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October 17, 2003
In a win for the nation's workers, the U.S. House on Oct. 2 defeated President Bush's efforts to make changes to federal labor law that would have made up to eight million workers ineligible for overtime pay.
The House voted 221-203 to reject any changes in federal overtime provisions. The vote lined up with a similar vote by the Senate last month.
This fight isn't over, however. President Bush, who has argued that the current rules are outdated, has said he would veto the Labor Department's budget for the current fiscal year if Congress blocked the changes. The House and Senate must iron out their differences in the Labor Department's budget, and whatever they decide could still allow the new rules to go into effect.
"Both houses of Congress have now spoken - and they have directed President Bush not to take away overtime pay from working families," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
The House vote reflected a change by a number of Republicans on the bill, who are said to be feeling some pressure on the matter from voters in their district. In July, the House voted 213-210 to approve the new overtime rules.
"The Republicans are in survival mode," Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee, told the Wall Street Journal. "They are afraid to go home and tell people they cut their wages."
The resolution was also opposed by that committee's chairman, Republican John Boehner of Ohio, who said passage of the measure would only add to confusion and more litigation over interpretation of the law.
According to the Journal, Bush's proposal would raise the wage threshold for mandatory overtime pay, allowing about 1.3 million people who earn less than $22,100 per year to qualify. But the changes would also make it easier for employers to classify workers as professionals or supervisors, removing their eligibility for overtime.
Workers under a collective bargaining agreement would not
immediately be affected by Bush's rules. But according to the
labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, up to eight million employees
in a myriad or industries, from broadcast technicians to firefighters
to nurses, could be called "supervisors" or a similar
designation by their employers and thus be made ineligible for
WASHINGTON - President Bush sent another signal of his open disdain for the nation's workers and organized labor on Oct. 3, by imposing new onerous and costly bookkeeping rules on labor unions.
The new rules required by Bush's Labor Department could cost U.S. unions as much as $1 billion per year, according to the AFL-CIO. But in the wake of billion dollar financial scandals at companies like Enron and WorldCom, and controversies surrounding huge executive salaries, the president has made no movement toward imposing similar financial reporting rules on corporations.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the new rules are "craftily designed to weaken unions - the strongest advocates for American workers - as our nation prepares for the 2004 elections."
According to the Wall Street Journal, effective with financial reports beginning Jan. 1, 2004, unions with $250,000 or more in annual receipts will be required to itemize certain receipts and payments of $5,000 or more and file them electronically.
Existing financial union financial disclosure forms, said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, "provide little of value to rank-and-file members about their unions' finances and operations." She said the requirements will also "empower and protect workers who entrust their unions to protect their interests."
It will also cut into union finances and create a mountain of paperwork, leaving unions less time for contract negotiations, grievance handling, organizing and other core activities. The Airline Pilots Association estimates that the new rules would result in the creation of a stack of 5 ½ feet of new paperwork each year.
The new financial reporting requirements for unions, said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan, "are intended to bury unions in red tape and needless costs. There can be no other legitimate conclusion considering that labor unions already adhere to standardized practices in tracking their finances, including budgets, salaries, loans and expenses."
Sullivan said the Building Trades Department repeatedly contacted the Bush Administration, seeking to enter into negotiated rulemaking over the new rules, but was turned down.
"Simultaneously, this Administration and the Securities
and Exchange Commission are aggressively seeking to neutralize
attempts to tighten laws governing corporate disclosure and deficient
financial reporting," Sullivan said. "This clearly
demonstrates a double standard as unions are being held to a
higher standard than the very corporate criminals who looted
their corporate treasuries, bankrupted their companies, and destroyed
their employees' retirement funds."
By Marty Mulcahy
DELTA TWP. - Building trades union members are erecting the Michigan Technical Education Center/Technical Training Center. And when the project is complete in November 2004, they'll be picking up part of the tab for disadvantaged students who want to learn there.
On Oct. 3, Iron Workers Local 340 members topped off the combined buildings, which together will add about 270,000 square-feet to the landscape off of I-496 and will cost about $43.7 million. The owner is Lansing Community College (LCC).
"We've got close to 100 workers out here, and we're happy with them, we have a really good team of people and subcontracting companies," said Devon Chester, project manager for construction manager Clark Construction. Iron workers from Assemblers, Inc. erected the 2,000 tons of structural iron over the last three months in the sprawling building.
