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October 15, 1999
By Marty Mulcahy
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recommended that the state legislature kiss off the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 last month, but only time will tell whether their recommendation will amount to a kiss of death.
Backed by big-money Republicans, the Mackinac Center has gained influence in Michigan as a conservative voice for a number of issues. In a report issued last month, the think-tank's study, performed by an economics professor from Ohio University, called for repeal of the law.
The study concluded that the state's prevailing wage law "adds at least $275 million to the cost of governmental capital outlays - approximately equivalent of five percent of the revenues raised from the state's individual income tax."
That study, however, is easily refuted by independent investigations.
In a study released earlier this year, University of Utah labor economist Peter Phillips concluded "there was no statistical difference in costs" to owners when state prevailing wage laws were repealed or suspended in Kansas, Michigan and New Mexico.
As we have reported, the most recent study, released last summer by State University at New York Professor Mark Prus, looked at six East Coast states, examining how the law - or lack of a law - affected school construction costs (because school construction is easily compared).
Professor Prus' work was commissioned by Prince George's County, Maryland. He examined 358 new elementary, middle and high schools built between 1991 and 1997. He also looked at the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia (which all have a prevailing wage law covering public school construction), Virginia and North Carolina (no prevailing wage), and Maryland, whose prevailing wage law only covers schools built with at least 75 percent of state funds.
"I compared costs for schools built under prevailing wage laws to those not covered, and controlled for differences in building materials, school size, school type and cost of living," Prus said. "I concluded that prevailing wage laws had no impact and that cost variances were caused by other factors, such as size and cost of materials."
Peter Cockshaw, an independent construction industry analyst we commonly quote, told a Lansing audience last March that "repealing prevailing wage adversely affects training, safety, and quality of workforce. For these reasons, repeal of the Michigan prevailing wage law must be rejected."
Some of the other conclusions in the Mackinac Center's study are laughable. They claim that the temporary invalidation of Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act between December 1994 and June 1997 "resulted in more than 11,000 new construction jobs being created" - as if the strong economy had nothing to do with the increased employment.
And the group draws the preposterous connection that poverty rates are higher in states that don't have prevailing wage laws.
Good lobbying and the above good arguments by the building
trades so far seem to have quelled any inclination by the Republican-controlled
legislature to repeal the law, but the Mackinac Center has the
GOP's ear. That's why these types of studies need to be refuted.
By Patrick Devlin
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently released a study that said if Michigan's prevailing wage law were repealed, the state would save about $275 million a year in taxpayer-funded construction.
At least one national publication picked up the story, but it can hardly be called news, and it's easily refuted. Two separate academic studies in the last year on prevailing wage laws in nine states have concluded that the pay guidelines have a neutral effect on construction costs.
Anyone familiar with the Mackinac Center's Republican leanings knows that it would be real news if the think-tank concluded that Michigan's prevailing wage law is a positive force in the state's economy.
The release of the Mackinac Center's study is important for one reason only: it's a warning to the building trades and the rest of organized labor that our Republican-controlled state government is going to be coming at us with both barrels over the course of the next year.
Groups like the Mackinac Center try to make the public believe that they're nonpartisan. Every now and then, they perform a "study" on a given subject, and hope the general media pick up on their view of how the state would be better off, if only the state saw things the way the Mackinac Center sees them. The theory is, if they can act like a nonpartisan source of credible information, maybe they can influence public opinion.
But just look at some of their recent studies regarding teachers, and you see where they're coming from. Two of the titles are, "Failure of anti-strike law calls for new measures," and, "School employees oppose school choice to protect their turf."
There's plenty more anti-worker and anti-union stuff where that came from. The Mackinac Center, funded by Republican donors to spout Republican doctrine, is preparing the way for Republican legislators to wipe away any influence by organized labor, in the next few years, and perhaps for the next decade.
That's not some empty warning, folks. We're already getting our butts kicked by Gov. Engler and the Republican-controlled House and Senate. If you haven't collected Unemployment Insurance in a while, the maximum weekly benefit you can get is $300. That amount hasn't budged since 1996, when our Republican-controlled state government imposed a 3 percent rate cut on all jobless workers, and froze the maximum benefit at $300 for eternity, unless it's changed by legislative action.
The Mackinac Center's disinformation on prevailing wage is clearly intended as a counter-argument to the building trades' highly successful lobbying effort this year with state legislators that has kept the law alive so far.
A measure to kill the state prevailing wage law will surely come up again. We also wouldn't be surprised to see another version of the "Paycheck Protection" legislation, which puts a severe bookkeeping crimp on the way unions can spend money for political purposes.
In addition, numerous communities have local prevailing wage laws. But they would be outlawed under a measure called House Bill 4766, which would wipe out the ability of local communities to establish a prevailing wage law or a minimum "living wage" for other types of work.
MIOSHA certainly isn't going to get more funding under the present regime, and right-to-work legislation always seems to be lurking in the background.
