October 12, 2007
'Toot your horn'
- consultant urges unions, contractors to improve marketing efforts
their case to Miller-Canfield
The health care crisis
'47 million of us cannot afford to get sick'
Bush vetoes health
care expansion for children
latest to sign on for safety
your horn' - consultant urges unions, contractors to improve
By Marty Mulcahy
PLAINWELL - The unionized construction industry would do
well to develop a far-sighted "battle plan" for its
future survival rather than relying on what has - or hasn't -
worked in the past.
So said Scott Humrickhouse of FMI Management Consulting, who
led a Sept. 26 conference sponsored by the West Michigan Construction
Alliance, called "Think of it as market warfare, because
This conference was another in a series of presentations held
this year by various consultants in front of building trades
industry representatives, who have called for unions and their
contractors to adapt to the changing business world in the never-ending
effort to improve their construction market share.
Humrickhouse's interactive discussion centered on how changing
some business practices, especially in the area of marketing,
could benefit union employees, union leaders and union contractors.
"Everybody wants increased market share," he said.
"I see one of the solutions as creating new business partnerships."
Of course, part of that involves getting new customers. But
also important, Humrickhouse pointed out, is allocating sufficient
time to all-important existing customers.
"If we're consistent about providing good customer service,
they're going to gravitate back to us," Humrickhouse said.
"It's my experience that two-thirds of business, is repeat
And how can a business improve its chance of retaining the
repeats? In the service industry, Humrickhouse suggests that
managers require their service techs to devote the first five
to seven minutes of any job to being friendly and talking to
the customer. "Warm up the customer, talk about family,
business, let them know that union workers know what's going
on," he said.
When the service call or the construction project is complete,
he said a company representative should check back with the customer
and ask "how did my guys do?" He said if there's a
problem with the work, the contact person at the customer who
has been treated well will likely "stand up for you"
when he or she has to explain the problem to person higher up
in the organization.
"Improving customer service is the most important thing
we can do, with the least effort, and we can start immediately,"
That kind of approach dovetails with a marketing term known
as "positioning," a process that takes time. Organizations
like unions and their contractors must choose where they want
their customers to see them positioned in the marketplace.
"Can unions compete in a low price position or a high
value position?" Humrickhouse asked. "More likely,
it's in high value. If that's the case, you have to convince
the customer that you're worth the extra one or two percent"
That moves into the next question: what constitutes high value
for customers? If you answered "low bid," that's usually
But high productivity is frequently cited by unions as a reason
to hire union. Theoretically, a high-producing worker will save
the owner money, but the problem for unions and their contractors,
Humrickhouse said, is that with the concept of productivity,
"we haven't been able to effectively compare it so that
the owner can look at it and see that it saves him money."
Instead, Humrickhouse suggested that marketing efforts for
union labor should be directed to industry-specific targets.
Safety is becoming a huge factor for some owners conscious of
insurance costs, especially at dangerous industrial jobs. School
boards value a workforce that can complete buildings by the end
Owners of commercial projects that are built on-the-fly would
appreciate union skills that turn sketchy drawings for a building
into workable reality. And all owners appreciate not having their
bottom line expanded by the need to fix sloppy work.
"We have to relate what we bring to the table, to the
owner," he said. "We have to explain to the owner what
he gets when we provide these things."
Humrickhouse added: "When you talk to your people, beat
this phrase to death: 'total cost.' We need to expand the perception
of cost to the owner" beyond the bottom line.
Union contractors, Humrickhouse said, do better when they
pick their battles properly. He said in his experience, successful
contractors win one out of three or four quality bids, rather
than trying to hit a home run with 10 poorly planned bids.
The same applies to marketing. Focused union-contractor marketing
efforts need to zero in on owners who might be receptive to what
a union workforce brings to the table.
For example, one union business agent attending the conference
described the difficulty of union contractors competing with
two-or-three-man crews that build small commercial businesses
in West Michigan. The small crews work cheaply - probably without
liability insurance - they have an in with the owners, and they
get the job done, even if the quality isn't quite there.
Humrickhouse said the challenges unions and their contractors
face on those small jobs are similar to what they deal with on
larger jobs that hire a low-cost nonunion workforce.
