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September 5, 2008

Obama vs. McCain - How they stack up on matters that matter to working Americans

Obama gives short tribute to labor

A new look this fall for U-M Stadium

Heads up: West Michigan trades try billboard campaign

News Briefs


Obama vs. McCain - How they stack up on matters that matter to working Americans

Building trades international unions and the rest of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions have endorsed Barack Obama for U.S. president.


Trade union workers in Michigan may judge Democrat Obama vs. Republican John McCain through any number of their own filters: age, experience, and perhaps the candidates' records on abortion, gun control and values. But from the perspective of the nation's union leaders, Obama's views are more in line with those of the nation's working people.

"Obama shares the values of working families - hard work, fairness and service to community," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "He has a 98 percent lifetime AFL-CIO voting record on working family issues. He's committed to good jobs, a strong middle class and health care we all can count on. Obama co-sponsored and voted for the Employee Free Choice Act to ensure that workers can choose a union voice on the job and bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions - without employer harassment or intimidation."

Following are articles on Obama and McCain that detail their records on union, work, and economic issues, by Press Associates International, a union news service.

"It's time we had a president who isn't afraid to say the word, 'union' "

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - In the midst of a tough one-on-one presidential primary campaign, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), flew back to Washington to vote for what he surely knew was a lost cause, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But the Democratic presidential nominee wanted to cast his ballot: It was a pro-worker vote.

The Senate was tangled up in a GOP filibuster against the measure, one of at least 86 successful filibusters the Republican minority there has waged during the Democratic-run 110th Congress. The filibusters have halted virtually every key Democratic initiative, including the Employee Free Choice Act. This was one of the initiatives that died.

The Lilly Ledbetter bill, named for the female supervisor at Goodyear's Gadsden, Ala,, tire plant, would have overturned a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision against her that barred virtually all lawsuits against firms for pay discrimination based on sex.

The only time Ledbetter, and other workers who suffer any type of pay discrimination for any reason, could sue, the court majority said, was within 180 days of being hired.

Obama and Hillary Clinton flew back to D.C. to vote to halt the GOP filibuster against the Lilly Ledbetter bill. They wanted to give female workers the right to sue any time they found they were victims of sexual pay discrimination. McCain had his nomination clinched, but skipped the Lilly Ledbetter vote. He later said he opposed the bill.

Obama's actions tell you where he's coming from on workers' issues. In his career in both the U.S. Senate and the Illinois state senate, he has been a reliable, constant pro-worker vote. His lifetime AFL-CIO congressional rating is 98% "right."

In Washington, Obama helped craft the new ethics legislation the Senate wrote into law early in the Democratic-run 110th Congress. That law sharply curbed - but did not totally halt - the influence of lobbyists, by limiting their gifts to lawmakers and aides, forcing more-frequent reports with more-specific disclosures of whom the lobbyists saw, when, why and how much they spent.

Before his landslide election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama spent a decade in the Illinois senate. Obama pushed legislation through by working across party lines. That included at least one key piece of pro-worker legislation, says Jason Keller, legislative director for the state AFL-CIO.

Obama's bill, which eventually passed after he left for the U.S. Senate, protected 374,000 Illinois workers who, under rules promulgated by anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush's Labor Department, would have lost the right to overtime pay. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that up to 8 million workers could lose overtime. Illinois, was one of the few states to counteract Bush.

"Obama led the fight for overtime. His bill 'cherry-picked' good provisions" out of Bush's overtime rules while negating the rest, Keller says. "Bush was trying to take away the right of people with high school diplomas, or with military training, to overtime. We took that away, and added protections for nursing professions, too."

Obama also took the lead in several other legislative fights in the Prairie State:

As state senate Health Committee chair, Obama pushed legislation establishing a statewide health care commission. The panel traveled around Illinois, collecting testimony from everyone it could find, before drafting a statewide comprehensive universal health care plan. The commission recommended a Massachusetts-style plan to the legislature, after Obama left for the U.S. Senate. State lawmakers were supposed to modify and enact it, but it bogged down.

Keller reported that Obama provided a reliable vote for workers' rights. Illinois bills he supported included legalization of card-check recognition of unions, expansion of the state's (pro-worker) plant-closing law, increases in the minimum wage, a state version of the Equal Pay Act, and ban on striker replacements. The plant-closing bill, minimum wage hike and replacement worker ban all became law, but the state Supreme Court killed the ban on replacements.

