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November 22, 2002

Granholm wins; but GOP is even stronger

Lame-duck session may or may not hold nasty surprises

Beasts of the field will get a diagnostic research center to call their own

Plumbers 98's new union hall: 'You should be proud of this building'

Construction's crystal ball: Activity to decline slightly in 2003

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Granholm wins; but GOP is even stronger

LANSING - In the attempt to gain a foothold in state government, Michigan's working families scored only some smaller victories - but one very big one - in the Nov. 5 general election. Democrat Jennifer Granholm was the lone bright spot on the ballot, defeating Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus by a 51-46 margin in the race for Michigan governor.

"With your votes, you gave a resounding endorsement for change and for leadership that honors your hard work and values," Granholm said in an open letter to her constituents. "Your votes reaffirm what I have believed since the very first day of this campaign: that we in Michigan are a community, and we believe that we are duty-bound to protect our families and educate our kids."

Organized labor is expected to get much more consideration from Granholm for worker issues than under the Engler Administration - starting with the redeployment of the Labor Department, which Engler abolished in favor of the "Department of Consumer and Industry Services."

But the results of the rest of the election, on both the statewide and national levels, placed Republican lawmakers and judges in the driver's seat of what amounts to a conservative steamroller. The GOP now has either won or regained control of the Michigan and U.S. Supreme Courts, both houses of Congress, both houses of the state legislature, as well as the Michigan secretary of state and attorney general offices.

"I'm excited to be able to be on offense, working with this president," said Republican U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, who becomes U.S. Senate majority leader now that the GOP is in the majority. Lott is one of the most conservative members of Congress, and his ability to retain that leadership position underscores how far to the right Republicans have moved.

The first order of business for Congress in the days following the election was the passage of the Homeland Security Bill - minus some union protections for the 170,000 federal workers that will be employed by the new Homeland Security Office. Many workers in that department will be unionized, but disputes will go to an independent review board for mediation, and if no decision is reached, the management of the agency has the ultimate authority to set policy.

The bill is "just another example of the Bush administration's union-busting policies," said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.

The loss of U.S. Senate control by Democrats is the most important thing that happened on the federal level in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 election. Democrats have not only lost their ability to control legislation in the committees, they have lost much of their ability to approve or deny President Bush's judicial appointments.

President Bush is expected to have clear sailing in appointing new, younger, conservative Supreme Court, Appeals Court and District Court justices, who will be in office long after his presidency ends.

In Michigan, Democrats had slim hopes of wrestling control of the state Senate, which was controlled by Republicans by a 23-15 margin before the election. But Dems picked up just a single seat. The Michigan House tilted much more to the right following the election, with Republicans picking up five seats. The GOP now has a 63-47 majority.

The hopes were high, but the disappointments were many. Republican Attorney General candidate Mike Cox narrowly defeated Democrat Gary Peters, in a race that may see a recount. Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land handily defeated Democrat Melvin "Butch" Hollowell. Greg Stephens, business manager of IBEW Local 252 and candidate of University of Michigan Regent, lost narrowly.

Also among those coming up short were boilermaker Don Sterling (for 100th District state House); Frank Benson (for 24th District State House), and Kevin Kelley for U.S. Congress (11th District).

One bright spot was provided by Democrat Aldo Vagnozzi, the retired editor of a labor paper who won a Republican-leaning state House seat in Oakland County's 37th District by a 52-47 margin.

Vagnozzi told one of the daily papers, "I had a good feeling all day because people coming out of the voting booths didn't give me the middle finger; they gave me the thumbs-up."

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Lame-duck session may or may not hold nasty surprises

LANSING - Will the ongoing legislative session in our state's capitol be "the mother of all lame ducks" as predicted by Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics?

Or will the session proceed innocently, according to state Senate Majority leader Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron)? "We don't have any big plans, he said. "We're just going to get some things wrapped up."

A lame duck session of the state legislature takes place every two years between the general election in the first week of November, and Jan. 1, when newly elected lawmakers are sworn in. This year, with term limits and a new governor coming into office, there will be the greatest turnover among lawmakers in decades. There are 56 new state representatives and 29 new state senators coming on board - but until that happens, those who currently hold seats may have an agenda.

"We fear a rush of old issues coming up again that we don't want to revisit," said House Minority Leader Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit.

Following are some of the issues on the table. Others we don't know about may surface at any time from under the table.

Changes in Blue Cross Blue Shield operations: Making Michigan's largest health care insurer a for-profit company may or may not be in the cards. But there is legislation on the table to reduce the number of board members, and give the state insurance commissioner authority to say who sits on the board.

Living wage: Republicans have long been hot on the trail of prohibiting communities from adopting ordinances that require companies doing business with municipalities to pay workers a minimum wage higher than the state's minimum, $5.15 per hour.

