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November 24, 2000
By Marty Mulcahy
Voters in Michigan and across the nation went to the polls on Nov. 7 to cast a ballot in what was probably the most important election in a generation. The results are in. The voters have spoken. They just didn't say too much.
Nationally, the election, the vote re-counts and court battles finally brought forth a president - but the evenness of the election didn't bring a mandate for the nation's Executive Office. The U.S. Senate is closer than ever, with Republicans barely in control. The same is true in the U.S. House. All the big election issues - prescription drugs, revamping Social Security, and cutting taxes - may well wind up in the scrap heap, thanks to gridlock.
Voters in Michigan dumped Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham in favor of Debbie Stabenow, and easily went for Al Gore over George W. Bush, 51-46 percent. But none of that pro-Democratic partiality at the top of the ballot filtered down to the state races. Dems were unable to make up any ground in winning a majority in the state Supreme Court or in regaining the state House. This means Republicans will continue to have a stranglehold on the operations of the state government for the next two years.
The union vote. The unprecedented push by unions to get members out to vote paid off. "Labor showed muscle the likes of which we have not seen since the 60s," said Craig Ruff, president of Public Sector Consultants, Inc. a nonpartisan think-tank in Lansing. To help, the UAW negotiated a day off for its members on Election Day.
According to Crain's Detroit Business, exit polling by the Voter News Service showed that union members make up just 13 percent of Michigan's registered voters. But 27 percent of Michigan residents who voted on Nov. 7 were union members, and 43 percent had a union member in their household. The same survey showed Gore won 64 percent of the vote from union members in Michigan.
Nationally, Voter News Service said 26 percent of voters were members of union households this year, compared to 23 percent in 1996 and 19 percent in 1992.
The presidency. How can anyone say their vote doesn't matter after watching the evening news the days after Nov. 7? Nationally, Gore garnered 48.5 million votes and won the popular vote by a scant 250,000 ballots or so. In Florida, only a few hundred votes separated the presidential rivals.
If you got the impression that the nation's voter turnout approached record highs, think again. Only 50.7 percent of the nation's 200 million eligible voters cast ballots, slightly higher than the rock-bottom turnout in the 1996 presidential campaign (49 percent), which was the lowest turnout since 1924.
The pundits would have us believe that the next president will be a virtually powerless to get an agenda passed with an evenly divided Congress. Stephen E. Sandherr, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors, says that whoever is elected president is "going to have to reach across party lines to cobble together any majority on any significant piece of legislation and that will be a true test of leadership."
That may be the case, but the president still has power to make Executive Orders, propose budgets for the National Labor Relations Board, the Labor Department and OSHA, and appoint cabinet officials and Supreme Court justices. All appointments are likely to be anti-working people.
And one other point: One of the final Executive Orders made in the George Bush administration in 1992 was to suspend prevailing wage provisions for Hurricane Andrew relief work in Florida. A president still wields a great deal of power.
The Congress. Republicans had a slim seven-seat majority in the House before the election, and their lead shrunk to five seats after Nov. 7. On the Senate side, Democrats picked up three, and possibly four seats, meaning the body could wind up in an unprecedented 50-50 tie.
"Republicans retained control of Congress, but by such fragile margins that nothing of consequence can get done over the next two years without Democratic votes," said the Wall Street Journal.
In Michigan, all the incumbents retained their seats, and the only House race that was close was in the 8th District race between Democrat Diane Byrum and Republican Mike Rogers, which Rogers won by only a few hundred votes.
Michigan Democratic Reps David Bonior, John Conyers and John Dingell all lost opportunities to take over key leadership roles in the House with Dems failing to take control of that body.
In the U.S. Senate, Stabenow's narrow win over Abraham helped Democrats get closer to a majority, and it was one of the few bits of good news for Michigan. Abraham couldn't win despite spending nearly twice as much as his opponent, and getting all kinds of support from Gov. John Engler.
"John Engler can't deliver anything in an election in which he is not at the top of the ticket," said Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. "Beyond helping (Secretary of State) Candice Miller and Spence Abraham in 1994 when Engler was running, he's been a flop. He just can't get it done."
The Michigan House. House Republicans spent $1.6 million in the five closest state House races in order to retain their majority. They succeeded. No seats changed hands, and the GOP will maintain its 58-52 majority in the state House.
In a published report, Republican House Speaker Chuck Perricone of Kalamazoo said "the dream was to add a couple seats, but we feel very good today. I'll take returning all members every day." Democrats came close in several swing districts, but still came up short. Republicans can now feel free to continue their anti-worker agenda for Paycheck Deception, virtually unchallenged re-districting and repealing the state prevailing wage law.