Obama emphasized those pro-workers' stands in his U.S. Senate bid. He emphasizes them on the campaign trail, too. He even promised the 2007 Change To Win convention, held in Chicago, that he would walk picket lines as a presidential candidate.

In his campaign literature in the 2004 race, Obama promised to "strive to negotiate trade agreements that recognize that workers around the world are entitled to minimum rights that cannot be undermined through short-sighted trade agreements."

He has repeated that promise, with specific reference to renegotiating the jobs-losing North American Free Trade Agreement, on the presidential campaign trail.

Ironically, however, Obama's one "wrong" AFL-CIO vote was on a trade pact. On June 28, 2006, he voted for the U.S. trade pact with Oman. The federation opposed the Oman pact because it, like other trade treaties negotiated by anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, ignored workers' rights.

In his 2004 campaign, Obama also promised to oppose "any changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantees workers overtime pay if they work more than a 40-hour week." And even then, he said he would "make it a high priority to reform the National Labor Relations Act.

"The (National Labor Relations Act) should be amended to declare that a union is established whenever a majority of workers have signed cards stating they wish to unionize, thus avoiding long organizing campaigns. Also, mandatory meetings or one-on-one sessions at which employers advocate against formation of a union should be banned as an unfair labor practice," he said then. Those are two key provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act.

"It's time we had a president who isn't afraid to say the word, 'union,' Obama declared.

But Obama also reminds workers' audiences that his pro-labor credentials pre-date his state and federal legislative service, and are rooted in his years as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side. There, he spent time helping union workers who had lost their jobs as one by one the area's steel plants shut. He wrote about those years in a 1990 article for Illinois Issues magazine:

"Over the past five years, I've often had a difficult time explaining my profession to folks. Typical is a remark a public school administrative aide made to me one bleak January morning, while I waited to deliver some flyers to a group of confused and angry parents who had discovered the presence of asbestos in their school.

"'Listen, Obama,' she began. 'You're a bright young man, Obama. You went to
college, didn't you?' I nodded.

"'I just cannot understand why a bright young man like you would go to college, get that degree and become a community organizer.' 'Why's that?

" 'Cause the pay is low, the hours is long, and don't nobody appreciate you.' She shook her head in puzzlement as she wandered back to attend to her duties," he wrote.

"I've thought back on that conversation more than once during the time I've organized with the Developing Communities Project on Chicago's South Side. Unfortunately, the answers that come to mind haven't been as simple as her question. Probably the shortest one is this: It needs to be done, and not enough folks are doing it."

'Free trade is the best thing that can happen to our nation'

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) - If unionists know nothing else about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), they should know two things: One is he's a hero of the Indo-China War - due to 5-1/2 years of brutal captivity in the "Hanoi Hilton," an infamous North Vietnamese prison. The other is that McCain's rarely met a pro-worker law he likes.

It's that second conclusion, drawn from McCain's quarter-century as a lawmaker, that should draw workers' attention, the AFL-CIO and other unions say of the GOP presidential nominee.

On issue after issue, from raising the minimum wage to unfair trade treaties to banning pay discrimination based on sex to leveling the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining, McCain has voted "wrong." On the issues the federation chose for its voting ratings, the Arizonan has voted in agreement with the AFL-CIO 35 times - and in disagreement 184 times. His lifetime score is 16%.

But on specific pro-worker proposals, from trade treaties to the minimum wage to workers' rights to prevailing wages, McCain's record seems to be a big fat zero.

McCain's record led the federation to launch its "McCain Revealed" website far earlier this year. Its point is to define McCain, exposing his record for all to see, while pointing out the GOP nominee will continue the policies of anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush.

But it isn't just votes, it's McCain's public positions. They include:

Trade: "Some of those manufacturing jobs are not coming back, and you know it and I know it," McCain said in Ohio on Feb. 25. "The economists that I know and trust and the history that I study - and I study a lot of history - says free trade is the best thing that can happen to our nation. When we have practiced protectionism, it has had devastating consequences."

Three months later, McCain's campaign sent out a release supporting the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, despite Colombia's murderous record against unionists and union leaders: more than 2,500 were assassinated over the last two decades.

McCain's one foreign trip during the presidential campaign was to Colombia and Mexico. While there, he reiterated his outspoken support for both the U.S.-Colombia FTA and of NAFTA. He voted for NAFTA, CAFTA, establishing the World Trade Organization, and of giving China "normal trade relations" and letting it join the WTO.

