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November 24, 2006

Voters' message: time to try a little tenderness towards workers

'Extraordinary' union vote fuels election results in Michigan

Organized labor helps itself by electing friends

SVSU readies for bigger Pioneer hall

Teamsters: Kroger boycott still in place

Duchess of York leaves good impression on plasterers

Major fight brewing on free trade pacts

News Briefs

 

Voters' message: time to try a little tenderness towards workers

By Geoffrey D. Garin

The economy and the state of working America certainly was not the only issue that drove the outcome of the 2006 elections, but economic issues certainly were an important part of the story behind the political earthquake that took place Nov. 7.

Politicians from either party who ignore the voters' message about the need for economic change will do so at their own peril.

In exit polls taken across America on Election Day, respondents were asked about the importance of various issues and considerations in determining their votes. Among those who voted Democratic, three issue stood as the keys, all at a roughly equal level of importance: Iraq, corruption and scandals in Washington and the economy.

Among the total electorate, 39 percent of voters said the economy was an extremely important issue for them in this election. These voters broke solidly for the Democrats - voting for a Democratic candidate in House races by a margin of 59 percent to 39 percent.

Similarly, 41 percent described the issue of corruption and ethics to be extremely important - with these voters also breaking 59 percent to 39 percent for the Democrats. Thirty-five percent of voters said the war in Iraq was extremely important in shaping their vote; this group split 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of the Democrats.

President Bush and many Republicans expected the economy to be a strong issue for the GOP this year. Many of the so-called pundits agreed with them - reasoning that the improvement in the stock market and the relatively low unemployment rate would drive voters to the Republican column. Of course, working Americans who experience the reality of economic life today had a different point of view - and acted upon it in the election.

Polling conducted before the election shows the employment rate is not a good measure of Americans' real confidence in the economy. A significant majority believe (rightly so) that the new jobs we are adding to the economy are not as good as the jobs we have lost, both in terms of pay and benefits. In polling conducted for the AFL-CIO, most Americans say that even if you get a good education and are willing to work hard, it is hard to find a job in today's economy that is both secure and good paying.

The key number from the national exit polling is that only 31 percent of voters feel they and their families are able to get ahead financially in the current economy; the rest report that they are just keeping up or falling behind. The Republicans won handily in the election among the minority who feel they are doing well economically, but they suffered major losses among the majority of voters who don't feel they are benefiting from Bush-onomics.

The economic concerns that played out in this election were not just about the conditions working families face today, but also about real worries regarding what the economic future holds for the next generation. Just one in three voters said they expect life to be better for the next generation, while 40 percent said things for the next generation will be worse than they are today.

Those who worry that the next generation will be worse off voted decisively for change on Election Day - siding with the Democrats over the Republicans by 66 percent to 32 percent.
2006 was a record-setting year for the AFL-CIO in terms of mobilizing members to vote for change, with 74 percent of all members saying they voted for the Democratic congressional candidate in their district.

As with the electorate as whole, the economy was not the only issue for union members, but clearly it was a very major factor. Overwhelmingly, union members want the new Congress to recognize the economic challenges of working families and take action on a working families' agenda-including priorities such as protecting workers' wages and benefits in cases of corporate bankruptcies, requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, reforming trade agreements to protect workers' rights, raising the minimum wage and expanding health coverage. These economic priorities of union members are shared and supported by voters across the electorate.

Americans were saying something important about the economy when they voted on Tuesday. Their message about the need for real economic change played a critical role in the outcome of the election. The people they elected shouldn't forget it, and the union movement will help lead the way to make sure they remember.

(The author is the president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, one of the nation's leading survey research firms. Hart Research Associates conducted election night survey among union members for the AFL-CIO).

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'Extraordinary' union vote fuels election results in Michigan

Union members in political "battleground" states rode the nationwide current toward Democrats in Congress and away from Republicans, a poll conducted on Election Night, Nov. 7 shows.

And in Michigan, union support of Democrats at the top of the ticket became a tidal wave. Citing an EPIC-MRA poll, Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney said a whopping 82 percent of union members in Michigan voted to re-elect Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and 81 percent voted to re-elect Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Gaffney said the poll shows union members made up 22 percent of Michigan's workforce, but represented 28 percent of the total statewide vote on Nov. 7. And that's not even counting union family members, which could have pushed union influence on the vote in Michigan over 40 percent.

"Those are extraordinary numbers," Gaffney said. "But they didn't just happen. A lot of hard work by union members across Michigan made those numbers possible."

