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October 1, 2004

Lawmakers try to save overtime provisions; Bush threatens veto

Your vote for U.S. president

Trades help put educational house at home in Hands-On Museum

A day in the life of Joe Middle-Class Republican

DOT director is operator for a day: 'I can see your people work hard'

News Briefs

 

Lawmakers try to save overtime provisions; Bush threatens veto

WASHINGTON (PAI) - A lot of Republicans are joining Democrats in the fight to save overtime pay. But there's one Republican - the man in the Oval Office - who is adamant in taking away overtime rights for millions of U.S. workers.

By a 16-13 vote, the powerful - and Republican-controlled - Senate Appropriations Committee joined the GOP-run House in the fight to protect workers' overtime pay. But the Sept. 15 vote didn't register with President George Bush. His Office of Management and Budget issued an explicit veto threat against protecting overtime. If carried out, the threat would have the practical impact of having Bush take overtime away for up to six million workers.

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said the support in Congress "sends a strong
message to the White House: America's workers, leaders and communities do not support his overtime pay cut, and Bush should back off his threats to veto this important protection for workers' overtime pay."

Unionized workers in construction and in other industries aren't affected by the new provisions - yet. But many analysts are predicting that when collective bargaining agreements expire, employers will attempt to take away workers' rights to overtime, or use the new law to as a bargaining chip to win other concessions.

Overtime pay protection, pushed by organized labor and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), was inserted in the money bill that funds the Department of Labor (DOL) for the year starting Oct. 1.

It specifically says that "none of the funds" in that mammoth measure - which pays for unemployment assistance, aid to workers who lose their jobs to imports, combating child labor and many other worker-oriented programs - "may be used to implement or administer" Bush's overtime pay changes.

"This provision requires the immediate reinstatement and enforcement of the
old overtime regulations in effect" before Bush's change, which took effect Aug. 23, the committee said.

The sole exception to overturning Bush's overtime pay ban would be that
part of his plan that declares that virtually all workers earning up to $23,660 per year - teachers are a notable exception - are eligible for overtime. The maximum was $8,600.

Even as Bush's OMB opposed overtime, his Labor Department tried to have it
both ways. It charged that Harkin's overtime pay protection plan would hurt specific groups of workers that the Labor Department claims that Bush's new rule protects, including fire fighters, (nonunion) construction workers and police.

The overtime pay fight moved to the Senate when the GOP-run House voted
223-193 on Sept. 9 to ban DOL from using any money to impose the new overtime rules. The Senate committee vote gives labor and its allies time and support in lobbying on the issue.

Independent analysts and former Labor Department wage enforcement officials
calculate that Bush's plan would deprive up to 6 million workers of overtime pay protection. They also calculate many of those workers could lose up to one-quarter of their earnings should the Bush overtime pay ban go through.

In a remarkably brazen effort to spin the story around, Bush's Acting Wage and Hour Administrator, Alfred B. Robinson Jr., took a swipe not just at labor's defense of overtime
but at another group that defends injured workers, trial lawyers.

"The amendment puts the overtime rights of millions of workers in jeopardy
by preventing the department from enforcing the new rules which protect and
strengthen these rights," Robinson alleged. "Under the amendment, workers who make more than $23,660 will be left to fend for themselves, having to hire expensive trial lawyers to defend their overtime pay."

The idea that workers will have to hire trial lawyers to protect their rights overtime pay if U.S. labor law is returned to the way it was before Aug. 23, is preposterous.

Robinson's statement puzzled union representative is Barry Kasinitz of the Fire Fighters government affairs department. He said "I'm at a loss to understand how Fire Fighters, who have been eligible for overtime since a Fair Labor Standards Act extension in 1986, would suddenly become ineligible. We are very confident that, regard-less of what happens, they'll stay eligible for overtime."

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Your vote for U.S. president

You've got to hand it to either Democratic challenger John Kerry, left, or Republican incumbent George W. Bush, right Here's a comparison of how they stand on various issues.

Jobs

John Kerry's plan to create new jobs includes a new jobs tax credit to help create manufacturing jobs and a proposal to end tax breaks that encourage companies to move jobs overseas.

He has proposed to invest in the nation's infrastructure to create good jobs building and repairing the nation's roads, transit and water systems, schools and other vital projects. (www. johnkery.com)

George W. Bush has presided over the worst loss of U.S. jobs since Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression. To date the nation has lost 913,000 jobs since he took office. He has supported tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas and refused to enforce U.S. trade agreements to protect American jobs. (Economic Report of the President, 2004)

Deficit

Kerry has pledged to restore "fiscal responsibility" and "pay as you go" principles which mean that the government will only spend what it takes in. That concept led to a record $200 billion U.S. budget surplus in President Clinton's final year in office.

