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October 11, 2002
By Patrick Devlin
It's been said that if you don't vote, don't complain.
Sounds about right to me.
The right to cast a vote is a sacred held trust in our nation, but too many people choose not to use it. True, some elections are more important than others. But the general election coming up on Nov. 5 is a doozy, here in Michigan and across the country.
What's on tap? Control of the entire state government, with the statewide positions of Michigan governor, attorney general, secretary of state, several state Supreme Court seats and university regents all up for grabs. Also to be decided are Michigan state Senate and House seats, which will determine control of those two bodies for at least the next two years.
And on the national scene, Democrats will be trying to maintain a razor-thin, one-seat majority in the Senate, while trying to gain control of the U.S. House. Then there are local and county-wide judgeships that are important, too.
You will find a list of candidates endorsed by The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council inside this edition. Only candidates who have requested an endorsement were considered for placement on the list.
This year, Michigan's Democrats actually have a good shot at putting one of their own in the governor's chair - and Jennifer Granholm would be the first woman governor of our state.
The Detroit and Michigan Building and Construction Trades Councils are supporting Granholm at the top of the ticket. This will come as no surprise to most of our long-time readers, who may have observed that our endorsement usually - but not always - goes to the Democratic candidate.
And why is that? The historic and traditional role of unions has been to support workers on basic safety and money issues. When we talk to candidates, we ask them, do you support prevailing wage? Do you support a strong MIOSHA. Do you support a fair unemployment compensation system? Will you appoint judges who support a fair workers compensation system?
Those are the types of issues we use to compare and contrast candidates. Clearly, Democrat Granholm comes out ahead against Republican challenger Dick Posthumus. Granholm has pledged to give labor "a voice at the table" when it comes to critical issues of importance to labor - instead of labor being told what will happen.
She has said all the right things on the campaign trail about increasing the presence of MIOSHA and taking prevailing wage repeal off the table. Granholm has pledged to move corporate interests aside and give working people more input on decisions.
As attorney general, Granholm has done all she can to help organized labor and the state's consumers, and now she wants to do the same as governor. We think she's clearly the best choice for governor.
Contrast that with Dick Posthumus, who has been a Republican state senator and Gov. John Engler's lieutenant for the last few years. Perhaps the two most telling things about the Engler Administration is that he dismantled the "Labor" Department and folded it into the Department of Consumer and Industry Services. What's in a name is important.
And building trades workers should be especially aware that Engler was named the Associated Builders and Contractors' "Man of the Year" a few years back.
But Posthumus is not Engler. Posthumus does, however, have a public record to look back upon. According to the Michigan AFL-CIO, he has voted with working families only 5 percent of the time during his 16 years in the state Senate. He voted to eliminate unemployment benefits for construction workers, and against the state's prevailing wage law five times. He has also supported privatizing Blue Cross Blue Shield for the last 18 years.
Based on his record, we have a strong feeling that Dick Posthumus would continue the Engler Administration's battle with organized labor.
Others don't feel that way. We received a note in the mail last week from a tradesman who said he would not vote for Granholm because she doesn't support gun owners rights, and because she supports abortion rights.
That note was significant because it very simply stated the two major wedge issues that appear among building trades workers and their families, and in all manner of interest groups and political factions.
The abortion issue is on a level of its own - there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue, and many people use it as the most important criteria for voting for a candidate. To each their own.
We can address the gun issue - one of the first items we approached Granholm with was the right to bear arms issue. This has become a huge issue within our membership, and we weren't going to go forward with an endorsement without a pledge from her not to infringe on the Second Amendment rights of gun owners and hunters.
She has publicly and privately made that pledge - and then went a step further by bringing on state Sen. John Cherry as her lieutenant governor. Democrat Cherry is one of the most high-profile, outspoken firearms sportsmen in the state, and the importance of Second Amendment rights was one of the first things out of his mouth at the labor rally in Lansing last month.
Cherry told the rally, "Let there never be a question that Granholm/Cherry will do anything to take away your right to bear arms."
Hopefully, we can all learn from the statements and voting
records of candidates from both sides, and make an informed decision
when we cast our ballot.
ABC 'are small contractors building mostly small things'
(Last in a series of three articles examining the membership roster of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a group established in 1950 to counteract the goals of construction unions in the courtrooms, legislatively and on the nation's job sites.)
