the federation and its member unions commit thousands of workers, out of more than 250,000 volunteers overall, to Ohio, but that Working America, the AFL-CIO affiliate for those who can't join unions, had tens thousands of volunteers and 800,000 members. That's one third of the group's nationwide total.

Neither Ackerman nor Molyneux could estimate the union and union-allied share of the total U.S. electorate on Tuesday, though some exit polls put it at 21%, above unions' 12% share of the workforce.

After the federation's endorsement of Obama, before the Democratic convention, "We began an intensive campaign to re-introduce him to union voters, in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, emphasizing his pro-working-family background," Ackerman explained. "We always said we were the firewall that would prevent a McCain victory."

The effort, which began in July, succeeded. Unionists averaged "25-35 contacts" per voter in the swing states. By the time they ended, Obama's lead over McCain in Ohio had grown by 16 percentage points, to 61%-32%. There was a 22-point increase, to 63%-27% in Pennsylvania, and a 26-point change in Michigan, to 68%-23%.

Molyneux presented graphics from his organization's poll of 1.487 union voters nationwide, including 855 in battleground states such as Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan Pennsylvania and Ohio. The overall picture showed a 67%-30% edge for Obama among all union voters, with 3% going to other candidates.

In the battlegrounds, the Obama-McCain score was 69%-28%. Molyneux also took a separate poll of Working America voters in four battleground states--Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania--and they backed Obama 67%-30%. The margins of error were 3.5% in the larger poll and 4% in the battlegrounds.

Those figures included huge margins among unionized white men, thought to be a key vulnerability for Obama. By contrast, all non-union members went for Obama by a 51-47% margin "though that will probably drop" as further data from absentee ballots are counted, Molyneux said.

The Working America figures were especially important, he added, because that group is more white and more conservative than unionists as a whole. One-third of Working America members own guns and one-fourth are members of the National Rifle Association. Yet majorities of those groups in battlegrounds went for Obama.

The big issue - no surprise - was the economy and jobs. Molyneux said 60% of respondents named it as their top issue. That was followed by the war in Iraq (28%) and health care (26%),

Four years ago, when anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush narrowly beat labor-backed Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the economy (42%) barely edged the war (40%) as the top issue.

Molyneux noted that race was a factor, for one of every eight union voters (13%) polled--but not in the way that had been forecast, since Obama is the first African-American major-party nominee. Only 4% of union voters, at the end, called race their "single most important factor," and another 9% called it one of their key factors. Of the whites in that group, three-fourths (73%-24%) voted for Obama.

"It was impressive that it was that low," Molyneux said. "By the end, among all voters caring about it, they voted for Obama 76%-21%."

"Led by a candidate of uncommon ability to inspire hope, we reclaimed our country from those who are serving corporate interests and the privileged at the expense of everyone else," Sweeney said.

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In Michigan, labor flexed muscles, made a difference

Labor-friendly candidates received a friendly reception from voters in Michigan on Election Day, mirroring national trends.

Although state-by-state post-election totals were not available at press time, pre-election polling showed Michigan union members supporting Barack Obama over John McCain by a 68%-23% margin.

"Citizens across the nation clearly demanded change this week, and the loudest voices were heard right here in Michigan where we've borne the brunt of federal policies that don't stand up for working people," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "In Washington and Lansing, we must act now to answer that call for change by working in a bipartisan way to craft solutions that help citizens and stimulate the economy."

Michigan Democrats increased their numbers in the state House, 67-43, their biggest margin in 30 years. Republicans still control the state Senate.

Michigan voters also defeated two incumbent anti-labor Congressmen: Democrat Mark Schauer narrowly beat Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg in the 7th District seat, and Gary Peters defeated long-time incumbent Joe Knollenberg in the 9th District.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Supreme Court Justice Cliff Taylor was defeated by labor-endorsed challenger Diane Hathaway. Her win tips the balance of the state Supreme Court from 5-2 Republican to 4-3 Republican.

Michigan State AFL-CIO President, Mark Gaffney, summed up the influence of the "Labor 2008" get-out-the-vote program in our state, saying on election night: "Tonight we are witnessing big wins for labor in Michigan. Sen. Obama's win coupled with the wins of Peters, Schauer and Michigan Supreme Court candidate Diane Hathaway, is clear and convincing evidence that the labor movement in Michigan remains strong and continues to be a powerful force in Michigan elections."

Overall, more than 5 million Michiganians voted, a record number. Of those registered to vote, 68% cast a ballot, which was short of the record 73 percent mark set in 1960.

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Road back to prosperity should include infrastructure work, labor leaders say

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - With the economy tanking and with Congress headed for a lame-duck session at which a second stimulus package - which may total upwards of $300 billion - could come up, there is no shortage of ideas from unions and their allies about measures to get people back on the job and dollars back in their pockets.

