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September 5, 2003
The presidency of George W. Bush has been dominated by three major issues: the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the war with Iraq, and the nation's economy.
Most Democrats and in fact, most Americans, gave the president high marks on his handling of the nation's affairs after the 9-11 attacks. In addition, most Americans supported Bush's call to arms to get Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq, even if there are increased questions today about whether the ongoing occupation of Iraq is worth the cost in U.S. lives and in dollars.
But with President Bush seeking re-election only 14 months from now, he will likely be evaluated by American voters primarily for his handling of the nation's economy, just as his father was in 1992. The president, and to some extent, the Republican Party he leads, will be judged by whether the American people feel they are better off now compared to their situation in the 1990s.
Bush and the Republican Party have made some drastic changes in the direction of our government since President Clinton left office. Is the nation better off? You be the judge.
Bush's one and only cure-all for the deficit and all of the bad economic news, curiously, is reducing government revenue in the form of the $350 billion tax cut that was implemented this year. He is gambling that the tax cut alone will lead to growth in the economy, and out of the deficit and unemployment quagmire that the nation is in.
"The president has pretty nearly played his cards when it comes to policy moves that can broadly shape the economy by Election Day 2004," said Kevin Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. " If the economy still doesn't pick up enough steam to start producing jobs in the next six months, the president isn't well-positioned to undertake another broad economic initiative. The odds are that we're almost at the point of no return for the next election."
If a "broad economic initiative" means another tax cut, the nation may be better off without it.
A tax cut bill passed by the Republicans in 2001 gave over
a third of its
"The president said recently that 'tax relief creates
jobs,' " said Michigan's senior senator, Carl Levin. "If
tax cuts automatically create jobs, how does he explain the fact
that we've lost about three million jobs since he took office,
notwithstanding the fact that he pushed through a huge, trillion
dollar-plus tax cut back in 2001? Following the same approach
that did not work before doesn't make sense."
President Bush's budget for 2004 will reflect a shortfall of $480 billion. Over nearly three years, the Bush Administration has been giving American workers the short end of the stick, too.
The slights to U.S. workers have come fast and furious during the Bush Administration. At every opportunity, the president has fought to take away nearly everything that could be helpful to the nation's workers, while going the extra step to help his friends and supporters in the business community.
Bush pledged to be a "compassionate conservative," but there hasn't been a lot of compassion in his agenda.
"Is the president living up to his promise of acting on behalf of all Americans?" asked Democratic Congressman George Miller of California, who chairs the Democratic Policy Committee. "Or is this administration, and its Republican majorities in Congress, waging unprecedented, unrelenting, unconscionable attacks aimed at stripping hard-working Americans of basic workplace rights and economic security?"
In a report released on Labor Day, called The Republican Economic Collapse and the Assault on America's Working Families, Miller suggests the president and Congress are in the attack mode on U.S. workers.
"President Bush and his Republican congressional allies are pursuing a relentless assault on the men and women still fortunate enough to have jobs," Miller wrote.
House Republicans repeatedly rejected Democratic efforts to give employees the choice of retirement plans based on their personal needs.
In addition, Republican leadership won't let Congress vote on whether employees should have more control over their own retirement savings, or whether to give employees greater protection against corporate fraud and abuse. Republicans have repeatedly blocked a Democratic plan to stop giving corporate executives special financial protection for their investments when their company fails.
Throw in Bush's ardent support of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the push to implement new book-keeping rules on unions that could cost $1 billion a year to comply with, and the repeal of Clinton Administration rules that required companies who want to do business with the federal government to have a solid track record of employee health and safety - and there's an evident pattern of abuse against the nation's workers.
"The AFL-CIO is a block from the White House. It might
as well be in Omaha, Neb., in terms of its access," said
Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor and politics at the University
of California at Berkeley. "Labor feels frozen out. Their
agenda is not the agenda of this administration."
By Marty Mulcahy
A diehard group of a few thousand building trades workers and their families braved the wet weather on Sept. 1 and celebrated Labor Day - with umbrellas and ponchos joining hard hats and union shirts as the fashion of the day.
"Aw this is nothing," said a sodden Keith Brown of Boilermakers Local 169 of the steady rain in downtown Detroit "We work in this stuff all the time. I'm happy to be here and represent my trade."
Added Local 58 electrician Kim Koebel, "We're the diehards. I've been coming here rain or shine, no matter what, since the parade started."
