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October 29, 1999
First, Michigan's Republican legislators did what they could to take away the right of Michigan's teachers to strike.
Now, they're taking things a step further - Republican legislators have a bill in the works to deprive Michigan's school administrators of the right to unionize.
"It's just plain union busting," said Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Director Tim Hughes, who said that disbanding and outlawing unions covering superintendents, principals, business officials and others who administer school programs is a simple matter of amending the 34-year-old state Public Employment Relations Act (PERA).
Republicans are arguing that those are management positions, and should not be given the union protections provided by PERA. With Republicans running virtually the entire show in Lansing, the success of the bill depends on the ability of labor lobbyists who are strenuously pressing their case with Republican Michigan House legislators who represent districts with a strong labor base.
If the bill becomes law, is it legal? Sure it is, according to building trades attorney Doug Korney. He said the National Labor Relations Act supercedes all state laws and protects the right of workers to organize - but not government employees.
"Theoretically, if they thought they could get away with
it, the governor and the state legislature can bust any government
employees union," Korney said, including the teachers, AFSCME
clerical employees, and state-employed construction workers.
"It's outrageous, but the lesson is simple. When Democrats
lose elections, and don't get their people out to vote, there's
a price to be paid. Now we're paying the price."
By Tim Hughes
LANSING - Legislative Republicans have a number of anti-labor proposals on their agenda for the fall legislative session, which opened on Sept. 14.
House Republican leaders plan to hold public hearings on a so-called worker "bill of rights." The Republican package is so blatantly anti-union that some in the state federation have called the legislation, a "bill of wrongs."
The legislation includes:
Living wage. Two bills have been introduced in the Michigan House to pre-empt local ordinances that protect worker and consumer rights.
House Bill 4766, introduced by Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Pointe Park) would prohibit local governments from establishing any minimum wage other than the state minimum wage. Although this legislation is aimed at living wage ordinances, it is written broadly enough to wipe out local prevailing wage ordinances as well.
House Bill 4777, introduced by Rep. Robert Gosselin (R-Troy), is a much broader bill that would prohibit local government action on a wide array of issues, including living wage, prevailing wage, job safety, billboards, restaurant smoking, consumer protection and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Opposition to living wage ordinances adopted in Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Twp. seem to be sparking much of the support for this legislative backlash.
Most living wage ordinances require employers who receive city contracts or grants to pay wages equal to 100 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four, plus health insurance. If the employer does not offer health benefits, then they must pay wages equal to 125 percent of the federal proverty level. That currently amounts to $8.60 per hour with health benefits, and $10.20 without.
Comp time. Senate Bill 153, introduced by Sen. Ken Sikkema (R-Grandville), would make it easier for employers to cheat workers out of their earned time off and eliminate paid vacation time.
Michigan's comp time law was enacted in 1997 as part of an agreement to raise the state minimum wage to $5.15 per hour. Various worker protections were included in the law to ensure that employers would not be able to use the comp time provisions as an excuse to stop paying workers overtime pay. SB 153 would eliminate the following worker protections that exist under current law:
Attack on Workers' Comp. Currently on the Senate floor is SB 158, a bill that would deny a worker benefits if the person had only trace amounts of controlled substance in his/her system, even if it was something harmless like an over-the-counter cough medication.
Even worse, the bill doesn't specify that the controlled substance would have to be the direct cause of the injury.
An amendment offered by Christopher Dingell (D-Trenton) was adopted on a bipartisan vote that would hold employers liable if their own drunkenness or drug use caused a workers' injury. The bill's sponsor used a procedural motion to stall the bill after the Dingell amendment was adopted.
School employee collective bargaining. The recent Detroit teacher strike has stirred up House Republicans. They're upset that fines against striking teachers were automatically imposed, but were at the discretion of the school board. Evidently it isn't enough that the current law allows school boards to impose contracts on school unions without meaningful bargaining.
The House Employment Training and Safety Committee will meet to discuss possible amendments to PA 112 of 1995, the current law that gutted collective bargaining for school employees. It looks like they will be pushing legislation to allow any interested party to go to court to force imposition of fines, thereby eliminating the last bit of flexibility at the bargaining table.
Keep your attention on Lansing this fall, because members of the State House and Senate have your members in hairline sight and are ready to pick them off.
And it isn't even rifle season yet.
More than 150 union members packed a meeting room during an Oct. 15 public hearing to register their distaste for two vital legislative issues before the House Employment Relations, Training and Safety Committee.
