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October 3, 2003

Granholm puts 'Labor' back in re-organized Michigan government

Campus Martius' historic monuments mark city's place in the past

Detroit's Point of Origin marker? It was right here.

Construction pay, benefit rates up, but they've been higher

UP employers expect better times

Trades conduct new masterpiece: the renovated Orchestra Hall



Granholm puts 'Labor' back in re-organized Michigan government

LANSING - Once again, Michigan has a Department of Labor.

This time, its full name is the Department of Labor and Economic Growth (with a new acronym, DLEG), and it was formed with the signature of Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Sept. 17. Her executive order, which would result in one of the most extensive reorganizations in state government history, fulfilled a campaign promise to realign bureaucratic operations and give Michigan's workers "a seat at the table" of state government.

"Our goal is to make Michigan a magnet state for economic development and job creation, and the Department of Labor and Economic Growth will be a critical element to our success in reaching that goal," Granholm said. "The department will allow state government to be more nimble and aggressive in creating jobs, enabling us to spend taxpayer dollars more efficiently, and will create a one-stop shop for business creation and development."

But last week came a major glitch in the proceedings, as the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate voted to reject the order creating the department. A majority in both the state Senate and House (also Republican-controlled) is needed to prevent the executive order from taking effect.

Republicans say their major beef is with one part of Granholm's order: the elimination of the seven-member workers' compensation appeals commission, a majority of whom are pro-business and were appointed by Gov. John Engler. Granholm proposed replacing the commission with two-member panels of appellate magistrates who would hear appeals - one member representing employer interests, one representing employees'. In case of a deadlock, an appointee of the governor, the head of the Workers Compensation Board of Magistrates, would break the tie.

Urging on its Republican allies to veto the order, the business community conveyed its unhappiness with Granholm's plan, claiming it tilts the system in favor of the state's workers. Senate Democratic Leader Bob Emerson reminded state senators that the legislature has never stood in the way of a governor's prerogative to reorganize executive functions - but that's what's happening.

"The administration has decided to move forward with this plan without input from Republican leaders," said Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema.

Said David Hollister, who will head the new department, "There is no radical departure from anything. We're just taking the systems we have and making them more efficient, more accountable."

Granholm said the seven-member workers compensation appeals system is "under-utilized" - perhaps in part because workers know they don't have much of a chance of winning - and that making that change and others could save the state $1.6 million a year.

Even if the controversy over the Workers Compensation Appellate Commission quashes that part of the Executive Order, the rest is expected to stand. Granholm's order is a reversal of an executive order made by former Gov. John Engler when he merged the Department of Labor and other state functions into the Department of Consumer and Industry Services. Organized labor took Engler's move as a slap.

The Department of Labor and Economic Growth will be created by renaming the Department of Consumer and Industry Services (CIS) and merging many Department of Career Development functions along with several other key programs from other departments.

Granholm's office said most regulatory functions that relate specifically to commercial,
business, and workers' issues will be in the Department of Labor and Economic Growth, including the Construction Code Division, the Unemployment Insurance Agency, the
Workers' Compensation Agency, Workplace Safety and Health, the Michigan
Employment Relations Commission and others.

The Bureau of Worker's and Unemployment Compensation would be divided
into three agencies within the DLEG: Unemployment Insurance Agency, the Workers' Compensation Agency, and the Wage and Hour Division. The reorganization consolidates fire code enforcement and training functions within the new department. Arson investigation and related law enforcement activities will remain at Michigan State Police.


Campus Martius' historic monuments mark city's place in the past

By Marty Mulcahy

Two acres in the heart of Detroit make up the plot of land called Campus Martius, named for an area in ancient Rome that served as a gathering point for soldiers. Detroit's Campus Martius has also been used as a gathering and drilling place for soldiers - especially those from the Civil War - and as a focal point for political and civic gatherings.

Now the building trades and their contractors are re-developing the land as a greenbelt among the city's skyscrapers, with a place for ice skating in the winter, summer concerts, a café, and a water feature.

The park already has two landmarks - the highly visible Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which has stood guard for 130 years - and a few steps away, the city's original survey monument, which until last spring, had been buried for the last two centuries. Before the project is completed, the monuments will probably once again be reunited on Campus Martius.

Soldiers and sailors to get new place of honor

The Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Detroit was commissioned in 1867 - two years after the end of the Civil War - and was one of the first markers in the nation conceived to honor those who lost their lives in that conflict.

The monument was finally completed in 1872, and the massive marker hasn't moved an inch since. But now the monument is being prepared for a journey of about 150 feet to the southwest, to a new spot near Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit's Campus Martius Park, which is being completely re-worked and landscaped.

