September 14, 2007
What's good for
workers is good for America
there's no Labor Day - and no pensions
no 8-hour day
no OT pay
Two strategies pursue
improved safety on jobs
Right to work
- wrong for Michigan
good for workers is good for America
By John Sweeney
Last month, Steve Skvara, a disabled, retired steelworker
who can't afford his wife's health care, shook the AFL-CIO's
Presidential Candidates Forum by asking tearfully, "What's
wrong with America?"
We should all be asking that question today.
We've got six coal miners trapped beneath more than 1,500
feet of Utah coal and rock, three brave men who struggled to
rescue them are dead and six more are injured. And it's not because
of an act of God. It's because of the acts of man.
The disaster at the Crandall Canyon Mine did not have to happen.
It was preventable - as were the deaths of 12 coal miners last
year in the Sago Mine in West Virginia. As have been many, many
more deaths of workers in America's coal mines and factories,
fishing vessels, offices and construction sites.
Safety concerns about the Crandall Canyon Mine surfaced months
ago, and safety experts warned of particular dangers in the "retreat
mining" technique used there after it was approved by the
federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. In retreat mining,
coal miners essentially pull out roof-supporting pillars of coal
as they work their way out of the mine.
The retreat mining plan at Crandall Canyon, says Mine Workers
President Cecil Roberts, "appears to have been flawed, to
say the least. In our opinion, that plan should never have been
No one should be surprised it was approved, though. The Bush
administration has been systematically dismantling and cutting
funding for workplace safety rules and oversight since it came
Every day in 2005, 16 workers died on the job and 12,000 were
made sick - and that doesn't include the occupational diseases
that kill 50,000 to 60,000 more workers each year. In many if
not most of these cases, one of two things occurred: An employer
disregarded the law, or the law wasn't strong enough to protect
Something is deeply wrong with America today. Working men
and women have lost their value to the people who have been running
this country for too long. Ruthless CEOs wring working people
dry and the neocon ideologues in the White House help them.
Our wages are stagnant, our benefits are disappearing, the
middle class is shrinking and, for the first time, there's a
good chance our children will not be better off than our generation.
We're the most productive workers in the world but we have to
work more hours, more jobs and send more family members into
the workforce just to keep up.
The heroes who rushed to Ground Zero to save lives and who
dug and sweated and struggled for months after Sept. 11, 2001,
are suffering today from neglect and indifference. Neglect and
indifference left thousands stranded on rooftops and in a dark
convention center after Hurricane Katrina. Neglect and indifference
meant deplorable conditions for veterans recovering at Walter
Reed. Neglect and indifference kill far too many of us on the
There's a reason so many people who never will step foot in
a coal mine are riveted by the story of the trapped, dead and
injured miners. There's a reason Steve Skvara's comment at our
presidential forum moved so many people. There's a reason candidates
committed to improving the well-being of working men and women
took back Congress last year and will take back the White House
Working men and women - the great majority in this country
- want to fix what's wrong with America.
unions, there's no Labor Day - and no pensions
no OT pay
By Dick Meister
Day. Time once more for politicians and union adherents to
speak of the greatness of organized labor. Time once more for
the rest of us to ignore the speechmakers.
The general public indifference is understandable. After all,
only 12 percent of the country's working people are in unions
these days. But even if you are not a union member - even if
you do not approve of unions - there wouldn't be any three-day
weekends if it wasn't for those unions. None.
If unions hadn't done what they did - and continue to do -
it's highly unlikely that anyone outside the executive ranks
would be getting a paid holiday on Labor Day, or on any other
day. (Or even, of course, that there would be such a holiday
as Labor Day.)
Nor is it likely that those who are required to work on such
holidays would be getting the pay of two to three times their
regular rate that unions have made the standard for holiday work
in most areas - or get premium pay for any other work, at any
Holidays meant very little to most working people in the days
before unions became effective. They meant only an unwelcome
day off and loss of a day's pay or, at best, a day of work at
Those were the days when unions still were struggling primarily
for nothing more than legal recognition. It wasn't until World
War II that unions were able to go beyond the fundamentals and
make negotiation of paid holidays a common practice, a concession
employers made in lieu of the pay raises federal wage controls
prohibited during the war.
The paid vacations so many working people took this summer
also were very rare until unions demanded and won them. So were
employer-financed pensions and medical care and other fringe
benefits, health and safety standards, job security and other
things now commonly granted to most workers, union and nonunion
Without unions, we should not forget, there would be no paid
holidays for most people, no premium or overtime pay, no paid
vacations, few fringe benefits and little protection against
job-related hazards and arbitrary dismissal. Without unions,
as a matter of fact, the standard workday might very well still
be 10 to 12 hours, the standard workweek six to seven days, and
working people would have few of the rights so many now take
for granted. That includes the overriding right of having a genuine
voice in determining their pay and working conditions.