Attendance was way down from drier years, but those who did march in the parade had an opportunity to check out the new Labor Legacy monument near Hart Plaza. (See the article below.)
"I hope you will take this opportunity to walk around the grounds, and appreciate the meaning of the monument," Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin told the crowd. "Because it was built by you, and it was built for you. It's a beautiful piece of work, isn't it?"
Traditionally, Labor Day is as much a day for talking politics as it is celebrating organized labor, and Sept. 1 was no different.
Congressmen John Dingell and Sander Levin were on hand to offer a few very brief remarks to the crowd. Noting that President Bush is finishing his month-long stay at his home in Texas, Dingell suggested that organized labor "help turn it into a permanent vacation next year by voting Bush out of office."
The state's telephone system for accepting unemployment claims is open for business in western Michigan and unemployed workers are being encouraged to use it.
"The phone process for filing unemployment claims is faster and more convenient and will save jobless workers in Western Michigan the time and expense of driving long distances as they did in the past when applying for benefits," said David Hollister, director of the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services.
"In addition, the telephone process gives workers immediate confirmation that their applications have been received and entered into the system, removing one of the major uncertainties that unemployed workers have with the current mail-in process."
The telephone filing system now serves all of western Michigan, as well as northern lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. The system will accept calls from the following area codes: 269. 616, 231, 989, 906, 705 and 715. Callers from outside those area codes will be directed to file their unemployment claims by mail or via the Internet, at www.michigan.gov/bwuc.
The toll-free number in those areas is (866) 500-0017, to file new claims for unemployment benefits as well as additional claims.
The BWUC is phasing the system in, starting with the state's
By Marty Mulcahy
The gap at the top of the 63-foot tall Michigan Labor Legacy Landmark represents labor's unfinished tasks.
But on Aug. 21, one of those tasks was officially placed in the "finished" column, as the steel arch itself was dedicated in a site off Jefferson Ave near Detroit's Hart Plaza.
The legacy landmark project was begun two years ago with the commitment of a committee of organized labor leaders, who agreed to raise money for construction from unions, rank-and-file members and friends of labor.
"Our goal," said project president Gerald Banton, "is to honor the working men and women who built our city, describe labor's rich heritage and inspire the public with labor's vision for the future."
Mission accomplished. The gleaming $1.4 million stainless steel arch is the largest monument to organized labor in the Western Hemisphere. It is also surrounded by 14 granite markers with bronze artwork depicting labor history, and marble tiles on a small stage at the base include numerous quotes that extol the virtues of labor. The most significant of the inscribed quotes is from Martin Luther King Jr.: "The arc of history bends toward justice."
At night, two dancing lights representing a spark connect the arch at the top and represent labor's energy.
Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Donald Boggs, who acted as secretary-treasurer for the project, said the building trades "brought their skills and solidarity to the project. They worked as a team, and truly brought us a wonderful monument."
The design of artists David Barr and Sergio DeGiusti was chosen from among 50 entries. Barr also praised the work of the building trades on the project, and told the attendees at the dedication about how frustrating it was to align the two sections of the arch, which weigh a total of 30 tons.
Barr said the crew of iron workers spend four-and-a-half hours one morning trying to make the alignment perfect, but just couldn't make it happen. They tried something different after lunch, and the sections came together perfectly. Barr said the work of the building trades workers could be summed up by what Iron Workers Local 25 member Joe Malinao said at the time, "my name's not going to be on the arch, but my heart is in it."
Among the crafts working on the arch and surrounding area were bricklayers, carpenters, cement masons, electrical workers, iron workers, laborers, operating engineers and tile masons. Four companies were in on supervising various aspects of the construction: Barton-Malow, Turner Construction, Aristeo, and Walbridge Aldinger.
The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council and the Associated General Contractors of America, Greater Detroit Chapter also provided help for the project.
Just after the dedication ceremony was completed, Shawn Kearney of Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Workers Local 32 and Boom Stone set the final circular section of verde marble in the stage located below the arch. That circular section sealed a time capsule.
Kearney has been on the job about six weeks, and said this is one of his most memorable jobs. "People have asked me why I'm in a union, and I tell them that being in a union has allowed me to enjoy a pretty good living," he said. "So it's been an honor and it's been fantastic to be a part of a project like this, something that honors organized labor and will be around for years to come."
By Douglas L. Maibach, P.E.
