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October 14, 2005

Introducing… the Change to Win Federation Breakaway union group formally established

Laborers to leave AFL-CIO - Not 'if' but 'when'

Trades' operations make more room for surgery

37 Republicans urge Bush to reconsider his veto of prevailing wage

Labor News and Notes

New rolling billboards for sheet metal industry

News Briefs


Introducing… the Change to Win Federation Breakaway union group formally established

By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates Staff Writer

(PAI) - Declaring they want to devote three-fourths of their new group's money to organizing, leaders and representatives of seven unions formally established the Change to Win federation on Sept. 27 in St. Louis.

The federation's unions have more than six million members. They are the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, the Laborers, the Carpenters, UNITE HERE and the Farm Workers.

Of those, all but the Laborers - who will leave soon - and the Farm Workers are former member unions of the AFL-CIO.

The new group, to be headquartered in Washington, named SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger as its chair and Edgar Romney as its Secretary-Treasurer. SEIU's organizing director, Tom Woodruff, becomes Change to Win's organizing director - a key post - and Greg Tarpanian moves from the New York-based Labor Research Association to become Change to Win's full-time executive director.

Burger, who will chair the monthly meetings of the new group's 10-person board and serve as its public face, will keep her SEIU post. Woodruff will head its Strategic Organizing Center. The center "will lead federation-wide coordinated growth initiatives, leveraging the collective resources of its affiliates for growth" and "integrate their organizing plans," a Change to Win statement says.

At its first-ever convention, nearly 500 enthusiastic delegates from the unions ratified the organization's constitution and its goals and program by voice votes. Leaders said organizing the unorganized will be Change to Win's overriding goal.

Teamsters President James Hoffa declared Change to Win would spend $750 million on organizing. The Teamsters, on the international level alone, spend $40-$45 million and will add $5 million next year, Hoffa said.

UNITE HERE Co-President Bruce Raynor said his union (apparel, retail, hotel workers) spends 55 percent of its national-level budget - $35 million - on organizing. Change to Win leaders later explained the $750 million figure includes state, local and regional, as well as international, union organizing spending.

And they stated that their core industries - hotel workers, hospital workers, restaurant workers, textile workers, construction, transportation and others - have 50 million workers, but only six million are unionists. Workers they will pursue hold jobs that cannot be outsourced or moved overseas, they added. "We commit ourselves to the 50 million unorganized workers to rebuild the labor movement," Burger said.

Many of those jobs are held by minority group members, immigrants or both, and
the convention showcased statements from African-American and Latino/Latina workers. Change to Win also demands full legalization of immigrants.

And SEIU President Andy Stern noted Change to Win is headed by a woman (Burger) and an African-American (Romney).

"We call ourselves the G-7, for growth in the labor movement," added Hoffa. "Some people say we're dividing the labor movement" - a contention by AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, among others. "But I say we're rebuilding the labor movement - the right way." Key concepts of Change To Win's program include:

  • Concentrating organizing in each union's "core industries," such as transportation for the Teamsters, according to Hoffa. Change to Win, which Burger and the union presidents emphasize would be a small, coordinating body, would mediate and decide conflicts.
  • Multi-union organizing campaigns, and multi-union support for each other's organizing drives, strikes and other action. That was clear when, in his fiery wrap-up speech, Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan declared: "For the Carpenters and the Teamsters, if somebody tries to take you on, they're going to have to go through the Laborers International Union, too!"
  • Creating coordinating committees for organizing and bargaining in the specific core industries. The panels would develop joint plans and enforce provisions to ban individual unions from reaching contracts that undercut their colleagues' efforts.
  • * Nationwide organizing drives against national targets, including DHL, Wal-Mart, Cintas, Smithfield, FedEx and possibly the Beverly Nursing Home chain. The 10-person council - each union president plus an additional member each, for diversity, from SEIU, the Teamsters and UFCW - will set more targets and flesh out plans at a Nov. 1 meeting in Washington, Hoffa said.
  • Use of actions, including strikes, in other cities or metro areas to support demands for recognition and contracts in one area. Examples given at the convention included SEIU workers and Teamsters in Chicago in sympathy strikes against giant office building cleaning firms that hold contracts to clean buildings in Houston.
  • Downgrading political action to link endorsements to organizing, and endorsing
    only politicians who openly support the right to organize - even if those politicians oppose labor on other issues. That means, the leaders said, that linkage to the Democratic Party will be cut. It also means that any politicians who oppose the right to organize will find Change to Win campaigning against them. "Our political program must be about growth, about giving workers a genuine free choice to join unions," explained UNITE HERE Co-President John Wilhelm.
  • Usage of labor's financial resources, such as money in health, welfare and pension funds, to further union organizing goals. The Laborers' O'Sullivan said that includes $200 million in so-called "Taft-Hartley" pension funds in the construction industry, and $2.6 billion in public employee pensions. "We have to use it to get hold of them (companies) around their ankles and then get our hands around the throats of the corporate barons," he declared.
  • Making the areas of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama devastated by Hurricane Katrina a test case for a new union role: Not just immediate relief, but training area workers to rebuild communities. "It's an opportunity to present ourselves in the South," where the labor movement is weak and even unionists under national contracts, such as IBT master freight agreements, have lower wages, Hoffa said. That training aim, after immediate aid, differs from what the AFL-CIO is doing and from Bush administration awards of no-bid reconstruction contracts, without Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections, to politically favored companies like Halliburton.
  • *Use of the three-fourths of the $16 million that Change to Win will collect in per-capita assessments from member unions for planning and implementing joint organizing. Each union will pay 25 cents per member. They pledged the difference between that figure and the dues they would have paid the AFL-CIO would go to their own organizing drives.

Change to Win leaders confirmed contacts with other unions about joining their new federation, but said they are not actively soliciting them. A prime target mentioned was the 2.7-million-member National Education Association, the nation's largest union. Asked specifically if NEA would be asked to join, SEIU President Andrew Stern said no.


Laborers to leave AFL-CIO - Not 'if' but 'when'

By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates Staff Writer

(PAI) - After solving technical details in coming weeks, the Laborers will become the latest union to leave the AFL-CIO, President Terry O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan's 382,730-member union is the sixth of the seven Change to Win federation unions to leave the older labor federation. It was preceded in July by the Service Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters. In September, UNITE HERE left. The Carpenters departed in 2001. Only the United Farm Workers still remain.

"We must shake this (labor) movement and the country up and turn it upside down to make it right side up," O'Sullivan declared in a fiery closing address to Change to Win's inaugural convention in St. Louis on Sept. 27. "It'll take the power, vision and commitment of Change to Win." Such qualities, he implied, are not in the AFL-CIO.

"Our leaders came to the conclusion" at a meeting in New York last month "that we could not grow and strengthen our union within the existing structure of the American labor movement," O'Sullivan explained. "We finally agreed it's not a matter of 'if' we'll withdraw from the AFL-CIO, it's a matter of 'when.' And it'll be a matter of time."

In a brief talk before his speech, O'Sullivan did not put a date on the withdrawal. He said the technical issues remained to be worked out. One is the Laborers' relationship with the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department.

The Carpenters stayed in the Building Trades Department for four years after they left the federation, in 2001, as BCTD President Edward Sullivan and AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney negotiated on whether they would return to the AFL-CIO. They finally left the department in July. Sweeney, at that month's AFL-CIO Convention in Chicago, laid down strict rules about non-AFL-CIO unions' participation in AFL-CIO bodies.

"We're going to organize millions of workers. We must and will build a new labor movement of the people, by the people and for the people," O'Sullivan declared. According to federation figures, his union was one of the faster-growing in the AFL-CIO, rising from 322,998 members in 2002 to the almost 383,000 it has now.

The Laborers' reasons for leaving differed from those of the Carpenters, at least as explained from the Change to Win podium by that union's president, Douglas McCarron, earlier in the convention. He said it left because rank-and-file Carpenters felt they did "not get value for their money" in AFL-CIO dues.