You doubt it? Consider the recollections of Mark Hawkins,
who worked in the warehouses along San Francisco's busy waterfront
in the 1930s, before the coming of effective unionization.
Hawkins remembered men wrestling with crates, bundles, cartons,
merchandise in all sizes, shapes and weights, 10 hours a day,
often every day of the week, for a mere $60 a month. They worked
as many hours on as many days as the boss demanded, at whatever
pay he offered, lest they be replaced by others clamoring for
jobs in those dark days of the Great Depression.
Hawkins especially remembered a fellow worker who failed to
raise his hand one Saturday when the boss made his usual Saturday
afternoon request for "volunteers" to work Sunday.
The reluctant warehouseman pleaded that his wife, undergoing
a complicated pregnancy, was seriously ill and would need him
at home to comfort her.
"OK," said the boss - "but don't you think
she'll feel even worse if you have to tell her you don't have
a job anymore?"
The man worked that Sunday. When he got home, his wife was
Very few of today's employers would even consider acting in
such a manner. It would be virtually unthinkable, given the firm
standing gained for all workers by the country's now solidly
entrenched unions. That alone is more than enough reason to honor
organized labor on the holiday it won for us all.
(The author is a San Francisco-based journalist. The article
is via the AFL-CIO).
IBEW LOCAL 58 members lead the march in the
annual Labor Day Parade along Michigan Avenue in Detroit. The
Detroit march was the largest of four Labor Day celebrations
ISHPEMING, near Marquette, was the site of
another Labor Day celebration in Michigan. Here members of Plumbers
and Pipe Fitters Local 111 await the start of the parade.
pursue improved safety on jobs
Only about four percent of Michigan's workforce is employed
in construction - however, fatalities in the building trades
account for more than 40 percent of all fatal workplace accidents.
Responsible contractors are always looking to improve safety
on their job sites, but there can be different paths to that
goal. Following are examples of two different approaches taken
by construction employers that aren't necessarily new ideas,
but that deserve recognition for continuing to try to make job
Barton Malow, Skanska make their mark for safety
At the Troy Beaumont Hospital expansion, a "top-down"
approach to safety is being initiated.
Barton Malow Company and Skanska USA Building Inc. are serving
as the design/builder for the first phase of a three-phase expansion
project for Beaumont Hospital, Troy. The expansion project includes
an emergency center addition, a critical care tower, a comprehensive
outpatient services center, and a professional office building.
The two big contractors are the latest to formally sign on
to a partnership - the signing event took place Sept. 5 - with
MIOSHA, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth
and the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. The
stated goal: "enhanced safety and health protection and
zero injuries for workers."
"Barton Malow and Skanska are building a cutting edge
healthcare facility - with the commitment to send every construction
worker home healthy and whole, every day," said DLEG Director
Keith Cooley. "We applaud these two premier companies who
build world class facilities nationwide. This project is an outstanding
example of the work we need to speed Michigan's economic growth."
To try to get to the zero injuries, Barton Malow/Skanska,
the partnering trade unions and subcontractors endorsed the elements
of the site specific Safety and Health Program for the Beaumont
project. Elements include:
- Adherence to all safety policies, procedures, and MIOSHA
- 100 percent fall protection over 6 feet, including steel
erection and roof work.
- 00 percent eye protection.
- All crane operators will be Certified Crane Operators (CCO).
- Substance abuse testing through M.U.S.T. or equivalent program
- adherence by all trade contractors.
- Pre-Task Safety Plans (PSPs) to be completed and submitted
to Barton Malow/Skanska by contractors prior to beginning critical
- PSPs must be posted at the work area, and reviewed with workers
prior to beginning work.
- Contractors shall provide a Competent and/or Qualified Person
for work operations as identified by MIOSHA standards and/or
- Barton Malow/Skanska and the partnering employers on this
project will uniformly enforce a disciplinary action plan for
employees who fail to work in a safe manner. Rules call for "automatic
dismissal" from this project for any "willful or deliberate"
violation of safety rules or safety polices and procedures.
"The partnership that we're creating today can only help
to further raise awareness about construction worker safety,
and that's always a welcome goal," said Patrick Devlin,
CEO of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.
"Hopefully, in the long term, these kinds of partnerships
will become the norm on jobsites across the state of Michigan."
