October 17, 2008
An end and a beginning
Choice Act should be part of the solution
Here come the
judges: A vital part of voting, at the bottom of ballots
Plenty of action
at FireKeepers casino
off on renewable energy plan
help restore power to flooded Cedar Rapids
2008: An end and a beginning
By Mark Ayers
Building and Construction Trades Department
October is that time of year when most of us begin to feel
the sharp chill in the air that says that winter is just around
the corner. For some folks, October represents the beginning
of the end
the threshold to the end of another year.
And as October 2008 begins, I can certainly agree with that
sentiment. Because we - and by "we" I mean America
in general, and America's Building Trades Unions in particular
- are on the cusp of truly experiencing the beginning of an end.
For our beloved country, we are fast approaching what many
of us believe is the most important and historic presidential
election in our lifetimes. Not in the sense that we may very
well elect an African American as president, which is, indeed,
historic in and of itself.
Perhaps more importantly, this election is so important and
historic because I truly believe that the results of this election
will demonstrate a seismic political shift away from a political
majority and its accompanying governing philosophy that has thrown
our nation wildly off-course over the last eight years, and has
put the lives of American working families in complete disarray
On March 16, 2008, the U.S. Federal Reserve, by nature a prudent
and cautious institution, rewrote its own rule-book by rescuing
Bear Stearns, the country's fifth-largest investment bank, and
agreeing to lend directly to other brokers. A couple of days
later the Fed cut short-term interest rates-again-to 2.25%, marking
the fastest loosening of monetary policy in a generation.
It was a Herculean effort, and it staved off the outright
catastrophe of a bank failure that had threatened to split Wall
Street asunder. At that time, I applauded the actions of the
Fed andconcluded in my own mind that we were close to reaching
the peak of the crisis.
Boy, was I wrong!
In mid-September, the federal government had to step in and
provide immediate infusions of cash and credit to stave off the
collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. And hot on the heels
of that action came the news that Wall Street banking conglomerates
Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, along with the world's largest
insurance company - American International Group (AIG) - was
also on the verge of bankruptcy.
Like most Americans, I digested this news with a healthy dose
of wonder, asking myself, "What the Hell is going on
did we get to this point
and who was asleep at the switch?"
Well, many would say (and I would agree) that it all began
in the 1980s with an historic and sustained bull market in stocks
and bonds, propelled by falling interest rates, new information
technology corporate restructuring, and a new conservative government
led by Ronald Reagan's siren call to eliminate any and all forms
of government regulation and get government out of the way of
When this historic boom ran out, shortly after 2000, the finance
houses that had grown rich on the back of it set about in search
for new profits. Thanks to cheap money, and the aforementioned
obliteration of government securities regulation, they could
take on more debt-which makes investments more profitable and
more risky. And thanks to new information technology, they could
design an endless myriad of complex derivatives, some of them
linked to suspect mortgages. By combining debt and derivatives,
the banks created a new money-making machine that could originate
and distribute prodigious quantities of risk to a baffling array
And while all this was going on, there was no oversight from
any government regulatory body to ensure against any potential
Over the past decade this entangled system fed on itself.
And the financial system, or a big part of it, began to lose
touch with its primary purpose; which was, and is, to write,
manage and trade claims on future cash-flows for the rest of
the economy. Instead, Wall Street increasingly got caught up
in a game built upon fees and speculation.
And its favorite pastime was to "beat the regulator."
And in this game, billions of dollars were diverted off of balance
sheets and into more dubious, and incomprehensible, schemes.
All the while, thanks to what, in hindsight, has proven to be
disastrously lax regulation, banks did not have to lay aside
sufficient capital in case something went wrong.
And boy, did it go wrong. The game is now up. You can think
of lots of ways to describe the pain-debt is unwinding, investors
are writing down assets, liquidity is short. But the harshest
pain has been reserved for middle American families - like the
men and women who comprise our skilled trades - whose very lives
and careers are dependent upon companies and businesses and developers
having access to capital in order to expand and grow their businesses,
and in the process provide the jobs and the income stability
that fuels the American economic engine.
