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October 15, 2004

Stagnant jobs numbers persist under Bush

Bush's hometown newspaper rates Bush: 'We trusted him. He let us down.'

Aggregate of trades nearly finished with huge cement silo

Recent Supreme Court decisions have 'brutal' affect on trades' ability to win injury lawsuits

Manufacturing industry to lose the burger-builders?

News Briefs

 

Stagnant jobs numbers persist under Bush

New jobs numbers released Oct. 8 show President George W. Bush is nearly 7 million jobs short of the job predictions his economic advisers made in February 2002 when Bush pushed through his tax cuts.

The 96,000 jobs created in September were less than two-thirds the jobs needed just to keep up with population growth - and far from the 306,000 new jobs Bush promised to create each month, according to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of September unemployment figures by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

"Today's employment report amplifies the drumbeat of bad news for America's workers," says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "For the laid-off high-tech employee in Ohio and the unemployed mill worker in Maine, this is an unexpectedly painful report."

Larry Mishel, president of the labor-backed EPI, said "September's job growth indicates a weak economy and it is substandard by any benchmark. One minimal benchmark is that the number of jobs should grow as fast as the working-age population, to keep unemployment from rising.

"With our working-age population growing around 1.2 percent each year, the economy needs to produce 135,000-150,000 jobs each month" to prevent unemployment from rising, he added.

While the U.S. economy continues to lose good jobs, Bush is responding with the same failed economic polices, said Sweeney. As good jobs are going overseas, Bush has given giant corporations tax incentives for shipping American jobs abroad. In contrast, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said as president, he will close corporate tax loopholes that reward companies for exporting jobs and will cut corporate tax rates to encourage companies to create more U.S. jobs.

The economy lost 18,000 manufacturing jobs and 12,000 information jobs in September - jobs that pay well and provide benefits. Meanwhile, temporary, low-wage jobs rose by 33,000. Since Bush became president, the U.S. economy has lost more than 2.7 million manufacturing jobs and 558,000 information jobs and Bush is on track to become the first president since Herbert Hoover in the Depression to end his term with a net job loss.

Nearly 13 million people are unemployed or under-employed, a figure that barely has budged throughout 2004. More than 220,000 people dropped out of the labor force last month, while the share of the workforce composed of workers holding two or more jobs has increased. And the number of workers who have been unemployed for at least six months rose again in September, to 1.7 million. Fully one in five unemployed workers has been unemployed for at least six months.

This was the final monthly jobs report before the presidential election. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8.003 million people were unemployed in September - compared to 5.956 million unemployed at the beginning of Bush's term in January 2001.

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Bush's hometown newspaper rates Bush: 'We trusted him. He let us down.'

(Editor's note: Following is an editorial that appeared in President Bush's hometown newspaper, The Lone Star Iconoclast of Crawford, Texas. It is reprinted here with permission).

Few Americans would have voted for George W. Bush four years ago if he had promised that, as President, he would:

  • Empty the Social Security trust fund by $507 billion to help offset fiscal irresponsibility and at the same time slash Social Security benefits.
  • Cut Medicare by 17 percent and reduce veterans' benefits and military pay.
  • Eliminate overtime pay for millions of Americans and raise oil prices by 50 percent.
  • Give tax cuts to businesses that sent American jobs overseas, and, in fact, by policy encourage their departure.
  • Give away billions of tax dollars in government contracts without competitive bids.
  • Involve this country in a deadly and highly questionable war, and
  • Take a budget surplus and turn it into the worst deficit in the history of the United States, creating a debt in just four years that will take generations to repay.

These were elements of a hidden agenda that surfaced only after he took office. The publishers of The Iconoclast endorsed Bush four years ago, based on the things he promised, not on this smoke-screened agenda.

Today, we are endorsing his opponent, John Kerry, based not only on the things that Bush has delivered, but also on the vision of a return to normality that Kerry says our country needs.

Four items trouble us the most about the Bush administration: his initiatives to disable the Social Security system, the deteriorating state of the American economy, a dangerous shift away from the basic freedoms established by our founding fathers, and his continuous mistakes regarding terrorism and Iraq.

President Bush has announced plans to change the Social Security system as we know it by privatizing it, which when considering all the tangents related to such a change, would put the entire economy in a dramatic tailspin.