The "M-TEC" is a 52,000 square-foot, $8.7 million facility specially designed to provide workers/students with a flexible "open-entry, open-exit" training. Employees who are undergoing training for businesses in the region can start at any time and without lengthy time commitments. Training curricula can range from team building to robotics.
M-TEC is connected via a "virtual wall," as LCC puts it, to the Technical Training Center, a $35 million facility designed to provide credit courses leading towards degree certifications in 21 programs including automotive, manufacturing, welding, and public service careers like fire, police, corrections and EMT training.
Along with the credit programs, many vocational classes for Eaton Intermediate School District will be moving to the site.
"Thousands of students will begin their career preparation or return to LCC for upgrading their skills," said LCC President Paula Cunningham. "Their futures will be better and all of us will benefit from their increased knowledge and skill."
The project is the first to be constructed in conjunction with the HOPE (Helping Other People Excel) Scholarship Program. Earlier this year, members affiliated with Lansing Area Building Trades - when they're working on jobs operating under a project labor agreement - agreed to contribute five cents per hour of their wages to the HOPE fund. More than $2 million has been raised to fund the scholarship program.
The HOPE Scholarship Program is a partnership between the Lansing Police Department, the City of Lansing, the Lansing School District and Lansing Community College. Five hundred students per year who face personal and economic obstacles - as identified by Lansing School District administrators - receive two year's free tuition at Lansing Community College provided they graduate from high school.
William Darr, dean of the LCC's Technical Careers Division, said the project is a straightforward design - with one major exception. For heating and cooling, the college opted to utilize a geothermal system, which is uncommon for a project of this size. In front of the building, contractors have dug wells up to 285 feet deep to tap into the earth's consistent 55-degree temperatures. A closed loop system will act as a heating and cooling exchanger and provide 65 percent of the building's heating and cooling capacity.
The system is expected to save the school about $150,000 per
year in utility costs, allowing the more expensive system to
pay for itself in 10 years.
LANSING - During the past six years, Michigan has averaged an 88 percent return on highway funding it sends to the federal government, giving it the dubious distinction of being a "donor state."
Now, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and leaders of the other 14 states who put in more than they receive in federal highway dollars are lobbying Congress to provide a return of at least 95 percent. A multi-state letter signed by the governors on Sept. 30 comes as President Bush signed a five-month temporary extension law to continue the nation's highway and transit programs.
"Michigan drivers know that too many of our roads are in poor condition and cause higher vehicle repair costs," Granholm said. "While I'm pleased Congress and the president have kept the transportation funds flowing, too much of our money is spilling into other states. I hope Congress will pass a six-year bill by early next year that gets Michigan the full 95 percent minimum guarantee we deserve."
A 95 percent return is projected to help bring home approximately
The governors have formed a group called SHARE, or "States'
Highway Alliance for Real Equity." The governors have endorsed
the Highway Funding Equity Act, legislation co-introduced by
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and House Majority Leader Tom Delay
The governors wrote, "This inequity disproportionately
impacts our commuters with more congestion, less safety and mobility,
and higher vehicle repair bills than
Other donor states include Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma,
South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and
Between 1998 and 2001, there were 26 states that received
less than a 100 percent share of their contributions to the Highway
Trust Fund, and 20 states received less than a 95 percent share.
By Marty Mulcahy
An underground spring meanders beneath Patton Park in Southwest Detroit, making the soggy soil an undesirable site for the extensive sewer line work that's currently taking place.
General contractor Walbride-Aldinger and their subcontractors had to find a way to stabilize the soil for digging and boring operations, because they certainly couldn't go around the site. The area on the western end of the park already has a key pumping station, which is serviced by thousands of feet of buried 14- and 17-foot diameter pipe.
Over the years, the integrity of those pipes, which were installed in the 1950s, has not been an issue. But creating a soil shoring system for installing new sewer lines in the unstable soil would be difficult and risky business. Enter a California company called Raito, Inc. a specialist in "geosystems construction," which has brought to Michigan a specialized system of boring concrete pilings that has become fairly common overseas, but is rare in our state. Raito was hired by the project manager Walbridge-Aldinger.