"Where there's no pain (for the owner), there's no change,"
he said. "Put yourself on their side of the fence. Until
they have a problem, they won't change. Maybe if they have a
problem, the door will crack open slightly.
"The key is to market to your strengths. Try not to miss
projects where you have an opportunity to win the work."
Humrickhouse suggested that union contractors need to take
a longer view of their business operations. Stop "jumping
from one job to the next," he said, and start devoting resources
to a long-term push to promote the company's benefits to owners
likely to do the hiring.
Union contractors have great resumes of jobs performed on
time and on budget, resulting in owners thrilled with the outcome
- and who would be willing to tell the world about their experience.
And union members who work for those contractors have skills
to make those outcomes happen.
"There are thousands of people who are potential sellers
for the industry," Humrickhouse said, whether it's in a
public relations campaign, or on the job every day. "Toot
your horn, and you can change perceptions."
Unions "have to convince the customer"
that you're worth the extra cost, Scott Humrickhouse said.
bring their case to Miller-Canfield
KALAMAZOO - The first public office building since the Reagan
Administration is going up downtown, in the form of the 151,000
square-foot structure that will house law offices for Miller,
Canfield, Paddock and Stone.
The six-story building is rising at a tight site at the corner
of Rose and South streets. When the building opens early next
year, the top two floors will be the working destination of 36
lawyers and 35 staffers.
"Remaining downtown, within easy access of clients, courts,
many businesses and cultural institutions demonstrates Miller
Canfield's commitment to the Kalamazoo area, and to the continued
vitality of its downtown," said Thomas Linn, CEO of Miller
Canfield. He said the building would allow the firm to bring
its area lawyers into one facility.
Construction is being managed by the CSM Group. An update
from the contractor said the construction process has "presented
a number of interesting challenges." With traffic on two
sides of the site and buildings on the other two, "the entire
building had to be constructed essentially from within its own
footprint, requiring a great deal of extra forethought and precise
coordination," CSM noted.
In addition, construction of two levels of below-ground parking
meant that deep pilings had to be sunk and earth retention walls
created before it was backfilled with concrete against the other
buildings. The job is moving along very quickly - the first concrete
was being poured in March of 2007.
"Time has been a real factor on this job, and there's
a little more pressure to meet the schedule," said Doug
Hilton, a Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 357 member/foreman
for piping contractor C.M. Mahoney. "But we have good quality
guys and we're getting it done."
THE NEW MILLER-CANFIELD building at Rose and
South streets in Kalamazoo is the first public office building
constructed in the city since the 1980s.
READY TO RIG another pipe in the mechanical
penthouse at the Miller Canfield building in Kalamazoo is Phil
Barrett of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 357, working for C.M.
care crisis '47 million of us cannot afford to get sick'
By John Sweeney
Unions. Yes, we're the folks who brought you the weekend.
And we're the folks whose collective bargaining has maintained
upward pressure on wages and benefits for all workers - union
members and nonmembers.
We're also the folks who fought for and helped win legislation
that has brought out the best in America: civil rights laws,
the 40-hour week, Medicare and Social Security, overtime pay,
workplace safety, family and medical leave and more.
So it's painful to look around and see America isn't working
the way it should. Dissatisfaction is growing with an economy
that benefits the wealthy but leaves regular working people behind.
One of the greatest economic burdens faced by working families
today is the insane, out-of-control cost of health care.
One in four Americans say their family has had a problem paying
for medical care during the past year. The cost of health care
- rising far faster than workers' wages or inflation - is a major
factor in housing problems and bankruptcies. In fact, every 30
seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in
the aftermath of a serious health problem.
Meanwhile, insurance and drug companies are making stunning
profits. Health insurance CEOs averaged $8.7 million in 2006
compensation, and pharmaceutical company CEOs pulled down an
average of $4.4 million.
The rest of us aren't faring so well. The annual premium for
a family health plan has close to doubled since 2000 - from $6,351
to an astonishing $11,480. Soaring health coverage costs are
crippling U.S. companies' ability to compete internationally.
For example, health benefits accounted for an estimated $1,300
of the cost of a new car made by the Big Three in 2005.
As costs grow higher, fewer employers are providing health
coverage for employees - and fewer workers are able to afford
their share of the costs or to buy policies on their own. The
outrageous price tags on insurance are driving increases in the
number of people without coverage. The federal government just
let us know that another 2.2 million people - including 600,000
more children - lost health insurance last year, meaning 47 million
of us now cannot afford to get sick.