House committee members received an earful from union members who took time off work to go to the Troy Community Center to hear and talk about "paycheck protection" legislation and compensatory time off.
The public hearing, the first of five that will be held around the state, was chaired by Republican State Rep. Robert Gosselin. Also in attendance were ranking committee Democrat Julie Dennis of Muskegon and Rep. Mickey Switalski of Roseville.
Organized labor has mixed opinions on the other item that was on the committee's agenda, residency rules for municipal employees. But there is no doubt about labor's stand against the Republican-backed paycheck protection legislation (labor and Democrats refer to it as "paycheck deception").
"Paycheck deception should be exposed for what it really is," said David Hecker, executive vice president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. "A power grab by the political right to wipe out their opposition."
As was pointed out in the related article, a paycheck deception law would require annual written authorization by union members for expenditure of dues money on anything other than collective bargaining, including organizing, member communication, lobbying and charitable contributions.
The real impetus for the legislation, Hecker said, is to get union money out of the political process. He said current state law already stipulates that a member's dues money can be used for political contributions only if he or she signs off on it.
And, members have a voice in where the money is spent - if they don't like where the money is going, they can speak up at membership meetings or vote new leaders into office.
"This bill is dishonest," Rep. Dennis said. "How can they say it protects your paycheck? For example, under this bill, unions wouldn't be able to tell their members if there's legislation pending that will affect the cost of their health care plan. So you can't inform your members about an issue that will affect their paycheck? That's not protection. That's deception."
Comp time was the other big issue, and an explanation of that anti-worker legislation also appears in an article that starts on the front page of this issue.
"In the construction trades, overtime is something near
and dear to us," IBEW Local 58 Business Rep. Bruce Burton
testified. "I see no need to change the law at all. This
bill does very little for workers, and offers little or no protection
for laid off or fired workers."
Welding, small boiler repair, layout, knot-tying and the related bookwork - boilermaker John Vardon has proven that he has a good handle on all of it, and he has a nice trophy to show for it.
Vardon, 30, took the top spot in the sixth annual National Apprentice Competition sponsored by the Boilermakers International Union Sept. 11-16 in Kansas City. He was the lone Local 169 member to compete in the Great Lakes Region, which he won before going on to compete nationally against three other fourth-year apprentices.
"The contest covered just about everything we learned in our four-year apprenticeship," Vardon said. "To me it's all pretty interesting, and I think that made it easier to learn."
Vardon started hitting the books and practicing for the contest back in March - all the while making a living working 10-hour days. He worked with Local 169 lead apprenticeship instructor Ed Kowalski, and received encouragement from Local 169 Business Manager John Marek and Apprenticeship Director Tony Jacobs.
Following his father Barrie and uncle Bruce Vardon into the Boilermakers, John said, "I didn't know a thing about this trade when I started. The whole apprenticeship experience has been great."
There were 12 judges representing labor and contractors who chose the winner. There wasn't much time to relax during the contest - when the contestants weren't working, they were studying.
"I was surprised when I won," Vardon said. "I was prepared to be happy for whoever won, but it happened to be me."
Marek said Vardon taking top honors "tells me that we're
right on track with our training program. And John is a good
example of what a person can achieve if you're willing to work
at it. Hopefully with the example John has set we can make this
a regular thing."
The burgeoning construction industry has the IBEW Local 58 Training Center bursting at the seams.
That's why Local 58 and National Electrical Contractors Association- Southeast Michigan Chapter are undertaking a project to build a new 50,000 square-foot training facility on the westbound I-696 service drive at 11 Mile Rd. in Warren.
Ground was broken Oct. 13 on the 10-acre site, currently an empty field. Scheduled to be completed in August 2000, the new facility will be five times the size of the existing 32-year-old Electrical Industry Training Center in Utica. NECA and Local 58 have hired A.J. Etkin to act as general contractor on the $8 million project.
"This building symbolizes our commitment to the organized electrical industry," said Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski. "I might add that while the ABC depends on government grants to pay for their training, not a penny of taxpayer money is going towards this building."
The new training center will cost $8 million, and is being constructed at a time when there's no end in sight to the five-year-old building boom in Southeast Michigan. Local 58 now has about 600 apprentices learning the trade, nearly double the number it had four years ago. All told, the Local 58 Training Center now serves the needs of more than 4,000 journeymen and apprentices every year.
"The manpower needs of the industry are exploding, and there is a tremendous need for workers in all phases of our industry," said SE Michigan Chapter NECA Executive Director Dan Tripp. "As we continue to expand our workforce, this building represents a commitment by the union and employers to meet the challenges of the future."