The system involves the use of three side-by-side crane-mounted augers, which on this project are bored down to a depth of about 97 feet to reach "glacial till," a very stiff layer of stable soil that's above bedrock. As the augers descend and then come back up, cement slurry is pumped through the auger bits and combines with the soil in the ground to form a "soilcrete" piling that's not as hard as concrete - but is plenty strong enough to hold back a perimeter of soil to allow for safe excavation.
"This type of soil stabilization is relatively new in Michigan," said Raito Senior Project Manager David Miller. "It's like a big egg beater. The idea is not to take the soil out, but to blend it in place, and that's a relatively new process. The process is also unique in that it allows construction in places with high groundwater, limited space or in other areas that in the past you wouldn't typically see construction."
The cement slurry is mixed at a batch plant on the site, and is pumped several hundred feet away to the rig running the augers. The three-foot diameter augers are placed two feet part on the rig, and when their work is done in January, they will have left 3,600 soilcrete pilings. The pilings are left in place and will remain buried on the 12-acre construction site.
"I was surprised at how hard the pilings get," said Walbridge-Adlinger Project Manager Brian Cruickshank. "It made a believer out of me."
The 350,000-lb crane sits on metal sheets so that it won't sink in the ground. Raito is one of only a few companies that performs this kind of work, and has only about 10 such rigs in the nation, and another 50 around the world.
Miller said the multi-auger process was invented about 15 years ago and is commonly used in Asia. He said the process can be 15-30 percent cheaper than driving conventional sheet pilings, and the work will usually get finished faster.
The entire $62 million project, which involves the installation of 5,400 lineal feet of 72-inch diameter pipe, is being undertaken to separate sewage from storm water in this part of Detroit, which currently travel through the same pipes. This part of the system serves about 11,000 acres of Detroit. Currently, when it's not raining, sewage is screened and treated properly and is dumped safely into the Rouge River. But during heavy rains, the system is overwhelmed, and is designed to move untreated sewage directly into the Rouge River.
When the new system is in place, a new treatment plant that will be built on the Patton Park site will screen solids from the sewage and partially treat it with chlorine. During heavy rains, the pipes or "barrels" in the new system will contain the overflow and act as holding tanks until a sewer treatment plant at the end of the line can further process the wastewater before it is released.
When the job is done, Patton Park will look like its former self - and part of the project includes the $10 million renovation of a nearby city recreation building.
"The tradespeople are doing a lot of work out here, and
when we're finished, no one will ever see it again," said
Cruickshank. "So it's nice that they get a little recognition.
They're doing a great job."
Painters' Cardwell dies in accident
Mr. Cardwell, 45, hailed from Painters Local 514 in Ann Arbor. He had been a business representative for the local and for Painters District Council 22 for several years when he was appointed to a position with the International Union in April 2000. His primary duty was organizing in the South and West - among the most difficult areas in the country to do that kind of work.
"B.J. was as dedicated to his job as anybody I know," said Painters International Union General President James Williams. "He'd spend two or three nights at a time in a city, and about 200 days a year away from home. People don't realize how much time his job took him away from his family. But he always took on the tough assignments, and he never complained."
District Council 22 Secretary-Treasurer Bob Kennedy agreed that hard work was B.J.'s trademark. "I think early on after he became a business agent that he had aspirations for going to the international union," Kennedy said. "He was suited for that kind of work. He worked hard, but he also had a lot of fun, and he was a good man."
Mr. Cardwell is survived by his wife Shelly and two daughters.
When we interviewed him 18 months ago about his organizing work, Cardwell said, "people in Michigan have no idea how good they have it." He was referring to the inherent difficulties of trying to set up union wage scales in areas that are openly hostile to unions.
Williams said B.J. was outgoing and was often the center of
attention among the people he was trying to organize. "I
will miss him," Williams said. "B.J. was a good person,
and he certainly lived life to the fullest."
The monument, built to commemorate Civil War soldiers and sailors, is being relocated about 150 feet as part of the Campus Martius project.
But as we went to press, there were a few stones left unturned, and on Oct 1, masons found a 10-by-12 inch copper box sealed inside a block of granite. The box was stamped "July 4, 1867." Unfortunately, water and muck had infiltrated the box and pretty much destroyed the paper contents, although some metal medallions survived.
Levis shuts last N. American plants