The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

September 29, 2000

On the record…Who's bad? See where Gore, Bush stand on issues

Looking down…And looking up

C'mon, send 'em in! Return voter forms to clerk by Oct. 10

Raising nonunion standards - for all the wrong reasons




On the record…Who's bad? See where Gore, Bush stand on issues

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote."
-George Jean Nathan

The definition of what makes a "bad" official, is of course, in the eye of the beholder. And elections are held in the U.S. every few years to let the American public collectively make up its mind.

But you can't have a say in the process if you don't vote, and an uneducated voter is arguably as bad as one who does not vote. The following information is part of a continuing effort on our part to educate our voters about what's coming up on the Nov. 7 ballot. At the top of the ticket are presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Patients Bill of Rights

Bush - Supports a Patients Bill of Rights proposed by Senate Republicans that excludes 100 million people in "self-funded" health plans. His version gives the health care plans the final say on medical treatment decisions. It also gives health care providers the final say on patient protections like access to medical specialists. As Texas governor, Bush vetoed a patient protection bill because he said it placed too much regulation on managed care organizations. (N.Y. Times, March 20, 2000)

Gore - Backs a stronger Patients Bill of Rights such as the one passed by the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support. It allows patients to hold health plans accountable and ensures access to emergency rooms and prescription drugs.

Health Care

Bush - "Keeping the promise of Medicare, and expanding it to include prescription drug coverage, will be a priority of my administration," Bush said. (Bush web site)

Under Gov. Bush, Texas has had the highest percentage of children in the U.S. without health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet Bush tried to restrict kids' eligibility for Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a $24 billion federal program. Under Bush, Texas was one of the last states to take part in CHIP. (Sacramento Bee, Aug. 29, 1999).

"Since George W. Bush became Texas governor in 1995, his aides admit he has not made health care a priority." - (N.Y. Times, April 11, 2000).In Texas, 200,000 children are uninsured and fewer women than any other state have health insurance.

Wrote the Wall Street Journal (March 16, 2000): "Even some Bush supporters wince at these numbers: In 1998…24.5 percent of Texans had no health insurance….Per capita spending for prenatal care and public health is among the lowest nationwide."

Gore - Wants to insure every child in America. He is seeking to expand the CHIP to include children in families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four - or $41,750 - and to enable all other families to buy into the program voluntarily. (National Association of Children's Hospitals survey, Jan. 8, 2000).

"Al Gore consistently has proven that he is committed to providing a universal, high-quality, affordable health care to every single American." (World News Now, Nov. 11, 1999).

As vice president, Gore fought for the 1996 Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act, that helps people keep their health insurance even if they change jobs. He has been a strong advocate of the Family Medical Leave Act, signed into law in 1993.

Social Security

Bush - Would privatize Social Security by diverting between 16 percent and 24 percent of Social Security's payroll tax revenue into privatized, individual accounts. Diverting the funds would require cuts in guaranteed Social Security benefits - 29 percent for older workers and 54 percent for workers 30 and younger. (June 1999, study by the nonpartisan Century Foundation).

The study notes that even under the best market conditions, returns on individual accounts would fall far short of making up the reduction in individual benefits. "Reductions in the benefits for future retirees are so substantial that there are questions about the viability of protecting benefits for current retirees, older workers, disabled workers and survivors," the study said.

Gore - Working families could contribute a certain portion of their income to 401k-like accounts and the government would match the contribution on a sliding scale; the lower the income, the larger the match.

He would increase benefits for elderly widows and provide family service credits for parents who take time out of the workforce to care for children. Gore's plan would extend the life of the Social Security Trust Fund until 2054 and would completely pay off the public debt by 2012. He supports setting aside two-thirds of the project budget surplus to ensure strong Social Security and Medicare systems. (Source: AFL-CIO).


Bush - "Schools must have clear, measurable goals focused on basic skills and essential knowledge. There must be regular testing to ensure that the goals are being met. Tests should be developed by the states themselves." (Official Bush web site).

With Bush as governor, Texas ranked 48th among the states in SAT scores. (Fort Worth Star Telegram, Dec. 13, 1998). In 1998, Bush acknowledged, "higher education is not my priority."

He opposes federal legislation to hire 100,000 more teachers and repair school buildings. (The Columbian, June 6, 2000).

Gore - His plan will make sure there is a qualified teacher in every classroom, and hold teachers to high professional standards. He would require states to ensure that all teachers are fully qualified and certified and that new teachers have passed a rigorous test of their subject knowledge and teaching skills.


His Higher Standards/Higher Pay Initiative would also require periodic peer reviews of licensed teachers and faster, fair ways to identify, improve and, where necessary, remove failing teachers.

Gore's plan would require states and school districts to identify failing schools using state standards and put in place an aggressive plan to turn those schools around, including research-based curricula and a rigorous peer evaluation of every teacher. (Source: Official Gore web site).


