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September 30, 2005

Bush's strategy for hurricane relief calls for lower wages

GAO affirms problems with apprenticeship oversight

New Detroit tower rises

Trades restore, modernize Detroit Southeastern HS

The Gangbox - Assorted News & Notes

Post-hurricane material prices expected to rise

News Briefs


Bush's strategy for hurricane relief calls for lower wages

President George W. Bush's Sept. 8 decision to suspend the payment of prevailing wages to construction workers rebuilding the hurricane-stricken Gulf region was roundly criticized by union officials and one of the nation's leading newspapers.

"We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action," Bush said after Katrina hit. Yet his first decisive act was to issue an executive order taking wage protections away from construction workers who will rebuild the Gulf Coast.

Bush's action to rescind the payment of prevailing wages - which he is allowed to do as an "emergency" measure - effectively dooms those local construction workers to rock-bottom wages. Many of those workers are homeless and jobless, and a few dollars per hour increase in their wages could make a real difference in their lives.

"By any standard of human decency, condemning many already poor and now bereft people to sub-par wages - thus perpetuating their poverty - is unacceptable," said a New York Times editorial on Sept. 10, under the headline, "A shameful proclamation." The Times continued, "It is also bad for the economy. Without the law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, contractors will be able to pay less, but they'll also get less, as lower wages inevitably mean lower productivity."

Bush's rationale for repealing the prevailing wage during the Gulf clean-up and rebuilding is ideological and political. Many Republicans - but not all - feel that federal and state prevailing wage laws waste taxpayer dollars by artificially increasing wages. In addition, the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors hate the idea of prevailing wages being foisted upon their contractors, and they are major contributors to Republican lawmakers.

Supporters of prevailing wage cite numerous academic studies that have found where prevailing wage laws have been repealed, school districts and municipalities have not realized savings because contractors don't lower their bids. The law works: if it didn't, Republicans who controls all the levers of power in Congress would have rescinded it years ago, but they haven't had the votes.

"The administration that was unprepared to respond to Hurricane Katrina is moving with astonishing speed to use this human crisis to push an anti-worker, right-wing agenda that it has been unable to move otherwise," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "The flood waters had barely begun to recede when Bush took wage protections from construction workers who will rebuild the Gulf Coast."

Building Trades Department President Edward C. Sullivan called Bush's order "legalized looting" of the workers "while favored contractors rake in huge profits" from reconstruction.

Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan said the Davis-Bacon Act, which Bush overturned, "protects communities from fly-by-night contractors who drive down community living standards with taxpayers' money."

Sheet Metal Workers President Michael J. Sullivan reiterated those points and added that when Bush's father suspended Davis-Bacon in southern Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the fly-by-nighters "preyed on residents and businesses" by demanding "upfront money for work they never began."

And "lowering wages will not provide incentives for workers to move back to New Orleans" to help reconstruct it, he added. Skilled construction workers from elsewhere will also not travel to the devastated area to face the low wages as well as lack of housing and health problems in the Gulf Coast, Sullivan said.



GAO affirms problems with apprenticeship oversight

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Serious problems exist in nonunion apprenticeship programs, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) should take action to fix the programs as well as its own method of managing the training system.

So said the investigative arm of Congress, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), in a report issued Sept. 13. The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department two years ago conducted an extensive study on nonunion apprenticeship programs and had been urging the DOL to remedy the problems.

"We are pleased that the government's own investigative
agency concurs with what our own reports have long been saying," stated
Building Trades President Edward C. Sullivan. "Building and Construction
Trades unions take pride in the fact that we invest hundreds of millions of dollars
annually to ensure the highest standards of skills training in every craft, and we
continue to urge the Department of Labor to take action concerning programs
that fall far short."

Among the key findings in the GAO report:

  • Nonunion apprenticeship programs graduated 30 percent of their apprentices in the period under study, compared to a 47 percent graduation rate for union apprentices.
  • Union apprentices in the DOL system that began in 2004 had pay rates 24 percent higher than their nonunion brethren. Union apprentices will also earn 36 percent more when they finish their program.
  • The GAO report criticized the Department of Labor for not conducting
    more quality reviews of existing programs. In particular, the agency criticized the
    DOL for not utilizing information on performance, directly stating "Although Labor
    collects information to compute completion rates and track participants who do
    not complete programs in the time expected, it does not use these data to focus
    its oversight efforts on programs with poor performance."