Kerry plans cuts in "corporate welfare" that aren't spelled out specifically. Kerry proposes to roll back tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 each, which would raise an estimated $800 billion that Kerry could spend on education and health care. But Kerry also supports more than $400 billion in tax cuts, keeping Bush's tax reductions on middle class Americans, and throwing in new ones, such as a $4,000 tuition tax credit for families sending a child to college.

"Neither candidate truly has a plan to rein in America's burgeoning budget deficit."
- Time Magazine

President Bush inherited a record budget surplus. But...

"In its latest fiscal forecast, released on July 30, the Bush Administration projects the deficit for the year ending on Sept. 30 will hit $445 billion. That would be $70 billion more than the record $375 billion deficit we hit last year. According to the White House and its GOP allies, this shows great progress in the battle against deficits.

"Look more closely at the Bush numbers and you'll see that spending from '03 to '04 is up by a staggering $160 billion. Only $14 billion of that can be attributed to homeland security and Pentagon spending, including the war in Iraq."

- Quote from Business Week Magazine

Freedom to join a union

Kerry supports the rights of workers to join a union, free from employer intimidation, harassment and threats. He is a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would ensure that when a majority of employees in a workplace decides to form a union, they can do so without the debilitating obstacles employers now use to block their free choice.

It allows workers to freely choose whether to form a union by signing cards authorizing union representation, provides mediation and arbitration for first contract negotiations and sets stronger penalties for employers that violate workers' rights to form a union. (Senate Bills 1925, 2003)

Bush does not support the Employee Free Choice Act, which allows workers to join a union free from employer intimidation, harassment and threats.

During his presidency, he has taken away the collective bargaining rights of 170,000 workers in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 60,000 Transportation Security Administration airport screeners, 1,300 workers in the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and several hundred more in various U.S. Department of Justice agencies and offices. (www.GovExec.com, 11/12/03; The Washington Post, 1/20/02)

Exporting jobs.

"Right now, we've got a choice," Kerry said in a statement. "We can keep on subsidizing companies who send jobs overseas, or we can reward companies who keep them here in America, where they belong."

Kerry proposed targeting the outsourcing of jobs overseas with "the most sweeping international" tax reform law in 40 years.
Kerry said he would fight to change the tax code, which currently "rewards companies more for moving overseas than it does to reward them for creating jobs in America." (CNN)

Chief White House economist Gregory Mankiw has said off-shoring of U.S. service jobs is "the latest manifestation of the gains from trade" and can be "a good thing." Treasury Secretary John Snow has said the practice is "part of trade" and "trade makes the economy stronger."
- Quote from Newsday.

"When a good or service is produced more cheaply abroad, it makes more sense to import it..."
-From President Bush's 2004 economic report.

Trade

Kerry supports significant changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he originally supported but now acknowledges has problems. "We're going to identify every single imbalance or place in which there is an unfairness that has not been addressed, and we're going to address it. I'm going to fix it," he said in February 2004. He also supports strong worker protections in new trade agreements. (The New York Times, 2/17/04)

Bush wants to expand NAFTA. He currently is negotiating a Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement that will expand NAFTA to 34 Central and South American countries as soon as 2005. The proposed agreement does not contain strong worker, environmental or human rights protections. (Free Trade Area of the Americas website).

Medicare/Prescription Drugs

Kerry supports a comprehensive revamping of the Medicare prescription drug law President Bush signed last year. Kerry supports allowing Medicare to use its vast buying power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for seniors and to allow Americans to re-import prescription drugs from Canada, where prices are between 33 percent and 80 percent lower than in the United States. He also supports strengthening the law to discourage employers from dropping retiree health coverage and allowing states to negotiate discounts on prescription drugs. (www. johnkerry.com)

Bush supported and signed a Medicare prescription drug bill that created a huge gap in coverage that could cost seniors thousands of dollars a year, forbids Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices and encourages employers to drop health care coverage for retirees. Bush also backs the pharmaceutical industry by supporting the ban on re-importing prescription drugs from Canada and restricting state efforts to negotiate lower drug prices. (H.R. 1, 12/8/03)

Bush's plans for health care would extend coverage to no more than 6 million people over the next decade and possibly as few as 2 million.