Looking down…And looking up

AT 5:46 P.M. on Oct. 28, 1998, the 25-story shell of the former J.L. Hudson's Building sat on this site in downtown Detroit. A minute later, after the largest implosion ever of an urban building in the nation's history, this site was covered with a 60-foot-high mound of debris, weighing about 330,000 tons. Nearly two years later, the site has been cleaned up nicely, thanks to the work of the building trades. The former Hudson's basement will be turned into a below-ground parking deck to serve the Campus Martius project. Above it, developers are looking to build space for offices, restaurants or retail. Construction is expected to begin soon on the new $800 million, 16-story Compuware headquarters building, set to be erected to the south, just beyond the far wall in this photo.

Renovation of 1001 Woodward puts skyscraper back on the map

One of downtown Detroit's most visible landmarks is getting more than just a little spruced up before a very high-profile bunch of neighbors move in across the street.

The building trades are in the process of gutting out and refurbishing 1001 Woodward Plaza, a 23-story skyscraper at the corner of Woodward and Michigan Avenues, before transforming it into Class A office space available for rent. Purchased in 1998 by the Operating Engineers Local 324 Pension Fund, the building sits just to the west of the location for the new Compuware Building and the Campus Martius project.

Completed in 1965 as the headquarters for the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Detroit (now First Federal of Michigan), the landmark building sits on a prime piece of real estate in a part of Detroit that's ready to make a comeback.

"The building is from the 1960s and the mechanical needs upgrading, but structurally, it's in great shape," said Rick Debolt, the property manager for Proquest Commerical Property Management.

The area around the 1001 Woodward is currently pretty much a concrete jungle, but tied into the Campus Martius development will be a system of parks and fountains that will help "green" up the area, said Marty West, senior vice president for Acquest, the parent company of Proquest.

More than $20 million will be spent in the top to bottom rehabilitation of the building, and to date, 14 floors have been completely gutted, including asbestos abatement. Extensive renovations will be made to the building's heating and cooling system, as well as electrical, fire protection and plumbing upgrades plus fiber optics installation. The structure's handsome black granite exterior will be cleaned and retained.

"When this building became available, we looked at it and thought it would be a great investment opportunity," said Local 324 Business Manager Sam T. Hart. "It's close to the new stadiums and to Compuware, and long-term, we think it's really going to pay off."

When it is finished next year, the renovated skyscraper will provide more than 260,000 square feet of new Class A office space for the City's Central Business District and also feature approximately 30,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and service space.

THE 35-YEAR-OLD 1001 Woodward Plaza building, which sits across Woodward from the old Hudson's site, is getting a $20 million makeover by the building trades.

A HOT WATER line is installed at the 1001 Woodward building by Ray Huddas of Pipe Fitters 636.


C'mon, send 'em in! Return voter forms to clerk by Oct. 10

How important is the Nov. 7 general election?

Extremely important.

That's why the Detroit and Michigan Building Trades Councils this week have mailed more than 70,000 voter registration applications and absentee ballot applications to all building trades union member around the state. Several other unions have sent the forms to their membership under their own cover letter, to maximize voter participation.

"Of course, we know that we already have thousands of members who are registered to vote," said Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin. "But there are still a lot of workers who aren't registered to vote, or maybe a family member is unregistered. Hopefully, having a form sent directly to their home will provide the motivation to get registered."

Voters who are already registered may find it inconvenient to get to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7. In fact, some Hardhats putting in 10- or 12-hour days may find it impossible to get to their polling place. That's why the state allows such workers the convenience of sending in an absentee ballot. And state law permits people over 60 years of age to get an absentee ballot automatically, just by filling out the form.

Included with the forms are addresses for all 83 county clerks in the state - the destination for the forms. Voter registration forms must postmarked by Oct. 10 so that you will be eligible to vote in the Nov. 7 general election.

Following are a few other items of interest when it comes to registering to vote:

  • Many Michigan residents are still under the mistaken impression that jury duty lists are taken from voter registration files. Not true. Jury duty lists are taken from motor vehicle registration files - so if you don't want to be picked for jury duty, stop driving.
  • You don't have to register to vote through the mail. Forms are available at any one of the 178 Secretary of State offices, or your city, township or county clerk's offices. You can return your forms at those locations, too.
  • If you register by mail, you must vote in person at your assigned precinct the first time you vote, unless you're disabled, 60 or older, or temporarily residing overseas.


Raising nonunion standards - for all the wrong reasons

Nonunion contractors now masters of the obvious: Increased pay keeps workers

Tradesman viewpoint

Editor's note: Following is evidence of some appalling logic by leaders in two large, nonunion construction companies. If you ever wondered why you joined a union, we hope the information that follows will confirm that you made the right decision.

The Engineering News Record this month calls it a "big, broad-based crisis."

The problem: In many areas of the U.S., nonunion construction contractors are having difficulty attracting and keeping a sufficient workforce.