It is a sad and compelling tragedy. But it is not devoid of
meaning, because something important happened on Wall Street
this year. Not only have financiers discovered that they had
created a series of monumental risks that the market could not
cope with, and which will never, ever be allowed to prosper again;
but the American people are finally waking up to the fact that
a conservative governing philosophy predicated on a completely
unregulated free market is not in our nation's best interests.
The debacle continues to unfold on Wall Street today is not
a reason to condemn our entire democratic/capitalistic system
in its true form it remains the best approach, and the greatest
hope, for ensuring equal opportunity and sustained economic prosperity
for all Americans.
On the other hand, the lessons that we, as a nation, have
learned through this painful ordeal will be incredibly useful
as we work to replace a flawed, conservative political and governing
system with a more tempered and sensible approach that is rooted
in the basic premise that government ought to function in the
interests of the greater good
and not the privileged few.
So, in that vein, the events of this year on Wall Street are
a sign that the rules need changing. And change they will.
But, first, we have to stop the rot.
And that begins on Election Day 2008.
Free Choice Act should be part of the solution
By Joe Wantz
America Rights At Work
The national conversation has been focused squarely on the
economy in the last several weeks, with pundits and experts breathlessly
declaring a financial catastrophe of epic scale.
Of course, those of us who live in the real world knew the
economy has been in trouble far before Wall Street failed. We
know people who had their house lost to foreclosure. We know
people who have had their jobs outsourced or eliminated. We know
people who work more than one job to pay the bills and support
their families. And we know that something needs to change.
Change, however, cannot simply come from the top down. The
financial market bailout may help to restore confidence on Wall
Street, but does little to cure the many problems on Main Street.
The average American worker needs more than assurances that once
the financial markets are "fixed" that they will be
taken care of.
Workers truly need to have their own voice and determine their
own economic destiny. One of the best ways to do that, of course,
is through forming a union at work. Unfortunately, over the last
thirty years, employers across the United States have cracked
down on organizing, resulting in a decline of union membership.
It comes as no surprise that during that time wages have stagnated,
47 million Americans have no health insurance, and foreclosures
have skyrocketed out of control.
The Employee Free Choice Act is an important part of the fight
to regain the American dream for millions of workers. It will
level the playing field by giving employees a free and direct
path to form unions, toughen penalties against employers who
break the law, and help restore balance to our obsolete federal
labor laws. Union members earn 30% more, have better access to
health care and other benefits, and have greater job security.
Let's get the conversation back to where it belongs, on the well-being
and strength of the American worker.
It's time our economy worked for everyone again.
come the judges: A vital part of voting, at the bottom of ballots
You might have heard there's a state and national election
that's going to take place on Nov. 4.
There are two guys competing for the U.S. presidency, and
they're getting most of the ink and airtime. But another branch
of government bears watching: the judiciary.
"It's kind of a sleeper issue in this election, with
so much else going on," said Wendy Long , counsel for the
Judicial Confirmation Network, to the McClatchy Newspapers. Added
People for the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert: "The
Supreme Court is on the ballot this fall, and the stakes could
not be higher for Americans."
The Supreme Court isn't actually on the ballot, but either
John McCain or Barack Obama is expected to be able pick either
two or three justices in the coming term. A McCain presidency
would likely mean the Supreme Court, currently split 5-4 with
a deciding justice that leans conservative, would become more
conservative. An Obama presidency would likely only maintain
the status quo. Six of the nine sitting justices, who are appointed
for life, will be at least age 70 in September. Liberal Justice
John Paul Stevens is 88.
Michigan has its own set of black-robed candidates on the
ballot, Hundreds of district court, circuit court, probate and
other varieties of judge will be on local ballots this general
election. It matters who is chosen: the right judge can mean
the right ruling on numerous cases involving worker issues likes
wages and safety and health. On most ballots in Michigan, those
races are going to be at the end of the ballot - in the (supposedly)
nonpartisan section) where they are sometimes ignored by voters.
