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September 19, 2008

Labor starts biggest blitz ever to appeal to members to vote Obama

Opulent Book-Cadillac reappears

Business leaders now worry about workers' voting rights on the job? How… touching

Trades give MCV plant more operating options

News Briefs

 

Labor starts biggest blitz ever to appeal to members to vote Obama

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

If you live in Michigan and you haven't received a communication from your union, urging you to vote for Barack Obama for president - you're probably gonna.

"The Building Trades Department and each of its affiliated unions are mounting an all-out effort to educate and mobilize an unprecedented number of our members during this election cycle," said Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers, in a Sept. 9 update sent to union leaders around the nation.

Ayers continued: "In the most recent AFL-CIO tracking polls (conducted in late August and early September) for the key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Senator Obama leads Senator McCain among building trades members by a margin of 55-30. More importantly, this advantage has been achieved without the benefit of intensive member-to-member communication - e.g. letters from local business agents to rank and file members; jobsite flyer distribution, or phone calls and house visits.

"So, our task for the next eight weeks is clear cut - mobilize our local networks of business agents and business managers to personally contact each and every one of their members through letters, phone calls, jobsite leafleting and home visits. And not just once, but several times."

With Michigan designated as one of the four major swing states this election cycle, building trades workers aren't the only union members targeted for special attention this year.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced that more than one million mailers were sent to undecided union voters in those four swing states to introduce them to Obama. The mailers tied in with labor walks in 100 cities nationwide on Sept. 4, the day McCain accepted the Republican nomination. The walkers also discussed McCain's anti-worker policies, now and in the past.

"We need to work our butts off between now and November," said Anna Burger, chair of the rival labor federation, Change To Win. "We need to elect Obama so that we have a nation that works for all of us."

AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman said the combined labor movement, using hundreds "of thousands of union volunteers talking directly to undecided union voters, will: Knock on 10 million doors; mail to 25 million voters; make 70 million phone calls; distribute 20 million leaflets at work sites, and send out over 4 million e-mails and text messages.

All told, the AFL-CIO plans to spend $53 million on political action this year, a record.

"With more than 13 million union members and family members, the AFL-CIO talks directly to more voters than nearly any organization outside of the presidential campaigns and the national political parties," the Wall Street Journal said in an article during this year's primaries. "Though union membership is down nationwide, the union share of the electorate is growing and is particularly strong on battleground states such as Ohio, where the last few presidential election have been decided."
(PAI and the St. Louis Labor Tribune contributed to this report).

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Opulent Book-Cadillac reappears

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT - No more will we be referring to it as the "once-grand" Book Cadillac hotel.

Thanks to the work of general contractors Marous Brothers Construction, its subcontractors, and the building trades, the Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel is grand once again.

Late last month the building trades were performing finishing work in only a few areas, including painting and completing final punch-list items in preparation for the hotel's grand opening charity gala the weekend of Oct. 24-25. The hotel will start accepting guest reservations a week later.

"I tell people that at this point there are a thousand 10-minute projects going on," said Marous Brothers Project Manager-Site Division Michael Schumaker, in a walk-through of the hotel on Aug. 28. "We are still doing finish work like lighting and tile, but a lot of what we're doing is just putting things back together."

At that time, about 200 trades workers were still on site. A number of offices at the hotel had already been turned over to Westin personnel. The vast majority of guest rooms were complete and awaiting the installation of furniture.

By now the story of the Book-Cadillac should be familiar to our readers. Completed in 1924 at Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, the 33-story Italian-Renaissance-style Book was the tallest hotel in the world, and offered 1,200 guest rooms. Five presidents stayed at the hotel, and numerous sports figures and celebrities. New York Yankee Lou Gehrig, afflicted with the disease that now bears his name, ended his 2,130-game playing streak in Detroit in 1939, after collapsing on the Book's grand staircase.

The hotel had its economic ups and downs over the years, and for better or worse was renovated a few times during the decades it was open. Downtown Detroit's economic decline grew worse in the 1970s, and finally the hotel was forced to close its doors in 1984.