Masons from Grunwell-Cashero are taking care of the disassembly and re-assembly, which involves the movement of more than 100 granite sections, some of which weigh as much as 30,000 lbs.

"Nobody does this stuff any more, so it's pretty nice to be able to work on it," said mason Bob Olsen Sr. of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1. "These stones are so big. It's difficult enough moving these with a crane; I can't imagine how they moved these sections up here in the 1800s, and they still fit together really well."

So how do you go about disassembling a jigsaw puzzle of granite stones and bronze figures? Fortunately, the masons of 120 years ago left holes for iron "keyways" in the tops of the stones. No one makes keyways anymore, but Grunwell-Cashero was able to find three for the price of $2,000 from a source in Georgia via a search on the Internet. Wedge-shaped with a ring at the top, key locks are placed into similar-sized holes in the stones, and then silica sand is poured in to fill in the gaps, which locks in the key.

"You wouldn't think they would hold, but they do," said mason Jerry Daman.

The masons then thread a line through the holes in the key, attach the line to a hook on the crane, and the stone can be lifted up a few feet in order to allow straps to be placed under the stones. Secured by the straps, the crane operator can then safely move the stones several feet to the lay-down area.

Grunwell-Cashero vice president Joe Dapkus, Sr. said the monument "is in very good condition. Nothing can happen to granite, all you have to do is clean it. And the original craftsmanship was perfect. The stones are so heavy, they anchored themselves."

On the National Register of Historic Places since 1984, the Soldiers and Sailors monument is 56 feet in height with an octagonal circumference of 51 feet. Constructed from Rhode Island granite, the lowest section of the monument is a three-step platform, containing four pedestals each topped with a bronze eagle with raised wings.

The second section features four eight-foot-tall bronze male figures which represent the Navy, Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery, all bearing the weapons and tools of their branch of service.

Up on the third section are bronze bas-relief medallions of President Abraham Lincoln, Admiral David S. Farragut, General Ulysses S. Grant, and General William T. Sherman.

Atop those sections are bronze figures of four women, representing Victory, Emancipation, History, and Union.

Crowning the monument is an 11-foot-high bronze, Native American/classical warrior representing "Michigan," a female figure who wears a heavy headdress of shells and feathers, while a tomahawk rests in her belt. The figure brandishes a sword in her right hand, while her left arm raises a shield. The monument was located in Campus Martius because it was the rallying and recruiting point for Michigan troops who left to fight in the Civil War.

Last week, the monument was nearly completely taken apart. The granite and figures will be cleaned, and the re-assembly is expected to take about a month.

"Things have gone about the way we expected," said Dapkus. "Going into this, about the only question we had was if there was anything inside the base of the monument. And there wasn't. Just rubble."

(Editor's note: a week after we talked to Dapkus, a copper box was found inside one of the granite stones, dated July 4, 1867. Unfortunately, the paper contents were very water-damaged.)

ONE OF THE SMALLER granite stones that make up the disassembled Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Detroit is strapped for removal by Local 1 masons Bob Olsen, Sr. (foreground) and Jerry Daman. The crane operator is Jason Ramsey of Local 324. Using a drill at right is Local 1's David Vogt. They're employed by Grunwell-Cashero.

THE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS Monument, in an 1888 photo.


Detroit's Point of Origin marker? It was right here.

By Marty Mulcahy

For nearly two centuries, the original survey monument for the layout of the City of Detroit and the Michigan Territory lay buried beneath seven feet of earth and rubble at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and the south line of Michigan Avenue.

With that intersection undergoing a complete makeover and experiencing a tremendous amount of excavation as part of the Campus Martius project, the city decided it was the right time to get the granite marker out of the ground and shed some light on a vital part of Detroit and Michigan's history.

"The site is the basis for the mapping of the entire city," said Jim Knoll, supervising surveyor technician for the city. "The spot is still used as the basis point for all future surveys."

Following the fire that destroyed the City of Detroit in 1805 was the opportunity to rebuild the city from ground up. The task was taken over by Judge Augustus Woodward, who around 1820 placed the marker as the reference point of origin and laid out a plan for the city that used a wheel and spoke design.

The rectangular, six-foot-tall marker was actually buried under the center line of Woodward Avenue, and in modern days was marked by a removable iron box accessible from the street level. Inside the box was the nub of a steel rod that marked the marker, called the "Point of Origin" monument. A fountain in the new Campus Martius Park will be placed at or near the point of origin site.