Waiting week for jobless benefits: Republican lawmakers backed down on a proposal to institute a waiting week for unemployment benefit recipients earlier this year. It could become an issue again.

School news: The Michigan Federation of Teachers warns that several pieces of legislation ("all bad") will be on the table, including charter school expansion, privatizing substitute teachers and reducing standards for subs.

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Beasts of the field will get a diagnostic research center to call their own

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

EAST LANSING - Animal-borne diseases like bovine tuberculosis, chronic wasting disease and the West Nile virus threaten the lives of cows, deer and humans. But state-of-the-art laboratories that have the capability of identifying, tracking and eradicating those diseases are few and far between in the U.S.

Enter the $58 million "Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health" under construction on the Michigan State University campus. When it becomes operational in December 2003, it will be unlike any building in the state, set up with space and mechanical fixtures to slaughter animals, rend their bodies, test blood and tissue for disease, and then incinerate the carcasses and treat body fluids so they won't pose a danger to the environment.

"The mechanical systems in this building are different from those in any other building you'll come across," said Project Manager Chuck Barnes of Granger Construction, the project's general contractor. He pointed out the conveyor system for moving carcasses, an 1,800-degree incinerator, the effluent decontamination system, a "deer-head shack" for testing for bovine tuberculosis, and even the extensive filtered ventilation and exhaust system. "It's a very interesting building," he said.

All the equipment is designed to protect researchers as they work with some of the most dangerous diseases found in nature, since it isn't clear how some maladies, like chronic wasting disease, which is killing deer in Wisconsin, affect humans.

The 152,350-square-foot building will replace and consolidate several laboratories on the campus that were established in the mid-1970s, called the Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory. The AHDL's primary purpose was to help the state understand the cause of unprecedented deaths on cattle farms throughout Michigan. Diagnostic testing discovered that PBBs (a fire retardant chemical) had been mixed with livestock feed.

Since that time, the AHDL had become one of the country's premier and busiest diagnostic laboratories. It has grown from just over 9,700 cases when it was created to about 146,000 cases involving nearly a million tests in 1999.

The new laboratory will provide an invaluable tool in helping Michigan to identify, track, and address emerging animal and public health issues that affect pets, livestock wildlife and humans.

Work began on the building in June 2001. It will have two stories and a mechanical penthouse and will contain sophisticated bio-security equipment so researchers can work with tissue cultures and live viruses that cannot be handled safely in existing facilities anywhere in Michigan, said Dr. Willie Reed, the center's director.

"The lab has needed additional space for some time to address emerging diseases in the state," he said. "The number of tests that have been done has increased by about 60 percent in the past 10 years."

The center will also be among the few places in the nation equipped to handle pathogens, like anthrax, that might be spread by bio-terrorists.

Between 100-125 Hardhats are currently on the project. "The construction process has really gone well," Barnes said. "We've had some significant changes that were introduced into the project that have added time to the overall schedule, but we have a good team of workers and subcontractors out here who have worked together well."

While the state allocated $58 million to build the facility, legislators failed to allocated funds for operations, which are expected to cost $3 million a year. It's a higher cost than for a normal office building, because the diagnostic facility has to be operated in a "bio-secure" manner. The funding question is expected to be taken up in the legislature before the end of the year.

"The diagnostic process plays an important role in the control of animal diseases," said Lonnie King, dean of the MSU college of Veterinary Medicine. "Our farmers and pet owners deserve quick answers, and the internationally acclaimed laboratory (will) provide the best service available to all Michigan residents."

ADJUSTING a VAV box, which controls heating air volume, is Dave Kempter of UA Local 333 and John E. Green, working at the MSU Diagnostic Center.

THE LOW-TECH task of sorting scrap from forms by laborer Larry Huhn belies the high-tech nature of the interior of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health on the Michigan State campus.


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Plumbers 98's new union hall: 'You should be proud of this building'

Plumbers Local 98 officially opened the doors of its new union hall with an open house on Nov. 4.

Local 98 marked the move from its Detroit location to the union's new digs at 555 Horace Brown Dr. in Madison Heights with a celebration that included United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters General President Martin Maddaloni and General Secretary-Treasurer Thomas Patchell. Current Business Manager Gary Young presided over a ceremony honoring the efforts of past business managers Joe Perry, Joe Sposita, Jim Jolly and Carlo Castiglione.

"This building puts a far better face on the union plumber," Young said. "I don't know of any negatives of moving here. We've needed a newer building and we're proud of the end result. Our members have been supportive throughout the renovation and are deserving of a first-class facility."

Young said sufficient parking was a major concern, and they now have about 140 parking spaces in their own lot and plenty of additional parking is available on adjacent lots.

"A building like this will help Local 98 to continue to be a powerhouse in the future," Maddaloni said to a capacity crowd of members and visitors at the open house. "Local 98 is very active in training, in the political arena and is a respected part of the community, and you are to be commended. You should be proud of this building and of being members of Local 98."

