The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 26, 2019

Labor sees optimism, disappointment with Whitmer's appointments

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING - The first six months of the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have seen a distinct uptick in the number of people holding union cards, or working in union-related fields, who have been appointed to state boards and commissions.

And the appointments are no small matter: they deal with the administration of vital matters like administering construction codes and policy for all manner of public health, safety and planning.

"The governor is committed to giving working men and women a seat at the table in state government," said Zack Pohl, director of communications for Whitmer. "By appointing more frontline union members to key boards and commissions, the governor is fulfilling a campaign pledge and sending a strong signal that she values the input and perspective of Michigan's labor movement in her administration."

In addition, Whitmer took the formal step of recognizing labor unions in the state under a revamped online "dashboard" marking progress in various areas of Michigan that was begun under former Gov. Rick Snyder. Now Whitmer has introduced a percentage of how much of the state is unionized, with increases marked with a positive “up” arrow, and decreases denoted with a “down” arrow, according to an example shared with the Detroit Free Press.

However, organized labor leaders have expressed disappointment over the dearth of union members getting appointed to higher cabinet-level positions in state government. For example, Whitmer named Jeff Donofrio the new director of the renamed Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity last month. Donofrio has no ties to organized labor, he has served under Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan as the city’s executive director of workforce development.

Following are some of the appointments made by Whitmer that involve union members, or union contractors, or union-friendly organizations. In some cases, the new appointees have replaced existing union-friendly board members - "but it does appear that the governor is making a concerted effort to make these new appointments to people with a labor pedigree," said Todd Tennis of Capitol Services, a Lansing lobbyist for the IBEW. "Her staff has solicited names for appointments from organized labor, and we're hopeful that the administration will continue with that relationship."

Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force: Appointed to the panel is IBEW member Tony Retaskie, the executive director of the U.P. Construction Council. The group is "charged with addressing the significant energy challenges that UP residents are facing. This task force will look for alternative, long-term solutions to rein in U.P. energy rates in regions facing the highest costs and identify alternatives to meeting the UP’s current propane-supply needs."

State Plumbing Board: Appointed is Paul R. Kurtzhals, of Plumbers Local 98, a master plumber and project manager with Conti Corp. in Sterling Heights. The State Plumbing Board’s duties include making recommendations for plumbing code rules, licensing plumbers, and making all orders, rules, and regulations necessary for the enforcement of the provisions of the act. 

Board of Boiler Rules: 

Michael Card, president and business agent for Boilermakers Local 169 (appointed representing the general public).

Ned T. Hawkins, of Kalamazoo Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 357, the corporate quality assurance and quality control director for W. Soule & Co. (appointed representing organized labor)

Frank Wimmer, vice president of Monarch Welding and Engineering, Inc. in Warren, a union contractor (appointed representing mechanical contractors in this state that have experience in the installation, piping, or operation of boilers).

The Elevator Safety Board:

Donald J. Purdie, Jr., vice president of the Detroit Elevator Co., a union contractor (representing manufacturers of elevators used in this state).

Sally Corbin, CEO of Union Services Agency in Lansing (representing insurance companies authorized to insure elevators in Michigan).

The board promulgates rules, prepares examinations, and issues elevator contractor licenses. The board also conducts hearings to determine whether an elevator contractor license or certificate of competency or commission should be suspended or revoked. 

Michigan Economic Development Corporation Executive Committee: Appointed is Thomas Lutz, president of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters (representing businesses).

State Building Authority Board of Trustees: Appointed is Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer for the Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council. The trustees acquire, construct, furnish, equip, renovate, buildings and equipment for the use of the State, including public universities and community colleges.  

State Construction Code Commission: Appointed is David C. Tomlinson, a Carpenters Local 687 member and company superintendent for Pontiac Ceiling & Partition.