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September 15, 2006

State of working America: corporations profits up; worker incomes - not so much

It's all about the 0: 3 million man-hours, zero injuries nets gold for Walbridge

Granholm on Labor Day: 'What we need is a law to make sure no workers are left behind'

Ethanol plant shuts out local workers as construction starts

Here comes the sun (and wind): School's open to energy alternatives

News Briefs


State of working America: corporations profits up; worker incomes - not so much

With the decline of our state's manufacturing base and loss of thousands of jobs over the last several years, Michigan is often portrayed as an island of economic malaise in a nation of prosperity.

It ain't necessarily so.

President Bush has talked up the nation's economy as growing and healthy, but less than two months before the general election - which will determine whether Republicans lose their stranglehold on Congress - polling shows that voters are not giving the GOP credit for the economy.

The reasons: rising health care costs are eating away at family budgets. Workers' wage increases are not keeping up with inflation. The record federal deficit continues to rise. So does America's debt to other nations. The war in Iraq is draining the federal treasury. Republican leadership seems more intent on focusing on their perceived political strength - keeping the nation safe - than on domestic issues like taxes, federal spending and immigration reform.

And when Republicans do focus on domestic issues, they have so far shown a tin ear to the AFL-CIO's drumbeat that "America needs a raise." This summer Republicans finally came up with a plan to increase the minimum wage (it hasn't been hiked since 1997), but it was killed off when they tied it to a plan to eliminate the estate tax, which affects only the very richest Americans.

Those factors dominated news coverage this year during the period around Labor Day, which usually brings a deluge of media information about how the American workforce is faring and the state of the U.S. economy. A sampling of news reports and studies indicates that while Michigan has its problems, middle class workers in much of the rest of the nation are also wondering why the supposedly rising economy hasn't lifted their boat, too.

*From The New York Times (Aug. 29). "With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.

"That situation is adding to fears among Republicans that the economy will hurt vulnerable incumbents in this year's midterm elections even though overall growth has been healthy for much of the last five years.

"The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity - the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation's living standards - has risen steadily over the same period.

"Until the last year, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by the rising value of benefits, especially health insurance, which caused overall compensation for most Americans to continue increasing. Since last summer, however, the value of workers' benefits has also failed to keep pace with inflation, according to government data."

*USA Today, (Aug. 30, 2006): "After-tax corporate profits rose 19.5% in the second quarter from the same time a year ago, the Commerce Department said. That follows a 21% gain in the first quarter. Corporate profits as a percentage of total U.S. economic activity was the highest in four decades."

*From the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute and its annual "State of Working America" report (September 2006).

"The five-year-old economic expansion that began in late 2001 has posted some impressive results, most notably faster productivity growth. Yet, real income is lower for the typical family than in 2000, while the incomes of the best-off families have grown rapidly.

"These highly unbalanced economic outcomes present a stark contrast to the latter 1990s, when wages and incomes of low-wage and middle-wage workers grew in much closer step with rising productivity, the measure of goods and services produced per hour worked."

The current economy, the EPI report said, is "centered around a seeming contradiction. On the one hand, the economy is frequently characterized as robust in terms of big-picture indicators such as the gross domestic product. On the other hand, the wages and incomes that shape most Americans' living standards continue to fall behind expectations."

*From the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 5), regarding the GOP's fall agenda: "Down in the polls and divided internally, Republicans want to block debate on domestic policy and shift attention to national security issues that command more party unity.

"But this means almost no further progress on domestic issues."

*From a poll by the the Pew Research Center (Aug. 30): "Americans believe that workers in this country are worse off now than a generation ago - toiling longer and harder for less in wages and benefits, for employers who aren't as loyal as they once were, in jobs that aren't as secure, and in a global economy that might very well send their work overseas."

*Washington Post op-ed column by Harold Myerson (Aug. 30): "…wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of gross domestic product since 1947, when the government began measuring such things. Corporate profits, by contrast, have risen to their highest share of the GDP since the mid-'60s - a gain that has come chiefly at the expense of American workers.
Don't take my word for it. According to a report by Goldman Sachs economists, 'the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income.'

"Clearly, globalization has weakened the power of workers and begun to erode the egalitarian policies of the New Deal and social democracy that characterized the advanced industrial world in the second half of the 20th century."

*AFL-CIO President John Sweeney: "This Labor Day, it appears that a perfect storm is gathering that may well sweep away Republican control of the Congress this fall. Economic trends have strained working families to the breaking point. Workers are not sharing in the wealth they helped create, and our nation's economic recovery has not been a recovery for workers at all."


