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White House to work on rebuilding the middle class Posted by on

The White House today announced the establishment of a White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families, not to be confused with the previous administrations War on the Middle Class. Vice President Joe Biden, who will Chair the task force, published an OP-ED piece in the USA Today about the subject. The first paragraphs are included below, the rest can be read at their website.

For years, we had a White House that failed to put the middle class front and center in its economic policies.

President Obama has made it clear that is going to change. And it's why he has asked me to lead a task force on the middle class.

America's middle class is hurting. Trillions of dollars in home equity, retirement savings and college savings are gone. And every day, more and more Americans are losing their jobs.

For the backbone of the USA, it's insult on top of injury. Over the course of America's last economic expansion, the middle class participated in very few of the benefits. But now in the midst of this historic economic downturn, the middle class sure is participating in all of the pain. Something is seriously wrong when the economic engine of this nation -- the great middle class -- is treated this way.

President Obama and I are determined to change this. Quite simply, a strong middle class equals a strong America. We can't have one without the other.

Winter reading recommendation? Posted by on

If you're looking for a little reading in your down time, consider this offering, featured on Dollars and Sense. The book is titled "Wage Theft in America," by Kim Bobo.

A New Vision for the Department of Labor
Billions of dollars in wages are being illegally stolen from millions of workers each and every year, writes Kim Bobo, in her new book Wage Theft in America (The New Press). The tenth chapter of the book, republished here in full, gives a detailed prescription for change for the Department of Labor. For background information on wage theft, see this excerpt from the book, originally published online by In These Times.

Union carpenter apprentices in the community Posted by on

Union apprentices have been helping the South Boston Neighborhood House build out new space.

good job with the video production. the message in... Posted by on

good job with the video production. the message in the video truly conveys what we are all about. serving our communities is an excellent way to give back.

Images from Groundbreaking Posted by on
NERCC Executive Secretary-Trearurer Mark Erlich speaks at the ceremony.
Pictured l-r: Maureen Feeney, Boston City Councilor; Suzanne Bump, Secretary of Labor & Workforce Development; Mark Erlich, NERCC Executive Secretary-Treasurer; Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
The wall comes down.

So you wanna be a TV star? Posted by on

Do like to linger in the aisles of Home Depot? Do you collect tools? Do you like to take things apart? Then someone may be looking for you.

Powderhouse Productions is searching for two male hosts for a new cable network series, called SLICED. They must be capable of using cutting tools to slice open large mechanical objects, layer by layer, to reveal what's inside and talk about their inner workings.

The hosts of this show must be good-looking, slightly competitive and thrive on ripping things apart--while retaining a good sense of humor in the face of obstacles. The perfect hosts would be down to earth, sharp as tacks, avidly curious about how things work and who aren't afraid of using blow torches, diamond cutters and getting as filthy as Mike Rowe in Dirty Jobs.

If you think you have what it takes to cut metal, plastic and other stuff in half--anything from an internal combustion engine to an automatic machine gun to a plasma TV--then please submit a two to three minute video on DVD.

Show them your personality, tell them a little about yourself and tackle a cutting task that shows your skills. In addition to your cutting know how, you need to have the verbal skills of Click and Clack, and make this show as popular as Myth Busters.

Please Email your clip to Or send your DVD and resume to Chris Schmidt at Powderhouse Productions, 212 Elm Street, 3rd Floor, Somerville, MA 02144.

No calls please. No calls or walk ins and do not email any other company employees about this casting. Thank you.

Unions already turning the corner? Posted by on

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal government body, reported Tuesday that union membership in the United States has gone up. Both total union membership and union membership as a percentage of the national workforce have gone up.

Here's a bit from a Washington Post article.

The percentage of American workers belonging to a union jumped in 2008, the first statistically significant increase in the 25 years that the figure has been reported, reversing a long decline in union membership.

In 2008, union members represented 12.4 percent of employed workers, up from 12.1 percent a year earlier, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued yesterday. Union membership had been falling since the 1950s, when members constituted as much as a third of the U.S. workforce.

