The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

October 27, 2000

Now more than ever, your vote is vital - please use it on Nov. 7

Now's not the time to get side-tracked by side issues

Who will lead the fight for working families?

Rare high-rise goes up in Ann Arbor

Unions set pace for productivity

Luther West Science Building at Northern Michigan

Election 2000: 'We have the power in our votes'




Now more than ever, your vote is vital - please use it on Nov. 7

"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country." - Samuel Adams

Our nation's Founding Fathers had a firm understanding of the power of a voting democracy, setting up an electoral system that's a model for the world.

Unfortunately, many Americans who could take advantage of the electoral process, don't - and as a result, candidates who get into office don't necessarily reflect the wishes of the people they represent.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, you have the opportunity to make sure that the politicians who work for you truly represent your interests when it comes to setting policy and making laws. This is the last opportunity before the election for us to emphasize one important point about how vital your vote is in the toss-up state of Michigan.

"Illinois and Ohio are lining up behind Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush, respectively," said the Wall Street Journal last week, "but that still leaves enough Electoral College votes to make (the Midwest) the most important region in the final push. Missouri carries 11 votes, while Minnesota has 10, but the prize is Michigan with 18."

Historically, the union vote has made the difference in Michigan, and this year won't be any different. There are 600,000 active union members and 200,000 union retirees in Michigan. In 1992, after 12 years of GOP control in the White House with Ronald Reagan and George Bush, union members made up 19 percent of the total U.S. vote, helping to put President Clinton in office. That number dipped to 13 percent in 1994 (when Newt Gingrich and the "Republican Revolution" came into Congress), increased to 19 percent in the presidential year of 1996 when Clinton won again, and surged to 23 percent in 1998 when Democrats came within a whisper of re-taking control of the U.S House of Representatives.

There's all kinds of attention on the presidency - Al Gore has spent $5 million on campaigning in our state, and George W. Bush has spent $4 million - but the ballot will be filled with equally important offices that also deserve your attention.

It is remarkable how many important races are packed onto the Nov. 7 ballot. Besides the presidency, there are 465 U.S. House contests that will determine the control of that legislative body. In Michigan, control of the state Supreme Court is up for grabs. All 110 seats in the Michigan House of Representatives are up for election, which will determine if organized labor has any influence at all over the next two years in the Lansing lawmaking process. Judgeships are up for re-election all over the state.

"For 47 days (until the election) Michigan will be the center of the conflict between the Democrats and Republicans for control of the House," said President Clinton during a visit to our state last month.

County commissioners, sheriffs, prosecutors, clerks and other offices are on the ballot. Then there are the scores of local city and township offices that affect how our local communities are operated.

So the battle turns to increasing voter education, which this paper has tried to provide over the past few months, and decreasing voter apathy, which is a never-ending battle.

In 1998, only 36.4 percent of all registered voters went to the polls to cast their ballots - the lowest voter turnout since 1942. Two out of three Americans, 115 million eligible voters, simply stayed home and didn't vote at all.

"Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to right by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights," said Thomas Jefferson. But first, the voters have to see fit to send in their absentee ballot or go to the polls.


Now's not the time to get side-tracked by side issues

For the Nov. 7 general election, building trades unions and the rest of organized labor are endorsing Al Gore for U.S. President, Debbie Stabenow for U.S. Senator, and a whole host of other candidates who have a record or have pledged to stand up for working men and women.

The endorsements aren't made without due consideration, nor are they being offered to our readers as a mandate or as any other type of directive that demands your vote one way or another.

Of course, when you send in your absentee ballot or mark your ballot at your polling place, you have the free will to do exactly what you want to do, and that's the wonderful thing about the American electoral process.

You may make your vote based on a candidate's position on gun control, abortion, or simply because one candidate or another has whiny voice or comes off as being too aggressive. But from your union's viewpoint, candidates are endorsed and recommended to our members based on what they've done while in office, or based on what they pledge they will do if they get into office.