It's all about the 0: 3 million man-hours, zero injuries nets gold for Walbridge

A tip of the hard hat to Michigan contracting giant Walbridge-Aldinger, which was recognized on Aug. 29 by MIOSHA and the state Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG) for maintaining an on-the-job environment that has helped keep thousands of construction workers safe.

A union-only general contractor, Walbridge has led at least eight major projects over the last 34 months, encompassing three million man-hours, with zero lost-time worker accidents.

"I am honored to present this award today to Walbridge Aldinger. Your record of achieving more than three million work hours without a lost time accident is truly outstanding," said DLEG Director Robert W. Swanson. "Throughout Michigan, North America and worldwide -Walbridge is recognized as a leader in the construction industry. Your commitment shows worker protection goes hand-in-hand with quality services."

Presenting the award were DLEG Director Robert W. Swanson and MIOSHA Acting Director Martha B. Yoder. Accepting on behalf of all Walbridge employees were Group Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Vincent DeAngelis and Assistant Vice President of Safety Health and Environmental Stephen B. Clabaugh.

"We are extremely proud to be recognized by MIOSHA," said Walbridge CEO and Chairman John Rakolta, Jr. "This award was earned by every Walbridge employee, including our union trades personnel, who have worked on projects the last 34 months. We cannot achieve and maintain our high safety and health standards without the commitment of everyone involved in the project."

The MIOSHA Consultation Education and Training (CET) Division recognizes the safety and health achievements of Michigan employers and employees through CET Awards, which are based on excellent safety and health performance. The CET Gold Award recognizes achievement of 100,000 to 2,000,000 continuous hours worked without lost days (based on the size and type of business).

"Walbridge shares a common vision to provide all employees and subcontractors with a healthful and safe workplace," said Clabaugh. "The practice of safety diligence by all project team members, including subcontractors, helps create an environment where accidents are reduced. Walbridge's safety program has total commitment on all management levels and receives top priority."

Some of the projects where Walbridge and its Walbridge Concrete Services group and the building trades have worked on and added to the total over the last 34 months included work for the Detroit Water and Sewer Division, (George Kuhn Drain, Baby Creek, Dearborn CSO Contract #3) GM Delta Paint Shop, GM Warren Powertrain, GM Pontiac Powertrain, and U of M Rachel Upjohn.

On every Walbridge project is a banner displayed with the company motto that reads: "If it is not safe - I won't do it, and I won't let others do it."

"Walbridge-Aldinger's commitment to the safety and health of its construction workforce is exemplary," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council CEO Patrick Devlin. "Obviously, the construction workers had a lot to do with that award, but the key is being able to work in the kind of safety-conscious culture that Walbridge is bringing to job sites. I hope other employers will follow Walbridge's example."


Granholm on Labor Day: 'What we need is a law to make sure no workers are left behind'

Thousands of Michigan union members and supporters took to the streets of Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Ishpeming on Labor Day in an annual show of solidarity and a celebration of organized labor.

The day was marked with speeches, marches and picnics - which is just what one of Labor Day's founders (Peter McGuire, a carpenter) suggested workers should do when the day was first celebrated in New York in 1882.

Thanks to all who celebrated labor's day.

With political campaigns going on for years in some cases, it's hardly accurate these days to call Labor Day the traditional kick-off point for general elections in Michigan.

The Republican challenger for governor, billionaire Richard Devos, has been running television and radio ads across the state since the beginning of the year. Unable to match Devos' monetary resources, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said she would concentrate her efforts on campaign appearances before hitting the airwaves later this month with more advertising.

Two of those appearances on Labor Day were at the traditional Mackinac Bridge walk at 7 a.m., and then a plane whisked her downstate in time for an appearance at one of the largest labor celebrations in the nation, in downtown Detroit. There, she briefly spoke to union members. Unions affiliated with the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council have unanimously endorsed Granholm for governor.

"Don't be fooled by the glossy TV ads," Granholm said, taking a jab at Devos' campaign commercials, which have been notoriously short on details on how he would run the state if elected. "We are here to fight for all of Michigan's citizens, not just the fortunate few."

Devos' only elected position was on the Michigan Board of Education. He was elected to an eight-year term but resigned after two years. His father founded Amway Corp., and after he handed the reins of the company to his son, the man who would be governor laid off 1,400 Michigan workers and invested more than $200 million in new plants in China.

"Those who support free trade are who got us in trouble in the first place," Granholm told the union audience. "I believe that working men and women in Michigan should have the right to compete in this global economy. We already have a no child left behind law, what we need is a law to make sure no workers are left behind."