McCain also backs President Bush's proposed U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, even though both U.S. and Korean unions oppose it - as do Korea's farmers, who say it would wreck them. U.S. unions, led by the UAW, point out the U.S.-Korea FTA does not open up the Korean market to U.S. autos.

But it's not just NAFTA and CAFTA: McCain wants to negotiate free trade pacts with everybody - with no mention of workers' rights.

"If I am elected president, this country will honor its international agreements, including NAFTA, and we will expect the same of others," he told a Chattanooga, Tenn., newspaper in June. And when he was running for the presidency the first time, in 1999-2000, McCain told the National Press Club in Washington that "If I were president, I would negotiate a free trade agreement with almost any country."

Workers' rights. The only times McCain hasn't voted against workers' rights legislation have been the times he hasn't been on the Senate floor to vote.

McCain voted to keep the GOP filibuster going against the Employee Free Choice Act, the legislation designed to level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining. The filibuster succeeded.

On other votes, McCain has been absent. He was out on the campaign trail - though he had clinched the GOP nomination - when the Republicans blocked the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. That's the bill that would have overturned the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision robbing women, or anyone, of most of the right to sue to stop pay discrimination. Asked why he opposed the fair pay bill, McCain replied sexual pay discrimination occurred because women lacked education and qualifications.

Yet another McCain absence came when the Senate considered legislation
telling the states they must give collective bargaining rights to public safety workers, a key cause of the Fire Fighters. The bill failed.

And in yet another instance of his opposition to workers, the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department reported McCain voted "to prohibit application of Davis-Bacon laws in federal disaster areas, and repeatedly supported exceptions to Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rules." McCain, the department added, even opposed a non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution that supported Davis-Bacon.

All those votes, the AFL-CIO notes, came before Bush tried to dump Davis-Bacon during the reconstruction of areas smashed by Hurricane Katrina. With bipartisan support - but not including McCain - the department forced Bush to backtrack.

And while Sen. Barack Obama supported legislation - as a state senator in Illinois - to outlaw hiring striker replacements, McCain voted in March 1995 to block President Clinton's order preventing federal contractors from hiring permanent workers to replace workers on strike.

There's an even more direct workers' rights contrast between Obama and McCain than that. When Bush's Labor Department - over unions' opposition - stripped at least 8 million workers of their right to overtime pay starting in 2005, Senate Democrats tried to overturn the ruling. But they lost, with McCain voting to sustain Bush's stand against U.S. workers. Meanwhile, the Illinois legislature revived, and passed, legislation negating Bush's overtime rules on a statewide level. The governor signed it. Some 374,000 workers who otherwise would have lost overtime pay kept it. That legislation was authored and pushed in Springfield by then-State Sen. Barack Obama.

Health care. McCain would dump the present tax provisions which let firms deduct
the costs of paying health insurance premiums for their workers as a business expense.

If the firms continue to pay the premiums, the payments would be counted as income to each worker, and taxed. To offset those increased individual taxes on workers' incomes, McCain would offer a $2,500 individual tax credit - after the fact - to help individuals with the cost of their insurance. It would be $5,000 per family.

Since companies would lose the tax deduction, unions fear that the practical effect is that companies would drop health insurance coverage. McCain says the added competition for customers would drive down health insurance prices. The Mine Workers and other unions are distributing literature in the key swing states of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where they're bluntly saying: "McCain will tax your health care."

War record. McCain's war record makes him attractive, especially to veterans. Building and Construction Trades Department President Mark Ayers, himself a Vietnam War veteran, offers this comment:

"We honor John McCain's service to our country. But when it comes to having a
true, innovative vision for America in the 21st century, John McCain offers nothing but
warmed-over Republican rhetoric from the 1980s: Tax cuts for the wealthy so that economic growth will then 'trickle down' to American working families," Ayers says.

"We heard it from Reagan, and we heard it from two Bushes. And it never
worked. For all his talk of being a maverick…the centerpiece of the McCain economic plan amounts to a full-throated endorsement of George W. Bush's policies. Sen. McCain, through his actions, statements and policy positions, has given every indication that he embraces this philosophical vision of American governance."



Obama gives short tribute to labor

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

DETROIT - "I'm a labor guy," said Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, to a cheering throng in Hart Plaza on Labor Day. "I believe in the right to collective bargaining, to organize. I happen to think we need a Department of Labor that believes in labor."

Obama addressed a crowd of tens of thousands, many of whom completed annual Labor Day lines of march along Michigan and Woodward avenues. His Labor Day visit to Detroit represented the first by a Democratic presidential contender since Michael Dukakis in1988.