15.6% of workers in construction belong to a union, according to the report, up from 13.9% in 2007.

The BLS report is here. It includes tables that breakdown data by state and compares wages between union and nonunion workers as well as other details.

TAGS: Unions

The desperate fight to prevent unionization Posted by on

The AFL-CIO Now Blog had a post yesterday about the possibly troubled nomination of Hilda Solis for Secretary of Labor.

This is another example of just how desperate the business lobby is to stop the Employee Free Choice Act from giving workers a better chance at joining a union.

Solis is a solid supporter of workers rights and has some impressive credentials, some of which are included in the article.

Economic fix: more unionization Posted by on

Another voice cites participation in unions (or lack thereof) as a reason for some current economic problems in America. This time it's former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, in the Los Angeles Times.

Why is this recession so deep, and what can be done to reverse it?

Hint: Go back about 50 years, when America's middle class was expanding and the economy was soaring. Paychecks were big enough to allow us to buy all the goods and services we produced. It was a virtuous circle. Good pay meant more purchases, and more purchases meant more jobs.

At the center of this virtuous circle were unions. In 1955, more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. Unions gave them the bargaining leverage they needed to get the paychecks that kept the economy going. So many Americans were unionized that wage agreements spilled over to nonunionized workplaces as well. Employers knew they had to match union wages to compete for workers and to recruit the best ones.

Fast forward to a new century. Now, fewer than 8% of private-sector workers are unionized. Corporate opponents argue that Americans no longer want unions. But public opinion surveys, such as a comprehensive poll that Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted in 2006, suggest that a majority of workers would like to have a union to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. So there must be some other reason for this dramatic decline.

TAGS: Economy, Unions

AG indicts Mayo Group Posted by on

The Mayo Group, a Boston-based developer, has been indicted by a Worcester Grand Jury on six counts, in relation to improper removal and handling of asbestos. The Massachusetts Attorney General brought the case.

January 23, 2009 - For immediate release:
Real Estate Investment Firm Indicted on Illegal Asbestos Removal Charges
WORCESTER Today, a Worcester County Grand Jury returned indictments against the Mayo Group Development LLC, for the improper removal of asbestos at a ten-story building in downtown Worcester. The Mayo Group, a real estate investment, development, and management company headquartered in Boston, was indicted on charges it violated the Clean Air Act for failure to file notices of asbestos removal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) (2 counts), failure to comply with procedures for asbestos emissions control (2 counts), and improper disposal of asbestos waste (1 count).

The Mayo group has been the subject of investigation and protests by the New England Regional Council of Carpenters for a couple of years. Organizers have found immigrant workers being paid improperly, with taxes not being withheld. Despite pledges that they do and will hire contractors that comply with state and federal laws, the companies practices have been questionable.

The Grand Jury indictments of Mayo were front page news in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, which has reported on problems with Mayo in the past. In October 2007 they ran a front page story including claims by NERCC that workers were improperly paid. The story included information from a worker on the site:

"One Mayo employee, who did not give his name, said outside the building that he is paid monthly by check and "sometimes" taxes are taken out."

Krugman suggests Obama support unions Posted by on

New York Times columnist--and Nobel Prize winning economist--Paul Krugman published an open letter to President Barack Obama in Rolling Stone magazine. The letter provides some guidance to President Obama on the economic moves he should make to reverse the decline of the American economy.

Among other steps, he supports an inrease in unionization and recommends passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Universal health care, then, should be your biggest priority after rescuing the economy. Providing coverage for all Americans can be for your administration what Social Security was for the New Deal. But the New Deal achieved something else: It made America a middle-class society. Under FDR, America went through what labor historians call the Great Compression, a dramatic rise in wages for ordinary workers that greatly reduced income inequality. Before the Great Compression, America was a society of rich and poor; afterward it was a society in which most people, rightly, considered themselves middle class. It may be hard to match that achievement today, but you can, at least, move the country in the right direction.