Joining Granholm and a host of elected leaders them at the podium was Painters and Allied Trades President James Williams, who urged union members to help get Granholm re-elected. "The difference between these two candidates for Michigan governor is that he exports jobs, and she wants to import jobs."

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is challenged for her position by Mike Bouchard, thanked labor for "joining in the fight for the race to the top, not the race to the bottom.. That's why we're here, to fight for the middle class."

Making a rare visit to Michigan was AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who told the crowd, "No state has been more adversely affected by President Bush's trade policies than Michigan. "We have our work cut out between now and Nov. 7 (Election Day). Thank you for supporting candidates who support working families."

JOGGING WITH Gov. Granholm (center) on the annual Mackinac Bridge walk are blue-shirted Iron Workers business managers Jim Hamric (left, Local 25) and Bruce Hawley (right, Local 340).

PLUMBERS, PIPE FITTERS AND Service Trades Local 174 members await the start of the Muskegon march.

HEAT AND FROST Insulators Local 25 members led the Michigan Avenue line of march in the Detroit parade.


Ethanol plant shuts out local workers as construction starts

MARYSVILLE - A new $95 million ethanol plant here seems ready to be a big jobs producer - for Minnesota construction workers.

Owned by Marysville Ethanol, LLC, the plant is expected to employ 300 construction workers. Unfortunately for Hardhats in this area south of Port Huron, the project manager, Fagen, Inc. of Granite Falls, Minnesota, has recently indicated that it intends to self-perform the majority of the construction and import their own (nonunion) crews from their home state.

Some 300 building trades workers walked informational pickets along the plant's construction gates on Busha Highway on Sept. 5-6 protesting the use of out-of-area workers. Picket signs said "Local jobs for local people" and "Support your local businesses and contractors."

Mike Moran, an IBEW Local 58 business agent who sits on the Board of Economic Directors for St. Clair County, said during the application and permitting process, Marysville Ethanol LLC representatives had verbally assured state and local officials that local labor would be used on the project.

But just as construction was about to start, Moran said they changed their tune, claiming they would self-perform the work.

"There are a lot of people around here who can use the work," he said. "They should live up to their commitments."

Some site work has started and union electrical and plumbing contractors have performed a small amount of work on the project. But the vast majority of the work seems on a course to go to the out-of-state workers.

"There's a voracious appetite for jobs in the area," said Marysville Mayor Gary Orr, who is a candidate for Michigan Senate, 25th District and is endorsed by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. He met with pickets on Sept. 5. "It's really disappointing. I've met with the plant delegation five or six times and they make no secret that they plan to self-perform the work."

The decision by the plant comes despite local and state tax incentives. According to the Port Huron Times Herald, Marysville Ethanol was given a four-year, 100 percent tax abatement by St. Clair County. After that the abatement will be reduced, and eliminated by 2018.

"Our contractors aren't even being given a chance to bid," said Iron Workers Local 25 Business Agent Zane Walker. "We've been talking to the people at the plant for over a year, and until recently we never had an indication that our local trades people were going to be shut out. It's frustrating."


Here comes the sun (and wind): School's open to energy alternatives

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

We're in an era when no one can predict the price and availability of the world's oil and natural gas supplies.

On the other hand, it's a pretty safe bet that the sun will rise and shine tomorrow - at least for a while - and the wind may blow occasionally, too. Both the sun and the wind have long been seen as two great untapped power sources, waiting for new technologies that will make their energy cheaper to harness and distribute.

Those new technologies are just about ready for prime time, and the IBEW Local 58 Detroit Electrical JATC Training Center has a curriculum and the hardware in place to teach journeymen and apprentices all they need to know about installing energy generating systems fed by solar and wind turbine power. The training center held an open house on Aug. 24 to showcase its involvement in those alternative energy sources.

"This country is a little behind the curve when it comes to alternative energies," said Training Director Gary Polulak. "But its time will come, and when it does, we want our apprentices and journeymen to be the installers of these technologies in the future."

To get the apprenticeship school ready for the alternative energy sources curriculum, a photo-voltaic array of solar panels was mounted on the roof of the school last year. The panels can create a maximum of 18 kilowatts, but the actual output may be as low as 10 kilowatts due to cloudy days and the low (5 percent) tilt angle of the panels. Apprentices and journeymen involved in the project will be able to tweak the angle of the solar panels and measure that impact on power production as part of the learning process.

A wind turbine, installed in August on the grounds of the Training Center, creates about six kilowatts of power, at peak output when winds are gusty. The systems knock about 20 percent off the Training Center's electrical bill.