The Social Security Trust Fund actually lends money to the rest of the government in exchange for government bonds, which is how the system must work by law, but how do you later repay Social Security while you are running a huge deficit? It's impossible, without raising taxes sometime in the future or becoming fiscally responsible now. Social Security money is being used to escalate our deficit and, at the same time, mask a much larger government deficit, instead of paying down the national debt, which would be a proper use, to guarantee a future gain.

Privatization is problematic in that it would subject Social Security to the ups, downs, and outright crashes of the stock market. It would take millions in brokerage fees and commissions out of the system, and, unless we have assurance that the Ivan Boeskys and Ken Lays of the world will be caught and punished as a deterrent, subject both the market and the Social Security Fund to fraud and market manipulation, not to mention devastate and ruin multitudes of American families that would find their lives lost to starvation, shame, and isolation.

Kerry wants to keep Social Security, which each of us already owns. He says that the program is manageable, since it is projected to be solvent through 2042, with use of its trust funds. This would give ample time to strengthen the economy, reduce the budget deficit the Bush administration has created, and, therefore, bolster the program as needed to fit ever-changing demographics.

Our senior citizens depend upon Social Security. Bush's answer is radical and uncalled for, and would result in chaos as Americans have never experienced. Do we really want to risk the future of Social Security on Bush by spinning the wheel of uncertainty?

In those dark hours after the World Trade Center attacks, Americans rallied together with a new sense of patriotism. We were ready to follow Bush's lead through any travail.

He let us down.

When he finally emerged from his hide-outs on remote military bases well after the first crucial hours following the attack, he gave sound-bytes instead of solutions.

He did not trust us to be ready to sacrifice, build up our public and private security infrastructure, or cut down on our energy use to put economic pressure on the enemy in all the nations where he hides. He merely told us to shop, spend, and pretend nothing was wrong.

Rather than using the billions of dollars expended on the invasion of Iraq to shore up our boundaries and go after Osama bin Laden and the Saudi Arabian terrorists, the funds were used to initiate a war with what Bush called a more immediate menace, Saddam Hussein, in oil-rich Iraq. After all, Bush said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction trained on America. We believed him, just as we believed it when he reported that Iraq was the heart of terrorism. We trusted him.

The Iconoclast, the President's hometown newspaper, took Bush on his word and editorialized in favor of the invasion. The newspaper's publisher promoted Bush and the invasion of Iraq to Londoners in a BBC interview during the time that the administration was wooing the support of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Again, he let us down.

We presumed the President had solid proof of the existence of these weapons, what and where they were, even as the search continued. Otherwise, our troops would be in much greater danger and the premise for a hurried-up invasion would be moot, allowing more time to solicit assistance from our allies.
Instead we were duped into following yet another privileged agenda.

Now he argues unconvincingly that Iraq was providing safe harbor to terrorists, his new key justification for the invasion. It is like arguing that America provided safe harbor to terrorists leading to 9/11.

Once and for all, George Bush was President of the United States on that day. No one else. He had been President nine months, he had been officially warned of just such an attack a full month before it happened. As President, ultimately he and only he was responsible for our failure to avert those attacks.

We should expect that a sitting President would vacation less, if at all, and instead tend to the business of running the country, especially if he is, as he likes to boast, a "wartime president." America is in service 365 days a year. We don't need a part-time President who does not show up for duty as Commander-In-Chief until he is forced to, and who is in a constant state of blameless denial when things don't get done.

What has evolved from the virtual go-it-alone conquest of Iraq is more gruesome than a stain on a White House intern's dress. America's reputation and influence in the world has diminished, leaving us with brute force as our most persuasive voice.

Iraq is now a quagmire: no WMDs, no substantive link between Saddam and Osama, and no workable plan for the withdrawal of our troops. We are asked to go along on faith. But remember, blind patriotism can be a dangerous thing and "spin" will not bring back to life a dead soldier; certainly not a thousand of them.

Kerry has remained true to his vote granting the President the authority to use the threat of war to intimidate Saddam Hussein into allowing weapons inspections. He believes President Bush rushed into war before the inspectors finished their jobs.

Kerry also voted against President Bush's $87 billion for troop funding because the bill promoted poor policy in Iraq, privileged Halliburton and other corporate friends of the Bush Administration to profiteer from the war, and forced debt upon future generations of Americans.

Kerry's four-point plan for Iraq is realistic, wise, strong, and correct. With the help from our European and Middle Eastern allies, his plan is to train Iraqi security forces, involve Iraqis in their rebuilding and constitution-writing processes, forgive Iraq's multi-billion dollar debts, and convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors in order to secure a pledge of respect for Iraq's borders and non-interference in Iraq's internal affairs.