Trades' operations make more room for surgery

ANN ARBOR - A growing need for outpatient surgical and other medical care has resulted in the construction of the East Ann Arbor Ambulatory Surgery and Medical Procedures Center.

The 46,000 square foot facility is a joint effort of the U-M Hospitals and Health Centers (UMH) and U-M Medical School to ease increasing outpatient surgery and medical procedure capacity constraints at the U-M.

The $30 million facility will include six outpatient operating rooms, four medical procedure rooms and related support areas. Turner Construction is managing the project, which will have external and internal pedestrian links to provide access to the East Ann Arbor Health Center, and create additional parking. Completion is expected in December.

"With our remarkable growth in clinical, especially surgical, activity on the main medical campus it has become very important for us to find alternative methods to continue to meet our patients' and the community's health care needs," said Robert P. Kelch, M.D., U-M Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and U-M Health System CEO. "I am very pleased that the East Ann Arbor Surgery and Medical Procedures Center project will allow us to do that by extending our ability to provide our adult and pediatric patients with greater and more convenient access to medical care."

By building the new center, UMH and the U-M Medical School hope to free up more operating room time at UMH and Mott Hospital for patients that require the most resource-intensive surgical intervention such as transplantation, joint replacement, cardiovascular surgery and major cancer surgeries.

From 2001 to 2003, outpatient surgical activity increased by 12.5 percent at University Hospital and 10.5 percent at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

The new center has been designed to meet demand for more than 7,000 surgical cases and an estimated 2,000 medical procedures each year. (Information from U-M).

CONNECTING four-inch conduit at the East Ann Arbor Ambulatory Surgery and Medical Procedures Center is Chad Adee of IBEW Local 252 and Huron Valley Electric.

Lori Joseph of UA Local 190 and Western Mechanical installs a hanger for medical gas lines.

THE ANN ARBOR AREA is booming because of developments like the $30 million Ambulatory Surgery and Medical Procedures Center. The Caterpillar bulldozer at right is operated by Darren Mills of Operating Engineers Local 324 and Site Development.


37 Republicans urge Bush to reconsider his veto of prevailing wage

The federal prevailing wage law has its detractors - but 37 U.S. House Republicans are not among them. They signed a letter to President Bush supporting prevailing wage, illustrating why Congress has not been able to kill the 74-year-old law.

Just after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast region, Bush chose to rescind the nation's prevailing wage law - the Davis-Bacon Act - in stricken areas. The net affect of his action takes away base wage levels for thousands of construction workers in that region - the vast majority of whom have lost their homes and are desperate for decent-paying jobs.

Bush claimed having the Davis-Bacon Act in place would increase costs to the federal government and allow for the employment of thousands of additional workers in the Gulf. The Republican lawmakers who signed the letter disagreed.

"Davis-Bacon prevailing wages will not drive up the reconstruction costs in the Gulf region; rather they will help ensure quality work and fair wages for those impacted by the storm," said their letter to the president. "We respect your statutory prerogative to suspend application of Davis-Bacon in times of a national emergency. However, we also feel strongly that an indefinite suspension is fundamentally unfair to Gulf Coast construction workers."

The justification by the 37 Republicans for reinstating prevailing wage in that region seemed to be nearly out of the public relations play-book of building trades unions.

"Numerous studies demonstrate that there are a wide variety of factors which affect the cost of construction projects: the cost of land and materials often have a much more direct impact on overall project costs," the GOP congressional members wrote to the president. "It has also been shown time and again that projects built by less skilled employees drive up the costs associated with long-term maintenance, repair and reconstruction."

They further stated: "Since it's enactment in 1931, the Davis-Bacon Act has provided stability and a level playing field in the construction industry for all contractors - union and as well as nonunion - and an important minimum standard of compensation for workers."

The letter also suggested that Bush should rescind his order - before "potential legislative action" by Congress that would do it for him.

AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan said Bush's Executive Order was "a shameful action and a national disgrace."