Unions endorse candidates based on their positions on issues that directly affect construction workers' health, welfare and safety. The questions union leaders ask are, do the candidates support fair wages, especially prevailing wage? Do they support strong health and safety laws? Do they support Social Security, Medicare and health programs that are fair to working class people?

In making endorsements based on this criteria, unions are fulfilling the role that defined them when unions were first formed. Unions fought for, and won, the eight-hour work day, safety laws, health insurance and pension benefits. It has been the historic role of unions to fight for the basic needs of workers.

Today, especially in Michigan, those basic needs are threatened. The influence of large corporations in the political process is threatening the rights of working people and the very existence of unions. Virtually all of the endorsees that you will find on Page 7 of this issue are Democrats, and there's a good reason for that. Under the Republican dominated state government over the past few years, MIOSHA has been under-funded, Workers' Compensation laws have been adopted that favor insurance companies, Unemployment Insurance benefits have been slashed, and the state prevailing wage law seems to be hanging by a thread.

Republicans have been trying to get away with similar anti-labor legislation in Washington D.C.

Those are the health, welfare and wage issues that organized labor is fighting for, and Republicans are fighting against. Democrats are with us on those issues, and if Dems can win the U.S. presidency, win back control of the state House and U.S. House, get the endorsed candidates on the Michigan Supreme Court into office, some balance can be restored to our political world.

You can make a difference by casting your ballot for union-endorsed candidates.


Who will lead the fight for working families?

Over the last eight years, most of which has been spent with a Republican-dominated Congress, President Bill Clinton, through his power to introduce and veto legislation, has often been the only person in Washington able to stand up for working people.

With uncertain prospects for winning back the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 7, electing Vice President Al Gore to the presidency may be the only opportunity working people have to maintain that check and balance in our nation's capitol.

Following are a few issues that illustrate the distinctions between Gore and George W. Bush on some very important issues:

  1. Quality, affordable health care. Vice President Al Gore backs a strong Patients' Bill of Rights and wants to make sure every child in America has health insurance. In Texas, Gov. George W. Bush vetoed a patient protection bill and tried to restrict eligibility for the children's Health Insurance Program. Texas has the nation's highest percentage of children without health insurance.
  2. High-quality public education. Gore supports strong public schools and wants to invest in modernizing them and reducing class sizes. Bush supports using public funds for private school vouchers and opposes legislation to fix crumbling schools.
  3. Fair wages. Gore supports raising the minimum wage, backs fair pay to help close the pay gap between men and women and supports Davis-Bacon prevailing wage standards. Bush opposed minimum wage increases in Texas three times, and he supports allowing states to "opt-out" of minimum wage requirements. He has remained silent on equal pay and opposes Davis-Bacon.
  4. A sound retirement system and health care for older Americans. Gore wants to invest a portion of the budget surplus to keep Social Security strong and provide a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. Bush proposes diverting a portion of Social Security funds into private accounts and says he'll consider raising the retirement age. Bush prefers a Medicare Plan that would raise the eligibility age and establish a voucher system.
  5. Good jobs and trade policies that benefit working families everywhere. Gore promises to put workers' rights and environmental protections into global trade and investment agreements. Bush does not.
  6. An administration working families can count on. Gore selected as his running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) who has an 80 percent lifetime voting record on working family issues. Bush chose former Wyoming GOP Rep. Richard Cheney, whose working families voting record is just 6 percent - worse than Newt Gingrich's. Gore's appointments to crucial posts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, will support working families. Not Bush's.
  7. A union voice at work. Gore supports workers' freedom to choose a union and has fought against "paycheck deception" moves to silence workers' voice in politics. Bush is proud of his state's right-to-work status, has tried to eliminate or privatize thousands of union jobs in Texas and supports "paycheck deception."


Rare high-rise goes up in Ann Arbor

By Marty Mulcahy

ANN ARBOR - This is a small city where developable downtown land is at a premium, so it is rare these days that a high-rise the such as the one being erected at Main and William streets would ever get off the ground.