Just off the corner of Jefferson and Griswold at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit is a towering new 63-foot-high stainless steel arch that is a gleaming tribute to labor and a celebration of labor's rich past and strong presence in the Detroit regional marketplace. The project was officially dedicated Aug. 20.
While the Michigan Labor Legacy Project is a tribute to labor, it is also a glowing testimony to the partnership between the Associated General Contractors, Greater Detroit Chapter (AGC), and the building trades unions throughout southeast Michigan.
Four leading AGC general contractors, all of them trade union employers, built the project in partnership with members of the Carpenters, Laborers, Operating Engineers, Cement Masons and other Detroit-area building trade unions. The contractors, who performed the work as a contribution to the overall effort, are Aristeo Construction, Barton Malow Company, Turner Construction, and Walbridge Aldinger Company.
But the Labor Legacy Project is only one of many vivid examples of the cooperation exhibited over the years between the AGC and the organized building trades. Recently concluded negotiations between AGC and the building trades are another example of that cooperation.
In the midst of one of the most severe economic downturns in memory, coupled with uncertainty about security and world events, AGC contractors and leaders of the organized building trades rolled-up their sleeves and pounded out agreements that will provide thousands of union workers the compensation and benefits, including health care and pension, they deserve, while assuring a continuation of the labor-management harmony we've enjoyed in the Detroit regional construction industry. Agreements were reached with the Carpenters, Cement Masons, Laborers, Operating Engineers and Teamsters.
This beneficial relationship was recently highlighted in a speech by Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council, when he said, "The Southeast Michigan area is a bedrock for organized labor in this country, and part of the reason that we have been successful over the years is labor's willingness to be flexible with its employers, and vice-versa. I think the relationship we have with the AGC is one of the strongest labor-management groups in the country because both sides are willing to see the other's point of view."
And then Devlin added what is a valuable reminder for us all, "But the most important thing we do together is to make sure owners are satisfied. Labor and contractors meet regularly with owners who are the ultimate customer. We've been doing this for more than a decade, and we were one of the first groups in the country to formalize that relationship which makes up the 'three-legged stool - owners, contractors and labor.' It has been a tremendous success, and has improved the way we do business."
The labor-management cooperation found in the region's construction
industry is unlike that found anywhere else in the country.
However, the cooperation extends beyond hammering out contracts and building monuments.
On the legislative front, contractors and labor are able to set-aside partisan politics and walk side-by-side in the halls of government to protect the interests of the organized construction industry. These efforts include protecting the prevailing wage, a commitment to safety and making sure contractors pay their fair share to workers and government.
The Prevailing Wage Act requires contractors and subcontractors to pay laborers, workers and mechanics employed on public works construction projects no less than the general prevailing rate of wages, consisting of hourly cash wages plus fringe benefits, for work of a similar character in the county where the work is performed.
Regular attempts to end this worthwhile practice are made at the legislative level by those opposed to paying the prevailing wage. AGC and labor are vigilant about protecting the prevailing wage and thank Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm for her support in this regard.
There is no greater priority on an AGC contractor's job site
than safety. And nearly every week at the AGC offices in Southfield,
contractor representatives, along with labor, meet to discuss
ways in which the job site can be made a safer place for workers.
This commitment to safety, often articulated through the Great
Lakes Construction Alliance (GLCA), helps in the contractor's
relationship with MIOSHA and in shaping government regulations
meant to be of help instead of hindrance. The GLCA is a coalition
of contractors, labor, architects, engineers and owners, such
as GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Detroit Edison, who have all
come together to strengthen the organized construction industry.
Boilermakers' Marek New MBTC president
Marek's appointment was made by unanimous vote of the MBTC's Executive Board during the council's 46th annual convention, and announced to delegates on July 31.
The president of the Michigan Building Trades Council is not a full-time position, and Marek will stay on as business manager of Local 169. The MBTC president chairs and appoints committees, moderates conferences, and offers input on the operations of the council.
"I consider it a real honor to take over as president
of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council,"
said Marek, 56, who has served as Local 169's business manager
for the last decade. "I think we've had a lot of success
at the Boilermakers during the last 10 years. We've worked hard
to improve how we operate, and we've worked well with the other
crafts. I hope to be an asset to the Michigan Building Trades
by representing all the affiliates, and upholding the standards
that have been set by Sam Hart."
Candidates endorsed for Sept. 9 primary
Building trades union members are urged to research and vote for candidates who support organized labor.