The nationwide polling numbers show similar strong numbers for union voting. The poll of 810 union members, by Peter Hart Associates, found that union members in battleground states voted for House Democrats by a 74-26 percent margin. Among all voters in battleground states, the win rate was 55-45 percent for House Democrats. For Senate candidates, union members supported Dems by a similar 73-27 percent.

The trend of union members supporting Democratic candidates has been growing: the survey found that 70 percent of union members supported House Dems in 2004, preceded by 68 percent in 2002.

The top concerns of those votes: the war in Iraq (41 percent), economy and jobs (32 percent), health care/ prescription drugs (26 percent) and Social Security/ retirement (26 percent). Members who voted for Democrats for House seats said their biggest concern about the GOP Congress was they care "more about political power than doing right" (37 percent).

Overall, union households accounted for roughly one out of four U.S. voters.

"We're very proud and excited to see from the numbers that union voters drove a wave that elected a pro-working families majority in the House and in the Senate," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "The leaders in control of Congress neglected the needs of working Americans while catering to corrupt special interests, and working people said 'no more'."

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Organized labor helps itself by electing friends

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

LANSING - Organized labor in Michigan was a major winner following the Nov. 7 general election.

In the past several years, the threat of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's veto pen has been the only counter-balance to anti-worker and anti-union legislation. Now, with the state House in Democratic control, labor and the Dems they supported can go on offense in support of workers.

"I fully expect the governor and the Michigan House will be more helpful to Michigan's working families," said state AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. "We have far more hope and confidence now than we did before Nov. 7."

Here's why:

  • Labor-friendly Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) was voted back into office by a margin of 56-42 percent, beating billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, who spent about $50 million of his own campaign money.
  • U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) retained her seat for six more years, trouncing Republican challenger Mike Bouchard by 57-41 percent margin.
  • In the Michigan House, Democrats picked up six seats, and now enjoy a 58-52 margin, which means they will control that legislative body for the first time since 1997. The GOP fared better in the Michigan Senate, where they lost one seat but still retain control with a 21-17 margin.

Tim Hughes, legislative director for the Granholm Administration, said the governor's record of standing up for Michigan's working families paid off at the polls.

"The labor vote was very helpful," he said. "I think union members and a lot of other Michigan voters know what kind of trade policies that have come out of Washington, and they voted for their own economic self-interest."

Hughes said in dealing with the Republican House and Senate the last four years, "the governor may have stopped more bad legislation than any governor in the country. Republicans would send all kinds of bad stuff to her desk that they know she would veto, just so that they could say she was standing in the way of progress. That won't happen any more."

Some issues the governor would like to promulgate, Hughes said include expanding health care coverage for the uninsured, allowing no-reason absentee ballot voting and making it easier for small business owners to back 401-k plans.

Gaffney said his wish list includes improving unemployment and workers' compensation benefits for workers - but that's tempered with the fact that the state may be facing another $500 million shortfall in its budget.

In Congress, labor-backed candidates in Michigan's congressional delegation didn't make any gains, but the six Democratic members of the delegation were returned to office. With Democrats winning control of the U.S. House, several Dems from Michigan are in line to take over as chairs of important committees and subcommittees.

In the House, Rep. John Dingell will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. John Conyers will be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Bart Stupak will run the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Rep. Sander Levin Levin could chair the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee and Rep. Dale Kildee could be in line to a lead a subcommittee on education.

In the U.S. Senate, Michigan's Carl Levin will become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Stabenow will retain her seat on the Senate Budget Committee.

Races for the state Board of Education and university Board of Education seats were a sweep for Dems:

Reginald Turner, Jr. and Casandra Ulbrich were elected to the State Board of Education.

Faylene Owen and George Perles were elected to the Michigan State University Board of Trustees.

Katherine White and Julia Darlow were elected to the University of Michigan Board of Regents.

Eugene Driker and Debbie Dingell were elected to the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

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SVSU readies for bigger Pioneer hall

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SAGINAW - Saginaw Valley State University is sponsoring a $16 million project to make Pioneer Hall bigger, better - and greener.

Construction manager Spence Brothers and the building trades are renovating existing space at the 30-year-old hall, and adding about 28,000 square feet on two stories on the south side of the building to accommodate the needs of the university's growing mechanical and electrical engineering programs.

The project began last spring and is expected to be complete next August. The building was cleared out to accommodate the renovation work, and students and teaching labs have relocated to another part of the campus.

"Everyone is excited about the new classrooms, as well as foundry, bio-fuels, engine dyno, and automotive performance labs that are being added to Pioneer Hall," said Robert Tuttle, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "When all is said and done, the inconvenience of the move will be more than worth it."