Their solution is better pay. According to Frank Yancey, senior vice president for Houston-based Brown and Root, a major nonunion general contractor that manages a workforce of 35,000: "We have to begin looking at money. It is not the total answer, but it is a beginning,"


A basic concept that has existed since economies were formed is that when times are good, workers won't do certain types of work unless their pay provides sufficient incentive. Well, times have been good in the construction industry in most of the U.S. since the present building boom began in 1992. What hasn't been so good is the industry's ability in some parts of the country to maintain a sufficient number of workers. National publications point to right-to-work states in the South and West as the biggest problem areas for lack of workers.

"We reap the crop that we sow and we have not sown enough seeds," said Ted C. Kennedy, chairman of BE & K, a huge nonunion employer out of Birmingham, Ala.,

The ENR reported that Brown and Root found that the crop they're sowing has resulted in the average construction craftsman working on the Gulf Coast making about $17 an hour - with only a disposable income of $1,489 a year after living expenses.

This "is a poor person," Yancey told a construction image summit held in Atlanta earlier this month. "I used to go to high schools in Texas and explain to students the advantages of coming into the industry. I refuse to do that now."

The ENR said both Brown and Root and BE & K are raising their workers' wages in an attempt to keep their employees in the industry.

"I have a belief that wages are way too low," said Ted C. Kennedy, BE & K's chairman, as quoted in the ENR. "I think (the hike) will attract the higher skilled and trained people."

The statements of Yancey and Kennedy lead us to a few questions, and make us wonder how they can sleep at night.

When did these business leaders arrive at their "belief" that wages are too low? If a worker earning $17 an hour is a "poor person" today, what would they call the same person five, 10 or 20 years ago? Why are they only starting to care about the poor people on their payroll now? No doubt both business leaders know how stagnant workers' wages have been over the last decade compared to inflation.

Their comments should be revolting to all workers and to fair employers who want to provide a good living for their employees. Suddenly, those two huge nonunion employers get religion about paying their workers properly - but it only comes at a time when their business interests force them to. Their philosophy comes from only one motivation: improving the bottom line of their company.

The second part of Kennedy's statement was equally appalling: "I think (the hike) will attract the higher skilled and trained people." The converse of the statement is that BE & K has been content to employ lesser-skilled and untrained workers.

The construction industry has much going against it when it comes to attracting workers - today or 30 years ago. The industry is dirty, cyclical, and worst of all, dangerous. On top of all that, some employers don't care about their workers until they're forced to.

Sounds to us like some workers need a union. Unions have been kicked around, bad-mouthed, and have seen overall membership drop to about 15 percent of the nation's workforce. Union organizing in the construction industry, however, last year accounted for about half of all of the newly organized union workers in the nation.

When workers get together and collectively bargain for their salary, benefits and basic rights on the job site, they have a way to fight back against the BE & Ks and the Brown and Roots of the world. Unions can provide a much-needed reminder that workers need to be treated fairly, even when the economy isn't doing so well.



Carpenters ready to further shun labor?
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters, whose Michigan chapter has already disassociated itself from the Detroit and Michigan Building Trades Councils, may choose to withdraw from affiliation with the entire AFL-CIO.

The Construction Labor Report quoted Carpenters General President Douglas McCarron as saying that his union's monetary contributions to the AFL-CIO are doing little more than paying the salaries of Washington bureaucrats. He also pledged to review how the Building Trades Department, AFL-CIO spends its dues money.

McCarron's statement was made during the UBC's general convention in Chicago, where he won a second five-year term as general president last month. McCarron claimed that the AFL-CIO has not been "reviewing their operations" when it comes to effectively targeting organizing efforts.

However, McCarron's criticism comes at a time when the entire AFL-CIO managed to turn the tide on organizing in 1999 by ending a string of membership losses. All of organized labor had about the same number in 1999 as there were in 1998. And the Building Trades Department was the most successful of all AFL-CIO unions, last year organizing half of all newly organized workers.

Travelers, beware of workers comp flaw
If you're working for your employer on an out-of- town project and get injured off the job, don't look to state law or the Michigan Workers' Compensation system for help.

A heavy equipment operator from Michigan on a business trip in Pennsylvania was seriously injured when he was hit by a car while crossing a street, while returning to his motel from dinner.

The operator was intoxicated, but it was ruled not to be a factor in the accident.

According to the Construction Labor Report, a state magistrate awarded workers' compensation to the operator, but the state Workers' Compensation Appellate Board reversed the decision, ruling that the victim's activities "presented a deviation" from the business purposes of the trip.

The Michigan Court of Appeals reinstated the workers' comp award, invoking the state doctrine that the traveling employees "are considered to be continuously within the scope of their employment during their trip, except when a distinct departure for a personal errand can be shown." The court said eating dinner wasn't a "distinct departure."

Then the case went to the Michigan Supreme Court, which reversed the court of appeals ruling and denied the award. A majority of the justices cited an amendment to state workers' comp law that says an employee on a business trip injured in a "social or recreational activity" is not covered under state law.

This case is among scores of Michigan Supreme Court rulings in the last few years that have gone against workers and in favor of the insurance industry.

Organized labor is endorsing Thomas Fitzgerald, Marietta Robinson and Edward Thomas for Michigan Supreme Court on Nov. 7 to help restore balance to the court.


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