The Michigan Supreme Court. Lots of bluster. No change. The Michigan Democratic Party's strong attacks against incumbent state Supreme Court Justices Markman, Taylor and Young failed miserably at the polls, with the challengers unable to even get near the incumbents and overturn the GOP majority.
Whenever possible, those Republican-backed justices have ruled
in favor of large corporations and against individual workers,
and that became the theme in ads attacking those justices. But
challenges by Marietta Robinson, Edward Thomas and Thomas Fitzgerald
failed to gain more than 40 percent of the vote in any of the
races. The only bright spot, and it's a small one, was pointed
out by democratic attorney Norman Tucker. "I think the public
learned something about the court, and that's good," he
By Patrick Devlin
There isn't much reason for optimism about the direction of our state or our nation after the Nov. 7 election.
For the next two years, at least, the State of Michigan is going to continue to be dominated by Republicans. There are simply no checks or balances that give any influence at all to Democrats.
Still, there were a few positives. The union turnout in Michigan was huge. Our state went big for Al Gore, who came within a whisker of winning Florida, and possibly avoiding the vote-counting mess that followed. We helped remove Spencer Abraham from the U.S. Senate, and replaced him with a true friend of organized labor, Debbie Stabenow. Vouchers were defeated.
And in the building trades, at least, we have continued to fine-tune the way we participate in the world of political action.
The Greater Detroit and Michigan Building Trades Councils put forth an unprecedented effort to help labor-friendly candidates succeed in the 2000 general election. More than a month before the election, we worked in conjunction with local unions to make sure that every building trades union member in Michigan received in the mail a voter registration application and an absentee ballot application. We wanted to make it as convenient as possible for every member in the state to take part in the election process.
Many individual unions did that and more. In particular, the IBEW, the Laborers, the Operating Engineers the pipe trades and the Painters all made special efforts to reach their members. There were phone banks, mailings and personal contacts that helped drive home to our members who our friends are in the political world. Political action people like Bruce Burton of IBEW Local 58 and Bill Helwig of Pipe Fitters Local 636 went well beyond the call of duty to make sure their members were registered to vote and informed about the issues.
The results showed that we weren't all that successful in 2000, but political action is more of a process that we learn as we go along, than it is a science. If you voted in the Nov. 7 election - especially if it was your first time - you made a wise choice. Now I challenge you to keep track of the candidates you voted for, and make sure that they're taking your interests into account when the next election comes around.
That's why political action is a constantly changing process. This time it was a frustrating process for Michigan's labor community.
We did it. In the Nov. 7 election, our nation's voters managed to make an election so close for the presidency and in both house of Congress that nothing of importance may get taken care of in the next two years.
We finally have the kind of government we deserve, and it's all because of our own special interests. No, not the kind of special interests that are pushed by lobbyists for trial lawyers, oil companies and environmentalists. We refer to special interests held by America's 102 million voters who cast a ballot on Nov. 7.
Some voted pro-choice. Some voted pro-life. Some voted in lockstep with the NRA. Others never picked up a gun and wanted greater controls on firearms. Some voted pro-worker. Some voted pro-business. Some wanted lower taxes. Some wanted more out of their government. Some voted to get Social Security partially privatized. Some voted to put it in a lockbox. Some only wanted to save the whales.
Our lawmakers in Washington always seem to get a bad rap because of legislative gridlock and constant bickering between the parties. Don't blame them entirely. Blame the people who put them there. The evenly split national vote on Nov. 7 for the presidency, U.S. House and Senate is clear evidence that the American people may not like things the way things operate in Washington D.C., but we haven't been able to come up with a better alternative.
Eight years ago, when Bill Clinton defeated George W.'s dad for the presidency, "it was about the economy, stupid," because the economy was in the tank. Things were a lot more clear-cut then. Eight years later, the election was still about the economy, sort of. But with a roaring economy and with the deficit no longer looming in the background, voters have decided to go off in a few other directions, and as a result, there is no mandate from the people on the major election issues of Campaign 2000.
Politically, there is no clear direction on how to "save" Social Security from bankruptcy. Relief from prescription drugs costs may take place, but neither the Republican plan nor the Democratic plan has a mandate. Lawmakers may push for tax relief, but whether the top 10 percent, bottom 10 percent, or middle-income wage earners see any change at all is impossible to predict. The list of uncertain issues goes on an on.
Obviously, neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore lit any fires of passion under the American people. And the result of Congressional elections just made the Republican-Democratic split more even. Voters had one day, Nov. 7, to cast their ballots in favor of their own "special interests," and they sent a rather muddled message. Before long, the other aforementioned special interests -Big Oil, Big Tobacco, etc. - will have a constant presence among lawmakers until the next election, making their voices heard loud and clear.