"We're out encouraging people to remember the bottom
of the ballot, because that's where the judicial candidates are,"
said Michigan Supreme Court Justice candidate Diane Marie Hathaway,
who is facing off against incumbent Justice Cliff Taylor.
Hathaway, endorsed by the Michigan Building and Construction
Trades Council, is seeking to unseat Taylor, whose rulings are
part of a five-member conservative bloc of state Supreme Court
justices who have issued numerous pro-business, anti-worker rulings
over the years.
of action at FireKeepers casino
By Marty Mulcahy
BATTLE CREEK - The FireKeepers Casino will be Michigan's next,
newest gaming facility, scheduled to open on or about Aug. 20,
Until that happens there's a lot of work to be done by the
building trades. Construction began on May 12 on the site of
a former cornfield on Michigan Avenue near exit 104 off of I-94.
Some 200 Hardhats are plying their trade on the project, and
that number will ramp up to 400 or so after the New Year.
"There's quality workmanship, good coordination, everything
is on schedule, and we've had no surprises so far," said
Ken Stephenson, general superintendent for Clark Construction
Co., the construction manager. "Even the weather has been
Under construction is a 236,000 square-foot Las Vegas-style
casino that will have room for 3,000 slot machines, 90 table
games and 20 poker tables. An adjacent 2,500-car parking deck
will also be constructed. Construction of a hotel, while not
part of this project, is expected to follow.
The $300 million FireKeepers Casino is being built by the
Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Tribe, and represents their
first venture into gaming in Michigan. The casino will create
about 1,500 permanent jobs. Litigation has held up construction
of the casino for years.
"The Tribe is very pleased with the progress that we
are making in the construction of FireKeepers Casino," said
Huron Band Chairperson Laura Spurr. "We have waited a long
time to bring economic development and jobs to not only tribal
members but also to the greater Calhoun County region."
The site will include five restaurants, including a 70-seat
fine dining signature restaurant, a 300-seat buffet, and a 150-seat,
24- hour coffee shop.
The single-level casino will feature a granite and limestone
exterior, and that masonry is expected to be complete in mid-November.
The interior, Stephenson said, will have nice finishes and "lots
of low voltage lighting," to the tune of an $8 million lighting
package. And an upgraded ventilation system will expedite the
movement of cigarette smoke out of the facility, while bringing
fresh air in.
Stephenson said the utilization of safety audits on the job
and an enhanced focus on safety have led to zero lost-time accidents
on the job as of Oct. 7. "The tribe have done walk-throughs
and there have been nothing but accolades for the work that's
being done," he said. "Our biggest challenge will be
the really aggressive schedule. We're right on schedule, and
we'll be enclosed and warm and dry by the end of October and
ready for winter."
THE GRAND ENTRANCE - complete with this porte-cochere,
or portico - at the FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek resembles
a bird's beak. Fabricator and erector Douglas Steel reports that
the beak is part of 1,300 tons of structural and miscellaneous
iron that will go into the building. On the lifts in this photo
are Iron Workers Local 340 members Mike Gangley and Bruce Murray,
who are employed by Douglas.
PANEL STUBS at the casino are installed by
Tod Rocco and Derek Bannister of IBEW Local 445 and Swan Electric.
signs off on renewable energy plan
By Marty Mulcahy
DETROIT - A three-bill package intended to better position
Michigan for green energy production and related manufacturing
was signed into law Oct. 7 by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
"This is the first step toward a significant transformation
of Michigan, from an industrial economy, into a lean, green economy,"
Granholm told a crowd of about 150 union, business and political
representatives. She signed off on the new law in the lobby of
NextEnergy, an "incubator" facility near the Wayne
State campus that provides space for firms to work with alternative
The legislation goes a long way toward re-regulating Michigan's
utility industry. The bipartisan legislation signed by Granholm
includes a renewable portfolio standard that mandates 10 percent
of the state's energy come from renewable sources by 2015. In
addition, the law requires utilities to meet an additional 5.5
percent of Michigan's annual electrical demands through energy
efficiency by 2015.
The reforms also have protections for ratepayers, although
electrical rates are expected to rise over the next few years.