What caused the Great Compression? That's a complicated story, but one important factor was the rise of organized labor: Union membership tripled between 1935 and 1945. Unions not only negotiated better wages for their own members, they also enhanced the bargaining power of workers throughout the economy. At the time, conservatives warned that wage gains would have disastrous economic effects ?? that the rise of unions would cripple employment and economic growth. But in fact, the Great Compression was followed by the great postwar boom, which doubled American living standards over the course of a generation.

Unfortunately, the Great Compression was reversed starting in the 1970s, as American workers once again lost much of their bargaining power. This loss was partly due to changes in the world economy, as major U.S. manufacturing corporations started facing more international competition. But it also had a lot to do with politics, as first the Reagan administration, then the Bush administration, did all they could to undermine the ability of workers to organize.

You can make a start on reversing that process. Clearly, you won't be able to oversee a tripling of union membership anytime soon. But you can do a lot to enhance workers' rights. One is to start laying the groundwork to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it much harder for employers to intimidate workers who want to join a union. I know it probably won't happen in your first year, but if and when it does, the legislation will enable America to take a huge step toward recapturing the middle-class society we've lost.

TAGS: Economy, Unions

Boston Globe's Lehigh takes on EFCA Posted by on

Globe Columnist Scot Lehigh wrote a column today on the dilemma facing the Obama administration over the Employee Free Choice Act. It's at the top of labor's legislative wish list and Obama spoke in favor of it during the campaign. But businesses are ready to fight to the death to keep it from passing.

The business lobby is using the argument that workers should have a secret ballot process and that EFCA eliminates that. Unions say workers will still have access to a secret ballot and that workers have no hope if they don't have greater protection and an easier path to unions.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, firms are forbidden from firing employees or threatening job losses or plant closure in their attempts to influence the election. Nor are they allowed to grill employees about their union sympathies or activities.

Problem: A strictly remedial law, the National Labor Relations Act lacks any real penalties to punish violators. If it has wrongly fired people, a company can be required to rehire them, with back pay and interest. For other violations, the most that can happen is that the business gets slapped with a cease-and-desist order, requiring it to discontinue the unfair labor practice and to post a notice that it's done so.

That lack of penalties can encourage abuse, for this simple reason.

Mass AG hits painting contractor Posted by on

Mass AG press release: A Lynn painting contractor has pled guilty to violating the Commonwealth's Wage and Hour Laws. Derek Sullivan, age 38, owner of Sullivan Commercial Painting Company (Sullivan Commercial Painting), located in Lynn, pled guilty in Lynn District Court to charges of Failure to Pay Wages Timely (5 counts), Failure to Pay Overtime (5 counts), and Failure to Keep Minimum Wage Payroll Records. Following a change of plea from not guilty to guilty, District Court Judge Michael Lauranzano sentenced Sullivan to two years of probation and also ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $4,518 to the affected employee.

Video Update - Apprentices work on exterior stairs Posted by on

Preliminary Work Begins Posted by on

Preliminary work has started at the Carpenters Center as the demolition contractor NASDI began checking the structural layout in preparation for tearing down walls. At the end of January, the asbestos abatement is scheduled to begin. NASDI has hired Yankee Enviornmental Services for the asbestos removal. NERCC has retained Tetra Tech Rizzo to inspect the building and provide air sampling at the completion of the abatement to provide final clearance for the building. See the post below for more on asbestos.

Did You Know? Posted by on

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral with long, thin fibrous crystals. The word asbestos (?sßest??) is derived from a Greek adjective meaning inextinguishable. The Greeks termed asbestos the miracle mineral because of its soft and pliant properties, as well as its ability to withstand heat.

Asbestos is known to have toxicity. The inhalation of toxic asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses, including malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis (also called pneumoconiosis). Since the mid 1980s, many uses of asbestos have been banned in several countries.

Asbestos became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century due to its resistance to heat, electricity and chemical damage, its sound absorption and tensile strength. When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. Asbestos was used in some products for its heat resistance, and in the past was used on electric oven and hotplate wiring for its electrical insulation at elevated temperature, and in buildings for its flame-retardant and insulating properties, tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to chemicals.