"There's little reason to expect that there would be any reduction in the overall numbers of Americans without health insurance," Brookings Institution health policy expert Henry J. Aaron said. "We're swimming against a rather swift current in our efforts to reduce the number of uninsured, and the power of President Bush's proposals to move against that current is, it seems to me, very, very limited."
(The Washington Post 4/22/04)

Overtime pay

Kerry co-sponsored legislation to stop the Bush administration from issuing new regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that could take away overtime pay rights for millions of workers. (Sen. Amendment 1580, 2003)

"Today, 6 million Americans across the country could get a pay cut from this administration," Kerry said Aug. 23. This is only the latest insult to America's middle class who are paying a higher tax burden, while at the same time wages are declining and families are paying skyrocketing costs for health care, energy and college tuition.

Bush's Department of Labor published new rules in August governing workers' overtime pay eligibility that could take away overtime pay rights for millions of workers. Those changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act affect workers in a wide range of occupations, including accounting, insurance, advertising, safety and health, human resources, public relations, computer work, financial services and "team leaders." Workers making as little as $23,600 could lose overtime pay. (The Federal Register, 4/23/04; www.epinet.org)

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Trades help put educational house at home in Hands-On Museum

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - The hands of the building trades and their contractors are all over the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

Providing money, materials and time, the Washtenaw County Building Trades and their contractors are finishing up construction of "The Building in a Building," a 600-square-foot frame house located in the museum that teaches visitors about how a house is constructed, and what how its various components work.

"This just would not have happened without the help of the construction workers, contractors and architects," said Jim Frenza, president and CEO of the museum. "We knew we wanted to do it, but from the beginning, they helped shape and conceptualize the project. They've done a great job."

The entire 40,000-square-foot Hands-On Museum is designed to appeal to kids and adults with nine galleries and more than 250 interactive exhibits. The museum said its goal is to promote "science literacy through experimentation, exploration and education."

The museum opened in 1982 in a portion of an old firehouse, and the new house will be the latest and largest exhibit in the museum. Work began on the house in May and is expected to be complete Oct. 1.

"We're going to have lots of cutaways so visitors can see what's going on inside the walls and mechanical fixtures," said Jason Stevens, an exhibit designer and fabricator for the museum. "The goal is for the house to demystify everyday items." Exposed sections of the house show the placement of the studs, the Tyvek house wrap, insulation, plumbing and wiring.

Stevens said the construction phase has also been part of the education process for visitors, as kids and adults often interrupt their work and ask questions.

"Taking the questions is part of the process; it's part of the exhibit," Stevens said.

No doubt one of the major areas of interest will be a cutaway of a toilet, and visitors will be able to see and smell why a straight drain pipe would bring about a stinky toilet or sink basin, and how installing a trap stops the smells. An interesting visual element inside the house is a wall of ceramic tile that are cut to create an optical illusion of being crooked - but they're not. Also on display will be the tools of various trades and an interactive computerized demonstration of careers in construction.

The concept of building the "Building in a Building" came from a collaboration of the Washtenaw County Building Trades Council and the county's Workforce Development Board. Frenza, who chairs the workforce board, approached the board's labor representative, Steve Gulick of Iron Workers Local 25, and inquired about getting such a house constructed.

Seeing a natural and relatively easy opportunity to promote the construction industry, the Washtenaw County Building Trades Council approached contractors and contractor associations for contributions of money and materials. Nearly $50,000 later, the house is a reality.

"All the trades have been supportive of the project," said Greg Stephens, business manager of IBEW Local 252 and secretary-treasurer of the building trades council. "We feel when you have a world-class facility like this, and you have the opportunity to use it to show off the construction industry and help teach people a little bit about the construction process, that's a good thing."

A HOUSE INSIDE the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum displays a number of facets of the work of the building trades. Construction trades unions and their contractors played a vital role in getting the house built. Jason Stevens, left, has worked on the house, and he's standing with representatives of some of the contributing unions on behalf of the Ann Arbor Building Trades Council. They include (l-r) Steve Gulick (Iron Workers 25), Greg Stephens (IBEW 252) and Clay Hawthorne (Tile, Marble and Terrazzzo Workers Local 32).

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A day in the life of Joe Middle-Class Republican

By John Gray

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance; now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower reaching for his shampoo; His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree-hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks to the subway station for his government subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his workday; he has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It's noon time, Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his life-time.

Joe is home from work, he plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dad's; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electric until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification. (Those rural Republicans would still be sitting in the dark)

He is happy to see his dad, who is now retired. His dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to. After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home.

He turns on a radio talk show, the hosts keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. (He doesn't tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day).

Joe agrees, "We don't need those big government liberals ruining our lives; after all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."
(Mr. Gray is business manager of Operating Engineers Local 20, Cincinnati)

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DOT director is operator for a day: 'I can see your people work hard'

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

HOWELL - Michigan Department of Transportation (DOT) Director Gloria Jeff is accustomed to operating a state division with hundreds of employees, but on Sept. 10, she became an operating engineer for a day.