Under the new laws, no longer will alternative energy suppliers
be allowed to come into Michigan and cherry pick the best customers,
while ignoring those customers that are costliest to service.
The energy package is expected to unleash more than $10 billion
in power plant construction, including a new nuclear plant on
the grounds of the Fermi II plant near Monroe by Detroit Edison,
a new $2.3 billion coal-burner at the Consumers Energy Karn-Weadock
plant near Saginaw, and more than $2 billion in new construction
by Mid-Michigan Energy near Midland, among several other projects.
Consumers Energy essentially said the new restructured utility
policy is a springboard to implementing its Balanced Energy Initiative,
which will lead to new construction in Michigan of renewable
energy, and developing new power plants, along with utilizing
"Thanks to historic action by state lawmakers, Michigan
now has the energy policy it needs to allow for a balance of
energy sources and strategies, including energy efficiency and
renewable energy," said John Russell, Consumers Energy's
president and chief operating officer.
The Michigan Public Service Commission estimates that Michigan
currently spends $26 billion every year to import fossil fuels.
Granholm has argued that a renewable portfolio standard will
drive investment in several different areas. The nationwide hunger
for silicon (solar) panel production, for one, is pushing expansion
of the Dow Corning plant in Midland. As one of the windier states,
Michigan can take advantage of wind generation, since it's much
more economical for manufacturers of wind turbines to build them
close to where they will be installed.
Michigan already has existing tool and die and manufacturing
facilities to do the work - and the people with the know-how
to do it. The U.S. Department of Energy, according to Granholm,
said Michigan is one of only four states with the potential to
create more than 30,000 manufacturing jobs by investing in wind,
solar, bio-fuels and energy efficiency.
Granholm said aggressively moving Michigan into the renewable
energy arena will bring more jobs in research and development,
manufacturing, and construction. "This legislation means
all kinds of jobs, for all kinds of people," the governor
MICHIGAN GOV. Jennifer Granholm shows that
she signed into law an energy package that requires Michigan
utilities to obtain 10 percent of the state's energy from renewable
sources by 2015. The result: billions of dollars in work for
the building trades. Behind Granholm are organized labor representatives.
electricians help restore power to flooded Cedar Rapids
By Marty Mulcahy
Nearly forgotten in this year of horrific financial news,
presidential politics and Hurricane Ike, is the devastation wrought
by flooding in Iowa in June.
Nearly 4,000 homes in Cedar Rapids were evacuated when the
rain-swollen Cedar River washed over its banks. The flood placed
an estimated 100 city bocks blocks underwater.
Enter about 130 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
members from Michigan, who traveled to Cedar Rapids in the summer-long
effort to get the corn milling operations of one of the area's
major employers, Cargill, back up and running. The Michigan wiremen
comprised about half of the total crew of electricians on the
"It was amazing, there were electricians from every IBEW
local in the Lower Peninsula," said Eric Kane, a 13-year
member of IBEW Local 252, who spent six weeks this summer at
the Cargill plant. "There were so many hands out there because
of the high levels of unemployment in Michigan. But the people
in Iowa seemed very appreciative that we were able to get out
there and help them rebuild. It was phenomenal, they gave us
solid gold treatment."
Along with the Cargill plant, a Quaker Oats plant was also
flooded, together taking jobs away from some 3,000 workers. The
Cargill plant provides cornstarch, corn syrup and other corn-related
products to the food industry. The floods also caused the shutdown
of two power plants in Cedar Rapids and closed hundreds of businesses.
All told, Kane said about 1,000 wiremen were in town last summer
to help rebuild the city. He said electricians comprised the
vast majority of trades who traveled to Cedar Rapids
Kane said he arrived in Cedar Rapids on July 7 and stayed
through mid-August. He said the electricians did tests on the
Cargill plant's wire and insulation, replacing them as needed,
and replaced panels and motor control centers, among other tasks.
The water, he said, rose about 15 feet in the plant before receding.
Electrician crews worked mind-numbing 7-12s to get the plant
back up to speed.
