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November 8, 2002

Privatize Blue Cross? The idea has supporters - and bears watching

Compuware HQ readies to load tenants

Lame duck session threatens workers

File jobless apps through the mail

Iron workers, operators strengthen ties with completion of training frame

Christmas comes early for Heat's On recipients

Are you drinking enough water?

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Privatize Blue Cross? The idea has supporters - and bears watching

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

LANSING - With the general election over (results weren't available at press time), state legislators are turning their attention to some pending business in the lame duck legislative session that extends through the end of this year.

One of the top issues organized labor will be keeping an eye on is the proposed privatization of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM). Gov. John Engler brought up the subject in his state of the state message in January, calling for "a new act to create a Community Health Trust Fund to protect our citizens and capture the public benefit should Blue Cross ever follow the path of more than 20 other state plans by becoming a private company."

Lawrence Reed, president of the ultra-conservative think-tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy, noted that the Michigan House and Senate did reject the notion of privatizing the Blues in legislation adopted last summer.

However, he wrote, "This is indeed an issue that requires much deliberate thought, is not well understood by the public, and is therefore easily demagogued, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea. It may simply mean it needs to be better marketed, or dealt with in a less-politicized atmosphere. Indeed, it's a classic lame-duck session topic and for that reason, no one should assume the Legislature's rejection is the final verdict; if nothing else, time and growing problems will eventually force the issue."

Two bills in the Michigan legislature would allow the state Blues, with annual revenues of $10 billion, to be sold off to the highest bidder. One was introduced by state Rep. Tom George (R-Kalamazoo), the other by Andrew Raczkowski (R-Farmington Hills.).

With scores of union health and welfare plans utilizing the Blues, Democrats and organized labor have strong feelings against privatizing BSBCM. State Attorney General Jennifer Granholm issued a statement that cautioned Michigan legislators that selling or privatizing Blue Cross Blue Shield would violate current state law and would jeopardize the integrity of the public health system in Michigan.

"The citizens of this state struck a bargain with BCBSM more than 50 years ago," Granholm wrote. "The citizens agreed to give BCBSM tax-free status and in return, BCBSM agreed to take on responsibility for providing health care services at fair prices to all citizens who apply for coverage. That's the deal. By selling BCBSM off, the state would be breaking the deal it made with its own citizens."

She added, "BCBSM was created with a healthy public - not a healthy profit - in mind."

More than 176,000 senior citizens who purchase "Medigap" health care coverage through BCBSM would be affected by a sale. The state's Office of Financial and Insurance Services (OFIS) estimates that more than 50 percent of the state's population depends on BCBSM for health care coverage and service. The Blues are often referred to as the state's "insurer of last resort" - and all that coverage would be placed in jeopardy with a sale.

Based on its 2001 financial examination of BCBSM, OFIS concluded that the insurer maintains a "strong market share" in Michigan, with 4.8 million customers and a surplus financial reserve of nearly $1.2 billion. OFIS called BCBSM "safe and solvent," but its financial examination did uncover some concerns, among them, losses in the small group market.

What are the advantages of privatization? The Mackinac Center's Reed acknowledged that the Blues' bottom line is healthy today, but the volatility of premiums could change the situation at any time. He said Michigan is the last state-controlled plan in the nation.

"Remaining a state-controlled plan for the foreseeable future," he said, "means facing increased state regulation, remaining an insurer of last resort, and having a diminished ability to service regional and national businesses because it will not be sharing a common vision, values and strategies with other BCBS plans."

William Shoemaker, a vice president of the UAW who sits on the BCBSM Board of Directors, said "you'll hear a lot from Republicans in the legislature, from their allies in the insurance community and from pro-business commentators about how privatizing Blue Cross will somehow mean cheaper and better health care. Don't you believe a word of it. They aren't out to expand access to health care, or to lower the cost of health care to working families."