On Labor Day weekend, he also made Michigan stops in Battle Creek and Monroe, reminding his audience that he's the candidate most likely to support the nation's unions.

"Because of organized labor, we have the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, overtime pay, and safety rules," Obama said. "All workers have come to enjoy those things because of organized labor."

Obama was joined on the dais by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Teamsters President James Hoffa, and UAW President Ron Gettlefinger. "We can't afford four more years of the policies that have hurt you and your families," Sweeney said.

Obama kept his speech short in deference to the victims of Hurricane Gustav, which was just coming ashore on the Gulf on Labor Day morning. He asked the audience to stop for a silent moment of prayer for those victims, and to donate to the American Red Cross.

"Today is not a day for political speeches," Obama said. "I hope you don't mind, we don't know what the impact of Hurrican Gustav will be. There is a time for us to argue politics and a time for us to come together for us as Americans. When we show solidarity with those folks in Mississippi, Alabama, and the folks of Texas and Louisiana, we are expressing the true spirit of the labor movement.

"Because the idea behind the labor movement is that you don't walk alone. Each of us is vulnerable on our own. But when we are unified, when we come together in a more perfect union, when we understand that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper, when we recognized ourselves in each other, when we understand that anybody fleeing from a storm, that could be us, then we understand what motivated people so many years ago to make a union. That's what today should be about."

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL candidate Barack Obama addresses a Labor Day crowd in Detroit. More Labor Day photos can be found inside this edition.



A new look this fall for U-M Stadium

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR - If you see some unusual shadows while watching University of Michigan football games this fall, they were made possible by the hard work of the iron workers and other trades.

On Aug. 11, Iron Workers Local 25 members, their contractors and university representatives celebrated the topping out of the second of two new superstructures that loom over the east and west sides of Michigan Stadium.

When the $226 million project is complete, the new iron framework on the west side will house an elevated concourse, a new press box for media and game operations, new club seats with chair backs, and enclosed seating. The east-side structure will include an elevated concourse with new concessions and restrooms, and additional indoor and outdoor seating. About 400,000 square feet of new space will be created.

"It's an historic day," said University of Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin, addressing a crowd of about 200 Hardhats, contractors and university workers. "Thanks to all the construction workers for their contributions to this renovation and update of Michigan Stadium."

Barton Malow is managing the overall project. The steel erection is being managed by Douglas Steel (west side) and Bristol Steel (east side).

The structures will stand 10 feet higher than the current scoreboards, and include 83 suites and 3,200 club seats. Construction began after last season and will be phased through to completion in 2010 so that football games aren't interrupted. Some seats will be lost during the work, but the stadium will overall net about 500 more seats, which will keep the Big House the biggest college football venue in the nation, with a capacity of 108,000.

Neil Morton, senior project manager for Barton Malow, thanked Bristol Steel (whose structure was topped out that day) and Douglas Steel (which topped out several weeks prior) "for putting this together and helping us hoist the last beam."

Damian McGuire, vice president of project management for Bristol, said the trades worked through "significant delays" on the north side of the structure because of poor soil conditions and the need for re-designing and installing a larger and deeper mass of the concrete foundations. "This place was built on a swamp," he said. "Midstream we had to do some re-designs and we were able to put it all together. The workforce excelled. They met our expectations every day."

Iron workers installed 7,300 tons of steel on the east and west sides of the stadium. There will be 350,000 square feet - or six football fields - of poured concrete. About 13,000 cubic yards of concrete were used in 151 caissons to support the structure. As of Aug. 11, 240,200 man-hours were worked on the stadium without a lost-time injury, according to the Barton Malow safety representative on the site.

The plans also call for buildings to be constructed on the concourse at the north and south end zones to house additional restrooms and concessions, and support functions such as first-aid, police/security and will-call. The structures will be covered in the same brickwork as the new sideline buildings.

Other improvements to the stadium will include an increase in the number and quality of restrooms; an increase in the number of concession stands and a greater variety of fare; widening the aisles; adding handrails; increasing the number of points of entry and exit for improved crowd circulation and a safer environment; and adding dedicated seating for fans with impaired mobility.

Barton Malow's Morton added: "there are a lot of big improvements being made, and there are more to come. There are lots of things beyond the steel."

THIS VIEW SHOWS new structural iron this summer on the west side of the University of Michigan football satdium, which is undergoing a $226 expansion and renovation. Photo by Steve Gulick


Heads up: West Michigan trades try billboard campaign

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

The pro-union West Michigan Construction Alliance started a new campaign last month to promote its affiliated unions and contractors.