"It was a real mess," Kane said, "and it was
really hot. It's a huge plant so we must have walked five to
10 miles a day. But I give them credit. They really tried to
make it as easy on us as possible."
Cargill took care of them with daily free catered lunches
and dinners and air-conditioned limo-bus rides from the parking
lot. "They were very concerned about jobsite safety, and
there were daily safety meetings," Kane said. "They
were a lot of thanks and atta-boys, and sometimes I wanted to
remind them that we weren't doing this as volunteers, we were
Kane said 52 members of Cedar Rapids IBEW Local 405 were affected
by the flood, and 14 lost their home. The local union was overwhelmed
with work at the Cargill plant alone, which usually hires a union
workforce. Kane expressed amazement at the ability of the IBEW
members and the entire community to attempt to bounce back from
"It was the most rewarding experience of my career,"
Kane said. "It was seriously depressing to see the housing,
which was devastated, to say the least. There was still garbage
everywhere when I got there, but by the time we left, their yards
were clean and a lot of the debris was gone, although it still
looked like a flood zone. But those were people who didn't wait
for help from FEMA or anybody else to restart their lives."
Kane said until he found a room at a local Cedar Rapids hotel,
he had to commute an hour from Camp Courageous, a facility for
the mentally and physically handicapped, which had rooms available
and only charged them $12 a night.
He was joined in his travels by fellow Local 252 member Erik
Machleit, who said the area "was just devastated. You don't
appreciate what you have in life until you lose it. For me, going
there just brought about a sense of appreciation for life in
Both wiremen decided to drag up in August when there was a
mass layoff at Cargill. They returned home to their families
around Labor Day.
"There was unbelievable camaraderie, it was true unionism,"
Machleit said. "Everybody was out for everybody."
PART OF THE GROUP of electricians - all from
Michigan - who helped restore power this summer to the flooded
Cargill plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Tight money may choke construction
Washington, D.C. - "The drop in construction employment
accelerated in September and will get much worse unless credit
markets reopen," Ken Simonson, Chief Economist for The Associated
General Contractors of America (AGC), said Oct. 3 following a
Bureau of Labor Statistics report that showed construction lost
35,000 jobs in September. "State governments from California
to Maine have been shut out of the bond market, while developers
have had bank credit windows slammed shut on their fingers as
they reached for their loans.
"All types of construction shed workers in September,
following an uptick in nonresidential hiring in August,"
Simonson noted. "Another ominous sign is that architectural
and engineering services employment - a harbinger of demand for
future construction - rose until recently but stalled this summer
and fell in September."
Simonson said the news is actually worse, because the government
numbers only reflect payrolls as of Sept. 12, before the takeover
of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac triggered the current freeze in
"The bad news on employment comes on the heels of a report
from the Census Bureau on Oct. 1 that private nonresidential
construction spending fell by nearly 1 percent in both July and
August," Simonson said. "State and local construction
spending was up, but I fear that will change as more states each
week announce budget shortfalls. Highways and schools - 60 percent
of public construction spending - are in particular jeopardy,
because of drops in fuel and property taxes.
"Even the private categories with the best chance of
growth in 2009, such as power plants, refineries, hospitals and
higher education, have slowed and risk losing access to affordable
loans," Simonson concluded. "The 2009 construction
employment and spending outlook will be very bleak unless credit
markets revive promptly."
60 Dem seats in Senate seems unlikely
(PAI) - In August, at the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting,
federation President John J. Sweeney set a lofty election goal
for 2008, second only to winning back the White House for workers:
"60 in '08."
What he meant, is even if Democratic nominee Barack Obama
won the presidency, pro-worker causes are hamstrung in Congress
unless labor allies muster 60 votes in the 100-member U.S. Senate
to halt Republican filibusters. The current split in the Senate
is 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one dem-leaning Independent.
At that same council meeting, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee,
offered what now looks like a more-realistic projection. The
Democrats, he said, would win "five or six" of the
targeted seats, meaning they would still fall about five short
of the 60 needed. Two weeks before the election, polls show it
looks like McEntee might be right.
But it's been a strange election season.