Training Director Mike Hogan said the new building will have the same curriculum that's currently offered, except there will be more elbow room and space for equipment. The new training center also offers plenty of room for growth.
"In our current building, we're just running out of room,"
Hogan said. "It doesn't appear as if the expansion in construction
jobs is over, and some industries, like telecommunications, are
also booming. This building should serve us well for years to
Vice President Al Gore won the AFL-CIO nomination for the U.S. presidency on Oct. 15, but there was dissention in the ranks.
"I was raised on the bedrock principle of support for labor rights," Gore said in accepting the endorsement. "Let me tell you what I'll do as president if they send any anti-union bill to my desk, I'll ink up that veto pen and I'll hit them right between the eyes with a veto. You can count on that. I'm not about to let the Republicans roll back labor rights."
He was referring to GOP plans to eliminate time-and-a-half overtime pay, to restore company unions and to force workers out of the political process through paycheck deception legislation.
Gore said unlike Clinton he would push for stronger international trade rules that have the muscle to enforce worker rights and environmental standards.
"Trade should lift up living standards around the world, not drag them down in the United States," he said. "As president, I'll work to lift up labor standards around the world."
Few in the labor community question that Gore would be a good candidate for organize labor - but some labor leaders have reservations about the timing of any endorsement. Teamsters President James Hoffa and UAW President Steve Yokich, representing 1.93 million workers, argued that it's too soon to back a specific candidate, and the 658,000-member IBEW, led by President J.J. Berry, abstained from the vote.
Combined, they were not enough to deny Gore the two-thirds vote that he needed. In recent weeks, the other Democratic front-runner, Bill Bradley, has been gaining in the polls.
"We respectfully disagree, not necessarily with the candidate, but with the process," Hoffa said. "We instruct our leaders and our shop stewards to listen to our members, not to preach to them. We have listened to our members and learned they need more information."
Federation Political Director Steve Rosenthal said the AFL-CIO
would concentrate on electing pro-labor candidates in 35-50 targeted
U.S. House districts next year in an attempt to win back a pro-labor
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2
On Tuesday, Nov. 2, building trades workers and their families are urged to go to the polls and vote for candidates who will support the issues of organized labor.
A list of candidates endorsed by The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council appears on Page 8 of this issue.
Most of the candidates are running for local office, not statewide or Congressional positions. But it's still important to vote - many of the pocketbook issues that affect organized labor are decided on a local level.
See you at the polls on Nov. 2.
Building trades workers who live in Dearborn Heights can do themselves a favor by helping elect Elizabeth Agius and Wilma Gabrys, two candidates for City Council. The city will be sponsoring a few major construction projects, and friendly city officials can help make projects go all-union.
Bricklayer needs marrow donors
You can help save a life by participating in a bone marrow donor drive, set for Sunday, Nov. 7 from noon to 4 p.m. at the UAW Local 245 union hall, 1226 Monroe St. in Dearborn. The hall is located between Oakwood and West Outer Dr. Testing is free.
The drive is funded by the Matteini Leukemia Fund and is a collaborative effort between the Friends of Dan Matteini and the Leukemia Society of America Michigan Chapter and the Michigan Community Blood Center National Marrow Donor Program.
Dan is a Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 member who was diagnosed with leukemia last year. The 34-year-old single father of a 10-year-old girl needs a bone marrow transplant, but so far a search of the registries has not found a match for him. His ethnic background is French, Irish, Native American (Chippewa) and the best chance of finding a match will come from someone with a similar heritage.
To become a potential bone marrow donor, a person provides a small blood sample, which is tested to identify agents which make up bone marrow. The volunteer donor's "type" will be confidentially registered in the National Marrow Donor Program's computer, which is accessed internationally.
For more information on registering to be a marrow donor, call the Leukemia Society of America Michigan Chapter at (800) 456-5413.
Here's contact info on 'Save a Life' Club
An article that we published in our last on the Michigan Construction Trades Safety Institute didn't have information on whom to contact.
The MCTSI's "Save-A-Life Club," offers the organized construction industry free first-aid and CPR training sessions at locations around the state. Classes are free to workers represented by most of Michigan's construction unions. They're also free to the employees of contractor members of major state construction associations that sponsor the MCTSI.
The Michigan Construction Trades Safety Institute can be reached
at (800) 657-8345 or (517) 394-5789. Their address is P.O. Box
14236, 3315 S. Pennsylvania, Lansing 48901. Access their web
page at www.mctsi.org.