The alliance is sponsoring the placement of two high-profile billboards along I-94 between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo and on U.S. 131 between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. A print ad will also appear in the Business Review - West Michigan

"As you can see, our theme is 'Constructing A Better Tomorrow,' followed by the important question, 'Is Your Builder A Member?' " wrote Alliance President Walt Christopherson in a letter that was sent Aug. 18 to about 800 affiliated contractors. He's working with consultant Ed Haynor on the promotion.

Formed in 2003, the alliance promotes the advantages of organized construction in West and Southwest Michigan. The message: a union workforce and their contractors provide the highest quality, most cost-effective and safest delivery of construction services to contractors and owners.

Clicking on their website,, will allow web visitors to get a copy the alliance's trade directory, and perhaps lead to more work opportunities for affiliated contractors.

The billboards will be up for two out of the next three months. Future exposure will depend on funding contributions from member-unions and contractors.

"The alliance is basically a big labor-management group for the region, and this is a way for us to market ourselves and get our name out there," said Christopherson, who is also a business agent with the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "We'll know by the responses we get if it sticks to the wall or slides off it, but we'll give it a try."

ONE OF THE West Michigan Construction Alliance billboards.


News Briefs

$200M casino goes toU.S. Supreme Court
While a U.S. Court of Appeals decision last May was favorable, continued opposition to a casino plan for Wayland Township, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, has resulted in another court approved stay of construction.

The critics of the casino charge the statute used by the federal government to put 147 acres of land for the facility in trust is unconstitutional, and that the action violates federal environmental laws.

Thusfar the anti-casino group MichGO has not been able to win a judgment in its favor in court. Observers believe its chances of winning consideration by the highest court are slim but that it could be six months or more before it decides if it will hear the case. Typically the U.S. Supreme Court hears about 5% of the cases filed with it.

The casino is being proposed by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe. It would be located at a site at US-131 and 129th Avenue, near Bradley, midway between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. The tribe is proposing initial construction of a 193,000 square foot gaming complex on the property of the former Ampro factory.

In 2003 the tribe announced an agreement with Station Casinos of Las Vegas, Nevada, to develop and operate the casino. The facility is to house 2,500 slot machines, 75 gaming tables, an entertainment center, restaurants, and a buffet. Construction is expected to take from 12 to 16 months.

According to the tribe for the full development of the casino it expects to invest up to $200 million. It has declared union labor will be used during its construction.
(From Michigan Construction

Dem platform strong on workers' issues
DENVER (PAI) - The Democratic platform is a strong document on workers' issues, including an open endorsement of the Employee Free Choice Act, says a top AFL-CIO staffer who served on the key subcommittee that drafted it.

In an interview with Press Associates Union News Service, AFL-CIO Policy Director Thea Lee - the labor federation's liaison with the Democratic platform drafters - said unionists also should prefer the party's stands on renegotiating trade treaties to include worker rights, and on labor rights for various U.S. worker groups. Among them are collective bargaining rights for all federal workers and first responders nationwide.

She said other sections that will please workers include a ringing endorsement of paid family and medical leave and advocacy of up to seven days of paid sick leave for all workers - a top cause of woman unionists.
"We're very pleased with the overall platform. It's strong on trade and infrastructure" and it advocates not just getting Canada and Mexico to sit down to discuss NAFTA, but insertion of worker rights in all future trade pacts, Lee adds.

The platform also coincides with what Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the party's nominee, says on the campaign trail. In his latest speech to a labor audience, Obama told a group of 1,000 Laborers activists, by teleconference on Aug. 21, that he would actively be "the infrastructure president."

The 51-page platform opens with a lengthy blast at the anti-worker Bush regime, faulting it for mismanagement - and worse - in both foreign and domestic policy. It says Bush the government towards the rich and away from workers and the American dream. The Democrats promise to change those priorities.

"We will provide immediate relief to working people who lost their jobs, families who lost their homes, and people who have lost their way," the platform declares.

In his speech at the convention, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney used the example of "Dan Luevano… an electrician who worked for a construction company for 10 years, six of them without a raise. When he told his boss he'd be voting for a union so he could bargain for a better life, he was fired."

Sweeney said such workers - all workers - "deserve a better America, an America where every worker can count on a good job, where every family has health care, where every senior enjoys a decent retirement….where all workers have a free choice to join unions, to collectively bargain, to lift up their communities and our economy and build a better life for their children."


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