Source: Wikipedia

It's time the economy worked for everyone again Posted by on

As a follow-up to the post yesterday on the article in the Nation, here are two very effective ads that American Rights At Work will be running in key districts where elected officials may be on the fence in regards to the Employee Free Choice Act.

Maine Gov signs order for 1099 task force Posted by on

Maine Governor John Baldacci yesterday signed an Executive Order establishing a Joint Enforcement Task Force on Employee Misclassification, making Maine the latest state in New England to take formal and serious steps to stop the practice.

The task force will include representatives from the Department of Labor, Workers Compensation Board, Office of the Attorney General, Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the Professional & Financial Regulations agency. The Executive Order assigned the group to coordinate information sharing among agencies; study the extent of the problem of misclassification, suggest legislative action that may be needed and work with interested industry groups and individuals to educate and assist them.

Audits performed by the Maine Department of Labor between 2004 and 2007 showed misclassification to be a quickly growing problem. In 2004, 29% of audits uncovered misclassification. Only three years later, 41% of employers were found to have misclassified workers.

The BIG union fight in DC Posted by on

An article in the Nation last week examined the high-stakes battle in Washington over the Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor's highest priority.

It was an issue in last year's Congressional session; was made a significant issue in some state elections by national business groups, who poured millions of dollars into ad campaigns; and figures to be one of the tone-setting issues of President-elect Barack Obama's first year in office.

While on it's face the legislation may not seem to be significant to the average American (and even union building trades workers) Esther Kaplan's article explains how it could decide whether the American middle class goes extinct once and for all. The entire article is well worth reading, start-to-finish, but here's a few snippets to set the table...

At first glance, Employee Free Choice looks like little more than a technical fix. In addition to allowing unionizing through majority sign-up, it stiffens penalties for intimidating or firing union supporters and imposes arbitration when a company refuses to bargain a first contract. But as the leading corporate lobbies recognize, the bill could have far-reaching effects. By reviving unions, it could push up wages, realigning the broken economy so that company profits are spread beyond CEOs. It could help rein in corporate power and, perhaps most threatening to a business community that has enjoyed decades of deregulation, sustain a progressive majority in Washington in the years to come. If progressives aren't doing the math, conservatives are. "Unions don't spend money to elect Republicans," Senator John Ensign told a group of executives this past fall. "They spend money to elect Democrats. From our perspective, this would have devastating consequences."
With the concentration of wealth approaching 1929 levels, there is a forceful case to be made that unionization holds the best chance for a reversal. Corporate profits have doubled since 2001, while real wages have flatlined and the number of workers earning poverty wages has risen to nearly a quarter of the workforce. Unionized workers earn between 15 and 28 percent more than their nonunion counterparts and receive far better health and retirement benefits, and when unions reach a high enough density in a particular industry, wages in nonunion shops tend to rise to meet the new standard.
But unionization rates have been crashing for decades. "Historically, unionization basically created the middle class," says economist James Galbraith. "First, by its direct effect on the wages and benefits of unionized workers; second, by its indirect effect on the wages of workers who weren't unionized; and third, by the impact unions had on the creation of the social institutions that underpin the middle class, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid--the very structures of the New Deal and the Great Society." A line tracing the rise of wealth inequality and one tracing the decline in unionization make a perfect mirror image of each other.

If your interest in the Employee Free Choice Act has been little to none, you might want to read this article and reconsider. It could be the canary in the middle class coal mine.

Look for NERCC on Facebook Posted by on

The New England Regional Council of Carpenters continues to take advantage of modern methods of communication by recently starting a group on Facebook. Any members or family who are active on Facebook can search for New England Regional Council of Carpenters and select the "Groups" tab on the results page.

The group is currently open for anyone to join, without invitation or permission. Union news and notices will be posted on the group wall, pictures and videos are available and members can easily connect with other members.

TAGS: Nercc

Apprentices participate in BUILD program Posted by on

More than fifty apprentices at the New England Carpenters Training Center became the latest members to participate in the B.U.I.L.D. program on Friday. The session was led by NERCC ES-T Mark Erlich, Organizing Director Brian Richardson, and Council Representative Vin Scalisi.