From reconstructing 40-year-old schools to rebuilding the nation's roads, from extending unemployment benefits to expanding Medicaid aid to the states, unionists trooped up to Capitol Hill in late October to tell lawmakers about how to get the nation moving again.

But whether any or all of these ideas are enacted on the attitude of one key player who wasn't at the hearings: Lame-duck anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, whose staffers now only grudgingly admit a "Stimulus II" might be necessary.

The latest piece of evidence the economy is in the tank was an 0.3% decline in gross domestic product from July 1 through the end of September. It led AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney to say even Bush should realize something must be done. He left many specifics to others, and to Congress, which will reconvene Nov. 17-19.

"We need a genuine economic stimulus package now, in the next 30 days, to boost our economy before already struggling, hard-working families suffer even more from a downward spiral," Sweeney said. And Bush should "announce that he will, in fact, sign this legislation.

"Such a package must provide relief for the 1 million unemployed workers who will exhaust their benefits before the end of the year, aid state and local governments" to "provide needed services and jobs and jump-start infrastructure investments to create jobs quickly and rebuild our crumbling schools, bridges, and roads. Surely we can agree rescuing Main Street is just as crucial as rescuing Wall Street," Sweeney said.

The witnesses before the congressional committees were more specific:

Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan told the Transportation Committee on Oct. 29 that two prior stimulus packages - the tax rebates to consumers early in the year and the $700 billion Wall Street bailout - "provided no lasting impact, left no sustainable jobs behind and did not provide tangible assets to taxpayers," he declared. A jobs-based stimulus should have construction as a centerpiece, O'Sullivan advocated.

Citing figures from engineering and construction groups, O'Sullivan said thousands of construction projects are ready to go and could start almost immediately. And the workers are available, he noted, since the jobless rate in construction is 9.9%.

In the public sector alone, starting now to retrofit buildings - including schools - to save energy would not only help the U.S. in the long run but put up to 800,000 people to work, at an average construction worker's pay of $40,000 each, he added.

"Building America will build our economy now and for future generations in places such as Michigan, where 24,500 good construction jobs have been lost since 2007, Illinois, where 19,300 construction jobs disappeared, Minnesota, where 11,300 construction jobs have been lost and in Oregon, with 10,100 construction jobs lost," O'Sullivan said.

AFL-CIO chief economist Ron Blackwell laid out seven recommendations for putting money in workers' hands, headed by extension of jobless benefits from their current 26 weeks to 39. But he didn't just stick to the script of talking about an immediate stimulus at the Oct. 24 Education and Labor Committee hearing.

Blackwell also said Congress should start correcting "long-term economic imbalances." One is the nation's trade deficit, which should be fixed by making the terms of trade equal so that U.S. workers can fairly compete. The other is the imbalance between workers and bosses, by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

"The imbalance of bargaining power between workers and their employers is responsible for the stagnation of wages and the rupture of the crucial relation between wages and productivity that served as the foundation of the social contract," Blackwell said. "Stagnation of wages motivated workers to work more, save less and borrow imprudently against appreciating assets to maintain their living standards. Correcting this imbalance requires…something close to full employment, a meaningful minimum wage and reforming our labor law to allow workers to freely associate with their fellow workers and form a union to bargain collectively."

IRON WORKERS place a beam during bridge construction of South Huron River Drive over I-75 in Monroe County earlier this year. Road and bridge work is expected to drop in Michigan and numerous other states next year because of gas tax shortfalls and legislative (in)action.

RECONSTRUCTION OF I-94 this summer in Kalamazoo County. In July, a task force appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm estimated that Michigan needs to spend about $6.1 billion a year to fund road and bridge improvements to bring the system up to an overall "good" condition. That amount is double what Michigan is currently spending. Michigan is not alone in underfunding transportation, however, and public works construction is being proposed as an effective job creator. Photos courtesy MDOT Photo Lab/Bill Phillips above, Jim Lemay (top)



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Academics propose a new, New Deal for infrastructure work

When it comes to making a quick and beneficial fix for the nation's ailing economy, an investment in improving the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure is just the ticket.

That's according to an Oct. 24 letter signed by a group of 11 professors and sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. The letter suggested investments in infrastructure could be channeled "through state and local governments as a fiscal stimulus package for the American economy."

The group of professors, many of them from engineering and business departments, hailed from schools that included Standford, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Columbia and Virginia Tech.

"You have a legitimate concern about the potential lag time between investment in infrastructure and the resulting effects on job creation and economic activity," the professors wrote to Bernanke and Paulson. "But unlike during the Great Depression, there are already many permitted, approved infrastructure projects across our nation
that could be funded to immediately jumpstart the economy."

