November 14, 2008
were 'firewall' for Obama in key swing states
labor flexed muscles, made a difference
Road back to
prosperity should include infrastructure work, labor leaders
a new, New Deal for infrastructure work
ready for renovation
'Slow it down':
a phrase the industry could do without
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
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
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
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
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,
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,"
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.
back to prosperity should include infrastructure work, labor
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
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
"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
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
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
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)
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
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
"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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
- How do the rest of his peers feel about that statement?
- Was his viewpoint shaped in apprentice school by instructors
- 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
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
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
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
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