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Compuware HQ readies to load tenants

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The first trickle of Compuware employees will begin to inhabit the company's new 15-story Detroit headquarters building next month, signaling the beginning of the end of the construction process for a high-rise building that is notable for a number of reasons.

  • The $350 million building will bring 3,000 new workers to downtown Detroit by the middle of 2003, and they will be 3,000 new restaurant-goers, shoppers and maybe even residents that could spawn new business and development.
  • The building itself sits on a key piece of centrally located real estate, on the old Kern Block along Woodward Avenue, adjacent to the old Hudson's site. It is the centerpiece building in what is hoped will be the revival of the city's central business district.
  • In a city of diverse architecture, the Compuware building won't disappoint, with beautiful exterior pre-cast sandstone/granite panels and a design that fits nicely on the wedge-shaped site that it occupies.
  • And as the home base for a worldwide computer software and professional services company, the headquarters building will be among the most wired in the state, containing more than 1,400 miles of low- and line-voltage wire.

Construction began in September 2000 and has progressed rapidly, with nearly 1,000 construction workers currently on site toiling on two shifts. The first substantial move of Compuware employees is expected to take place in February

"The construction process has been a fantastic experience," said Doug Kuiper, manager of corporate communications for Compuware. "Walbridge-Aldinger the general contractor has been extremely cooperative and flexible in meeting deadlines, which have occasionally evolved over time

"The subcontractors have been true professionals and have shown extra commitment. And we have a great deal of respect for the workforce that is putting the building together. They have been amazingly professional and have put this building up with great skill and safety."

Kuiper said the new headquarters will allow Compuware to consolidate nine facilities in the Detroit area, which save money and give employees easier access to each other. "It's going to be an advantage to having the vast majority of employees under one roof, able to talk to each other face to face, rather than having to drive 20 minutes to a meeting," he said.

The Compuware Building encompasses 1.1 million square feet, which includes about 60,000 square feet of retail space. East of the building is a 2,700-space parking structure with 10 above-ground stories and two levels below the surface. Last month, about 1,400 pre-cast sections for the parking deck of the eventual 2,070 had been installed.

Walbridge-Aldinger Group Vice President E.G. Clawson said in addition to the fast-paced schedule - seven months have been shaved out of the construction timeline - the biggest challenge they faced in erecting the Compuware Building was figuring out and working around what was under it. Generations of old buildings dating to the 1840s made drilling for the foundations a real adventure.

"I think anybody who had anything to bury in the city put it here," he said. "There were old railroad tracks, old steam tunnels and all kinds of old foundations under here. When you're drilling caissons, those bits don't like to go through steel."

The foundations were eventually installed, but what really will make the building tick is behind and under the scenes. The building will feature about 600,000 square-feet of raised floor, which is basically a 15-inch stage on floors 3-14 that will allow for the easy, under-foot installation and movement of electrical, computer cabling and HVAC services. And with so many computers, monitors, network servers and other related heat-shedding equipment throughout the building, the need to generate heat through mechanical means was significantly lessened.

As befits such a large technology company, the building will have four separate power supply systems: two different main electrical feeds, a generator, and a universal power supply that utilizes new technology, and works similar to a flywheel on an exercise bike. If power is completely lost, the flywheel will continue to provide power for a period of time, allowing the computer systems to be powered down.

"It's really going to be a neat building," Clawson said. "There's going to be a 150-foot atrium in the front that's going to let a lot of light into the building and it will have a spectacular water feature.

"If you'll excuse the expression, it was a real ballsy move by (Compuserve CEO) Peter Karmanos to come downtown, and he should be applauded. It's exciting to be a part of what he's doing and the revitalization of Detroit."

HEFTING A SPOOL of Category 6 computer network cable at the Compuware Building is John Rodgers of of IBEW Local 58 and GSI Systems Cable. "These raised floors make it a lot easier to install this stuff," Rodgers said.

The Compuware Building.