The DOL doesn't do much examining, due to lack of manpower. The report found that the Department of Labor reviewed "very few of the apprenticeship programs in the states where it has direct oversight. They conducted 379 quality reviews in 2004, covering only about 4 percent of the programs under their watch."


New Detroit tower rises

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

new 10-story office tower "One Kennedy Square" joins the nearby Compuware building as the most recent additions to Detroit's skyline.

Under construction in Detroit's central business district, the 10-story, green-glassed building owned by Southfield developer Redico will offer a dramatic change in appearance compared to other masonry-encased, 1920s office towers near Campus Martius.

Iron workers from Local 25 and American Erectors completed major structural work during a topping out ceremony on Aug. 25. Work continues on the rest of the building, which is expected to be complete late next year.

"There are nine different colors of glass in this building, and overall, it's going to have a lot more glass than other buildings in the area," said Project Manager John Fekaris of construction manager Spencer Dailey. "I think Neumann-Smith (the architect) made an effort not to fit the building in with the nearby buildings. It will have its own identity."

Under construction on a tight site north of Fort Street between Woodward and Griswold, One Kennedy Square is being constructed on the location of the demolished Kennedy Square, a little used concrete park named for the late president. Directly below ground is a three-level parking deck, which was rebuilt a few years ago with foundations able to support up to a 15-story building above.

Fekaris said those foundations will support the building, but great care has to be taken to watch other heavy equipment loads on the parking deck's support system. For example, the tower crane serving the construction process was anchored outside the footprint of the parking deck.

With construction of the structural iron complete and the concrete floors poured, the building trades are currently working on installing the exterior glass and rough interior work. Mark Bevans, the iron worker general foreman, said getting the iron to the site on time, and in order, was crucial.

"We're in the middle of everything down here, and it's a tough, tight site, without much of a lay-down area," he said. "Any time the sequencing of the iron was messed, up, it would shut us right down." About 30 iron workers put up 1,900 tons of Ross Steel iron over a 12-week period.

The building will feature Class A office space and include some upscale design elements like interior and exterior marble. The first floor lobby is designed to include some retail shops. The building's "signature" element will be a 240-foot-tall spire on the Woodward side.

Ernst and Young accountants and Visteon are expected to be among the prime tenants in the 250,000-square-foot building, which can house up to 1,500 workers and will cost about $54 million. There are an average of 100 construction workers on the project. Completion is expected in May of 2006.

"The construction schedule is fast-paced, but we're all working together well as a team," said Fekaris. "The job has gone really well."

THE NEW 10-STORY "One Kennedy Square" is the latest addition to Detroit's skyline. The Iron Workers and American Erectors topped off the buildng last month. Looming over the new glass-enclosed building is the Penobscot Building, built in 1928.

UNTYING A CORE drill rig after it was lowered from an upper level is Brian Whitmore of Plumbers Local 98 and Limbach.


Trades restore, modernize Detroit Southeastern HS

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

Detroit's oldest and most architecturally interesting school buildings, Southeastern High School is getting new life thanks to some $43 million in new construction and renovations.

The school, with a student population of 1,500, re-opened to students this month as the three-year project moved toward completion. Southeastern students had been taught at nearby Foch Middle School while the high school has been undergoing renovations for the last three years.

Devon Industrial Group has been construction manager on the project. Working with its subcontractors and the building trades, the 1915 building was extensively gutted and renovated, and some 80,000 square feet of space was added to the building for a total of 318,000 square feet.

"It has been a good experience to renovate part of Detroit's history," said Devon Project Supt. Don Windsor. "But the old school was out of code and in terrible shape. And it's difficult to know what you're getting into with these old buildings until you start tearing things open." In addition, "selective" demolition of the school's interior, which he said included the old gymnasium, took about six months.

The renovation and addition at Southeastern High School will transform it, says the Detroit Public Schools, "into a premier high tech education center providing a range of teaching pathways preparing students for professional and technical automotive careers."

The project includes an automotive technology center, new parking and outdoor athletic facilities, a new cafeteria, a new gymnasium and complete interior renovations.

"The renovation and new construction at Southeastern High School will have a tremendous impact on the community as a whole," said Brenda Gatlin, principal of SEHS. "It will be a state-of-the-art facility with cutting-edge technology and improved instructional space. This community deserves it."

