The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Stimulus bill has something for everyone; but trades would like more

WASHINGTON (PAI) – The $790 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the stimulus bill, contains something for just about everyone as it tries to help pull the economy out of the deepest crash in at least 24 years. But analysis also shows that not everything everyone – including in the labor movement – wanted is in it. ..

Imperfect bill a 'cushion,' not a cure for construction unemployment

From the perspective of the building trades, a perfect federal stimulus package would have lavished hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure upgrades, road and bridge projects, school and public building improvement work, and green energy investments. ..

Michigan stimulus windfall pegged at about $7 billion

Michigan’s share of the $787 billion American Recovery & Reinvestment Act stimulus, approved by Congress and signed into law on Feb. 17 by President Barack Obama, comes in at about $7 billion for 2009 according to some estimates. ..

Will the New, New Deal be enough?

The stock market reached a six-year low today. Why? Some blame loose talk (including that of former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan) about nationalizing the nation’s banks. Others blame Obama’s new plan for helping homeowners who may not be able to pay their mortgages. But the real culprit is the accelerating decline in aggregate demand – consumers, businesses, and exports. Companies are losing money because their customers are disappearing. That’s precisely why the stimulus is so important – indeed, why many of us fear it’s too small. ..

Finishing touch for HealthSource

SAGINAW TWP. - Another year, another phase completed during the three-year, $44 million transformation and modernization of HealthSource-Saginaw. ..

Today's lesson: Employee Free Choice Act 101

The Employee Free Choice Act isn't on the general public's radar screen, and it's also probably not much more than a faint blip on the collective psyche of the nation's union workers.

But that's going to change throughout this year. Organized labor's No. 1 legislative priority is also Public Enemy No. 1 for the Big Business community, which has pledged to spend about $200 million in the media and elsewhere to beat up the Employee Free Choice Act in the court of public opinion.

One of the ways labor is fighting back is through "Train the Trainer" seminars held across the country. One of the first in Michigan was conducted Feb. 16 by Mark Bott, lead organizer for the Michigan State Pipe Trades. About 30 union representative from various trades attended the seminar, held at the Plumbers Local 98 Training Center in Troy.

"If you think Obama took heat over the stimulus package, just wait 'till this comes up," Bott said. "Our strength is in our numbers and we have to be able to mobilize our membership to contact their lawmakers, because we know some legislators are getting cold feet over this issue."

The Employee Free Choice Act represents an effort by unions to simplify union organizing by allowing workers to form unions in their workplace through majority sign- up, rather than through a lengthy National Labor Relations Board election process. It is hoped that passage of the EFCA in Congress will finally bring about a major, lasting upswing in union membership in the U.S.

"We like driving the car," said Wal Mart CEO Lee Scott, as reported in The Nation. "And we're not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us." Said AFL-CIO director of government affairs Bill Samuels: I get the sense that this is more important to them than even taxes or regulation."

Unions have long maintained that employers have the upper hand in any organizing drive, with the ability to hold captive audience meetings, coerce employees, and delay actions for years with legal actions and appeals.

The business community takes the opposite argument. The ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation wrote that "employers routinely refuse to recognize unions on a card-check-only basis because publicly signed cards do not reflect employees' preferences. Public card signing exposes workers to pressure, harassment, and threats from the union."

What's typically left unsaid in this argument by the Big Business community, isn't the theoretical pressure and harassment by the unions - but the real-life pressure and harassment by employers. The AFL-CIO estimates that 25 percent of companies unlawfully fire pro-union workers.

"The companies have all the power to decide whether to hold an election or not," Bott said. "If there is an election, beforehand they can add employees from the sales or office staff to those who are voting, and tell them to vote against the union. The system is broken. Coercion is rampant. They threaten to shut the place down. They single out the loudest pro-union employees and lay them off or fire them or transfer them. They shoot the generals and the privates all fall in line because they don't want the same treatment. It's illegal but it happens all the time."

The EFCA would give workers a fair and direct path to form unions through majority sign-up, help employees secure a contract with their employer in a reasonable period of time, and toughen penalties against employers (up to $20,000 for significant incidents) who violate their workers' rights.

Big business opponents of the EFCA have employed what the AFL-CIO has called a "one-note" strategy to derail the labor law reform. Over and over in the past few months, letters to the editor and editorials claim that the bill would do away with secret ballot elections, while stressing that elections without secret ballots are undemocratic.

In fact, points out the AFL-CIO's American Rights at Work website, "a quick read of the legislation reveals that the bill does not eliminate secret ballot elections." The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers a chance to choose the method used to vote for or against a union in the workplace: workers can choose to cast signed paper ballots, or hold a formal election process. In either case, control is taken away from business owners and given to employees.

Organized labor wants to see the Employee Free Choice Act taken up by Congress by Labor Day. Obama his signaled his support for the bill - but how much he will lobby for it is unknown.

"Armageddon" was how a U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesperson described the upcoming battle. The Chamber of Commerce, The Nation reported, "is fanning the flames on this, saying this is the epic battle between labor and business," a key strategist who favors the EFCA told the publication. "And it scares the s--- out of the Obama people and some of the Democrats."

A GROUP OF building trades union representatives listen to Mark Bott, lead organizer for the Michigan State Pipe Trades, talk about the Employee Free Choice Act.


'Hire Michigan First' would put local workers first in line

LANSING – The House Labor and Commerce Committee sent the “Hire Michigan First” job-creation plan to the full House on Feb. 10, moving on legislation to ensure that Michigan residents – not those from other states or countries – get first crack at jobs created by taxpayer dollars. The plan will also crack down on those that hire undocumented workers by canceling their state contracts and tax incentives. ..