Posen Construction Co. has been in charge of re-locating the streets that will encircle Campus Martius Park, installing pavers and the associated construction work. Digging up the marker took place in late May, with an operator doing most of the heavy lifting, and a laborer with a shovel doing the more delicate work.

Posen Foreman Pat Barocio said he was upset with a news report that said a bulldozer sheared off 18 inches of the square pillar.

"That was ridiculous," Barocio said. "We knew where is was, and we scheduled it in coordination with the city when it was time to dig it up. When we dug it up, it was already broken in three or four pieces."

Knoll said "we didn't know what to expect when we started to dig. It was interesting to see the marker, but I thought it was just as interesting to see the layers of everything we had to dig though to get to it." That included old streetcar rails, creosote-soaked timbers, foundations and old layers of pavement. "There's quite a bit of history buried at the site," Knoll said.

The city plans on placing the marker on display, probably atop or near the Campus Martius site where it was buried. The original spot of the buried marker, now marker-less, has been identified with modern surveying equipment and global positioning technology.

POSEN Construction Co. foreman Pat Barocio marks the spot where the marker was buried, formerly on the center line of Woodward Avenue, behind him.

THE GRANITE point of origin marker was unearthed under seven feet of dirt and rubble. It is now in storage.


Construction pay, benefit rates up, but they've been higher

U.S. construction union wage and benefit settlements through September 2003 have resulted in an average first-year increase of $1.36 or 4.1 percent, and a second-year increase of $1.35 or 3.8 percent.

The numbers were released in September from the Construction Labor Research Council, which said these amounts are slightly less than averages reported earlier this year and the averages reported at this time last year, which was 4.2 percent for first-year contracts.

The CLRC said three-year deals "increased in favor. The pattern of even longer agreements which had been growing in recent years appears to have subsided."

Average construction wage and benefit increases have started to level off after a slow but steady rise between 1994 and 2001. Average increases in pay and benefits levels for all trades topped off at 5.0 percent or $1.54 per hour in mid-2001, but have since fallen.

Meanwhile, over on the nonunion side, Personnel Administration Services (PAS Inc.) reports that wage hikes for journeymen and foremen have averaged about 3.48 percent in 2003, based on surveys of open shop contractors, down from 3.91 percent in 2002.


UP employers expect better times

MARQUETTE - Construction employers in the Upper Peninsula expect increased revenue and to hire more workers this year than in the past, according to a new Northern Michigan University survey.

According to the survey, 74 percent of contractors who responded expect increased revenue this year (up from 70 percent a year ago) and about 20 percent expect decreased revenues (down from 30 percent in 2002). Survey information was compiled beginning in April and released in August.

The survey said about 67 percent of contractors expect to increase hiring this year (up from 53 percent in 2002) while 33 percent expect to hire fewer workers (down from 46 percent in 2002).

The survey's author, Dr. James Scheiner of NMU, said the U.P.'s economy has been set back by slow work at the iron mines and paper mills, but educational, retail and residential work has helped offset those losses.


Trades conduct new masterpiece: the renovated Orchestra Hall

By Marty Mulcahy

Orchestra Hall's sterling record for near-perfect acoustics hasn't changed a note since the hall opened on Oct. 23, 1919. While the hall itself has remained the same over the years, virtually everything around it - and even under it - has been made new and improved.

Saved from a date with the wrecking ball by a group of preservationists in 1970, Orchestra Hall has since gone through a series of projects to renovate and expand the building housing the hall. It was finally reopened to Detroit Symphony Orchestra concerts in 1989, but the most extensive project yet is now wrapping up under construction manager George W. Auch, as the building trades get the hall ready for opening night on Oct. 10. That night, the orchestra will play a free "Hardhat Concert" for the men and women who have been doing the work, compliments of Auch.

"There have been a lot of hours and a lot of hard work to get us to where we're at," said George W. Auch Project Manager David Williams. "When you look at the fit and finish of this building, the tradespeople who have worked here can take pride in what they've done. What they've done is just beautiful."

Construction work that went on inside the 2,042-seat performance hall was taken on by the building trades in two separate 18-week periods during the orchestra's non-performing season in the summers of 2002 and 2003. As we pointed out when we visited the project last year, for the performance hall itself, the major problem was ventilation - three large floor registers heated and cooled the entire hall. The system was too noisy to operate while the orchestra was playing, so it was turned off just before show time. This could result in some discomfort for patrons, especially during a warm night.

Installation of the new ventilation system required the break-up of the concrete floor beneath the seats, and the placement of extensive ductwork and scores of diffusers. With the new ventilation system and some new historically appropriate seats, Orchestra Hall will sound good, and feel good, too. But putting the concert hall back together and retaining its great acoustical qualities has been the trickiest part of the project, said Auch Project Supt. Frank Schmidt.