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Lame duck session threatens workers

LANSING - "Lame-duck" sessions of the legislature - the period after an early-November election but before the new lawmakers come into office in early January - are often unpredictable and unsettling periods for making laws.

So it goes this year for state Democrats, who have no control over the state House, Senate or governor's office through Dec. 31.

In the days before the Nov. 5 general election, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer warned that there are various proposals on the Republican agenda for the lame-duck session that pose a threat to Michigan's working families.

The Republican-sponsored bills include:

  • House Bill 6045-46, which would allow the conversion of Blue Cross Blue Shield into a for-profit company.
  • Senate Bill 1213, which would allow insurance companies to raise rates without approval of the state Insurance Commissioner.
  • Senate Bill 398, which would make Michigan a right to work state.
  • Senate Bill 1126, which would require a "waiting week" before receipt of unemployment benefits

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File jobless apps through the mail

The State of Michigan is offering jobless workers a way of cutting through unemployment lines by filing their claims for jobless benefits through the mail.

"Starting today (Oct, 28), we are offering unemployed workers throughout the state the convenience of filing for unemployment benefits by mail instead of standing in line at one of our local office," said Jack Wheatley, director of Michigan's Bureau of Workers and Unemployment Compensation.

Mail applications for jobless benefits are available at Workers and Unemployment Compensation offices, at most Michigan Works! service centers and at the bureau's website, www.michigan.gov.bwuc, where it can be downloaded and then filled out. The address to where to send the form are listed on the application.

The claim by mail application process is temporary and will be offered until the bureau introduces its process for taking unemployment by telephone in December or early January.

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Iron workers, operators strengthen ties with completion of training frame

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

HOWELL - As iron framework goes, the 50-ft. by 75-ft. by 60-ft. high structure at the Operating Engineers Local 324 Training Center is pretty modest compared to the steel on some of the huge buildings they're accustomed to erecting.

But when it comes to providing a training platform for iron worker and operating engineer apprentices to practice steel erection, there are none larger - or like it - in the nation. In most apprentice programs, students learn on the job. The new training frame is the first of its kind and allows apprentices to learn and practice safe erection procedures under the guidance of experienced instructors in a non-production environment.

"Good training and education programs are the difference between union construction and the competition," said Local 324 Business Manager Sam T. Hart during an Oct. 23 program to "top-off" the construction of the training frame. "This project demonstrates how the organized trades can combine their individual world-class training programs and produce yet another cutting edge product."

Set up for flexibility, the basic frame is anchored into the ground. Cranes at the site allow operators to practice their picks, and about 150 tons of various types of steel at the site can be placed in four different configurations by apprentice iron workers.

This type of project probably hasn't been undertaken in any other part of the country because of the cost - the frame and related equipment cost more than $1 million, including an $800,000 crane, $250,000 in iron, and $100,000 in permanent footings.

"It's nice to see the spirit of cooperation that will benefit the youth in both the trades," said Iron Workers Local 25 Business Manager Frank Kavanaugh. "I'm glad to see the spirit of cooperation among the two unions and the employer association. With its emphasis on safety and with the readily available hands-on experience the new practice frame affords, the joint training program raises the bar for iron worker and operator apprentice training."

Retired iron worker journeymen Al Friend, Gary Montie, Mark Morton and William "Sonny" Wilburn spent countless hours planning the frame, constructing it, and then working alongside apprentices when training began in May. "This entire project couldn't have been done without them," said Local 25 President Shorty Gleason, who chaired the Raising Gang Task Force. "Not only on the site in Howell and at committee meetings, but they each spent hours at home preparing materials. You can't write enough good things about those guys."

Besides the unions, the third party in the partnership is the Greater Lakes Fabricators and Erectors Association. "We've got a goal to make our apprentices the best they can be," said GLFEA board member William Treharne. "I'm proud of how everyone came together to get this done. We're committed as union contractors to provide the best trained craftspeople in North America."

The training program is blended into both union apprenticeship training curricula, and consists of a 40-hour program of on-site instruction for five iron workers and one operator apprentice, performing the typical tasks of a raising gang.