"There are a lot of smoke and mirrors coming from the ABC, and the truth is, they do have an effective spin machine. But with the exception of organized labor, no one ever challenges them. When we took the trouble to go through their membership directory, we saw how few contractors they really represent. The numbers are startling. The ABC doesn't have as many construction industry members as they claim, and it's an association of basically small contractors. The intent of this report was to show the rest of the industry just how small they are."
-Raymond J. Poupore, executive director, National Heavy & Highway Alliance, in an interview with The Building Tradesman. The Alliance is the umbrella organization for the major construction craft unions that build the nation's highways, bridges and mass transit projects. The final excerpt of their study follows.
The ABC national directory: a review.
The ABC classifies its members into four categories: General Contractors, Subcontractors, Suppliers and Associate Members. In this section we'll deal with the latter two categories. Suppliers represent such non-builders as equipment rental companies, concrete suppliers, paint stores, nurseries, oil companies, etc. Associate Members can represent almost anything. When you add the two categories together you get 9,160 members, or 45% of the entire ABC membership that are non-builders.
In the past two membership breakdowns we've conducted (1985 and 1994) we were always amazed at the large number of Associate Members; i.e., members like gas stations and restaurants. In 1985 our study revealed that 13% of the ABC's membership were Associate Members. In 2000 that figure has risen to 21%.
Our question is why would a restaurant like the House of Chong in Sarasota, Florida, be a member of a building construction association? When we contacted the House of Chong and asked them why it was a member of the ABC, we were informed that representatives of the local ABC chapter meet there for lunch occasionally. Oh. We suppose that's reason enough to join a building contractors association. After all, money does talk! (Note: The House of Chong may still be serving lunch and dinner but it is no longer an ABC member).
The facts have never stopped the ABC from claiming to represent this and claiming to build that. Why should they? Our studies and subsequent reports on its membership in 1985 and again in 1994 certainly didn't stop the ABC from exaggerating, just look at what it claims today.
Where are those guys?
We divided the country into four geographical regions in regards to the percentage of ABC membership, with the following results:
East - 22%, South - 35%, Midwest - 28%, West - 15%
We realize that the above doesn't mean a whole lot in the overall scheme of things, but we just thought that since we have stated that this is an in-depth analysis that we would add membership location to the mix.
Following is a breakdown of the top 10 states for ABC membership,
including the number of ABC members and (the percentage of non-building
Membership turnover? - you bet!
In order to find out what the ABC's attrition rate is, we compared the ABC's membership from its 1996 Directory to its 2000 Directory. Naturally, we didn't want to spend hours and hours comparing over 15,000 companies from one Directory to the next. So, using those ABC firms in 1996 whose name started with the letter "F", we then cross-referenced them to those 2000 ABC members whose name also began with the letter "F". What did we find?
Lo and behold, we found that 42% of the 1996 ABC members whose name started with "F" were no longer ABC members in the year 2000! That 42% figure represents 234 companies that, for whatever reasons within a three-year period, decided to drop out of the ABC.
Yet, you may ask yourself, did we just pick companies that start with the letter "F" because it revealed such a large attrition rate? Come on! We picked "F" simply because it was a letter that didn't have a huge list of members under it. (After all, we didn't want to spend hours and hours trying to match 1996 members to 2000 members. Even we have our limits!)
However, to show our sense of fair play, we decided to choose another letter (albeit, another one that didn't have a long list of members listed under it) in order to appease any skeptics. So we chose the letter "I" and performed the same type of comparison. Well, guess what? We found that when we cross-matched those 1996 ABC companies whose name began with "I" with those 2000 members whose name began with the same letter that 46% of those ABC members had not renewed their membership! That 46% figure represents 139 companies that decided not to renew their membership.
Now, does the ABC persuade other companies to become members in order to compensate for its staggering membership loss? Of course it does. It has to, otherwise, after 10 years or so with its attrition rate it would look pretty goofy with a membership of only 33 or 28 companies. Especially when you consider the fact-less rhetoric it continually espouses about how much work ABC "builders" perform. But one question remains: How long will those new members, which it must constantly recruit in order to balance out its attrition rate, stay with the ABC? Your guess is as good as ours.
However, one thing is clear, you can refer to the ABC membership as a lot of things, but "stable" sure isn't one of them!
Conclusion. Simply by reviewing and analyzing the ABC's own membership directory we have proven conclusively that the ABC is not what it claims to be.
Fact: Even though its own name implies that it is a building construction association, almost one-half (45%) of its members are non-builders. Yet, it continues to represent itself as "22,000 employer" members in the construction industry, even testifying to this exaggerated claim before various Congressional Committees on Capitol Hill.