Late last month, the nine-story Syndeco Plaza development was off the ground and then some. On Sept. 28, Iron Workers Local 25 members and Richmond Steel topped out the 180,000 square-foot building, which will include office space and luxury condominiums in the penthouse.

"We started the steel July 31, and we put up a new floor every four days," said iron worker Superintendent Mark Maracle. "It went up quick. It's been a good, safe job."

The project began Jan. 15 and completion is expected in the first quarter of next year. Barton-Malow is acting as general contractor on the project, which is being built above three levels of much-needed below-grade parking. A separate project will involve construction of townhouses to ring the high-rise.

"The biggest challenge we've had on this job is that we've had to move a lot of earth," said Barton-Malow Senior Project Manager George Hamlin. "We've dug out 50,000 yards of earth, and it was very difficult building an earth retention system."

THE CREW of Iron Workers Local 25 members and Richmond Steel personnel celebrate the topping out of the Syndeco Plaza building in Ann Arbor, one of the few high-rises going up in the city.

CHAIR CARRIERS for toilets in the Syndeco Plaza building are installed by John Bowdish and Kevin Sulier of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 190 and John Darr Mechanical.


Unions set pace for productivity

The chief of the big-business backed Construction Users Roundtable said owners who pay for construction work want "quantifiable productivity" out of their workforce.

What does that mean? He can't exactly define the term, but it includes cost effectiveness and quality work.

And how should the industry get to the goal of quantifiable productivity? During a board meeting last month of the Associated General Contractors, Steven Satrom, president of the roundtable, an organization of major U.S. construction buyers, called for the use of union construction programs as a model for the entire industry.

The Construction Labor Report said union contractors have the advantage over the nonunion sector in being able to provide better-trained workers, and improve safety on the job, which is a plus for everyone.

Satrom urged AGC's union contractors to continue to work with labor to continue their excellent training programs, improve productivity and develop new methods to do the work. "You have world-class training programs," Satrom said. "The organized sector has a leg up on training."

He said owners will not hire contractors with poor safety records and "definitely" will not hire contractors who cannot provide qualified, skilled labor for contracts. "Union contractors have a definite edge," he said, "you need to capitalize on that." Satrom said nonunion shops "have a long way to go."

The comments by Satrom are in line with a slow but sure trend of recognition by the owners who pay for construction work that low-paid, unskilled labor is simply not cost-effective when it comes to their bottom line.

The change in thinking came into focus nearly three years ago, when the Roundtable issued a report called Confronting the Skilled Construction Work Force Shortage: Blueprint for the Future.

At the time, the Roundtable said the ultimate responsibility for training the nonunion workforce should be the responsibility of nonunion employers. Open shop builders, the report said, should model training after generations-old union programs, which pass on costs of training to the owner as part of the collective bargaining labor rate.

The Roundtable's report was a public spanking for their friends in the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, who talk about construction training but never come close to delivering the resources that unions commit to worker education.


Luther West Science Building at Northern Michigan

PIPE IS LIFTED to the second floor of the Luther West Science Building at Northern Michigan University by operating engineer John Shawn of Local 324. The sprinkler fitter is Matt Scovronski of Local 669. Renovation of the West Science building is part of the largest construction expenditure - $46.9 million - in the Marquette school's history. This portion of the project is expected to be completed next August. Classes started this fall in the newly constructed Glenn Seaborg Center, which is part of the entire renovated science complex.



Election 2000: 'We have the power in our votes'

C. William Helwig
Vice President/Political Education Chair
Pipe Fitters Local 636

As citizens, our responsibility to vote in elections is evident. As union members, our votes are cast to elect labor-friendly candidates. As building trades workers, this duty is paramount to our livelihoods and for our families.