"The floor is bowl-shaped, it's not flat, so the layout was the key," he said. Surveying equipment was used to measure the elevation of the floor and pinpoint the placement of the original seats. "Things went back together fine last year, and I'm sure we'll do it right again this year," Schmidt said.

Other work that has gone on continuously over the last 18 months has tripled the size of the complex and is part of the $60 million Max M. Fisher Music Center. Referred to as "The Max," the project includes a new, adjacent 135,000-square-foot facility that includes a 500-seat performance hall for a variety of music known as the Music Box, and a 15,000-square-foot education center, which will support the orchestra's youth ensembles and other educational activities.

Musicians will also get new dressing rooms, space for instruments and equipment storage, and two floors of administrative space will be added. Also added will be 17,000 square feet of lobby space, featuring a soaring four-story atrium, centrally located to service the two performance spaces.

The opening of The Max marks the completion of Phase II of the three-phase Orchestra Place Development Project launched in 1996. Phase III, scheduled for completion in 2005, is the Detroit High School for the Fine, Performing & Communication Arts situated next to The Max.

It is a new $122.5 million public high school and broadcast technology complex that is part of a unique partnership between the DSO, the Detroit Public Schools System and Detroit Public Television. The school features a state-of-the-art digital telecommunications center with production studios, and broadcast studios.

"In its entirety, the Orchestra Place Development Project represents a nearly $220 million investment in Downtown Detroit," said Peter D. Cummings, DSO Chairman of the Board. "The DSO is quickly becoming recognized as a shining example among cultural institutions on how to champion creatively the redevelopment of an urban neighborhood. With the opening of the Max M. Fisher Music Center, the DSO and our community will now have the world-class facilities worthy of our long cultural legacy."

ON STAGE at Orchestra Hall: Ron Kopack (l) and Sam Ellison of IBEW Local 58 and J & T Electric.

NEW FLOOR ventilation will make Orchestra Hall patrons more comfortable. (DSO photo)



Falls remain No. 1 killer
An analysis of 2001 U.S. construction fatalities released in July revealed what most studies about construction fatalities discover: falls from heights was the No. 1 killer.

Falls "from/through roofs" (#1) or falls "from/through structures" (#2) accounted for 163 deaths or about 23 percent of the total number of deaths on U.S. construction sites that were investigated by state or federal OSHA. The pattern of worker deaths is similar to the trend found in previous studies from 1991-2000.

Falls are such a hazard because nearly every construction project - and every craft - works around heights at one time or other. "Everyone is exposed," said William Schriver, director of the Construction Industry Research and Policy Center at the University of Tennessee, as related by the Construction Labor Report.

The rest of the list of the most common causes of construction industry death included "electric shock by equipment contacting power source (#3, 6.1 percent), being crushed, run over or trapped by operating construction equipment (#4, 5.8 percent), trench collapse (#5, 5.7 percent), followed by electric shock from equipment installation/tool use (#6, 5.5 percent).

State sends more jobless paperwork
The state of Michigan has begun mailing applications for the Extended Benefit Unemployment Program to some of the state's long-term jobless.

The program provides up to 13 weeks of combined state and federally funded benefits to workers who have exhausted state and federal benefits. Workers may be eligible for extended benefits if they:

  • Have a benefit year for regular state jobless benefits that ends after May 24, 2003; and
  • Have exhausted their federal temporary extended unemployment compensation with the week ending May 24, 2003 or earlier.

A period of extended benefits for jobless workers began in Michigan on May 25, 2003. The period could end sooner, but it will end no later than the week ending Jan 17, 2004.

David Plawecki, who heads the state's Bureau of Workers and Unemployment Compensation, said the state has already searched its database and sent extended benefit applications to eligible jobless candidates.

Now it's prison first
Rarely does a U.S. contractor get prison time for worker safety violations. But it happened in a particularly flagrant case in San Francisco, after a roofer died in 2000 while working on a residential project without mandated fall protection.

According to the Construction Labor Report, the owner of the company, Christie Chung, had been previously cited by Cal-OSHA for fall protection violations. In a conversation with state safety inspectors before this incident, Chung was told to put safety first on his work sites.

"No," Chung reportedly told the inspector. "Money first, safety second."

Legal proceedings taken after the death of the roofer were finalized in August, resulting in a three-year sentence for Chung for 52 felony violations, including involuntary manslaughter and violating a safety standard that resulted in the death of an employee.


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