"It's an opportunity for our apprentices and the iron workers to work together, to forge a relationship," said Local 324 Apprenticeship Coordinator Gary Ganton.

Added Local 25 Apprenticeship Coordinator Doug Levack, "We don't know how many lives we're going to save with this training. Our goal is to eliminate all the construction fatalities that we can."

IN FRONT OF the training frame during the topping out ceremony are (l-r) Local 324 Apprenticeship Coordinator Gary Ganton, Business Manager Sam T. Hart, GLFEA Board Member William Treharne, Iron Workers Local 25 Business Manager Frank Kavanaugh and Apprenticeship Coordinator Doug Levack.

IRON WORKERS and an operator top out the training frame at the Local 324 Training Center in Howell.

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Christmas comes early for Heat's On recipients

At a time when charitable giving is down around the country, volunteers came out in droves to help support the Detroit Heat's On program last month.

A collaboration between union plumbers and pipe fitters and contractors with the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors of Detroit (PMC) brought out 232 volunteer trades workers, servicing more than 100 homes on Oct. 19. It was probably the highest turnout ever for the event.

"I've been out every year for the last 10 years," said Larry LaDochi, a pipe fitters Local 636 member. "It's just once a year, so the time is no big deal. And the people you help are very grateful."

Added volunteer Mike Daugherty of Plumbers Local 98, volunteering for the third time, "It's a way for us to give back to the community. People appreciate it, even if it's just stopping a toilet from running."

The volunteers obtained assignments from the PMC office, then drove off to fix plumbing and heating problems for poor, elderly and disabled people. Smoke detectors were also installed. About 1,000 homes have been visited since the program started 11
years ago. The project is coordinated through United Way Community Services.

"We'd like to recognize the partnership between the unions and the contractors," United Way for Southeast Michigan's Virgil Carr told the volunteers. "And when you look at all the people who need help, this event is extraordinarily needed. More than 100 families will see this day as Christmas, and many of you as Santa Claus."

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Are you drinking enough water?

By Susan Carter
Executive Director
Michigan Construction Trade Safety Institute

Did you know that 75% of all Americans are chronically dehydrated?

Did you know that in 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger?

Did you know that even mild dehydration will slow down one's metabolism as much as 3%?

Did you know that one glass of water shuts down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the dieters studied?

Did you know that in a University of Washington study, lack of water was cited as
the number one trigger of daytime fatigue?

Preliminary research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers. A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page.

Drinking five glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%, and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer.

Water is a fundamental part of our lives and has been ranked by experts as second only to oxygen as essential for life. The average adult body is 55 to 75% water. Everyday your body must replace two and a half quarts of it. Aside from aiding in digestion and absorption of food, water regulates body temperature and blood circulation, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, and removes toxins and other wastes.

It also cushions joints and protects tissues and organs, including the spinal cord, from shock and damage. Conversely, dehydration can be the cause of many ailments, including hypertension, asthma, allergies, and migraine headaches.

How much water should you drink? A non-active person needs a half-ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. That's ten 8-ounce glasses a day if your weight is 160 pounds. For every 25 pounds you exceed your ideal weight, increase it by another 8-ounce glass. An active, athletic person needs two-thirds of an ounce per pound which is 13-14 eight-ounce glasses a day if you're 160 pounds. The more you exercise the more water you need. Spread out your water intake throughout the day. Do not drink more than four glasses within any given hour.

Water vs. other beverages. There's a difference between drinking pure water and beverages that contain water. Fruit juice, soft drinks, coffee, and the like may contain substances that aren't healthy. They may actually contradict some of the positive effects of the added water.

Caffeineated beverages stimulate the adrenal glands and act as diuretics, robbing your body of necessary water. Soft drinks contain phosphorus which can lead to depletion of bone calcium. Soda contains sodium; a 12 ounce can also contain the equivalent of up to nine teaspoons of sugar. Fruit juices contain a lot of sugar and stimulate the pancreas.