The first floor of the renovated Pioneer Hall will hold engineering laboratory space. Class rooms, faculty offices, the Dean's suite, and computer labs will be housed on the second floor.

Bob Saunders, project superintendent for Spence Brothers, said about 70 trades workers are on the job. "The project has gone well," he said. ""We've had tremendous contractors and very good trades people out here."

The renovated Pioneer Hall is being built with a number of earth-friendly features, which were highlighted recently by the Bay City Times since the building is the first in the Bay area to seek LEED certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a standard which offers varying levels of certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building will include waterless urinals, a system that diverts rainwater to a nearby wetland area, the use of recycled aggregate in the building's concrete blocks, more use of task lighting instead of general lighting, and steel beams that have holes in them to save on the use of steel, among numerous other features.

Saunders said the LEED-related construction has added complexity to the job - but only because of the added paperwork that has been necessary. The impact of building green on the construction process has been minimal, he said.

More challenging, he said, has been to work in a major construction project "without impacting the college campus, which is functioning all around us."

A $16 MILLION project will add 28,000 square feet to Saginaw Valley State University's Pioneer hall.

PUTTING A TORCH to a hot water line at the expanded Pioneer Hall at Saginaw Valley State University is Charlie Cline of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85.

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Teamsters: Kroger boycott still in place

(In our last issue, based on a Teamsters press release and our subsequent conversation with a media representative from the union, we reported that the union boycott of Kroger stores had been called off. Not so fast, said Teamsters Local 337 Business Agent and Trustee Bob Barnes, who issued the following clarification of the union's stance).

We want to thank Michigan families and shoppers for their tremendous support of Teamsters Local 337's "Don't Shop Kroger" campaign.

Thanks to your help, the families of Michigan's Teamsters who were laid off from Kroger's Livonia warehouse last July will be able to enjoy this holiday season. We also thank the Detroit community, religious and labor organizations that fought side by side with us to keep Kroger from shipping these jobs and potentially hundreds of others from this warehouse out of state.

We also thank Gov. Jennifer Granholm for her incredible support. She is a true friend to working families.

When the layoffs were announced, Local 337 urged Kroger to consider alternatives to outsourcing. Kroger has now acted on a strategy we suggested, to assign the servicing from several stores in Toledo to the Livonia facility. Livonia is one of the most efficient warehouses in the Kroger operation, and this will be a good move for both the company and the workers.

However, Kroger has not met with us directly about the long-term prospects for Livonia workers. We have learned that the workers who were laid off will keep their jobs at least until February 2007. But we have not received any assurances from Kroger about what will happen to those jobs after February, nor about the remaining 320 warehouse jobs.

Like most of us, these hardworking men and women have ongoing financial obligations. After years of dedication to Kroger, they deserve better than being left in limbo about their financial futures.

As a sign of good faith, we are not expanding the "Don't Shop" campaign. However, unless and until Kroger gives a direct assurance to this union and its members that its long-range plan protects Livonia jobs, our coalition is not rescinding its call for Michigan shoppers to stop buying at Kroger.

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Duchess of York leaves good impression on plasterers

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Two Plasterers Local 67 members enjoyed a unique opportunity to welcome a duchess to Detroit.

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who was married to Prince Andrew and has two daughters who are fifth and sixth in line of succession to the British throne, visited Children's Hospital of Michigan on Nov. 14 in her role as global ambassador for World's Children's Day at McDonald's.

At the hospital, Ferguson visited children and Ronald McDonald House families, read them a story and then joined about 20 kids in making plaster molds of their hands. Ferguson's plaster hands impression will be displayed at the local Ronald McDonald House.

"Nothing is more important than helping children of the world who are in need," the Duchess of York said. "Through my role as global ambassador for World Children's Day, I hope to be a voice for children and families whose needs and critical issues may not otherwise be known."

Other World Children's Day stops for the duchess include Tokyo, Beijing, Seattle, Dallas, Boston and New York. Each November, more than 100 countries participate in World Children's Day by hosting fundraising events and activities in McDonald's restaurants, raising $75 million in the program's first four years.

Using materials donated by Russell Plastering, Plasterers Local 67 Business Manager Jack McCool and journeyman Chris Richardson were asked to prepare the hand molds for the children and Ferguson during her visit. Intermingled with small children and photographers and watched by a hospital audience, McCool and Richardson deftly mixed plaster to the proper consistency and poured them into molds for the kids and the duchess to make hand prints.