Fact: Its members in no way or manner perform 75% of all construction work in this country. We have proven that it is simply not possible for its "building" members to accomplish this Herculean feat. And once again, we must reiterate that the dollar volume of work performed by each member that we used to arrive at this conclusion came directly from the ABC's own publication.
Fact: In a three-year time period the ABC experienced an approximate 44% attrition rate. Did it pick-up additional members to compensate for its drop-outs? Sure it did. But the fact remains that almost one-half of its members decided to leave the ABC over a three-year period. We must ask why? What compels so many members to drop their membership?
The plain truth is that the ABC is an association of small builders. Nothing more, nothing less. Oh sure, they have some large contractors. But the truth of the matter is the ABC wants nobody to know what it really represents. Contrary to its exaggerated claims, the vast, vast majority of its 11,000 members actually involved in building something are small contractors building mostly small things. It is laughable to think that the ABC once claimed in an advertisement that its members "build America."
Nevertheless, one thing is true about the ABC. It is one heck of a public relations/spin machine. It is always quoted in various publications and/or newspaper articles commenting on one construction-related topic or another. Always. And whenever a Congressional committee needs a certain type of testimony regarding some aspect of the construction industry, up pops the ABC to testify. Sometimes it seems the ABC is everywhere, commenting on everything. Which it has every right to do.
We have no problem whatsoever with the ABC being constantly quoted or referred to in that magazine or that newspaper, or testifying on Capitol Hill, or participating at various prove any of its myriad of claims. Nobody. Well, we are but we suppose we might be waiting a very long time for an answer which is substantiated by facts.
What we do have a problem with, however, is why won't the ABC tell the truth about who it actually represents or how much construction its members actually perform? If it's such a viable organization, why must it continually exaggerate its numbers? Why must it profess that its members build most of everything when it's obvious they do not? Why can't it simply tell the truth about who it represents? Why can't it maintain a steady and stable membership?
We challenge the ABC to either prove its constant claims or we will be forced to ask construction-related questions of some of its "building" members, who the ABC so conveniently includes in its 22,000 membership claim when it ventures to Capitol Hill or elsewhere to pontificate on the construction industry. You know, members such as Mr. Copy Service of Jacksonville, Florida, or Ads That Care of Waupon, Wisconsin, or Savoy Catering of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, or Gulftex Vending & Coffee Service of Clute, Texas.
If the ABC cannot be factual about its own membership, then
what will it be factual about?
By Marty Mulcahy
SALINE - Numerous school districts across the state are weighing the challenges of growing student populations with their aging and cramped school buildings - and deciding that a major commitment needs to be made to making renovations and new construction.
One of the best examples of this is in the Saline Area School District, where Granger Construction and the building trades are erecting a new high school, the most notable building being built as part of a $124.5 million bond issue passed in the district two years ago.
The bond has allowed the district to build the new high school and a recently completed new elementary school, and has given the district the opportunity to upgrade technology infrastructure and renovate existing buildings.
The 510,000 square-foot high school, which alone costs nearly half of the bond issue, is said to be the largest in terms of size in the state. Scheduled for completion in 2004, it's one of several new very large school projects that are ongoing in Holt, Pinckney and Walled Lake - to name just a few in Michigan.
"The new high school is definitely state of the art," said Assistant Project Manager Kevin Novak of Granger, which is acting as construction manager for the Saline district. "It will be about as much of a high-tech building that you can build today. It's going to be a great learning environment for students."
About 100 building trades workers are currently toiling on the 250-acre site, erecting steel, moving earth, and roughing in plumbing and scores of electrical and communication "floor boxes," which will poke above the finished floor in classrooms throughout the school and provide convenient data and electrical service for teachers and students.
The Saline High School project will include a three-story academic wing, an 1,100-seat performing arts center, five full-size gymnaisiums, including one that seats 2,500. The project also includes an eight-lane swimming pool that includes a depth-adjustment feature that hydraulically raises and lowers the floor.
School Superintendent Ellen Ewing said the Saline schools community contributed input into what the new construction and renovation should include. The community, she said, "is focused on maintaining the quality of life that people currently enjoy. People are focused on being a learning community and they were involved in the decision-making, they supported the bond issue whole-heartedly." The bond issue passed with a 61 percent approval.
Heavy and highway work.