This isn't the first such safety program - Walbridge-Aldinger
was the first contractor in the state to sign such an agreement
in January 2005 on a sewage overflow project in Dearborn. And
Barton Malow signed on with Walbridge at the North Terminal project
at Metro Airport in Romulus. With Skanska now aboard, it signals
that the safety strategy may be ready to expand.
MIOSHA is pushing such partnerships in an effort to move away
from traditional enforcement methods and embrace collaborative
"This joint venture between Barton Malow and Skanska brings
together two great organizations with the same philosophy-zero
tolerance for unsafe acts and conditions. Partnering with MIOSHA
allows us to utilize all the team members in the pursuit of that
goal," said Mark S. Klimbal, CSP, Corporate Safety Director,
Barton Malow Co.
Said David Reece, Senior Vice President, Skanska USA Building
Inc.: The agreement "affirms our commitment to having all
workers go home to their families in the same condition they
started the day."
Bristol Steel tries the incentive approach
"Rewards programs" are big with frequent flier miles
and credit cards, and now Bristol Steel and Conveyor Corp. is
trying such an approach in an effort to improve safety.
On select projects, at the end of each month that there are
zero safety incidents, a prize drawing will take place for Bristol
employees. The employee whose name is drawn will receive a new
automatic shotgun, or a gift certificate for $400. If there are
zero incidents at the end of the project there will be a drawing
for a new ATV-four wheeler.
Bristol Steel initiated its "Safest Workplace Possible"
program last spring, and has given away numerous cash prizes
and shotguns through drawings on various projects. On Aug. 20
Bristol Steel celebrated zero unsafe incidents upon completion
of the steel-work at the Gestamp US Hardtech project in Mason
by holding a drawing for one of those new ATVs. The fortunate
recipient: iron worker Brent Droscha of Local 25.
This isn't the first time a safety rewards program has been
utilized - numerous Hardhats have been involved in such drawings
on various jobsites for more than a decade. Nancy Forsyth, Bristol's
director of safety/quality assurance, said experience in the
industry has shown that the incentives work.
"On jobs where there are these kinds of drawings, worker
safety improves and people are a lot more conscious about their
surroundings," she said adding that Local 25 members' "safe
working habits contributed to making this important project a
Ray Oliver, Chairman/CEO, Bristol Steel & Conveyor Corp.
said "all the trade persons are true professionals. We look
forward to working with Local 25 for many years to come."
IRON WORKERS at Gestamp US Hardtech job in
Mason celebrate the topping off the project. The zero accident
record for the crew led to a Bristol Steel holding a drawing
for a new all-terrain vehicle.
to work - wrong for Michigan
By Pat Devlin
Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council
(Organized labor is very carefully watching the behind-the-scenes
effort to place a right-to-work measure on the statewide ballot
in Michigan next year. To battle that effort, the Michigan AFL-CIO
and its affiliated unions are taking the pre-emptive step of
educating members about what passage of a right-to-work law would
mean to our state).
Every once in a while, every union member should take a minute
to reflect on the real advantages of having a union in their
workplace. Those advantages have a positive effect for the individual
and society in general. Unions raise the standard of living through
better wages, affordable health benefits, pensions, and workplace
Even basic things like lunch breaks, vacations, sick days
and holidays were originally secured through union contracts.
The union advantage in our communities is clear. Union members
earn on average 28% more than non-union workers. 81% of union
members have job-related health coverage, while only 50% of non-union
workers do. 72% of union members have a guaranteed, defined benefit
pension, compared to only 15% of non-union workers.
Unfortunately, there are those both in Michigan and from outside
our state who want to dismantle all that unions have gained for
workers. This past spring, bills were introduced in the State
House and Senate that are know as "Right to Work" bills.
These bills are part of a big business plan to break and bankrupt
unions. If they can't pass their bills in 2007, they will fund
a ballot initiative in 2008. Under so called "Right-to-Work"
laws, unions are forced to use their resources and member's dues
dollars to represent workers who refuse to pay dues.
You owe it to yourself to get the real facts on Right to Work....
- Workers in right to work states earn less than workers in
other states, about $5900 a year less;
- The percentage of families without health insurance is 20%
higher in right to work states;
- The maximum weekly workers' compensation benefit is 25% less
in right to work states;
- In 2000, the infant mortality rate in right to work states
was 17% higher.
I hope when the time comes, you will stand with your union
and oppose anyone who proposes making our great state a "right
to work state." We have faced powerful business interests
in the past, but when workers band together we will win.
to bust unions'
By Marty Mulcahy
The following letter was sent to Plumbers and Steamfitters
Local 85 Business Representative Bill Hard, who passed it along
to us. It is reprinted with the author's permission.