Jeff accepted an invitation to visit the sprawling Operating Engineers Local 324 Training Center, run some of the heavy equipment, and learn what the union is doing to prepare workers to help build and repair Michigan's transportation infrastructure. Michigan spends about $1.3 billion every year on transportation spending - and much of that money employs unionized operating engineers and other construction workers.

"We invited Ms. Jeff because we wanted to give her a sense of what operating engineers do on the job," said Local 324 Business Manager John Hamilton. "Like everybody else, she drives through highway construction sites every day, but you don't get a full appreciation for what operating engineers do unless you're behind the controls. And since the state spends so much money in employing our members, we wanted to show her how that investment is justified through our union's commitment to training."

With the help of Local 324 instructors, Jeff spent the morning at the 515-acre site operating a crane, a bulldozer, a loader and a scraper. For a rookie, Jeff was a relatively smooth operator behind the controls and declared the scraper "a little harder" to operate that the other rigs.

"It's an excellent training facility," Jeff told Local 324 Training Director Gregg Newsom, aboard the training site's tour bus as it rumbled past a new road embankment being constructed at the site. "I can see that your people work hard and I have to believe you have the best workforce available."

Newsom said Local 324 has a $4 million annual training budget. Apprentices and journeymen are trained in the use of more than 50 pieces of construction equipment. The training site features a first-of-its kind, six-story training frame that allows iron workers and operating engineers to work together in the task of steel erection.

"I hope Ms. Jeff leaves here with a better appreciation for the skill level of our people," Newsom said. "But the most important thing I want her to know is how committed we are to safety and producing skilled operating engineers she will need for her many road projects around the state. Good training and safety is paramount to us."

MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT of Transportation Director Gloria Jeff gets a lesson in the operation of a crane from Operating Engineers Local 324 crane instructor John Hartwell.

 

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News Briefs
ABC's money, time flow to Bush

WASHINGTON (PAI) - It's said that a man is known by the company he keeps.

A recent news release by the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors said that this fall, the ABC plans to spend $1.7 million this fall on the election, and distribute a million voter guides openly backing President Bush.

Electing Bush "is ABC's number one goal," said ABC National Chair Carole Bionda.

The ABC is also involved in:

  • Production of one million voter guides in English and Spanish. ABC wants to distribute 600,000 of them in battleground states. It claims the guides "will compare and contrast the records of presidential candidates."
  • Deployment of a nationwide team of company coordinators to distribute the
    guides, encourage voter registration and electoral participation among ABC
    member firm employees.
  • Production and mailing of two advocacy pieces about Democratic nominee
    John F. Kerry's record on construction issues. The "advocacy pieces" will stress the senator's stands against what ABC calls "merit shops" - anti-union construction companies.

WTC cleanup workers start to sue
NEW YORK (PAI)--Three years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks
destroyed the World Trade Center, more than 800 workers who cleaned up the
debris are sick - and suing.

In a class action suit filed Sept. 10 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan,
the workers said the owner of the WTC and the four contractors who
supervised the cleanup at "Ground Zero" knew the workers were exposed to
hazards - and didn't protect them.

Those 800 workers may be just the tip of an iceberg of workers - many of
them union construction workers - exposed to asbestos, toxic fumes, poisonous combinations
of gases and hazardous liquids in either the cleanup of "The Pile" or in disposing of the WTC debris at a landfill on Staten Island.

A recent federal report calculated that 40,000 workers toiled at the two sites, and that 250,000-400,000 lower Manhattan residents were exposed to the danger. It added that many ailments from that exposure will not appear for years.

There is no victims compensation fund for the building trades workers and others in the
cleanup. There is a fund for families of WTC victims, but it's not open for claims any more - and it restricted who was eligible.

The suit cites a federal Government Accountability Office report released the week before and other evidence. That study says "screenings among other responders--carpenters, cleanup workers, heavy equipment operators, iron workers, mechanics, telecom technicians and truck drivers--have found respiratory health effects similar to those seen in FDNY Fire Fighters."

Besides the families of firefighters and unionized police who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks, the victims' fund was open "only to those rescue workers who were injured in the first 12 hours "working at "Ground Zero" and to those "non-rescue workers injured in the first 96 hours," court papers say.

That means the other workers who are now suing - who became ill later - were left out in the cold, their lawyers say.

"The tragic reality is that so many of the brave heroes who worked so tirelessly and unselfishly" at 'the Pile' are now "becoming a second wave of casualties of this horrific attack," said their attorney, David Worby.

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