The program was slightly altered to account for the knowledge and experience apprentices have and general questions they had about the Council and how it operates.

Council staff will be presenting the BUILD program to apprentices in Millbury every Friday. BUILD has been held in a number of Local Unions within the Council since being rolled out a few months ago. It was developed by NERCC staff over the course of a year. To date, more than 180 members have participated in BUILD since it debuted in the fall.

Any members interested in participating in a BUILD session should contact their Business Agent.

Employee rights blog in CT Posted by on

The Connecticut Employee Rights Blog.

Stumbled across this while perusing information about enforcement of labor laws in Connecticut. It describes itself as "The Blog for Connecticut employees and the lawyers who represent them."

The identification of the author reads: "This blog is created and maintained by me, Richard Hayber. I am an employee rights attorney in Hartford, Connecticut. I have been representing employees since 1992 and care deeply about the rights of hard working employees."

There's some legal news there. This is not an endorsement or advertisement. Take it for what it is; general information.

TAGS: Connecticut

Contract allocations to be discussed at Mass and NNE meetings Posted by on

The next contract allocation will be the subject of discussion at January monthly meetings for those locals covered by the Boston and Eastern Massachusetts agreement, the Northern New England agreement, as well as Locals 723 and 2168.

With the downturn in the financial markets in 2008, there will be an opportunity to review the impact on the New England Pension and Annuity Funds.

Carpenters Center Groundbreaking Ceremony Posted by on

Video highlights of the groundbreaking at Carpenters Place, NERCCs new regional headquarters, is available online. It has been uploaded to a growing library of videos on youtube produced by NERCC.

The video used to open the 2008 NERCC Convention in October is also on the necarpenters page at YouTube in two forms. It is there as it was seen at the convention, but has also been re-edited for expanded use. The modified version uses the same music and many of the same images, but incorporates messages that point out the advantages for owners and developers of hiring union carpenters and contractors.

Worcester Business Journal covers industry fraud Posted by on

The Worcester Business Journal this week is running an article on the problems in the underground economy, specifically in the drywall segment of our industry. The title of the article is The Dirty Job of Drywall. It quotes Brian Cote of Red Line Drywall Systems in Leominster and Jack Donahue, Business Manger of Carpenters Local 107.

Carpenters Center Groundbreaking Ceremony Posted by on

Domestic automakers shutting down Posted by on

No, this isn't the same old story about trouble at Ford, GM and Chrysler. It's about Toyota having to shut down plants in Japan for eleven days this month because of steep declines in sales. The story reports that Toyota sales were down 37% last month, more than sales reductions for either GM or Ford.

Last month, Toyota reported an annual loss for the first time in the company's 70-year history.

The story also reports that Toyota is shutting two truck plants in the United States for three months.

TAGS: Economy

Temporary blip in construction Posted by on

An Associated Press story notes that nonresidential construction unexpectedly declined less than residential construction in November.

Good news, but temporary. Unless future months continue to defy expectations, steep declines in construction spending will continue throughout 2009. Sources in the article cite significant slides in consumer spending, leading to lower demand for new retail space and lower employment, leading to declines in the need for office space as signs of a dismal near-future.

The only good news in the article--which seems often repeated as one of the very few sources of hope for the economy--is President-elect Barack Obama's plan to make massive federal investments in infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges and public buildings.

Simon James announces retirement Posted by on

Brother Simon James, who serves as the Warden of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters as well as the Business Manager of Carpenters Local 108 and Regional Manager for Central and Western Massachusetts, has announced his retirement from those positions, effective December 31, 2008.

James has been a member of the Brotherhood for more than 29 years and has served as a Trustee on numerous benefit and training funds. He was elected to serve as the NERCC Warden in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mark Erlich has appointed Jack Donahue to fill out James?? unexpired term on the NERCC Executive Board as Warden. Donahue will also take over as Regional Manager for Central and Western Massachusetts. Jason Garand has been named Business Manager for Local 108.

TAGS: Nercc