I am writing this letter to you and your membership to explain
how the Right-To-Work Law has affected the labor movement in
New Orleans. Unfortunately, the bill was enacted July 9, 1976
and went into effect Oct. 6, 1976. Before Oct. 6, 1976, our organization
controlled at least 95% of the commercial and industrial market.
Local 60 had approximately 3,000 members and no less then 2,000
travelers working in our area.
A few years after the bill went into affect our wages were
seriously cut from $16.80 to $12.41 per hour. The reason for
this was because our contractors could not compete with the non-union
sector. Union shops became double breasted and non-union workers
had the luxury of union representation without paying one red
cent towards union dues.
Non-union workers had a choice to be union or non-union. This
made it very difficult for organizing.
To this day, we are still faced with the repercussions of
this bill. For example, signatory contractors have the right
by law to lay-off union members and keep permit hands employed.
Although for the most part, our contractors usually work with
us on this issue depending on the circumstances.
Our market share now in the industrial work is less then 1%
and steadily declining due to nonunion contractors in our area.
We are still maintaining the larger commercial projects, however,
this represents only 10% of the work. My opinion of the right-to-work
law and how it affects organized labor is that it is a major
mechanism in placed designed to bust unions.
Rickey L. Fabra
Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 60
New Orleans, LA
Construction fatality list led by falls
According to preliminary, 2006 data (the most recent available)
from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 1,226 construction
workers lost their lives in on-the-job incidents in the U.S.,
an increase of three percent from 2005.
"Each day in 2006, we were reminded of how dangerous
a construction site can be," said Laborers General President
Terence M. O'Sullivan, responding to a Laborers Health and Safety
Fund of North America analysis of the most important causes of
construction tragedies in 2006. "This is not a pleasant
analysis. Yet, it's only by knowing how these workers were hurt
that we can focus our prevention activities so that each member
can return safely to their home and family at the end of their
The report found that 27 percent of construction workers killed
on the job were laborers.
Also in the report: falls (428 cases), as usual, was the leading
cause of death for construction workers. Followed by transportation
accidents (322), contact with objects and equipment (215), exposure
to harmful substances and environments (189) and electrocutions
Laborers Health and Safety Fund Division Director Scott Schneider
said with a combination of stronger safety programs, more consistent
implementation, better supervisor and worker awareness, improved
OSHA standards and more OSHA enforcement, many of these deaths
could have been prevented.
For example, he said fall fatalities could be dramatically
reduced by designing fall prevention into projects (to make it
easier to tie off) and requiring 100 percent fall protection
at heights of six feet or more.
Trades picket over German hires
Detroit Diesel is installing a new assembly line and related
equipment at its plant at Telegraph and Plymouth Rds.
It's an "all-union" job employing a number of Michigan-based
Hardhats - but many of the workers are German nationals who were
brought over here to install equipment.
The building trades picketed the site Aug. 29-31 in an effort
to call attention to the situation.
"It's all about local jobs for local people," said
Michigan Building and Construction Trades Business Rep. Ed Coffey.
"They're taking our market share. You can bet they'd do
the same thing in Germany if our people went over there to do
Pete Accica, a business representative for Bricklayers and
Allied Craftworkers Local 1, led the effort to establish the
pickets, which included about 150 supporters. He said there is
very little information available about the extent of the work
inside the Detroit Diesel plant, although the job is was winding
down earlier this month.
"They're outsourcing us, they're cutting out local workers
and we brought the situation to light," he said. "They
pledged that in the future they'll look more closely at who they
No letup for nonresidential work
Washington, D.C. - "Nonresidential construction shrugged
off the turmoil in homebuilding and credit markets in July to
post another solid gain," Ken Simonson, chief economist
for The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) on Sept.
4. He was commenting on that day's construction spending report
from the Census Bureau.
"Although total construction spending slipped 0.4 percent
in July, seasonally adjusted, and residential fell 1.4 percent,
nonresidential spending climbed 0.6 percent, the 10th consecutive
monthly gain," Simonson said. "For the first seven
months of 2007 combined, total construction was down 3.4 percent
and residential plummeted 18 percent compared to the same period
However, he said those figures obscure the 15 percent jump
in nonresidential spending.
In other sectors noted by the report:
- Public construction was up 11 percent year-to-date through
- *Highway spending could drop next year," Simonson said,
as states are running short of money due to lower gas tax receipts
- the result of lower consumption.
- Commercial construction was up 15 percent year to date.