States in which unions contractors have grabbed the largest
percentage of heavy and highway work include Rhode Island (100
percent), Ohio (99 percent), Michigan (95 percent), Massachusetts
and Illinois (both 44 percent), New York (92 percent) and California
According to an August article in the Construction Labor Report from information provided by construction industry consulting firm PAC Inc., hourly rates for the nation's open shop craft workers will drop to an average increase of 3.93 percent in 2002, compared to 4.62 percent in 2001.
PAS said open shop contractors may have been paying incentives, such as sign-on pay, per diems and referral bonuses, rather than providing straight pay increases.
"But the fact is that hourly rates have not gone up as dramatically as one might expect given a much-touted labor shortage," PAS said, adding that labor costs are being driven up by the cost of employee benefits.
In 1985, less than half of the surveyed open shop contractors offered health insurance to employees. Today, 92 percent offer health insurance, 59 percent offer dental insurance, 65 percent offer a pension and about half provide profit sharing.
The average benchmark rate for a nonunion construction worker in Michigan is $18.09, with 22.1 percent of that amount going to employee benefit fund contributions.
Only in recent years, when construction workers were scarce on many major projects across the country, did the ABC start giving lip-service to the needs of its under-paid workforce.
"If low pay was a felony, I think most of us would be on death row today," said Franklin J. Yancey, a former senior vice president and now a consultant at Kellogg Brown & Root, Houston, one of the nation's largest nonunion construction employers. "Today, we do not have craftsmen, we do not have apprentices, we have poor people," Yancey said 18 months ago, as quoted in the Engineering News Record.
Work zone deaths.
Highway work zone deaths increased to 1,079 in 2001, 53 more than the 2000 total, according to data released by the National Highway Safety Administration.
Over the past five years, construction work zone-related fatalities have increased 65 percent.
The majority of deaths are motorists. According to the Federal Highway Administration, motorists make up 80 percent of all fatalities that occur in work zones each year.
Canadian unionization, eh.
Overall construction industry unionization rates dropped in Canada during the first six months of 2002 - but they still put U.S. numbers to shame
According to Statistics Canada, unionization rates in Canada declined by 0.3 percent, but still nearly a third of their nation's construction workers - 31.4 percent - are union. In the U.S. 18.4 percent of the nation's construction workers have union cards, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Iron Workers help Stephens campaign
Greg Stephens, business manager of IBEW Local 252, is a candidate this year for U-M Board of Regents on the November statewide ballot. Shown here second from left, he recently accepted a check for $2,000 from the Iron Workers Local 25 Political Action Committee to offset the cost of his campaign. Shaking his hand is Local 25 Business Manager Frank Kavanaugh. They are flanked by Local 25 BA Bob Couts and President Shorty Gleason.
Other locals wishing to make contributions can send a check
to Greg Stephens for U-M Regent, P.O. Box 281, Saline, MI 48176.
Michigan's lawyers knew Mr. Siegel as a professor, who began teaching at Wayne State University in 1941. He taught labor law for 31 years, and in 1962, was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Labor to the National Advisory Council on Health and Welfare Plans.
It was his work on health and welfare plans that won him the vast appreciation of the labor community. Over the years, "Buzz" Siegel not only acted as legal counsel for local union pension funds and SUB funds, he actually wrote the plans and guided them through the first legal and legislative hurdles.
Congressman Sander Levin, who worked as a labor attorney three decades ago under Mr. Siegel's tutelage, said his old boss' contributions were "immense." He recalled how Buzz was given the task of setting the first Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Fund for Pipe Fitters Local 636 and Plumbers Local 98 - the first such fund for any building trades local in the nation.
There were no suitable plans to follow in other local unions, so Levin, and then Mr. Siegel, made things up as they went along. Through trial and error, they worked together to formulate a suitable plan, one that passed muster with all the agencies that regulate union funds. It was no small task.
"I can't think of anyone in the legal profession in whom you can have more pride," Levin said two years ago, when Siegel was honored at the new Pipe Fitters Local 636 union hall. "Buzz frequently was asked to take a look at cases that involved injured workers or widows, who wondered about their benefits. Buzz wanted to follow the law, but he also followed his heart, and hundreds of individual union members benefited."
Buzz worked for numerous unions and union leaders over the years.
I knew him since I came on, and he's been with us since the origination of our funds back in 1957," said Michigan Painters District Council Secretary-Treasurer Robert Kennedy. "He was a union organizer before he was an attorney. Then he was the professor for most labor attorneys who came after him. He was very knowledgeable, and a good guy."
When he was honored two years ago, Siegel said "the reward
has been in helping working people. As I look back on my career
I can say it was substantially devoted to that purpose."