The group attached a letter to illustrate their point, showing more than 90 transportation projects in eight states worth $4 billion that are "now ready to go."

"Extrapolating these findings across all 50 states, we project that there are $15-$20 billion worth of transportation projects that could be put out to bid in the next 30 days, leading to contractors on site in the next 60-90 days - and generating a considerable flow of money back into the economy."

They added: "This amount could be increased dramatically by adding ports,
airports, hospitals, roads, rails, sewers, and water systems. Let's get back to building a 'real' economy!"

Earlier, Bernanke said he was concerned that infrastructure investment would take too long to make a fast enough change in the economy.

The academics acknowledged that the oncoming winter season, contractor lead time and worker shortages in some areas could be among the "challenges" to their idea. Still, they suggested a Phase I with an "immediate capital injection" of up to $50 billion. Following this investment, a bipartisan panel of engineers and planners should "triage" the nation, "to identify projects that could potentially add value to the American economy."

Then a third phase would include a capital injection of between $100 billion and $500 billion in the spring and summer of 2009 for projects identified during the triage.

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Durant Hotel ready for renovation

FLINT - The final piece of the puzzle in the redevelopment of the historic Durant Hotel has fallen into place.

On Oct. 27, city officials announced the sale of the hotel to an East Lansing developer, which intends to spend $30 million converting the building into about 100 apartments. The eight-story Durant Hotel, at Second and Martin Luther King avenues, was constructed in 1920 but has been closed since 1973.

While there was a significant presence of nonunion workers during the hazardous materials remediation of the hotel last summer, Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 370 Business Manager Mark Johnson said last week, "so far, everything looks good for the future" for the redevelopment to utilize predominately union labor.

The developer - 607 E, Second Avenue LLC - is a new, limited liability company created by Karp & Associates and Prater Developments of Lansing. The Durant was purchased in 2005 by the Genesee County Land Bank. A preliminary engineering report prepared last year determined the building is still structurally sound.

When it opened at the dawn of the "Roaring Twenties," the Durant was considered the most elegant hotel in Flint. The 250-room facility was designed in the Renaissance revival style for William C. Durant, founder of the Durant Motor Co., a forerunner of General Motors Corp.

The hotel has been central to the most prominent events in the history of Flint, housing all out-of-town press during the 1936-37 sit-down strike. In 1942 it became a member of the Albert Pick chain of hotels but, after many years of financial setbacks, closed in 1973.

"I can remember attending many functions at the Durant," said Congressman Dale Kildee, who secured some federal funds toward the redevelopment of the hotel. "The Durant Hotel is a reminder to us all of the rich history of Flint and of the people who helped write that history. I am eager to see her restored to her former esteem and the economic opportunity it will bring to our community."

Developers will market the renovated hotel to professionals who work in downtown Flint, as well as older students at the nearby Flint campus of the University of Michigan. They hope to complete the project before the start of the fall 2009 semester.

Included in the redevelopment will be 14,000 square-feet of commercial space.

With the green light for redevelopment of the Durant, spending will approach nearly $500 million in new, planned or ongoing construction projects to transform pockets of downtown Flint, in what is hoped will be a renaissance for the hard-hit city.

(Michigan Construction News.com contributed to this report).

THE EIGHT-STORY Durant Hotel was built in 1920.


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'Slow it down': a phrase the industry could do without

By Mark Breslin
(Another in a series)

One small almost insignificant chain of words is uttered on thousands of union jobsites across North America every week. It is spoken to apprentices foolishly, impulsively and often with an ominous tone. This little four-word phrase is costing union contractors at least $1 billion per year. It is part of the root cause of loss of union market share. The jobsite phrase is: "Hey, slow it down."

I have the opportunity and privilege to speak to tens of thousands of apprentices each year. Training Directors, Business Managers and Contractors trust me to stand before their young members with messages of personal responsibility, commitment, opportunity and work ethic. For this I have generally an hour or two.

And most often I see on their faces an engaged and motivated hunger. A burning desire to "be something" as they sit there being empowered to change both an industry and their own lives. But this emotional and intellectual impression I am trying to leave upon them has its limits. And it must stand in contrast to the other messages that these young builders of our future are going to hear on the jobsite. And they hear these messages every day.

I guarantee you that one thing they are hearing with some regularity is, "slow it down."

How do I know this? Because I ask them. Recently I spoke to two groups of union craftsmen at opposite ends of the nation, in totally different unions. Each group was in excess of a thousand field guys, mostly apprentices. I simply asked them how many have had their fellow workers tell them to "slow it down."