The publishers of the Iconoclast differ with Bush on other issues, including the denial of stem cell research, shortchanging veterans' entitlements, cutting school programs and grants, dictating what our children learn through a thought-controlling "test" from Washington rather than allowing local school boards and parents to decide how young people should be taught, ignoring the environment, and creating extraneous language in the Patriot Act that removes some of the very freedoms that our founding fathers and generations of soldiers fought so hard to preserve.

We are concerned about the vast exportation of jobs to other countries, due in large part to policies carried out by Bush appointees. Funds previously geared at retention of small companies are being given to larger concerns, such as Halliburton - companies with strong ties to oil and gas. Job training has been cut every year that Bush has resided at the White House.

Then there is his resolve to inadequately finance Homeland Security and to cut the Community Oriented Policing Program (COPS) by 94 percent, to reduce money for rural development, to slash appropriations for the Small Business Administration, and to under-fund veterans' programs.

Likewise troubling is that President Bush fought against the creation of the 9/11 Commission and is yet to embrace its recommendations.

Vice President Cheney's Halliburton has been awarded multi-billion-dollar contracts without undergoing any meaningful bid process - an enormous conflict of interest - plus the company has been significantly raiding the funds of Export-Import Bank of America, reducing investment that could have gone toward small business trade.

When examined based on all the facts, Kerry's voting record is enviable and echoes that of many Bush allies who are aghast at how the Bush administration has destroyed the American economy. Compared to Bush on economic issues, Kerry would be an arch-conservative, providing for Americans first. He has what it takes to right our wronged economy.

The re-election of George W. Bush would be a mandate to continue on our present course of chaos. We cannot afford to double the debt that we already have. We need to be moving in the opposite direction.

John Kerry has 30 years of experience looking out for the American people and can navigate our country back to prosperity and re-instill in America the dignity she so craves and deserves. He has served us well as a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and has had a successful career as a district attorney, lieutenant governor, and senator.

Kerry has a positive vision for America, plus the proven intelligence, good sense, and guts to make it happen.

That's why The Iconoclast urges Texans not to rate the candidate by his hometown or even his political party, but instead by where he intends to take the country.

The Iconoclast wholeheartedly endorses John Kerry.

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Aggregate of trades nearly finished with huge cement silo

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

It was a high-top topping-out at the giant Lafarge Distribution Facility on Detroit's riverfront.

The reputed largest cement products silo in North America recently took another step towards completion with the topping out of the 183-foot-high facility several weeks ago. The project is expected to be substantially complete in November thanks to the work of the building trades and Graycor Industrial Constructors.

Approximately 100 construction workers are wrapping up the silo project, which will allow Lafarge to import cement-based raw materials from ship or train, proportion the raw materials to the needs of customers, and distribute the mix to incoming trucks.

"It's a unique job, we don't build these very often," said Graycor Project Manager Robert Fritsche. "The interior of the silo is very congested, so you can only fit a certain amount of trades people and equipment in an area at any given time. We've had good people out here."

The structure of the silo was created utilizing a slip-form process with a continuous concrete pour over a 14-day period

Erecting the structure, with all of its nooks and crannies - as well as the support steel, duct work, conveyors, chutes and conduit zig-zagging about the interior of the silo - is not exactly an ergonomically friendly experience. "Watch your head!" said one fitter as we shimmied under a low iron beam to get into position to take his picture.

But the cramped quarters won't matter much to anyone when the silo starts operating. The 106-foot-diameter silo is unlike any that most Hardhats will build in their lifetime. The walls of the silo measure 24 inches wide near the bottom, gradually decreasing to 12 inches near the top. The silo is divided into ten chambers that extend from top to bottom. According to Concrete Pumping Magazine, some 7,000 yards of concrete were poured during the construction process.

When the Lafarge silo starts up, raw materials will be off-loaded from lake freighters via a system of bucket elevators to the top of the structure. Then, the raw materials are moved to the chambers via a system of chutes that will smoothly move the products on a layer of air, similar to an air hockey table. The concrete products can be mixed and proportioned, and funneled into one of three bays at the bottom of the structure, for transport by trucks to customers.

Or, next door to the silo in the palletizing building, bagged cement products will also be available for distribution. LaFarge North America provides a full line of construction materials including aggregate, asphalt, cement, and cement-related products and specialty products for erecting and finishing projects.