"She was very nice, she leaned over and said to me, 'thanks for doing this,' " McCool said. "I was glad to help out."

Richardson, a native Brit, had only a slightly more involved interaction with the duchess, who was surrounded by a whirlwind of activity. The British military veteran wore his Royal Artillery shirt, which drew a smile from Ferguson. Richardson also told her that he grew up near her when she lived in Windsor (about 20 miles from London), and that his dad and her father used to play cricket together.

"I think she got a kick out of my being from her hometown," said Richardson, who became a U.S. citizen in 1989. He said growing up, he only had rare glimpses at the royal family.

"It strikes me as funny that years ago, in England, we'd have to bow and all that in the presence of royalty," Richardson said. "Here it's a lot less formal. They asked us to address her as 'duchess,' but that was about it for formality. All in all, she was a nice lady; very agreeable. When she came in the room, it was all about the children."

PLASTERERS LOCAL 67 member Chris Richardson helps Duchess Sarah Ferguson and some kids at Children's Hospital of Michigan with plaster hand prints. Local 67 Business Manager Jack McCool (light blue shirt, at left) helps out.

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Major fight brewing on free trade pacts
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The incoming 110th Congress, with a Democratic-run House and a 51-49 Democratic edge in the Senate, will see "a major fight" on trade, three newly elected lawmakers predict. And the fight will spread to the Senate, which has been historically more pro-"free trade" than the House, a new senator adds.

"The White House can't come to us with a prototype fast track bill without labor and environmental standards," said Senator-elect Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) "They understand that if they do so, they will lose."

In the roll-call on the last trade pact, the job-losing Central American Free Trade Agreement, 15 Democrats deserted workers and voted for it, giving GOP President George W. Bush a narrow win. It lacked enforceable labor protections. Bush is pushing similar no-labor-rights free trade pacts with Peru, Vietnam and Colombia.

"The first battle will be to halt fast track," which expires in June, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard added. Fast track lets GOP President George W. Bush bargain trade treaties and send them to Congress for up-or-down votes, without change.

The Journal pointed out that the bloc of Democrats who support free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA has diminished over the years with the American job losses that have taken place. Since 1999, according to the AFL-CIO Industrial Unions Council, the U.S. has lost 3 million factory jobs, half of them unionized. In addition, the U.S. trade deficit is headed towards a record $800 billion this year.

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News Briefs

Greetings go out to Iron Workers Local 8
The Building Tradesman sends out a hearty to welcome members of Iron Workers Local 8, who are subscribing to the paper for the first time.

Local 8 is based in Milwaukee, but has an office in Marquette. Active members who live in the Upper Peninsula will receive the paper.

The Building Tradesman's subscriber base continues at about 48,500, making it the largest labor newspaper in Michigan and one of the largest in the nation.

New MUST website: www.mustonline.org
Thousands of building trades workers across Michigan work on MUST job sites, and use the MUST web site for safety information and modules.

Please note: MUST - or Management and Unions Working Together - has a new URL to access their site on the Internet: www. mustonline.org.

Please put the new site in your bookmark or favorites.

Walbridge wins top safety award
DETROIT - Walbridge-Aldinger, a Detroit-based worldwide full-service construction company, earned the recognition of America's Safest Company for 2006 by Occupational Hazards magazine.

The magazine named 10 new companies to its list of America's Safest Companies. Walbridge - usually listed every year as the first or second largest general contracting company in the state - was the only honoree from Michigan.

Walbridge Assistant Vice President-Safety Steve Clabaugh accepted the award on behalf of the company. "We are dedicated to providing employees and other valued stakeholders with a safe and healthy working environment on every project, at every level," he said. "Walbridge-Aldinger's program has the total commitment of all management levels and receives top priority in its application."

Since Occupational Hazards began its safety recognition program in 2002, editors found that comprehensive training, employee and involvement and safety as a day-to-day integral part of operations each play a significant role in the companies that received the America's Safest Company award.

"America's safest companies serve as inspiration to employers across the country that sometimes lack a determined commitment to occupational safety and health," said Occupational Hazards Chief Editor Sandy Smith. "Whether they have 10,000 employees or 100 employees, the 2006 ASC companies have demonstrated a commitment to safety and believe that a strong commitment to safety reflects positively on their bottom line."

Occupational Hazards noted that award winners understand the importance of safety committees, training, job-hazard analyses, audits, stop-work authority, employee involvement and management visibility. They also get the symbiotic relationship between safety and productivity, profits, morale and employee retention.

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