Over the past year, the building trades and the rest of organized labor did their best to counter the message of large companies, and encourage members of labor unions to vote for candidates who support the issues that are most important to all workers: fair pay standards, good health insurance, and strong worker safety policies.
The pro-worker stance is simple and direct. On Nov. 7, it hit home with many - but certainly not all - union workers. Clearly, many workers are still more worried about the government taking away their right to bear arms than they are worried about the government taking away their right to earn a living with a decent wage.
Similarly, many workers are more concerned with pro-/anti-abortion issues than they are with having the ability to provide for their family and to come home safely from work. No one will argue that those issues aren't important. But voting for candidates based on those types of issues leads to the muddled results that we saw on Nov. 7. There are no clear winners - and now probably few will get what they want - except perhaps, the special interests with the most money.
This extremely important election is over, and so is the window
of opportunity for working people to collectively give direction
to the people who represent us.
Next stop for the Express Tram system: The new Midfield Terminal at Metro Airport in Romulus.
Four 33,000-lb. tram cars were lowered through a 15- by 60-foot hole in the terminal's roof on Oct. 25, beginning the process of installing the world's only indoor, above-ground transportation system of its kind.
Set up 21 feet above gate level, the quiet, futuristic bullet-nose train will operate like an elevator turned on its side - propelled by cables and resting on a cushion of air, rather than wheels. The system consists of two trains, comprised of two cars each. Each two-car train holds up to 212 passengers.
"This Express Tram system will bring an easier and more convenient travel experience to our customers who will use this new terminal," said Jim Greenwald, vice president facilities and airport affairs for Northwest Airlines, who is responsible for design and construction of the new Midfield Terminal. "This community can now see the features of this building being installed and understand the tremendous benefits they will bring to air travel in Michigan."
The terminal building will feature three Express Tram stations - one at the south end, one at the north end and one in the center. The Tram system can take travelers from the center station to either end in just two minutes and the entire length of the concourse in just four minutes. The Tram system can move more than 4,000 passengers per hour in each direction and will work in tandem with 1.5 miles of moving walkways.
Farmington, Connecticut based Poma-Otis Transportation Systems, Inc. manufactured the tram system. Otis Elevator Company is the contractor responsible for installing and maintaining the system. Otis is installing all the passenger conveyance devices, including 43 elevators, 50 escalators and 34 moving walkways in the new Terminal. Workers from Elevator Constructors Local 36 and the Operating Engineers Local 324 installed the Tram system.
Indianapolis-based Hunt Construction Group is serving as general contractor for the entire project. The building designer is Smith Group of Detroit.
The new terminal is scheduled to open in Decemer 2001.
Union pension funds are once again being put to work to put union members to work, this time at the $14 million Whispering Woods Plaza in Brownstown Township.
Ground was broken Nov. 2 on the 93,000 square-foot shopping center at Gibraltar Rd. east of I-75 and Gibraltar Rd., which will be anchored by a Kroger store and will feature a Blockbuster Video store, a Hallmark card store and other retail tenants.
The project is the effort of First Commercial Realty and Development Co. Bank One is financing the project with equity financing by the Build Fund of Bloomfield Hills. Numerous union pension funds are contributing to the project.
"It took vision by the pension funds, labor and management to put this program together," said The Build Fund's Tim Nichols, former secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building Trades Council. "This project will be an asset to the community, provide good-paying jobs to workers and improve the tax base. We look forward to future groundbreakings."
First Commercial President Bill Watch said the actual groundbreaking on the project would take place next month, with the Kroger store sscheduled to be completed in September. He said plans are for 165 homes to be built behind the project.
The Detroit Building Trades on Nov. 2 honored three retired labor leaders who left a legacy of good service to unionism.
During a luncheon at the Gaelic League in Detroit, more than 200 union leaders paid tribute. "In the building trades, we're not big on gold watches, or long speeches, but we never forget our friends, and we're never short on appreciation for their efforts over the years," said GDBTC Sec.-Treas. Patrick Devlin. "The entire labor community in Southeast Michigan is better because of Elvin, Jack and Ed."
It's not every week or even every year that a national publication devotes so much attention to a serious medical problem that affects building trades workers.
So it was good to see a cover story in the Nov. 13 issue of The Engineering News Record under the headline, "The Scourge of Silicosis."
The lengthy article didn't come out with any new revelations, studies, or fixes for the disease, which kills about 250 construction workers every year. But it did provide a valuable public service to the building trades workers who are potentially affected by the disease, by pointing out the hazard to the nation's construction engineering and contractor communities.