"Once again this Administration is looking out for corporations eager to profit from a national emergency," Sullivan said. "They want to pay the poorest workers the lowest wages to do the most dangerous jobs.

"Suspending Davis-Bacon protections for financially distressed workers in the Gulf states amounts to legalized looting of these workers who will be cleaning up toxic sites and struggling to rebuild their communities while favored contractors rake in huge profits from FEMA reconstruction contracts."


Labor News and Notes

A good opportunity to hear about the state of the State of Michigan's organized labor sector took place Sept. 30 at the Michigan State AFL-CIO quarterly General Board meeting.

Prevailing wage, minimum wage, politics, health care and a new labor museum were all on the agenda for some 50 AFL-CIO delegates from around the state. Following is a sampling of what's going in the Michigan labor movement:

Minimum wage.
Raising the state's minimum wage - which is $5.15 per hour - to $7.15 per hour over a two-year period, is one of the state federation's top prioroties. The last state minimum wage increase was in 1997.

The Michigan AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions plan to collect 450,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot in 2006, and make minimum wage increases indexed to inflation part of the state constitution. Raising the minimum wage doesn't have a chance in the Republican-run Michigan legislature, but polls say an overwhelming majority of state voters would vote in favor of a raise.

State spending, responsibly
Sean Carlson, director of the state office of acquisition services, told delegates that his office controls some $11.5 billion in state spending, involving 2,200 goods and services contracts. He said the bottom line is hardly their only consideration when hiring vendors.

Other considerations are whether a company is responsible, inclusive, and offers good-paying jobs.

"It kills me to assign a purchase order to companies in Tennessee or Ohio when there are companies in Michigan that can do the work, but don't bid," he said. "We're working on those that don't bid. We're not in the business of cronyism; competition is good."
The state has steadily increased the field of bidders on state work, Carlson said, with favorable results. Single bidders won $592 million worth of state work - or 20 percent of state spending - in the two-year period to Dec. 31, 2002 at the end of the Engler Administration.

But in the two-year period through Dec. 31, 2004 during the Granholm Administration, single-source bidding had dropped to below 10 percent, saving the state $41 million. This year, he said Michigan became one of two states in the nation that banned one-source bidding for state work.

Carlson also said the state has made a commitment to not only support, but enforce the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. He pointed to an editorial in the Detroit News, praising President Bush's decision to suspend prevailing wage in hurricane-stricken areas.

"The editorial used a phrase, don't taxpayers deserve to get best value for the price," Carlson said. "We think that best value is about good wages and putting taxpayer money back into the community."

Gaffney sumarized: "This is what you get when you have a Democratic governor."

Shifting populations.
Demographic shifts may mean renewed attention from organized labor for three Michigan regions.

Gaffney said downstate retirees from auto plants and other union positions are increasingly moving north - and changing the voting makeup of the Grand Traverse region, the Alpena area, and the area around Midland.

As a result, the state AFL-CIO is looking to increase its presence in those areas, possibly by adding political organizing staff and creation of an area labor council.

A state AFL-CIO draft resolution says about the areas: "The 106th House District (Alpena), the 97th House District (Clare, Galdwin) and the 36th Senate District (Midland to Alpena) are all important marginal election districts and the ability to perform political organizing and mobilizing is critical there.

"Also, areas like Traverse City and Oscoda are growing in Democratic capacity and resources and efforts are needed to nurture this."

Monroe labor museum.
Michigan doesn't have a labor museum. Monroe County would like to create the state's first.

A presentation by Bill Conner of the Monroe/Lenawee Central Labor Council to state AFL-CIO delegates said that a long-term plan is in the works to turn a downtown two-story brick building at No. 37 and No. 41 W. Front Street into a labor museum.

Built in 1912, the building wasn't used as a labor hall until it was purchased in 1946 by the Monroe County CIO. The building has been continuously owned by the Monroe County Council CIO Social & Welfare Association since then. It was dubbed the "Murray Building" after a Steelworkers president in the 1950s.