In addition to the cleaning and repairing of the beautiful brick-work on the building's exterior, an unusual set of architectural features inside the building was also retained: six drinking fountains. Throughout the years, various classes sponsored the construction of Pewabic tile enclosures around six drinking fountains in the building, as gifts to the school.

The drinking fountain enclosures had to be taken out as part of the renovation process, but the school wanted them put back, intact. Saving the drinking fountains was the pet project of Patrick Staskovic, of Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Masons Local 32 and Artisan Tile.

He said the drinking fountain enclosures were photographed, gently removed in pieces, marked, and placed in buckets. After new plumbing and wiring were set in the walls, Staskovic said "like a puzzle" the fountain enclosures were put back together in the school's renovated hallways. "I learned quite a bit about Pewabic tile," Staskovic said. "I learned that they're well made and that they last. We cleaned them up and they looked like they were made yesterday."

Approximately 130 trades workers toiled on the Southeastern High School renovation project. "We had a real good group of people here," Windsor said.

THE CLASS OF '53 donated this Pewabic Tile drinking fountain enclosure at Southeastern High School. Doing the restoration work on this and five other drinking fountain enclosures at the school was Patrick Staskovic of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1Tile Setters and Artisan Tile.

Detroit's Southeastern High School, built in 1915, is one of the city's oldest and most ornate schools. Devon Industrial Group, its subcontractors and the building trades were wrapping up the renovation of the building earlier this month.


The Gangbox - Assorted News & Notes

Saying its efforts to reform the AFL-CIO from within have ended, UNITE HERE, which represents 441,452 textile, clothing, hotel and restaurant workers, became the latest union to leave the labor federation.

UNITE HERE's decision was by a unanimous vote of its 72-member Executive Board, meeting in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 14. The AFL-CIO had no comment.

UNITE HERE, formed from a merger last year of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, is also a member of the "Change to Win" coalition, along with four other big unions that have left the labor federation.

The departed unions are UNITE HERE, the Service Employees, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Carpenters. All, along with the Laborers and the Farm Workers, who are still in the AFL-CIO, were slated to meet in their first-ever Change to Win convention on Sept. 27 in St. Louis. Together, Change to Win says it has 6 million members, compared to, now, 8.5 million-plus for the AFL-CIO.

"Workers are in a crisis - a crisis of low wages, plant closings, lost pensions, lost health care and a loss of rights on the job," said UNITE HERE General President Bruce Raynor in a prepared statement. "Low-wage workers are simply being left behind.

"Workers want to fight back, and they deserve institutions and leadership willing to get serious about organizing and increasing worker power, to rebuild the middle class and restore dignity on the job," he said.

Departure from the AFL-CIO is "not from a desire to leave," UNITE HERE spokeswoman Anastasia Ordonez said in a telephone interview. "It's from continuing to follow the principles that we laid down in the merger" of UNITE and HERE last year. "There's no hidden agenda or taking over the labor movement here." (PAI)

Edward C. Sullivan, President of the Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO announced Sept. 22 that Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Maloney will resign his position in October. "It is with the deepest regret that we will lose Joe Maloney's dynamic leadership here in Washington, but he will continue to be a force in the Building Trades. Serious family health issues require his return home to Toronto at this time and we respect his decision."

Maloney was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Department in January, 2000, and was re-elected to 5-year terms in July, 2000, and August, 2005. Born and raised in Toronto, Joseph Maloney has been a labor leader and activist for nearly 30 years.
Maloney, a boilermaker, received national attention this year when Engineering News-Record (ENR), McGraw-Hill Construction's publication, presented its 2005 Award of Excellence to Maloney for his extraordinary effort to form Helmets to Hardhats, a web-based recruitment program for returning and unemployed military veterans to fill a skilled labor shortage and launch new careers.

The Building and Construction Trades Department's Governing Board of Presidents will meet on Oct. 27 to elect a new Secretary-Treasurer who will serve out the remainder of Maloney's five year term.

President Bush has selected Edwin G. Foulke, Jr., former chairman of a federal safety review panel, to be the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In a Sept. 15 announcement, the White House said that Foulke now is a partner in the Greenville, S.C., office of the law firm Jackson Lewis LLP. The firm represents corporations in labor and employment cases.

From 1990 to 1994, he was chairman of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and also served as a panel commissioner in the following year.
According to the Republican National Lawyers Association web page, Foulke also was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition policy advisory panel for the Dept. of Labor.