With the hardware in place, the Training Center had a number of guests to explain the economics of solar and wind power, the technology, the politics, and how it can all come together.

In a nutshell, guests were told that if the systems are installed in the right place (with the proper amount of sunlight and wind) and if proper state tax credits are created to induce construction of alternative energy sources (Michigan is behind the curve, but so are a lot of other states), and if residential customers and business owners can be convinced that the systems are practical, are aesthetically pleasing and will save money, then the chances of success are enhanced.

George Ingham, the managing director of the National Photo Voltaic Construction Partnership, said costs of materials have come down, and journeymen and apprentices involved in solar power are first urged to install their own systems at home, so they will be goodwill ambassadors for the technology.

The panels, he said, are in very high demand, especially in Sunbelt states. California alone accounts for two-thirds of the nation's entire solar energy production, which amounted to about 1,600 megawatts of power last year. To compare, the Monroe Power Plant, one of the largest coal-burners in the nation, is rated at 3,200 megawatts.

Phil Holdom, president of Alternative Power Supply, told the open house attendees that combining wind power with solar power "is the best of both worlds," and helps both technologies "stand on their own." He said an average 9 mile-per-hour wind is optimal. "There are people today who are living off the (electrical) grid by combining wind, solar and the use of batteries," he said.

He said with its miles of lakeshores, Michigan has "a great capability" for wind power, and is the 14th windiest state. But our state only has 3 wind generators, compared to 107 in nearby Illinois.

"The steps that will lead us to satisfied customers is a good, quality installation," said Todd Stafford, who directs the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. "If we're successful, these technologies will lead to thousands of new jobs, reduce imports of oil, stop some pollution, and provide an alternative energy source to customers."

EXPLAINING THE WORKINGS of the solar panels on the roof of the Detroit Electrical Joint Apprentice and Training Center is Training Director Gary Polulak, right. Second from left is Assistant Training Director Tom Bowes, who is administering the alternative energy program at the school along with JATC staffers Kathy Devlin and Mark Schwartz, who aren't in the photo.


News Briefs

AirAmerica: on the air in Michigan
Want to hear talk radio, but conservative chat from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity isn't your cup of tea?

Providing a progressive (the new word for liberal) slant to the talk radio airwaves these days is "Air America," which airs on 89 stations nationwide, including four in Michigan.
The Michigan stations include:
Ann Arbor, WLBY, 1290-AM
Detroit, WDTW, 1310-AM
Grand Rapids, WTKG, 1230-AM
Petoskey, WWKK, 750-AM.

Listeners can also tune in on Air America via XM satellite radio (Channel 167) and streamed through the Internet at

Weekday Air America personalities include Jerry Springer from 9 a.m. to noon (yup, that Jerry Springer) and Al Franken (noon to 3 p.m.). Other comedians, personalities and satirists are also featured.

Air America CEO Danny Goldberg said earlier this year that conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly are constantly predicting the demise of Air America. In fact, there are a number of public service announcements aired instead of paid advertising. And the radio stations usually have weak signals.

But Air American is slowly picking up radio stations to air its programming. And the radio network celebrated its second birthday earlier this year.

"After having a near-monopoly on talk radio for so many years, some conservative media types are literally freaked out at confronting robust, persistent and passionate opposition," said Goldberg earlier this year. "Of course the talent and management of Air America have a love of our country which what animates all passionate debate on political issues from the left, right and center."

MBCTC brings n two new agents
Two new business agents have joined the staff of The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

John Burman, 45, most recently a business agent with Roofers Local 149, was appointed in August by Council CEO Patrick Devlin and President Patrick "Shorty" Gleason to the position of upstate business agent. A Lewiston resident, Burman's area of responsibility for MBCTC issues will be north and northwest of Flint in the Lower Peninsula. He replaces Pete Reili.

"I look forward to working with Pat and Shorty," he said, "to do what I can to help workers in all the building trades."

Mike Thibault, 57, has succeeded now-retired Jack LaSalle as the MBCTC business agent for the entire Upper Peninsula, effective July 1.

"There are good union people in the U.P.," said Thibault, of Gwinn. "I'll do my best to work with Pat and Shorty to keep the affiliates in the same house in the U.P."

A business representative with Iron Workers Local 8 for the past 11 years, Thibault said the transfer from LaSalle has been "pretty seamless. Jack's been a big help."

Devlin said "John and Mike already have a lot of experience in their areas, and they have a proven track record of knowledge and service. We look forward to working with them."


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