The building eventually was left unguarded, and urban scavengers did their worst, removing or destroying the interior fixtures like chandeliers and elevator call buttons, as well as the plumbing. What the scavengers didn't ruin, rain and snow did. The rich plaster ornamentation, and anything of value in the old hotel, was wrecked by the time renovation work began in 2006.

"When I first saw the building three years ago, I thought it was going to be a huge job," said Dave Kaplan of Kaczmar Architects, Inc., which handled the re-design of the hotel's interior spaces. "I was concerned about whether the building itself was sound. But it was built in the 1920s, and they built buildings like tanks in the 1920s."

The Book's solid structure - and the lack of funds to raze the building - kept it standing over the years. An agonizingly slow process of assembling financing to restore the building started and stopped earlier this decade, with Cleveland developer John Ferchill finally assembling no less than 22 investors in the project. He told one publication that without the infusion of $75 million in government historic tax credits, it would have made more economic sense to demolish the Book and rebuild it, rather than perform the renovation.

The hotel's concrete floors were completely gutted, and a new floorplan with larger guest rooms was put into place. The trades installed completely new plumbing, wiring, and repaired and replaced thousands of brick. The masonry exterior has been cleaned, and the building looks…like new. A new parking deck on the east side of the hotel and a covered walkway will provide convenient access for guests.

The showcase areas for the interior of the hotel are its three ballrooms on the fourth floor: the Italian Garden, the Venetian and the Crystal. Kaplan said that while those spaces are not an exact match, "we did the best we could. Recreating a lot of the details would have cost too much." So he said designers went to work with drawings that would "pick up details and the historic feel of the space, and trigger memories of the space."

He said the architects found enough original plaster in the ruined hotel to help recreate new moulds for the renovation. Old photos helped, as did having original drawings from the hotel. Although most of the public spaces were white, any colors of new interior finishes were mainly guesswork, because of the lack of old color photos.

The new hotel will have 455 rooms on floors 4-29. Floors 24-29 will host 67 luxury condominums. The guest room levels have been finished in a modern Westin design, Kaplan said.

"It was a real challenge to try and reproduce the interior of the building, and still meet modern building requirements," Schumaker said. "We had to hide things like duct work and sprinkler heads, and still maintain the character of the building."

Kaplan, who along with Ferchill and Schumaker hails from Cleveland, said he has watched the progress of the work with weekly visits.

"I would say the level of work here has been a ten out of ten," Kaplan said. "These guys who did this work looked at the drawings like we did, and then they went above and beyond in doing the work. They did amazing work with great attention to detail."

APPLYING A COAT of white paint to the second floor Lobby Lounge inside the revamped Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit is Brett Lyszak of Painters Local 675 and Eugenio Painting. The hotel reopens next month after being shuttered 24 years ago. Scavengers stripped it and left it as a ruin.

CLUSTER LIGHTS in the second floor guest registration area of the Book are installed by Terry Knechtel of IBEW Local 58 and Bayview Electric.

THE RENOVATED Italian Garden room on the hotel's fourth floor.

THE BOOK'S exterior, as seen from Washington Blvd.

 

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Business leaders now worry about workers' voting rights on the job? How… touching

By Andy Zipser,
Editor,
The Guild Reporter
Communication Workers of America

As the CWA, like the rest of organized labor, makes a major push on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act, big business is beginning to push back-and, ironically, is doing so under the banner of workplace democracy.

The Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, has three fundamental elements that labor leaders say are essential for safeguarding workers' rights to unionize. One would require binding arbitration of a first contract if an employer and a new union can't reach agreement within a set period. A second would increase fines against employers who illegally intimidate or fire employees who are trying to organize a union.

But the provision attracting the most anti-EFCA propaganda is one that would give workers the right to union representation based solely on a majority signing authorization cards. Workers already have that right now-if an employer agrees. But a company also can disregard the authorization cards, compelling a union to seek a representation election under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board.

Put another way, under current law it's up to an employer to decide how workers will decide whether they're going to have a union. Under EFCA, the decision of whether to hold an election or to go with a show of hands via card-check would be up to the workers themselves. That might sound like a more democratic approach, but the thought that their employees might skip NLRB elections has business interests in a tizzy.