"Kids play in it, masons mortar with it, painters blast with it and operating engineers push it around with equipment," the ENR article began. "Sand and other aggregates containing silica can be benign and productive building materials when used properly, but they can be slow and silent killers when workers on construction sites and in quarries chronically breathe the airborne dust from the products. The resulting silicosis is an ancient disease that causes scarring in the lungs, reduced lung capacity, heart problems and even death."
Silicosis is similar to asbestos in that it sometimes takes years to manifest itself, is difficult to diagnose and can be prevented with the proper personal protective equipment or engineering controls.
"Inhalation of fine particles of crystalline silica produces a scarring in the lung (that) acts as a barrier and causes difficulty in moving air in and out and prevents getting oxygen from getting into the blood stream," said Dr. Stephen Levin, medical director of Mt. Sinai&SHY;Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine in New York. "The more dust inhaled, the more scarring there is."
Heart disease, the ENR pointed out, is a companion problem. "Silicosis can destroy blood vessels that run through the lung and cause back pressure on the right side of the heart, which is the side that pumps blood to the lungs," said Levin. Silicosis "will stiffen lungs, narrow airways and cause shortness of breath and coughing. In severe cases, victims end up with pulmonary impairment to the point that they have to go on oxygen."
There's nothing new about the knowledge of the hazards of silica dust. According to the Center to Protect Workers Rights, which is the health and safety arm of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, in the 1940s, a North Carolina industrial hygienist named M.F. Trice prepared a groundbreaking paper on safeguarding health in construction.
Long before others, he examined many of the hazards and came to the same conclusions that health experts realize today. That is, the silica dust hazard can be minimized with the substitution of materials, using wet methods when dealing with dust, and utilizing exhaust ventilation, personal respiratory protection and improved design of tools. Even today, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has not been able to improve on these recommendations.
Trice describes silica dust as the "most important" health hazard in construction work. He said constant exposure to silica dust causes a chemical reaction that "completely destroys" the lungs and leaves victims of the disease of silicosis "extremely susceptible to pulmonary tuberculosis" and an "early death."
OSHA guidelines on working around silica dust remain behind the times. But in 1996, the wheels were put into motion by former Labor Department Secretary Robert Reich to improve the silica standard. This came after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in a controversial decision, concluded "there was sufficient evidence" to categorize certain kinds of silica as a carcinogen. Predictably, the decision was met with resistance from business groups such as the National Industrial Sand Association.
The existing standard for silica exposure is out of the 1960s and actually pre-dates OSHA. It is an inadequate and unenforceable standard because it contains obsolete sampling language in terms of millions of particles per cubic feet of air - no longer valid because modern monitoring devices are set up using the metric system.
In any case, OSHA is slowing moving toward an enforceable standard that would essentially cut the permissible exposure limit in half. Building trades unions like the bricklayers and painters are at the forefront of helping government agencies set up a new standard.
"In terms of life-years lost, silicosis is a bigger problem than asbestosis," said Pam Susi, an industrial hygienist who is director of the CPWR's Exposure Assessment Program. "We hear about guys in their 40s dying now from an ancient disease. It is appalling."
73 pints after 636 blood drive
The annual drive, held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Local 636 Training Center in Troy, yielded the greatest amount of blood yet by the local. At the same time, donors were given the option of having their blood tested for prostate cancer, plus a free flue shot.
"We had 88 people turn out, but some couldn't donate," said Local 636 Business Manager Jim Lapham. "But this really worked out well. In the past, those PSA have detected cancer in a few people, and it may have saved some lives." The tests were paid for by the local's insurance fund.
Bracelet drawing benefits food bank
Daniel LaLonde, an Operating Engineers Local 324 member who is also a gemologist, is donating a 14-karat ladies diamond tennis bracelet for a drawing among Detroit-area building trades workers.
"A lot of guys who I see on the job trust me and buy jewelry from me, and business has been very good this year," LaLonde said. "So I wanted to give something back to the community. I thought making this bracelet available in a drawing would be a good way to raise money for a good cause." The cause is St. Rita's Food Bank in Detroit, which provides after-school meals to disadvantaged young people in Detroit.
Tickets are $10 apiece and will be made available at various union halls and during union meetings. The bracelet is valued at about $6,500.
LaLonde has been an operator since 1993 and in the jewelry business for the last five years.
"Union members have been a very important part of my business, and this is my way of thanking them, too," he said.
Union-made cards available
No problem, they're out there. In retail stores look for the brand "Plus Mark" cards. They're made by UNITE Local 2408.
Holiday greeting cards made by the Allied Printing Trades Council are available at Brown & Bigelow in Maryland, which can be contacted at (800) 447-5576, and Homestead Cards, which can be viewed a
www.aol.com/unioncards. Remember for all your holiday shopping: