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October 13, 2000

State Supreme Court supremely important this year - and this decade

We're fighting for your fair wages and safe jobs - won't you join us at the polls on Nov. 7?

Stabenow's plan: Bring an end to bloated prescription drug prices

VOUCHERS WILL HURT MICHIGAN'S PUBLIC AND PRIVATE EDUCATION SYSTEMS

Job well-done is evident after Consumers retrofit

On Target in the Upper Peninsula

Reorganized, re-energized Painters meet in Michigan

NEWS BRIEFS

 

 

State Supreme Court supremely important this year - and this decade

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

So you've taken the time to vote, either by absentee ballot or at the polls.

You get down to the final portion of the ballot, which has the names of the candidates for Supreme Court. You may not know a thing about any of those people, so you ignore that section of the ballot, or vote for the candidate with the most interesting last name, and send it in.

Big mistake.

"As we say, 'finish the ballot, finish the job, it's about time Michigan workers got a break,' said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney.

The contest for the three seats up for election on the Michigan Supreme Court seats is huge - in fact, the results of the election will be felt for a decade. The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council and the state AFL-CIO are endorsing E. Thomas Fitzgerald, Marietta Robinson, and Edward Thomas for the three open seats. Republican-backed candidates currently enjoy a 5-2 majority on the court, and working people could do themselves a big favor by getting two of the three endorsees elected.

It will be an uphill struggle to get those candidates into office, because all are facing off against Republican-backed incumbents with name recognition. But the incumbents have a horrendous record against the state's working people: scores of their decisions over the past few years have gone in favor of insurance firms and other large companies and against working people.

The reason this part of the ballot has such far-reaching implications is a process called "gerrymandering." Every 10 years, after census results are tabulated, it is up to the state legislature to redraw district lines for Michigan's congressional delegation, as well as those for state senators and state representatives.

It is a sure bet that the process will have little to do with fairness and everything to do with political clout - the party in power will have the ability to re-draw district lines to favor the political prospects of that party.

Currently, Democrats have no clout in Lansing. Republicans control the state House, Senate, governor's seat, and the state Supreme Court. Democrats will have no say at all in the redistricting process if they don't regain a majority in the state House, and their fate will truly be sealed if they can't regain a majority on the state Supreme Court. Gerrymandered district boundaries are in effect for a decade.

Following are a few examples of a few anti-worker rulings that have been made over the last few years by the incumbent conservatives on the state Supreme Court:

*A woman running a screw machine in a Michigan plant got her hair tangled in an unguarded shaft. Her hair and scalp were torn from her head. Under state law, she received workers' compensation, but also exercised her right to file suit against the company who manufactured the unsafe machine.

The company had been purchased by another corporation. Although the second company continued to profit from the purchase of the first company, the Michigan Supreme Court Republican majority ruled that the second company was not obligated to pay damages to the injured woman even though the machine was defective.

*A man was killed when a truck struck his motorcycle. The truck was uninsured because the company that owned it had not paid the insurance premiums. The family of the deceased won a $1.2 million judgment in a lower court against the driver.

Even though the driver had his own insurance policy with a large insurance company, the Michigan Supreme Court Republican majority ruled that the driver's insurance company did not have to pay the judgment, leaving the driver personally responsible for the payment. The Court pitted two working families against each other and let the insurance company off free.

*An employee of the Livonia School District injured his back on the job. He retired with a disability pension and was qualified to receive workers' compensation. However, the Michigan Supreme Court Republican majority agreed with the insurance company and ruled that the comp benefits could be reduced by the amount of his pension.

Imagine having the pension you worked so many years to earn, to be counted against you and subtracted from the workers' compensation owed for an on the job injury.

Incumbent Republican Justices Cliff Taylor, Steven Markman and Robert Young, who were all appointed to the high court by John Engler, voted against citizens and families and in favor of powerful special interests. That's why it is time for a major change on the Michigan Supreme Court.

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We're fighting for your fair wages and safe jobs - won't you join us at the polls on Nov. 7?

By Patrick Devlin
Secretary-Treasurer
Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council

"Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption."
-President James Garfield, 1877.

After more than 200 years, it's true that the American electoral system is still the best way on the planet to put people into public office - but it's also true that people usually end up getting the government that they deserve.

In Michigan, especially, organized labor is in a fine mess politically. Nearly every issue that the building trades and the rest of organized labor holds dear, like prevailing wage, job safety, and the collective bargaining process, is threatened. It's not a stretch to say that if the Nov. 7 election doesn't put labor-friendly candidates in office in some key positions, unions will exist in name only.

On a state level, labor has Attorney General Jennifer Granholm to represent our interests, but she has no legislative authority, and frankly, no one else in power gives a damn about working people. On a national level, President Clinton's veto power has been the only thing standing in the way of wholesale assaults by the Republican Congress.

Politics are so black and white these days. Politicians rarely seem to work with each other, rather, the side that wins is the one that yells the loudest or puts the proper spin on an issue in order to curry public opinion that wins.

Our state and nation need more balance. Current Michigan Gov. John Engler and former Gov. William Milliken are both Republicans, but Milliken was a guy who labor could talk to and work with. Engler has just plain been vicious in his dealings with organized labor, and his attitude has filtered down to both the House and Senate in Michigan, which are both controlled by Republicans, and they reflect what's going on nationally in the Republican-controlled Congress.

The state and the nation have become much leaner and meaner over the last decade, but what has gone on only reflects the will of the people who put the politicians in office. Or, more accurately, what has gone on has reflected the will of the people who actually voted.

George Stephanopolous of ABC News visited Wayne State University a few weeks ago to gauge the sentiment of college students about the upcoming presidential election. The answers and the apathy were scary. One student said he hadn't given the presidential election a thought until 10 minutes before.

The building trades and the Michigan AFL-CIO have a candidate endorsement list that appears on Page 10 of this issue. We realize that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to endorsing candidates, and that our affiliated members may cast a vote based on their own concerns and issues, such as gun legislation and abortion.

We would never minimize those issues, but the historic, primary role of labor unions is to keep an eye on candidates' records as they relate to health and safety and wages and benefits. The way we look at it, what could be more important to our members than earning a fair wage, working on safe job sites, and having a good health insurance and a retirement package?

We hope you feel the same way, and then vote on Nov. 7.

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Stabenow's plan: Bring an end to bloated prescription drug prices

By U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow
Candidate for U.S. Senate

Every month, Julia Kanopsky is forced to make a difficult decision. How will she pay for the hundreds of dollars of prescription drugs she needs to stay well? Sometimes she cuts back on food at the grocery store, other times she takes her medication every other day or simply doesn't fill one of her prescriptions. The sad news is, Julia Kanopsky is only one of thousands of seniors across Michigan who have worked hard their whole lives, but are now struggling with the high cost of prescription drugs.

After traveling across the state and talking to many seniors, I have found that Julia Kanopsky's story is remarkably common among older Michiganians. The average senior takes 18 prescription drugs a year, and three out of four seniors do not have reliable prescription drug coverage.

In Congress, I have been leading the fight to lower prescription drug costs for all seniors. Over the last couple months, my opponent has spent millions of dollars on television ads in an attempt to scare and confuse senior citizens on the prescription drug issue. Not only are Sen. Abraham's ads misleading, they are blatantly false. I want to set the record straight. There is NO $600 fee, and my plan wouldn't cost ANY senior $7,000 per year as Senator Abraham's ads claim.

The plan I support is voluntary, so seniors who have good prescription drug coverage could keep it. Seniors who want to participate would pay a small monthly premium - about $25 - and benefit from Medicare negotiating lower prices for medications. Seniors would pay just 50 percent of the new lower prices available under Medicare. Seniors would benefit from lower prices from their very first prescription, no matter what their income.

Sen. Abraham's plan forces even low-income seniors to pay $1,200 before they receive a single dime of assistance. Middle class seniors would be forced to pay $2,500 out of their own pocket before Senator Abraham's plan would help them. In addition, Senator Abraham relies on private insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry - rather than Medicare - to lower costs and administer the program. Even the insurance companies have said relying on them to provide prescription drug coverage for seniors would be an "empty promise to Medicare beneficiaries."

For more than a year, I have been working to lower prescription drug costs for seniors - reading letters from Michigan seniors on the House floor, conducting studies showing the bloated prices charged to seniors and leading efforts to solve this problem in Congress. Meanwhile, Sen. Abraham has voted five times against lowering the cost of prescription drugs for seniors and taken over $140,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.

Michigan voters have a clear choice. Sen. Abraham has spent six years in Washington voting on the side of the big pharmaceutical companies against prescription drug coverage for seniors. As your next U.S. Senator, I will be voting on the side of Michigan seniors and Michigan families every single time.

Julia Kanopsky shouldn't have to choose between food and medicine. With one more vote in the U.S. Senate pushing for lower prescription drug prices, she won't have to.

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VOUCHERS WILL HURT MICHIGAN'S PUBLIC AND PRIVATE EDUCATION SYSTEMS

by Thomas Boensch
Secretary-Treasurer
Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council

In my last letter, I shared with you some of the pros and cons of Proposal 1, an initiative that would eliminate Michigan's constitutional ban on using public tax dollars to fund private schools. On Tuesday Nov. 7, Michigan's voters will be asked whether they want to remove this constitutional prohibition.

In this letter, I would like to urge members of the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council and others to vote "no" on the issue. School vouchers would be poor public policy for the following reasons:

Loss of public school funding - Public schools will lose millions of dollars in funding and experience dwindling support for local funding if a large number of voucher students are lost to the private school system. Public schools' resources would then diminish as more tax dollars are diverted to private schools.

The two-thirds rule - Since vouchers can only be used in districts that graduate less than two thirds of each graduating class, the state's poorest schools would receive the least funding. Also, no official date has been set for the two-thirds measurement.

No guaranteed acceptance for voucher systems - Private schools are able to pick and choose their students based on where they live, their academic and cultural backgrounds, and a number of other criteria. Because not all voucher students must be accepted into private schools, this implies that average hardworking students will be left behind in poorly funded public schools.

Private schools and public regulation - Currently, private schools enjoy little or no public scrutiny, while public schools are operated democratically and are subject to many rules and regulations. According to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, private schools are unlikely to accept voucher students if they are required to meet the same accountability standards for admissions, curriculum content and other areas that public schools do.

The report also states that a regulated voucher system would erode the independence of private schools and lessen the quality of education that parents with children in private schools are paying for.

Teacher testing - This would become a requirement under Proposal 1, and I am curious as to why this is necessary. I do not believe this is a serious attempt to improve teachers' skill sets, but rather a diversion designed by voucher proponents to appeal to voters and take the focus off school vouchers. Public school teachers are already required to be state certified, unlike private school teachers.

If Proposal 1 is adopted, sweeping changes will begin to occur in private and public schools. Private schools have been unwilling to be held to the same standards and accountability that is required of public schools. These are some of the many reasons why we should vote "no" on Proposal 1.

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Job well-done is evident after Consumers retrofit

ESSEXVILLE - It was a day to be proud of, and the tradesworkers responsible for the mammoth generator conversion project at Consumers Energy's Karn-Weadock Generating Complex on Saginaw Bay were indeed proud.

On Sept. 21, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 85 members, the Bay Area Association of the Michigan Plumbing Mechanical Contractors and Consumers Energy staff got together to host a behind-the-scenes look at the results of labor-industry teamwork focusing on piping installation.

Invited were area architects, design engineers, contractors, tradesmen - plus several dozen local educators and students who might be interested in a career in the pipe trades.

"You have to expose them to the trade," said Local 85 member Dan Taylor. "Parents may think their kids ought to go to college to be doctors and lawyers, but the trades offer good careers that pay well without college training."

The Karn-Weadock project cost $26-million to convert two oil-burning units to cleaner, environmentally friendly natural gas, according to Local 85 Business Manager Mark Lee.

Taking a key role, some 120 piping tradesmen working for Bay City's Monarch Welding put in over 50,000 hours to complete the massive conversion, with the overall job taking just 10 months instead of the usual 24.

Two years ago, The Building Tradesman featured the work of the Boilermakers at the Karn-Weadock plant, during a major outage of Unit 2, one of the plant's coal fired boilers. The entire plant produces up to a third of all the power produced by Consumers Energy.

About 350 journeymen workers took part in this project, which involved installation of a 48-inch manifold to route gas through three pipelines. The trades then put down more than 1,000 feet of 30- and 10- inch pipeline, revamped a pair of auxiliary boilers and installed 30 new burners in a three-story configuration to fire them, explained Bob Barcia, Project Manager, Monarch Welding, Bay City, and Local 85 pipe fitter.

The newly renovated units can generate a combined 1,276 kilowatts of energy - enough to power a city of 835,000, although they will be used primarily to handle peak loads, Barcia said.

As part of the obvious team effort of all concerned, Consumers Energy people were equally impressed by the perfect safety record on the project .

"Safety is one of our top priorities on every job and is the most important thing to our membership," said Lee. "There were no recordable incidents on this project, almost unheard of considering the size and complexity."

Monarch's Safety Director Chuck Chaffee said safety was simply a matter of good communications. "I made sure safety procedures and OSHA rules were to be followed by our people, and also informed Consumers people about specific policies," he said.

Monarch Welding General Foreman Tom Chambers said one of the walk-through's major goals was to showcase the work to the community. "The more we expose ourselves to the community, the better the quality of recruits we get," he said.

Attendees, including school kids and their teachers, took home a bundle of materials, including brochures about careers in the unionized pipe trades, information on the Bay Area Association, and various Consumers Energy materials about the Karn-Weadock plant,

As a career selling point for the pipe trades, Local 85 Organizer Jerry Marsden said the local spends about $300,000 on training and supports a 12,000-square-foot school in Saginaw, a full-time instructor and 26 auxiliary instructors.

"Training is the backbone of our industry," Lee said.
- Rose Szwed and John Lapp


Starting the tour, Dan Taylor, Local 85 member, right, escorts industry leaders through the Karen-Weadock complex.

LOCAL 85 Bus. Mgr. Mark Lee, left, greets Congressman Jim Barcia's aid, Jim Lewis, with a certificate of appreciation.

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On Target in the Upper Peninsula

MARQUETTE Twp. - Target stores are movin' on up, into the Upper Peninsula.

The first Target store in the U.P. is on the way, being constructed by building trade union members and general contractor Oscar Boldt Construction.

Set for completion next June, the construction process will consistently employ about 45 Hardhats. The 125,000-square-foot project is located on U.S. 41, atop a former gravel pit.

Boldt Project Supt. George Pozorski said a whole variety of different trades are currently on the job, and iron work was expected to begin this week. He said the job entails more than a "big box" home center, with plenty of carpeting, fixtures and office rooms.

"It's a pretty straightforward job," he said. "We're doing great."

Noting the impending arrival of a U.P. winter, IBEW Local 1070 Business Manager Tony Retaskie said, " I hope they get the building enclosed soon, or those guys are going to be cold."

Upper Peninsula Labor Management Council Executive Director Tom Hogan said "to the best of my knowledge," this is the first Target store in the U.P., and the largest store since a Wal Mart opened several years ago. A Gander Mountain store is also going up across from the Target.

"Marquette seems to becoming a real shopping destination," Hogan said. "There have been others sniffing around too. I hope these stores lead to others."

PLUMBER Scott Dionne of Local 506 and Pro-therm sets a roof drain at the Target store.

 

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Reorganized, re-energized Painters meet in Michigan

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades is restoring the roar in Michigan and around the nation.

Under new General President Michael E. Monroe, the union has been completely reorganized and is changing the way it does business in terms of union operations, training, political action and organizing.

Michigan's Painters District Council No. 22 was among the first councils to see the new structure in action, hosting the first of what will be an annual Central Regional Conference Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Detroit's Renaissance Center. Monroe and other top International Union representatives as well as local union leaders were on hand to discuss strategy and set a course for the future.

"Our union has undergone a complete restructuring," Monroe said. "There are now four regions, and these conferences have been set up so that we can network and promulgate the efforts of the International Union on the local level."

The Painters have adopted the motto of "One Union," intended to unify the mission of union leaders and bring together the varied worker crafts represented by the International Union. The Painters also represent drywall finishers, glassworkers, sign display workers, paperhangers, water blasters, and scenic artists, among many others.

The union changed its name, replacing "brotherhood" with "union" for obvious gender-related reasons. The union has even changed its logo, re-using and re-designing the use of a lion in the old logo to play up the fighting spirit of a battling lion.

Until the Nov. 7 general election, Monroe said, the International Union's major battle will be in the area of political action. The Painters have committed $4 million nationwide - $100,000 of it in Michigan - on political spending to see to it that members' interests are represented.

"We've never been involved in this level of political activity," said James Williams, the IUPAT's general secretary-treasurer and Monroe's point man on political action. "We've put together a blueprint that starts at the top - we need to get Al Gore elected president. But we're also working on targeted campaigns across the country. We have four additional vice presidents working to shepherd the political action plan, we're paying the wages of 430 people full-time around the country to be available 24 hours until election day, we've set up phone banks, and printed thousands of signs.

"Prior to the campaign we attended hundreds of union meetings and members clearly stated that they wanted us to get involved in politics. Well, we're involved."

Monroe has initiated a new level of activism into the 130,000-member union. The Painters have been one of the most successful unions when it comes to organizing. While the entire AFL-CIO saw only a slight overall increase in membership from 1998-1999, the Painters' U.S. membership increased by 6 percent - the second-largest percentage gain of any union.

In 1999, IUPAT General Convention delegates confirmed their union's commitment to organizing by designating the general president as director of organizing. A major figure in the International Union's blueprint to keep the organizing successes going is new General Organizer B.J. Cardwell, a Michigan man out of Local 514 who was appointed to that position earlier this year by Monroe.

"I'm all over the place," Cardwell said. "Wherever locals need help organizing, I'm there."

Cardwell's old boss, Painters District Council No. 22 Secretary-Treasurer Bob Kennedy, said he enjoyed playing host. "It has been an honor and a pleasure to have the international representatives come to town for this first conference."

Monroe said it was appropriate to have the first Central Regional Conference in Michigan - "to showcase the City of Detroit and the ongoing building boom."

PARTICIPATING IN THE FIRST Painters Central Regional Conference are (l-r) International Union Vice President-at-Large Ray Price, IU General Vice President Ray Rapp, IU General President Michael E. Monroe, Michigan Painters District Council 22 Secretary-Treasurer Robert Kennedy, and IU General Organizer B.J. Cardwell.

 

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NEWS BRIEFS

Material costs down, but wages aren't
A year ago, some construction materials manufacturers were making a killing. Today, they're getting killed.

Two years ago, wallboard prices were soaring and manufacturers built new plants to try and meet demand. A year ago, prices were still very high. Today, reports the Engineering News Record, prices are down 9 percent, but things are worse than they seem. "In some areas of the country where capacity has expanded greatly, the industry is in a panic," said one West Coast wallboard sales representative.

In January 1999, overall wallboard industry production capacity was at 28.84 billion square feet. By the end of this year, with new plant capacity coming on line, that number will jump to 32 billion square feet, the ENR reported. But while capacity is up, total wallboard production in 2000 is down from last year's numbers because of slackening demand, primarily in housing.

The cement business isn't doing much better. Through the first six months of the year, shipments of Portland cement were up 4.8 percent from 1999's record pace. The industry responded with 2.2 million tonnes of new cement capacity. Even with the strong demand, prices have gone up less than a percent over the past year.

In the wood business, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said the August price index for plywood was down 24% from 1999, while the price index for softwood lumber was down 18%. Ouch.

What's up? Higher oil prices have led to higher diesel fuel prices - up 38% from a year ago. And asphalt paving prices were up 28%, while PVC pipe prices increased 25%.

Oh yes, and wages are up too. The Construction Labor Research Council reports this month that union wage settlements are averaging 4.1% higher than a year ago.

Trades bid farewell to AGC's John Maas
Building trades representatives were present Sept. 28 to bid a fond farewell to John Maas, who retired as Executive V.P. of Associated General Contractors, Detroit Chapter.

John served the AGC for 37 years.

"It's not in every construction market that a guy from the local building trades would be asked to speak at the retirement celebration of a guy from the AGC," said Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin. "It's a tribute to the tremendous relationship between the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council and the Associated General Contractors Detroit Chapter that I and numerous other labor leaders have been asked to be here tonight to take part in honoring John."

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