The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 08, 2001


By The Building Tradesman

Jeffords' switch restores balance

WASHINGTON - The state of affairs in our nation's capital just go a little more balanced for organized labor and all working people.

U.S. Sen. James Jeffords' decision to disavow his affiliation with the Republican Party and become an Independent broke a 50-50 tie in the Senate, throwing control of that body into the hands of the Democrats.

"I have changed my party label, but not my beliefs," said Jeffords, one of the Senate's most liberal Republicans. His voting record is so liberal that last year, when Jeffords won a third six-year term, prominent Democrats and pro-worker Rep. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.), a Socialist, refused to challenge him.

For workers, the impact of Jeffords' switch will appear most sharply in Senate committees, where pro-worker Democrats take over and can stop anti-labor legislation before it hits the Senate floor. Jeffords chaired the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and worked closely there with ranking Democrat Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who succeeds him.

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin takes over the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee.

President Bush can still try to jam his agenda through Congress. As an example, the Senate passed his tax bill the day before Jeffords' announcement by 62-38, with 12 Democrats joining all 50 Republicans - including Jeffords - in voting for it. Bush pointed to such "bipartisan" votes as evidence he can still win his way.

Two other changes may be key to workers. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) replaces Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) at the Judiciary Committee, giving Leahy the power to delay if not kill right-wing anti-worker Bush judicial nominees. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) replaces Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) at Finance, which handles trade, Social Security, Medicare and taxes. Business lobbyists say Baucus favors labor rights, and steel quotas.

Construction deaths far outpace others

Between 1980 and 1997, the rate of all U.S. workplace fatalities dropped by 45 percent, the Centers for Disease Control reported in late April, but the construction industry unfortunately is bucking that positive trend.

The Center for Disease Control reported that the rate of all U.S. workplace deaths in 1980 was 7.4 per 100,000, while in 1997 that number dropped to 4.1 deaths per 100,000.

During the entire time period study, the construction industry experienced the largest number of deaths - 19,179, or 19 percent. The numbers add up to an annual average of 15 construction worker deaths per 100,000 workers over those 17 years, the highest of any worker classification. Falls were the biggest killer.

Union trades push for energy inclusion

There's one thing trade unions and the Bush Administration can agree on - a national energy policy that involves building more oil production facilities, refineries and power plants.

Vice President Dick Cheney met with union leaders last month in an attempt to win support for the administration's energy policy, which centers around finding more oil, expanding the construction of nuclear plants, and building more fossil-fueled power plants and related facilities.

"They talked about jobs, jobs, jobs," said a pleased Operating Engineers General President Frank Hanley. Cheney told the labor leaders that he wants them to push legislators to adopt the plan - but he didn't pledge to make union labor a partner in the construction process. Michael Mathis, director of governmental affairs for the Teamsters, said "there were no guarantees," but there will be future discussions.