Phase One of the project consists of new construction on the south end of the existing building. New construction will add a two-story stairwell and elevator access between the first and second floors. Phase Two will include demolition and interior renovations, including electrical and plumbing improvements.

For more information, go to


New rolling billboards for sheet metal industry

Service trucks are the centerpiece of a joint advertising campaign by Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 and the Detroit Chapter of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA), Detroit Chapter.

As part of the "We Do It Better" campaign," a vehicle identification program was jointly unveiled in July with Local 80 members, International Union staff, and SMACNA reps.

The first of its kind in the nation, the program involves placing logos on the exterior of contractor vehicles with "Together We Do It Better, Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, and Detroit SMACNA." International Union and SMACNA logos also appear side by side. More than 200 vehicles have been converted, with more to come.

The advertising effort "aims to show the industry how committed Local 80 and Detroit SMACNA are to their trade," said Local 80 Business Manager Tom Ingalls. "It portrays our commitment to the general public and to the industry of our teamwork, superior craftsmanship, brotherhood, customer satisfaction, and pride in a job well done."

Launched in May 2002, the joint, detailed identity program also includes an apprenticeship training program that teaches the young workers jurisdiction, running a business and how to work together.

"Working day to day with a partner is much more productive, rewarding and fun than being in an adversarial relationship, paving the way for new work opportunities and greater financial rewards," said SMACNA National President Kevin Harping.

SURROUNDED BY the newly branded service trucks are union and contractor representatives associated with Sheet Metal Workers Local 80.


News Briefs
Crane operator prevents accident

Quick thinking by a crane operator dealing with mechanical failure in the rig's boom hoist prevented major damage or injury from happening Sept. 26 at a parking structure under construction in Sault Ste. Marie.

A 250-ton capacity crane run by Local 324 operator Mark Matthews had been boomed out, and he was bringing into position a 36-ton section of pre-cast concrete wall when symptoms of instability generated by mechanical failure suddenly occurred.

Rather than proceed with the lift, or stop and keep the wall suspended in midair, the operator quickly and safely lowered it where it was. It demolished a section of fence on a property neighboring the site, uprooted a tree, and damaged another tree, but caused no other damage.

Local 324 Northwest Michigan BA Sam Houston said Matthews' quick thinking
saved the structure from damage, and perhaps the lives and limbs of other workers toiling on the structure.

"It takes years of experience with a crane to be able to think on your feet that quickly," Houston said. "Mark's a well-trained operator, and he did a good job."

The crane was immediately sidelined after the accident, inspected, and kept non-operational until a replacement boom section could be brought in from Manitoba.

The $6.3 million, 400-car parking structure is being built under a general contract with Devere Construction Co., Alpena. Some work has been delayed a few days but the project is still expected to meet its targeted completion date, with the structure open to vehicles on Dec. 16.

(Michigan Construction contributed to this report).

Safety added in to U.S. road bill

OSHA will begin an initiative in 2006 designed to prevent falls in construction, the safety agency said last month.

Stewart Burkhammer, head of OSHA's Office of Construction Services, told the Construction Labor Report that while fatalities have dropped in some areas, "we're not happy" about the rise in fall fatalities, which are "way up."

OSHA initiated a similar drive in 2003 and 2004 to address an uopward spike of trenching deaths. Trenching deaths dropped slightly from one year to the next, and OSHA said more information is needed to determine the success of the drive.

Falls are nearly always the leading cause of on-the-job fatalities in the construction industry, followed by struck-by and electrocution categories.

Record August for U.S. construction
U.S. construction set a monthly record in August, spending $1.108 billion (seasonally adjusted) the Census Bureau reported.

"The figure is especially impressive in that Hurricane Katrina disrupted some construction late in the month," said Associated General Contractors of America Chief Economist Ken Simonson.

He said he does not expect "a quick rebound in construction in the hurricane zone," but there will be much emergency work going on, like repairing levees, highways and other infrastructure. Residential construction will take months or years to get going on a large scale, he predicted.



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