West Michigan Mechanical Services (WMMS) is participating in the nationwide Project Home Again program with the intent of locating missing, kidnapped, and runaway children.

The program is sponsored by the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), a national trade association. This program will assist the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in its nationwide search for missing children.

WMMS will be displaying posters of missing children from the local area on its service vehicles. Since the service vehicles are highly visible and travel around the community frequently, it is hoped that many people will see the poster and the missing child will be recognized and found. Each poster includes a photo of the child at the time he or she was first reported missing, biographical information, and numbers to call if the child has been seen or if anyone has information.

The West Michigan Mechanical Contractors Association has elected, Jim Cox, President of Pressures and Pipes, Inc. Vice-President of the WMMCA Executive Board. Tom Jasper President of Andy J Egan Co. Inc. and Brett Lascko, Owner of Lascko Plumbing and Mechanical were elected General Board Members.

The WMMCA was established to represent and service West Michigan Mechanical Contractors. Association members dedicate themselves to quality, dependability, safety, and education as they serve as the primary liaison for labor relations and multi-employer collective bargaining with the West Michigan Plumbers, Fitters, and Service Trades.


Post-hurricane material prices expected to rise

Construction material costs are expected to increase at least 10 percent next year following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, according to Associated General Contractors economist Ken Simonson.

Drawing on first-hand accounts from AGC's member companies, Simonson said, "contractors can expect increased diesel fuel costs to operate off-road equipment such as bulldozers, tower cranes and trucks. Fuel cost increases will also show up as freight surcharges on the thousands of deliveries to a typical construction job site.

"Most of the increased costs in construction materials throughout the country will result from a reduction in oil and natural gas production, and not from higher demand for those materials for the reconstruction projects in the devastated areas."

Simonson also predicted, "Lost production and imports due to the storm will result in higher prices and/or supply disruptions for PVC pipe, other construction plastics, tires for large off-road equipment, galvanized steel, gypsum products and cement."

Cement shortages, already a problem in 32 states, are expected to worsen. New Orleans was a major port for cement shipments.


News Briefs
Inflation drags U.S. wage gains

U.S. wages took a significant hike last year for some small groups of workers - including construction - but overall picked up only slightly for the vast majority of others, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's 2004 National Compensation Survey wage survey.

The survey, released this month, found that the average hourly wage for American workers in July 2004 was $18.09, up 1.9 percent from $17.75 in July 2003. However, those gains were wiped out by inflation, which advanced 3 percent during that time. The survey reported wages across 450 occupations and 81 million workers.

Organized labor and its think tank, the Economic Policy Institute, have for years been complaining that "American workers need a raise" because of small wage hikes and inflation in other areas, especially health care.

Viewed over a long time period - 1997-2004 - overall hourly wages for American workers increased 19.9 percent. But compare that next to the 17.7 percent inflation rate during that period, and real wages only advanced slightly.

A Sept. 15 article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the disparity, first pointing out that wage gains outpaced inflation in the late 1990s. But "now that inflation has picked up and employers are holding the line on wages, 'workers are getting squeezed,'" said Jim Glassman, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., to the Journal.

Brick masons were at the top of the list of wage increases between 1997 and 2004: they saw their pay increase a whopping 44.9 percent during that period.

In 2004, the average union wage was $22.18 per hour. The average nonunion wage: $17.21.

Safety added in to U.S. road bill
"We should soon see a boost in contract and job opportunities for signatory employers and our members," says Laborers General President Terence M. O'Sullivan, responding to President Bush's Aug. 11 signing of the long-awaited federal highway bill. "And, we are pleased to see that Congress made a special effort in the bill to strengthen work zone safety as well."

The $286.4 billion act funds all major transportation projects in the United States through fiscal year 2009. Its passage was delayed for a full year as Congress confronted the federal deficit and debated how to respond. About 79 percent of the new funding goes to highway projects, and 18.5 percent goes to transit.

About 2.5 percent is for safety issues and research. The budget for work zone safety training grants is set at $5 million per year and will address:

  1. training construction craft workers on the prevention of injuries and fatalities in highway construction
  2. developing guidelines for the prevention of work zone injuries and fatalities
  3. training state and local government transportation officials and others that implement work zone injury prevention guidelines

"More importantly," said O'Sullivan, "for the first time, the legislation requires the use of 'proper temporary traffic control devices' to improve safety in work zones. This should limit work zone crashes and help control injuries."



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