In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, that is
just not acceptable. In America, no one should go without health
The AFL-CIO turned Labor Day 2007 into the start of a drive
to win quality health care for all in 2009. With 10 million members
and nearly 3 million union retirees, we intend to make the 2008
elections a mandate on health care. The union families who made
up a quarter of voters last year are going to mobilize as never
before to elect a Congress and a president who will enact the
kind of real health care reform America needs.
You don't have to look far to see that winning health care
for all is going to be tough. President Bush has vetoed legislation
that would extend health care to millions more children - now,
that's cold! He's protecting insurance interests rather than
children's health, saying this could be a dangerous first step
toward health care for all.
He's right - getting this legislation passed and overriding
a Bush veto is the first step.
This fall and throughout 2008, union members will be mobilizing
in their workplaces, in their neighborhoods and in their communities
to demand that candidates and elected officials at every level
commit to work for working families.
vetoes health care expansion for children
President Bush on Oct. 3 vetoed the State Children's Health
Insurance Program (SCHIP) renewal bill.
Bush turned a political deaf ear to many leading Republican
lawmakers who joined with nearly every Democrat in the House
and Senate who voted to reauthorize the program and expand it
by $35 billion.
About four million additional children would be eligible for
health care coverage under the reauthorization - joining the
6.6 million already enrolled. Bush supports a $5 billion expansion
of the program.
The president, the AFL-CIO said, disregarded the 81 percent
of Democrats, 69 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans
who told an ABC News-Washington Post poll they support the $35
billion increase in the bill so more children get health coverage.
"The president's decision to veto legislation that would
provide health care to millions of children is nothing short
of disgraceful," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "The
cost of health care is soaring out of control and wages for workers
can't keep up. Our children need a lot more than rhetoric to
grow into healthy and productive adults. If Bush really wants
to show commitment to children's health, he should give them
annual check-ups, vaccinations and regular contact with a pediatrician
who knows and cares about them. He shouldn't just give them a
Funding for the program expired Sept. 30, but Congress passed
a continuing resolution to keep government agencies open that
haven't had their appropriations bills approved and included
money to fund SCHIP at current levels through Nov. 16.
It takes two-thirds of the Senate to override President Bush's
veto, and the 67-29 vote is one "yes" vote more than
necessary to approve the children's health bill. But the 265-159
House vote falls about 25 votes short of what is needed to override
the veto. It was only the fourth veto of Bush's presidency, and
one that some Republicans feared could carry steep risks for
their party in next year's elections.
The president said the Democratic bill costs too much and
that the law was originally intended to help the poor but would
entice people now covered in the private sector to switch to
government coverage. "The president remains someone who
is committed to expanding SCHIP and wants to make sure that the
neediest children are covered first," said White House press
secretary Dana Perino.The AFL-CIO and affiliated unions, child
welfare groups, health care providers, community, religious and
civil rights groups plan to mobilize to find the needed House
votes to override Bush's veto.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said the
president's "incomprehensible veto of this bipartisan, fiscally
responsible legislation... demonstrates a stunning lack of compassion
for some of the most vulnerable members of our society."
partners latest to sign on for safety
MONROE - Construction workers performing the ongoing environmental
upgrades at Detroit Edison's Monroe Power Plant are the latest
beneficiaries of an enhanced jobsite safety program.
On Sept. 19, Detroit Edison, its construction contractors,
building trades unions and two state agencies signed on to the
"Monroe Power Plant Partnership Agreement," a commitment
whose goal "is enhanced safety and health protection and
zero injuries for workers on a major environmental controls project."
"At DTE Energy, we promote safety as a core value to
others on and off the job," said Ron May, DTE Energy senior
vice president. "We're committed to performing our jobs
in the safest manner possible and we work together to continuously
improve safety processes. It's gratifying to know that our partners
in this project take safety as seriously as we do."
If this kind of agreement sounds familiar, it should. Similar
safety sign-ins have been conducted in recent months with MIOSHA
and various contractors and owners at the Metro Airport North
Terminal project and at Troy Beaumont Hosptial.