Dehydration. When the body is dehydrated, a form of rationing and distribution goes into play to ration the available water. Since the body has no reserve system, it operates a priority distribution system for the amount that has been made available by intake. The body's signals of dehydration are frequently joint pain, stomach pain and ulcers, back pain, low energy, and mental confusion and disorientation. Numerous disease symptoms respond to increased water intake.

Water and weight loss. Among its other benefits, water plays a major part in weight loss. Since it contains no calories, it can serve as an appetite suppressant. In the article "Water Bearers," (Shape magazine) Elizabeth Austin notes that "water is the single most important nutrient you take in every day. It's fat-free, cholesterol-free, low in sodium, and completely without calories." Also, drinking more water helps to reduce water retention by stimulating your kidneys. Studies have recommended that you should add a glass of water to your daily requirement (of eight glasses) for every 25 pounds over your recommended weight.

Any way you look at it, drinking water is a good habit. Insufficient water intake not only affects your overall health, but given that it can lead to short term memory loss and fatigue, it affects your safety awareness on the job, as well. Construction professionals put in long days and a tremendous amount of physical exertion. Make an effort to drink an appropriate amount of water every day and set an example at the job site. The benefits of good health will be worth the trouble.

To get you and your fellow workers involved in Save-A-Life certification, have your employer or union contact the MCTSI directly, to set up classes and obtain schedules. It can be reached at (800) 657-8345 or by e-mail at info@mctsi.org.

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NEWS BRIEFS

Michigan to target 1099 cheats?
Compared to other lines of work, construction companies are notorious for mis-labeling workers as independent contractors. Doing so allows the contractor to get out of paying state and federal employer taxes, as well as unemployment and workers' compensation levies.

The employers are sometimes called 1099 cheats - workers get 1099 forms instead of W-2 forms, and have to pay their own taxes, when the employer is rightfully responsible.

To help put an end to this practice, Michigan House Bill 6239 would make it a misdemeanor for contractors to coerce their employees to falsely declare that they are independent contractors in an attempt to avoid state or federal requirements.

The state House has approved the bill and passed it along to the Senate, where it awaits action in the Committee on Development, International Trade and Regulatory Affairs. Passage of the bill will depend upon whether lawmakers have time to take the matter up in the short session before the end of the year.

The bill would subject a contractor who knowingly coerces or assists a worker to falsely declare himself to be an independent contractor to up to 93 days in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Paying an employee with cash in order to avoid taxes is already against the law.

Construction unions support the measure. So does the state Associated General Contractors, whose executive vice president, Bart Carrigan, called it "a fairness issue that I don't think anyone in their right mind would object to."

Well guess what. The Associated Builders and Contractors Michigan Chapter oppose the measure, claiming it's another way for unions to harass nonunion contractors.

Local 80's Bradfield named to code panel
Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 Business Agent Bill Bradfield was appointed to the Michigan Board of Mechanical Rules which is under the Department of Consumer and Industry Services, Bureau of Construction Codes.

The appointment to the uncompensated 16-member board, which carries a two-year term, was made official Oct. 1, 2002. Gov. John Engler made the appointment with the consent of the full state Senate. State law mandates that one representative from organized labor sit on the panel. Bradfield replaces Pipe Fitters Local 636 Business Manager Jim Lapham.

The Board of Mechanical Rules governs the licensing of applicants who wish to become mechanical contractors, promulgates rules that govern the installation of mechanical equipment, processes appeals of candidates who wish to be licensed and suspend licenses of rule-breakers, and makes recommendations to the state Construction Code Commission.

A Local 80 member since 1966, Bradfield is also a Pension Fund Trustee for the local. "With only one labor representative on the Board of Mechanical Rules, I'm ready to work diligently to protect the interests of organized labor and assist in enforcing the mechanical rules that are in place, and improving them whenever possible," Bradfield said.

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