Our choices are clear. This November we must not sit idly by and let the anti-labor forces dictate to us what our state policies (and who our representatives) will be. We in the union labor movement have struggled too hard and too long for collective bargaining rights, for just overtime compensation and fair labor standards, among other issues.

Chamber of Commerce influence is on the rise in state political circles. New legislation is on the way to eliminate the 40-hour work-week (under the guise of comp time), further weakening of under-enforced MIOSHA regulations, and promotion of the use of "independent contractors" (where business will pay no Social Security, Workers Comp or health insurance, while the worker is responsible for his or her own coverage.)

Absent from this scenario is social conscience. That is a luxury those currently running the state feel is not their concern. Anyone believing the current Michigan Supreme Court is looking out for any one of us, think again. Their unabashedly shameless decisions have not met up to the word "supreme" in the state court system

Add redistricting to the mixture. State law allows the Michigan House and Senate to redraw the lines every 10 years after the census results are made official. The possibility of continuous one-party rule becomes stronger if we let one party draw the boundaries themselves, so realize that we must strive to regain the House during this election cycle.

True democracy occurs only when we participate. The handwriting is on the wall. Don't be misled by the rhetoric being spewed by those with the money for the slick ads. Consider why a U.S. Senator from Michigan needs to spend more than $12 million to retain his seat while struggling to save face in the polls, while his challenger spends less than half as much and is running a clean campaign. Grassroots support is the answer. So is your interest in the race.

When a candidate with a solid labor record is up for election, it is in our best interest to make it possible for them to represent us in Lansing, Washington and our local communities. Let's all do our best to remember, we have the power in our votes, and only if we exercise this right will we be truly represented.



Mighty Mac tops in engineering
The Mackinac Bridge has been recognized as Michigan's top engineering accomplishment of the 20th Century.

The American Society of Civil Engineers-Michigan Section conferred the award to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, which governs the five-mile-long span. The ASCE award recognized building projects for "significant contributions to the economic and social contributions to the state."

Completed in November 1957, the bridge took more than three years to build and permanently linked the state's Upper and Lower peninsulas. The span was built despite dire predictions that the bedrock below the Straits of Mackinac wouldn't support the weight of the bridge, or that gigantic ice floes would topple the bridge's support columns, or that wind would knock down the span.

Runners up to the Mighty Mac are, in order, the Sault Ste. Marie Locks, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge, the Ford-Rouge Complex in Dearborn, the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Michigan Interstate Highway System, the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant in Grand Rapids, the Ludington Pumped Storage Facility and the St. Clair Railroad Tunnel.

Laborers inclined to build ramps
A crew of five Laborers Local 1076 members put a day's work in to build a ramp for the handicapped wife of member Milton Bradley.

The project was done in conjunction with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's ramp-building project, said Labor Coordinator Ray West.

"We're always glad to perform community service," said 1076 Business Manager Bob Chwalek, who help build the ramp. "When the United Way calls us, we take care of it." Chwalek said the local won a $7,500 grievance award against a nonunion contractor, and the money was donated to the United Way for use in their ramp fund.

"They worked very hard, and it's another example of union labor helping the community," West said.

U.S. CEOs - Good work if you can get it
The pay of U.S. executives continues to outpace the pay of average working people - to say the least.

According to Business Week's annual survey, the average CEO of a major corporation made $12.4 million in 1999, up 17 percent from the previous year. That's 475 times more than the average blue-collar worker and six times the average Chief Executive Officer paycheck in 1990.

Since 1980, the average pay of regular working people increased 74 percent, while CEO pay grew by 1,884 percent.

Wage/benefit levels drop a little
Wage and benefit settlements for U.S. construction workers so far this year are $1.15 per hour or 3.7 percent in the first year of contracts, and $1.25 or 3.8 percent in the second year.

According to the Construction Labor Research Council, which compiled the figures, these amounts are slightly lower than the averages reported earlier this year, and in comparison to last year. Last year at this time, the CLRC said the average first-year increase for construction workers was $1.18 or 4.0 percent.


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index