Local 98 had been in their office in Detroit on Seven Mile Rd. since 1985, but it was primarily a training center and was about one-third the size of their new facility.

The move to their new brown-brick office building took place in mid-August. Located in an office park next to the hall they rented on union meeting nights, the now Local 98 union hall was built in 1987. Union offices and the meeting hall are on the first floor, and the second story is available for rent as office space.

Before the move was made, the first-floor interior was gutted and renovated with new electrical, plumbing, and a unique floor plan that served the union's needs. Former Business Manager Joe Perry was superintendent on behalf of general contractor Cronk and Tocco.

In the last two years, Pipe Fitters Local 636 and Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 also made moves into new union halls, which helped Local 98's transition. "There's no doubt, we borrowed ideas from those locals that went before us," Young said. "I think looking at what they did helped us make ours that much better for our membership."

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Construction's crystal ball: Activity to decline slightly in 2003

The first set of prognosticators have weighed in with predictions for the nation's construction activity in the new year - and the news is pretty good.

The Dodge Division of McGraw-Hill expects overall construction awards to decline 1 percent next year. The good news is that still amounts to $495.1 billion worth of U.S. construction activity, which is equal to the amount spent in 2001, the peak year of the construction expansion that dates back to 1993.

"In terms of rates of growth, it is not that positive of a story," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for Dodge. "But overall construction activity is still moving at a reasonably decent clip. We are not going to see a replay of the early '80s and '90s," when contractors were scrambling to survive, he said.

Dodge expects the office building market will decline 3 percent in 2003, after dropping 21 percent this year. Hotel and commercial building markets are expected to hit bottom next year, with no rebound in sight. Single family housing, which has averaged nearly 8 percent annual growth since 1999, is expected to be flat. Public works projects are expected to decline by 3 percent next year. Institutional building is expected to rise by 1 percent. Industrial work has fallen in the U.S. for the last five years, but is expected to go up 6 percent next year.

Dodge also forecast a 7.4% increase in apartment building construction and a 2.9% hike in hospital work next year.

The U.S. Commerce Dept. echoed the Dodge forecast, calling for total U.S. construction to drop 1.2 percent next year.

None of the reports were specific to Michigan, but anecdotal reports from local building trades unions around the state indicate there has been a gradual but significant decline in construction activity over the last 18 months.

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NEWS BRIEFS

Contractors, union big political donors
When it comes to political giving from contractors in the construction industry, who gives what to whom?

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group, found that the construction industry contributed $6.3 million to federal candidates as of Sept. 9, though political action committees. As reported by the Engineering News Record, of that amount, $4.6 million, or 73 percent, was donated to Republican candidates. The remaining money went to Democratic candidates.

Contributions came from general contractors, specialty contractors, material and equipment firms

The anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors raised $735,000 through Sept. 9, the most money it has ever raised in a calendar year. For the last midterm election cycle, ABC contributed just over $1 million to federal candidates.

For the first time, the Associated General Contractors reached the million-dollar level in contributions to its PAC.

As of Sept. 9, the ENR said construction unions contributed $12.8 million for this year's political cycle - with about a quarter of that being contributed by the Carpenters. Union contributions to Republican candidates had increased from the 1998 elections, the report said.

Bush set to get 'homeland' win
WASHINGTON (PAI)-Unions mounted a lobbying blitz to try to head off GOP President George W. Bush's anti-union provisions in his proposed homeland security bill. But Bush was set to get his way last week.

Influenced by the Nov. 5 election returns - which gave total congressional control to the GOP - senators neared approval of a "compromise" that would give Bush almost all of what he wanted on the issue. The House passed it Nov. 14.

Bush demanded that for "national security" reasons, he get the right to ban unions from the new agency, to strip its workers of their civil service protections and to dump whistleblower safeguards.

"Under the Bush plan, if a manager arbitrarily downgrades your pay, passes you over for a promotion you deserve, or fires you because he doesn't like your political beliefs, there will no longer be a union or a civil service law to protect you," says the American Federation of Government Employees.

Bush wants to merge 22 separate agencies into a new Homeland Security Department with 170,000 workers and a $34 billion budget.

Benefit jewelry drawing is Dec. 12
The 3rd annual jewelry drawing hosted by LaLonde Jewelers and the Detroit Building Trades to benefit Holy Trinity Elementary School will be held Dec. 12.

The prizes this year include: A 32" strand of cultured pearls valued at $3,000, a 1 carat total weight diamond and 14k gold necklace valued at $2,000, and a 1.5 carat total weight diamond and 14k gold ring valued at $1,500.

Owner Dan Lalonde, an Operating Engineers Local 324 member, said the goal is to raise $15,000 for the school.

Tickets ($5) can be purchased at Detroit-area trades' union halls, or at LaLonde Jewelers, 91 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms. (313) 881-6400.

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