"Overall the job has gone very well, and the safety record has been very good," Fritsche said. "And we've been very pleased with the quality of craftsmanship."

IRON WORKERS working for Graycor and Whaley Steel mark the topping out of the Lafarge Distribution Facility, the largest cement silo in North America, which was constructed in Soutwest Detroit along the Detroit River.

ELECTRICIANS Dan Geppart, left, and Ken Burnham of IBEW Local 58 and Superior Electric install valve wiring in an air blower atop the Lafarge cement silo.

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Recent Supreme Court decisions have 'brutal' affect on trades' ability to win injury lawsuits

By: Richard L. Steinberg
Attorney

In 1972, an ironworker named Michael McDonough was killed in a workplace catastrophe in Flint, resulting in a lawsuit. In the McDonough case, the Michigan Supreme Court recognized that construction workers, and those employed in other high hazard occupations, have the right to sue for damages, if the project owner, general contractor, or any other corporation hires a subcontractor to perform "inherently dangerous work," and the subcontractor's negligence seriously, or fatally, injures one of its employees.

The concept of "inherently dangerous work" means that anyone who is employed by an outside contractor to perform work, which requires that special precautions be taken, in advance of the commencement of the work, for the safe conduct of the work, because of the unusually dangerous character of the work, can be held legally liable, if those precautions are not taken.

This was an important rule of law, because the purpose of this rule was to exact an extra measure of care out of the corporation hiring the sub. And, the rule was especially important to ironworkers, roofers, and laborers, because these are the three most dangerous crafts in all of the building trades. The construction industry has one of the highest injury frequency, severity, and fatality rates in the country.

In 1974, the Michigan Supreme Court in the Funk case used the occasion to give additional protection to construction workers. The court held that an owner, actively engaged in the work, and who retained control over the performance of the work, was legally responsible for worker safety, if it was negligent in exercising that control.

The court in the Funk case also said general contractors can be sued, if: they have supervisory and coordinating authority over the project; the employees of the subs are exposed to serious danger, and they are obviously working without the proper safety equipment.

Last July, the most pro-business, anti-worker Supreme Court in the history of Michigan, finally turned its attention to these rules, which had safeguarded construction workers, and their families, for more than 30 years.

First, in Fultz, the Supreme Court held that a company which farms out work to an outside contractor, cannot be sued for its negligence in the performance of its contract, unless that company also owes some legal duty separate and apart from the contractual requirements. Mere negligence in the performance of the contract - such as the failure to carry out the safety provisions in the contract - is not enough to win.

Second, in Deshambo, the Court abolished the application of the "inherently dangerous work" doctrine to workplace injuries and deaths. The hard-core Republican majority of the Court decided that applying the "inherently dangerous" rule to workplace injuries and deaths was an "unwarranted" extension of the law.

Third, in Ormsby, the Supreme Court dissected Funk into a rigid four-part test. In order to sue, the injured worker must prove: "(1) that the general contractor failed to take reasonable steps within its supervisory and coordinating authority (2) to guard against readily observable and avoidable dangers (3) that created a high degree of risk to a significant number of workmen (4) in a common work area." The Supreme Court has never said how many workers must be exposed to the danger to constitute "a significant number," and the court has never authoritatively defined the phrase "common work area."

What the state high court did say in Ormsby was that the failure to prove any one of these four parts was fatal. Additionally, the court held that an owner cannot be sued, unless it acted as its own general contractor, and also if it passes this four-part test.

Finally, the Supreme Court held that no other contractor, such as a prime, can ever be sued for its negligence under Ormsby. The Court left unsaid whether Ormsby is now the only rule governing construction site injury occurrences.

These three "killer" opinions from the Court have a direct, and brutal, impact on the building trades. In almost every case, an injured residential construction worker will have no legal rights beyond workers' compensation, even if the construction is of an entire subdivision.

Next, construction workers employed in the construction of "big box" buildings, or any other project where the general contractor phases in the work, such that only one or two crafts are on-site, at one time, are now relegated to the same "second-class" citizenship.

Workers engaged in highway construction are in the same boat. Only craft employees working on major multi-million dollar, multi-employer projects, and who are working on top of each other, will even have the chance to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their families.

How did we get in this position? The answer: all too frequently, people don't vote. And, the people who do vote, don't vote the non-partisan section of the ballot. If you don't vote the non-partisan section of the ballot, you have no voice regarding who sits on the Supreme Court, or any court.