Some of the safety requirements at the Monroe Power Plant
include 100 percent fall protection over 6 feet, including steel
erection and roof work; 100 percent eye protection; substance
abuse testing; use of competent/qualified persons necessary under
MIOSHA standards, and uniform disciplinary actions for employees.
The goal: zero injuries.
The construction industry is one of the most hazardous industries
in Michigan. Only about four percent of Michigan's workforce
is employed in construction - however, construction fatalities
account for more than 40 percent of all fatal workplace accidents.
"These kinds of partnerships are becoming increasingly
common in Michigan, and we couldn't be happier about it,"
said Patrick Devlin, CEO of the Michigan Building and Construction
Trades Council. "There is no better way that we can improve
the on-the-job health of the state's construction workers than
making these kinds of sustained commitments to safety."
In 2005, Detroit Edison launched the largest and most costly
emissions-control construction project in the company's history.
Detroit Edison projects it will spend almost $850 million by
2010 on equipment to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides
(NOx), mercury and particulate emissions from their coal-fired
The bulk of this work is being done at the Monroe Power Plant,
with installation of a third selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
system to control NOx emissions and two flue gas desulphurization
(FGD) systems to control SO2. When operated together, the SCRs
and FGDs are expected to reduce mercury emissions by about 80
percent. Long term, Detroit Edison estimates their investment
in emission control systems to total $2.4 billion through 2018.
"We applaud (DTE Energy's) commitment to send every worker
home healthy and whole while providing clean air solutions to
our great state," said Michigan Department of Labor and
Economic Growth Director Keith W. Cooley.
Detroit Edison, Washington Group Midwest LLC, The Babcock
& Wilcox Company, Hamon Custodis, Ideal Contracting, the
Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, the Michigan
Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG), and the Michigan
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA), signed
onto the partnership.
ONGOING EMISSIONS control work at the DTE
Energy Monroe Power Plant.
Photo courtesy DTE Energy
NLRB OKs wider lawsuits vs. unions
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The Republican majority on the National Labor
Relations Board pushed the door wide open for companies to file
lawsuits against unions - no matter whether it's retaliatory
or how little merit the lawsuits have.
In making its ruling on Sept. 29, the 3-2 NLRB vote overturned
its own case history but was guided by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The board's two dissenters, Democrats Wilma Liebman and Dennis
Walsh, admitted the three-man Republican majority had to follow
the High Court's orders, but said it went too far - the NLRB
majority basically ruled that virtually any retaliatory lawsuit
against unions is legal.
"In particular," Liebman and Walsh said, "the
majority errs in categorically rejecting the options left open
to the board" for finding at least some lawsuits unlawful.
The NLRB decision follows a far-fetched anti-trust case taken
up by notoriously anti-union BE&K Construction against virtually
every building trades union in the U.S. and in California.
The three-member NLRB majority said the "right of access
to a court is too important to be called an unfair labor practice
solely on the ground that what is sought in court is to enjoin
employees from exercising a protected right," that is, the
right to collectively bargain.
Non-residential work still strong
New construction starts in August climbed 6 percent, it was reported
Sept. 27 by McGraw-Hill Construction.
The increase showed construction starts making only a partial
rebound after July's 11% decline, helped by strengthening for
nonresidential building and non-building construction (public
works and electric utilities). At the same time, the downward
trend for residential building continued.
Through the first eight months of 2007, total construction
on an unadjusted basis came in at $424.9 billion, down 11% from
the corresponding period of 2006.
But exclude residential building, and new construction starts
in this year's January-August period were up 5% over last year.
"Through the first eight months of 2007, the construction
start series has hovered around a level that is 7% to 8% below
last year's average pace," stated Robert A. Murray, vice
president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "The
downturn for residential building has shaped this year's pattern
for overall construction activity, and with multifamily housing
now joining single family housing in decline, the correction
for residential building is still very much in progress.
"In contrast, nonresidential building and public works
remain on track to register moderate growth for 2007 as a whole.
The credit crunch is clearly having a negative impact on the
residential sector right now, but to this point in 2007 it appears
that nonresidential building has experienced only modest dampening."
Geographically, total construction in the January-August period
of 2007 showed this pattern relative to last year - the West,
down 15%; the Midwest, down 12%; the South Atlantic, down 10%;
the Northeast, down 9%; and the South Central, down 6%.