"The obvious intention and design of the bill is to eliminate private ballots as the primary means of certifying unions in this country," declared Steven Law, chief legal officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "This is un-American," echoed Chamber president Tom Donohue, in announcing that defeating EFCA has become the business group's top legislative priority.

For business interests suddenly to express concern for the democratic rights of the working class is much like that old saw about a talking pig: the wonder is not what it says, but that it can say anything at all. At a time when workers increasingly are treated as liabilities rather than assets, for employers to publicly fret about workers' rights and American values is . . . touching. Or let's be more honest and call it for what it is: cynically manipulative.

The fact is that the current system, little changed for more than 50 years, has been gamed so well by business interests that the percentage of unionized employees has trended steadily downward for almost all that time. Employers like NLRB-supervised elections because they give them multiple opportunities to derail an organizing drive, from confronting employees one-on-one to threatening to shut down or relocate a business if workers unionize to filing court appeals if an election nevertheless goes against them.

As a result, less than 8% of the private-sector workforce now belongs to a union, while the number of lost NLRB elections climbs in tandem with the rise of a "union-avoidance" consultant industry.

There is nothing inherently sacrosanct about ballots or elections, as residents of Iron Curtain countries could attest during the Cold War, and as many Americans felt in 2000 and 2004. Any system can be manipulated. The key question is not what method is used to ascertain what workers want, but how to safeguard their right to choose. What employers clearly want, on the other hand, is to safeguard a system that they know how to work to their advantage-and if that means pushing various rhetorical hot-buttons, that's just how the game is played.

Some measure of just how threatened business feels by the possible loss of a system it has mastered can be seen in a recent Wall Street Journal story about politically-oriented meetings that Wal-Mart required its store managers and department heads to attend. The fiercely anti-union employer made it "clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in" because of Obama's professed support of the EFCA, the Journal reported.

Blatant electioneering aside, Wal-Mart's position clearly defies U.S. labor policy as spelled out in the National Labor Relations Act and makes clear that when it comes to EFCA, corporate protestations about worker democracy are merely a fig leaf for an anti-union agenda. Nor is Wal-Mart alone, although it may be the least circumspect.

Something called the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, claiming several hundred industry associations as members, is running anti-EFCA television ads in the Midwest and fielding lobbyists in Washington, D.C. The so-called Employee Freedom Action Committee, run by the same Rick Berman who in recent years placed misleading full-page newspaper ads excoriating labor unions for their undemocratic ways, also is stepping up to the plate. All told, the business lobby has acknowledged amassing a war chest of $50 million to date to fight just this one issue.

EFCA, meanwhile, passed easily in the House last year but has foundered in the Senate, where it has majority support but not enough to clear a 60-vote filibuster hurdle. So one goal of its union supporters is to elect more pro-labor Senators; another is to elect Obama as president, not only because he has vowed to sign the legislation if it reaches him but because Republican John McCain has promised to veto it.


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Trades give MCV plant more operating options

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

MIDLAND - Construction work at the Midland Cogeneration Venture (MCV) Expansion is starting to power down after a summer-long project to install six new boilers at the 1,240-megawatt plant.

Later this month, the newly installed boilers at the plant will be available to be powered up, giving the MCV new, more energy-efficient options for operating during peak- and non-peak operating hours. The project is being managed by Monarch Welding and Engineering. Newkirk Electric and Pumford Construction are also involved.

"It's an impressive job," said Monarch Supt. John Sample "Realistically, we're doing a lot of work here in an accelerated time frame. "No complaints at all about the workforce, the people are responding well."

There are 13 existing natural gas-fired boilers at the plant, which have been in service for 18 years. They produce electricity to put on the electric grid through Consumers Energy, as well as steam for the nearby Dow Chemical Plant. The plant provides about 10 percent of Michigan's electrical capacity in the Lower Peninsula.

The six new natural gas units will be smaller than the original 13 - and having them in place will allow the plant to shut down the larger boilers during off-peak hours. Monarch, its subs and the building trades "are building the whole system," Sample said. "When we're finished, they will be able to run any of the smaller six boilers and turn off any of the other 13."

