LANSING - A coalition of statewide union construction industry organizations recently organized their first-ever prevailing wage orientation session for state legislators entitled, "Don't be fooled by the newest shell game in town" to deliver the facts surrounding the current debate over the merits of Michigan's prevailing wage law. ..
The horrific death of painter Gjon Gojcac at Ford Field nearly a year ago resulted in penalties and citations totaling more than a half-million dollars against two companies that were the subject of a MIOSHA investigation. ..
The Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn is beset by a shortage of money to complete the $15 project - but fortunately there was no shortage of talent among the union masons who completed the exterior of the building. ..
Around this time every year, we learn a little bit about what's on the plate for the coming year for the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors after they conduct their annual legislative conference.
Usually, their number one legislative priority revolves around putting the screws to both union and their own nonunion workers by seeking to eliminate the federal prevailing wage law, removing project labor agreements, or electing Republican lawmakers to do their bidding. (Although in 2000, they deviated from their script by making the elimination of state prevailing wage laws their number one priority). But we digress.
So it was with interest we saw in the Construction Labor Report that the ABC is taking on a new "number one priority" this year: passing legislation that would allow trade associations to provide more affordable health insurance for their small business members through group purchasing.
By making this issue its priority, is the ABC turning over a new leaf, and seeking to improve health care and the quality of life for its contractors' employees?
According to the ABC's chairman, Edward Rispone, such legislation would allow trade associations to negotiate better insurance rates for smaller companies, to allow them to hold onto their better workers who may be lured away by larger companies that are in a better position to provide health care benefits.
Of course, there was no mention of how such legislation would also make it easier for small nonunion companies to compete benefit-wise with union employers, who can lure workers away by offering vastly better health and retirement plans.
On the surface the plan sounds positive, and may prove to be a boon to union employers, too. But essentially, this is a competition issue, and it's another example of the ABC having to go to the government to shore up the inadequacies of its member-contractors. For example:
- The ABC can't match the money unions spend on training, so the contractor group seeks to siphon government funds in their training programs wherever possible. Union training funds never take a dime in government funding.
- What the ABC lacks in worker skill and training on the job site, it makes up using excellent lobbying and public relations efforts. ABC contractors have difficulty competing for jobs on a level playing field when workers are paid the same prevailing rate - so they fight prevailing wage laws tooth and nail.
- The ABC is always johnny-on-the-spot with brochures, literature and letters to the editor whenever project labor agreements or prevailing wage issues come up in local communities. But as we pointed out in a series of articles last year, when you get past the public relations machine, fully 45 percent of the ABC's membership roster consists of non-building companies like janitorial services and restaurants.
They do their share of work - but their claim that they are "now building 75 percent of all construction in this country" is laughable.
Three years ago, one nonunion construction firm leader gave lip service to improving the pay of nonunion workers. "If low pay was a felony, I think most of us would be on death row today," said Franklin J. Yancey, a former senior vice president at Kellogg Brown & Root, Houston, one of the nation's largest nonunion construction employers. "Today, we do not have craftsmen, we do not have apprentices, we have poor people."
Those comments didn't change any attitudes. Nonunion construction employers continue to underpay their workforce. Health and retirement benefits continue to lag behind those in the union sector. And now, when the ABC comes up with a plan to lower health care costs for its small employers, you just know that the only reason they're doing it is to improve the bottom line of their contractors, not improve the lot of workers.
Workers continue to be an afterthought with the ABC. Always have been; always will be.
Editor's note: For months, the labor movement, the business community, and Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been wrangling over streamlining the asbestosis litigation process through the creation of a trust fund to aid 1.8 million victims of asbestos-related disease. The process is coming to a head with the proposed establishment of a $108 billion trust fund to pay victims injured by asbestos, thousands of whom are building trades workers. ..
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