On Election Day, Nov. 2, you will have the opportunity to vote for Marilyn Kelly for re-election; and, against Stephen Markman for re-election. Don't miss this opportunity to stand up for your rights. Vote, and vote the non-partisan section of your ballot, for judges who are on the side of working people, and not big business. Believe me, your bosses know how their votes will be cast.

* Richard L. Steinberg is a Detroit lawyer, who has spent more than 30 years representing injured construction workers and their families. He is an author, lecturer, and frequent consultant to other lawyers, on the subject of construction injuries. He is a member of Teamsters Local No. 20 (On Honorable Withdrawal); CAM, MTLA, the NAACP, and a voting member of the ASTM F-13 Committee on Pedestrian and Walkway Safety and Footwear. He represented the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, as amicus curiae, in the case of Ormsby v. Capital Welding, Inc. He is licensed to practice law in both Michigan and Ohio.

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Manufacturing industry to lose the burger-builders?

(PAI) - Many of our nation's lawmakers are acknowledging that hamburger assembly is not the same as auto assembly.

On Sept. 17, the Republican-led House voted to ban a Bush Administration brainstorm - counting fast food jobs as factory work - in order to improve job and economic numbers.

After a brief debate, lawmakers approved a provision by Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) ordering presidential economists to drop the reclassification of burger-builders.. The language in the bill is almost laughable, but so is the original Economic Report of the President released earlier this year which suggested that workers at McDonald's and similar chains, because they assemble hamburgers with trimmings and other meal components, could be reclassified as factory workers.

The adopted House bill reads in part, "None of the funds available... may be used by the Council of Economic Advisers to produce an Economic Report of the President regarding the inclusion of employment at a retail fast food restaurant as part of the definition of manufacturing employment."

Allowing such a change would increase the number of U.S. factory jobs. The U.S. has lost more than 2.5 million factory jobs - in traditional factories, such as those making cars, refrigerators and airplanes - in the last four years.

The Bush economic report asked, on page 73: "When a fast food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?"

Brown responded, "So here is what we got, according to the Bush administration, who knows they have a problem with the loss of manufacturing jobs, we got the kid in the restaurant at McDonald's or Burger King, whatever. He is setting up an assembly line."

Brown's ban may not survive House-Senate negotiations over money for the economic council and other White House offices, said Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), who guided the bill in the House. He explained that negotiators may have to dump many amendments - including Brown's and another setting safety standards for Mexican and Canadian trucks - to produce a bill that Bush will sign.

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News Briefs
Short-term road funding OK'd

Unable to come together to adopt a plan that would have funded construction transportation spending for six years, Congress and President Bush approved a measure on Sept. 30 that funds highway work for the next eight months.

A six-year funding scheme would have allowed state departments of transportation to plan long-term projects knowing how much federal funding will be available. Instead, said the Engineering News Record, the money approved by Congress "should give state departments of transportation enough certainty to proceed with bid lettings through early spring. But having just eight months of assured federal aid is unlikely to convince states and transit agencies to launch planning and design contracts for major new projects."

The longer-term funding plan also had provisions for fixing the lack of equity among the states when it comes to receiving federal highway money. Michigan currently only receives a return of 88 percent of the money taxpayers send to Washington earmarked for road work - ranking us at No. 47 in terms of equity received.

The greater problem is that Congress and President Bush cannot not agree on how much to spend on highway construction - the Senate wanted to spend $318 billion over the next six years, while Bush wants to spend about $70 billion less.

Construction takes a hit in August
August construction starts in the U.S. dropped 4 percent from the previous month to a rate of $573.3 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Construction. The retreat for total construction was due to a slower pace for nonresidential building after a very strong July, in conjunction with a slight loss of momentum for residential building and non-building construction (public works and utilities).

However, for the first eight months of 2004, total U.S. construction on an unadjusted basis amounted to $394.3 billion, was up 10 percent from the same period a year ago.

"Total construction continues to move at a healthy pace, and its now virtually certain that full-year growth for 2004 will exceed the 5 percent gain in 2003," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "Single-family housing is still exceptionally strong, and the broad trend for commercial building this year is generally upward, even with the reduced amount of construction starts in August. At the same time, tight fiscal conditions over the past several years continue to have a restraining influence on the institutional structure types and public works construction."

Fatal injuries increase in U.S.

A total of 5,559 fatal workplace injuries were reported nationwide last year, up from 5,534 in 2002, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced earlier this month.

One in every five deaths - 1,126 - occurred among construction workers.

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