Out of a thousand, approximately 600 hands go slowly up in the air. Why slowly? Because they are looking around to see if everyone is going to be honest or not. They don't want to be the only guy that admits that there is a stupid, outdated, low-performance tradition alive and well in today's competitive marketplace. The same results occur at nearly every program where I present.

Now in one case I had a bold young man stand up and ask me, "why do I need to finish the job today if I have 30 years to finish it?" There are a lot of ways to answer that interesting question and here are a few:

  • How in the hell did he get that mindset in the first place?
  • Who told him that was OK?
  • What kind of field culture is actually in play when no one is looking?
  • How do the rest of his peers feel about that statement?
  • Was his viewpoint shaped in apprentice school by instructors and contractors?
  • Has he read Survival of the Fittest or had apprenticeship peer to peer discussions on competition, productivity and the challenges of our industry?
  • Does he understand how his effort relates to his compensation, pension and continued employment status?
  • How much money is his substandard performance attitude going to cost his employers over the 25-year lifetime of his employment?

"Slow it down" is a mindset - not an event - on a jobsite. "Slow it down" should have died decades ago. Telling an apprentice to "slow it down" should, in my view, result in an automatic termination. So why does it occur? Because we are failing to focus enough on workplace attitudes, values, behavior and peer to peer performance expectations. And the really crucial question is, do they in fact slow down their performance as a result?

The amount $1 billion assigns a value of just $50 per year in lost productivity per union craft worker in North America due to "slow it down." A rough estimate of less than two hours of union wages and fringes per guy based on two million union craftsmen. I think that estimate is probably very low.

But worse than the billion dollars lost is the idea of our trying to build a High Value - High Performance brand and market share while dragging the anchor of old school union entitlement behind us. These mindsets cannot be allowed to expire naturally with the old school generation's retirement. In an era of unfunded liability, tough market competition and demographic change, we need to aggressively and ruthlessly stamp it out. We need to focus intensively on giving apprentices the tools to respond to these challenges in the field.

High Value = High Performance. If we allow anything less, we will not just slow ourselves down, but invite the union industry to come to a grinding halt.

Mark Breslin is a strategist and author specializing in labor-management challenges. He is the author of Survival of the Fittest, Organize or Die and coming in 2008 Alpha Dog. He addresses more than 50,000 labor and business leaders each year in North America. Coming soon a new Breslin Book for apprentice instruction : Million Dollar Blue Collar: Managing Your Earnings for Life and Work Success. More on his work and profile is available at www.breslin.biz.

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News Briefs

State beefs up work zone penalties
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed two new laws into effect last month that will provide stiffer penalties for injuring or killing another person in a Michigan road construction work zone.

The legislation (Public Acts 296 and 297 of 2008) will impose fines of up to $7,500 in fines and 15 years in jail, for motorists who injure or kill anyone in a road construction work zone. Previously, under Andy's Law, similar penalties were applicable if a motorist injured or killed a road (or highway) worker.

"This legislation not only continues to protect our workers, but it protects the public as well," said State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle. "Unfortunately, the vast majority (95 percent) of the fatalities that occurred in work zones in 2007 involved motorists and their passengers. We hope that the potential for such stiff penalties will help motorists focus more closely on their responsibility to drive safely through construction zones, which will create a safer environment for everyone."

Construction jobs take a great fall
Washington, D.C. - "Today's unemployment report - grim reading on all counts - is especially bad for construction and shows the urgency of enacting infrastructure spending as part of a stimulus bill," Ken Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), said Nov. 7 following a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that showed the unemployment rate for construction workers jumped to 10.8 percent in October.

Construction easily had the highest unemployment rate of any industry and the largest increase, up from 6.1 percent a year ago. Simonson said that the industry accounted for nearly half of the million-plus jobs lost throughout the economy in the past 12 months.

Noting that many of those job losses occurred in heavy and civil engineering construction, Simonson said, "Those workers could quickly be re-employed if the states had enough money to award contracts for projects they have ready to go.

"Contrary to some assertions, this money would quickly make its way into the economy, supporting equipment and materials manufacturing and services jobs as well as construction. (see articles at right). State officials say they have thousands of projects ready to award without long delays."

The AGC urged Congress to act this month on a stimulus package "that includes funding for highway, bridge and other infrastructure work," Simonson stated. "In addition, the new Administration and Congress should give a high priority to renewing long-term highway, airport, water and wastewater funding bills next year."

In related news, the weak economy is leading the Portland Cement Association to adjust its cement consumption forecast. The latest PCA forecast of cement, concrete, and construction predicts a 12.8 percent decline in cement consumption in 2008, followed by 11.9 percent and 2.1 percent declines in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

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