On the plus side, Republicans only have a slim majority in the Michigan House, so they may tend to listen to their constituents a little more this year about labor issues.
A year from now, the state House and Supreme Court elections are going to be huge for organized labor, because the legislators and judges who are in control will have the final say in redistricting legislative boundaries that will be in effect for 10 years.
I know most of our workers are too busy to think about politics,
and frankly, most of your union leadership wishes we could devote
our attention elsewhere. But the health, safety and incomes of
construction workers are all at stake, so we can never ignore
what's happening with the people who make our laws. Especially
when so many of those lawmakers are out to get us.
By Marty Mulcahy
The 1999 season came to an end in recent weeks for the Detroit Tigers, after a dismal showing on the playing field and after the community said a sad goodbye to Tiger Stadium.
But Hardhats are still on the field and in the stands at the new $240 million Comerica Park, as the construction season won't end until the new field opens, probably in the morning of Opening Day next April.
Nearly a year after the first structural steel was put into place, the Tigers say the new Comerica Park is about 75 percent complete. Last week, among the numerous tasks undertaken by building trades workers were continued installation of the green seats, grading the playing field, roughing-in the plumbing and electrical, and building block walls. The Tigers say more than 500 building trades workers are on the site.
Just below the Illinois-grown bluegrass playing field sod that's set to go in this month will be 10 inches of sand atop four inches of pea stone. Below that, 10,000 feet of drainage pipe will help remove water and shorten rain delays.
"This field should have great drainage," said Mark Westmoreland, an Operating Engineers Local 324 member who was marking the grade of the playing surface. He said the field will slope downward a total of only two inches from the back of the infield in all directions to the warning track - "that's all the slope you need," he said.
Here are a few other facts and figures about hardware at Comerica Park that the trades are helping to bring together:
Contractors say change orders from the team have slowed the construction process somewhat, but few people doubt that the ballpark will be ready for action on Opening Day, 2000.
"I'm sure the Tigers are going to do whatever they need to do to make sure this place is ready on time," said Plumbers Local 98 steward Roy Rademacher.
Committing time to CPR and first aid education after a full day's work probably isn't at the top of any construction worker's list of priorities.
But not staying current with first aid and CPR training can be an invitation to tragedy, not only on the construction site but also in everyday life.
Training provided by the Michigan Construction Trades Safety Institute (MCTSI), said Director Susan M. Carter, has already saved children from accidental deaths and husbands from dying from heart attacks on the kitchen floor.
The recently reorganized MCTSI, and its "Save-A-Life Club," offers the organized construction industry classes held at convenient locations around the state. They are free to workers represented by most of Michigan's construction unions. They're also free to the employees of contractor members of major state construction associations that sponsor the MCTSI.
Formerly known as the Construction Safety Institute, the MCTSI was reorganized in 1997, transforming it into an entity sponsored by labor-management organizations. To financially support the institute's operations, they pay fees based on the number of employees they represent.
The MCTSI conducts classes from September through June. During the summer months, it provides on-site first-aid and CPR training sessions as requested by its members.
There are approximately 20 instructors for the classes, mostly drawn from the health-care industry. "They're mainly emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or nurses," Carter said, "but we also have some who are drawn from the construction trades themselves."
A typical class will have 10 to 20 students, with four hours spent on first aid and four spent on CPR. Skills tests are given but the majority of the instruction is hands-on. The institute uses first aid and CPR training that's approved and accredited by the National Safety Council.
"By and large our students are pretty serious about the subject," Carter says. "They know they're there to learn something and we don't give them anything in the way of fluff. Many of them admit they're also there to learn something for use at home, which is good."
Successful completion of the eight-hour course qualifies a worker for a three-year certification. Workers can return for two-hour refresher courses each year to keep current. Otherwise, when their cards expire, they'll have to repeat the entire eight-hour course to be re-certified.
Some skilled trades workers take pride in the participation in this program. Carter says she knows a number of people who have been "Save-A-Life" Club members for 30 years.
Since its reorganization in October 1997, the MCTSI has trained about 4,000 workers, managers, and their spouses. Its goal is to certify 7,500 men and women each year while also re-certifying 700. Over the long haul the institute wants to make certain every union skilled trades worker is certified in first aid and CPR.
The MCTSI's board of directors is comprised of one labor and one management representative from each of the institute's funding members. Funding members include:
Operating Engineers Local 324 Labor-Management Education Committee; Michigan Laborers & Employees Cooperation Trust Fund; U.P. Mechanical Contractors Association/United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters, Local 506; Glazing Contractors Association Local 357; Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons; Great Lakes Fabricators & Erectors Association; Ironworkers Local 25; IBEW Local 665; Greater Michigan Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Association and Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190); SMACNA-Lansing; Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333; Ironworkers Local 340.
Danielle R. Peffers is the institute's full time office manager. The Michigan Construction Trades Safety Institute's address is P.O. Box 14236, 3315 S. Pennsylvania, Lansing 48901; (800) 657-8345; (517) 394-5789; fax: (517) 394-5790. You can also access its webpage at www.mctsi.org.