He said the new boilers are rated at 250,000 lbs. per hour of steam. Some 220 Hardhats have been working on the project, working two shifts, six-tens. Much of the fabrication work has taken place at Monarch's shop in nearby Monitor Twp. Meanwhile, the power plant has continued to operate, and Sample said he anticipates an easy tie-in with the new boilers.

The new boilers at the plant go hand-in-hand with a new agreement between the MCV, Consumers Energy and the Michigan Public Service Commission. According to the MPSC, due to higher natural gas prices, the MCV had become uneconomical to operate under its existing contract with Consumers Energy and the company was considering exercising its right to cancel the contract and sell the power on the open market, including to out-of-state purchasers.

On June 10, the MPSC announced approval of a plan that reduces Consumers Energy's fixed cost payment to the MCV in exchange for changes in operations - involving installation of the new boilers - that ensure that the plant only runs when it is economically advantageous to do so. The agreement will also allow Consumers Energy to buy electricity from the plant only when cheaper electricity is not available from alternative sources.

The agreement means the plant will continue to serve Michigan's needs for the remaining 17 years of the plant's contract life, and the MPSC estimates that the plan will save ratepayers more than $40 million per year.

 

The Midland Cogeneration Venture plant is getting six new boilers, thanks to the work of the building trades. Billy Collins (UA Local 85) and Joe Hunt (UA Local 174) assemble a control valve for the plant at the Monarch Welding and Engineering shop.

 

News Briefs

Solidarity march set for Oct. 18
Building trades union members and their families are invited to a "solidarity march" to protest anti-worker National Labor Relations Board rulings, and to support the Employee Free Choice Act.

The event will take place in Detroit on Saturday, Oct. 18. Staging will take place at 8 a.m., the march will start at 9 a.m. Participants will gather at the IBEW Local 58 union hall, 1358 Abbott Street, Detroit, 48226. The march will proceed along Michigan Avenue to the McNamara Federal Building, which houses National Labor Relations Board offices.

"Workers have the blues. Let's show the United States just how blue we are in Michigan," reads a "Justice For Workers Now" flyer promoting the event. (www.justiceforworkersnow.com)

The NLRB - with a majority of board members appointed by President Bush - has earned widespread derision from the labor movement for its inexorable succession of anti-union and anti-worker rulings.

And the Employee Free Choice Act is seen as the single most important legislation affecting organized labor since the Republican Congress adopted the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act over the veto of President Truman in 1947. The EFCA would simplify union organizing by allowing simple "card check" voting among employees, rather than the use of a formal ballot elections. Labor unions argue that employers are free to coerce and threaten employees to vote against union organizing before the elections are held.


Falls are still prime source of fatals
The biggest payoff for focused safety training would be in the area of fall protection - a new study found that more than a fifth of all U.S. construction worker fatalities is related to falls.

The information was released in July as part of a study by the University of Tennessee's Construction Industry Research and Policy Center. The researchers, using information compiled by OSHA, looked at 800 construction fatalities in 2006 and found that 21.8 percent of workers died from falls.

It's a new study, but it confirms historic data: the overall rankings in the causes of construction worker deaths in 2006 "is very similar to the rank pattern in 1991-2005," the report said, adding: "the individual ranks of the causes vary very little from year-to-year."

Following falls, leading causes of on-the-job death for construction workers includes "crushed/runover of non-operator of construction equipment (8.1 percent); electrocution (7.8 percent), and crushed/runover/trapped operator of construction equipment (7.3 percent).

Other findings in the report:

  • In 51.4 percent of the fatal events the victim was judged to be "the primary initiator of the cause."
  • The most construction fatalities took place on Wednesday (21.5 percent); followed by Tuesday (18.5 percent) then Thursday (17.3 percent). Excluding weekends, Friday had the fewest fatal days: 15.9 percent.
  • Most fatal events happened between the hours of 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. (11.7 percent), but the hour-to-hour margins were fairly close.
  • The numbers revealed the relatively high amount of danger on smaller construction projects. Nearly half - 48.2 percent - of U.S. construction worker fatalities occurred on jobs valued less than $250,000.

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