Besides fatigue, reluctance to attend the class may reflect
an avoidance to reflect on the unexpected dangers of life. "First
aid and CPR training is a type of life insurance," Carter
says. "You may not want to think about it until it's too
late. Then you really wish you had it."
Pipe insulator Bullion succumbs
Marv Bullion, a long-time officer and member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 25, died Oct. 6, 1999 at age 74. He was a victim of mesothelioma, known as the pipe coverers' lung disease.
Mr. Bullion was initiated into Local 25 in 1946, and served as financial secretary of the local from 1970-76. He served as business agent (now the office is business manager) from 1976-85, and he retired afterward.
"Marv did a good job keeping the local together during the tough times in the mid-1970s," said Local 25 Business Manager Dave Bremerkamp, "and he was very knowledgeable about the local's funds. He was a fighter, and he was very headstrong. He made no bones about sharing his opinions."
Former Local 25 Business Manager Don O'Connell said "Marv was a man of strong convictions, and I didn't fully appreciate his efforts until I was in his shoes."
Mr. Bullion is survived by wife Margaret and seven children.
Iron worker West 'a legend' at Local 25
A 57-year member of Local 25, Mr. West also served as president of the Michigan Building Trades Council and as a business representative with the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council. He retired in 1988.
"He served in every officer position, from sergeant-at-arms to business manager," said Iron Workers Local 25 Business Manager Jack Koby. "To me, that's fantastic, and as far as dedication goes, his record speaks for itself.
"People knew him as 'the old war horse,' because he'd done everything and he had been in every situation. He served as a mentor for a lot of people, and he shared his knowledge with everybody. He was a legend in our local. He was a great guy and a great asset to our local union."
Mr. West was predeceased by wife Alphiline and he is survived
by three daughters.
Elevator constructor Mullett dies
Mr. Mullett, began in the trade in December 1941, and served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. He returned to the trade in 1946. He served as president/business agent of Elevator Constructors Local 36 from 1950 to 1963. "Mick" as he was known, worked for the IU from 1963 until 1992.
He is survived by his wife Mary, and brothers in the trades,
former IBEW Local 58 Business Manager Noel Mullett, retired IU
Rep. Jerry and retired Local 36 member Don. Son Jerry is also
a Local 36 member.
The good work of Heat's On volunteers continued in Washtenaw County this year, as volunteers cleaned and checked furnaces in 65 homes and left a lot of smiling faces.
The work was taken care of by volunteers from Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190 and the Greater Michigan Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association, Inc.
"They're just so grateful that somebody would do something for them," said Local 190 Business Manager Ron House. "We went out on a record number of calls this year, and we never have trouble getting people to give up a Saturday to help."
After a kickoff breakfast, volunteers performed minor repairs to heating systems, and provided free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
The "command center" was staffed by PMC staff including President Sandra Miller, and Local 190 Training Instructor Scott Klapper.
"It went real well," Klapper said. "We had 30 trucks involved, and the service techs and the apprentices are glad to get involved."
Miller said in one home this year, a furnace and ductwork
had to be replaced, the water heater needed to be moved, and
all new gas piping had to be run. "We make sure that if
we have to shut down a system, we can bring them back up,"
she said. All the materials and labor for the work were donated.
The Heat's On in Grand Rapids.
With early-morning temperatures falling just above the freezing mark, home heating systems are already getting cranked up on a regular basis this fall.
On Saturday, Sept. 25, 60 volunteers from Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 174 visited 75 homes of low-income people to make sure furnaces, water heaters, smoke detectors and some plumbing fixtures were in good working order.
Plumbers, pipe fitters, the Western Michigan Mechanical Contractors and suppliers have participated in the program annually for the past 12 years. During that time, 1,400 homes have been serviced, with the use of 12,600 hours of labor at $307,000 and donated materials costing $60,000.
Coordinating the effort on behalf of Local 174 were BAs Buck Geno and Dick Ortega, who chaired the event, as well as Local 174 Business Manager Doug Bennett and Organizer Kirk Stevenson.
"This does a lot of good for people in the community," Geno said, "and the work seems to be appreciated."
Indeed it is. This year Heat's On volunteers worked with the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association on the southeast side of the city to find eligible homeowners.
"We're delighted to be able to access the service," said Diane Kelley, the association's volunteer coordinator. "And the seniors and people on restricted income are absolutely delighted to have the work done. They don't have the kind of money that would allow them to pay for this kind of work.
"The volunteers did a valuable service, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts."
Contractors involved in the effort included Andy J. Egan, B & V Mechanical, Franklin/Holwerda, Holwerda/Huizinga, Hurst Mechanical, Refrigeration Engineering and Riteway Plumbing & Heating. Materials were donated by Behler-Young, Ferguson Supply, Richards Manufacturing and R.L. Deppman.