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Protecting this, violating that Posted by on

The word hypocrisy comes to mind when reading that an agency created to protect workers rights, violates laws that protect its own employees.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, responsible for ensuring that the nation's workers are treated fairly, has itself willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act on a nationwide basis with its own employees, an arbitrator has ruled.

The agency's practice of offering compensatory time off to its employees rather than overtime pay amounted to "forced volunteering" and was a knowing violation of the law, according to the ruling.

"The case before me, in my view, demonstrates action that went beyond mere negligence," arbitrator Steven M. Wolf wrote in a decision released last week.

Connecticut Implements Best Practices in Health Care Construction Training Posted by on

Construction in occupied health care facilities is a large and expanding segment of the construction industry. Billions of dollars are spent annually on additions and renovations to existing, occupied health care facilities.

These work opportunities, however, present unique challenges to contractors, health care administrators, workers and patients. Many hazards exist that are unique to the health care industry. Contamination, cross-contamination, mold, viruses and other issues must be considered and addressed. The statistics are staggering: 1.75 million cases resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths annually from health care associated infections (HAI??s).

In an effort to address these issues and expand the work opportunities for union members and contractors, the Carpenters International Training Fund has developed a training course called ??Best Practices in Health Care Construction: Occupied Facilities??. This 24-hour member training course covers types of hazards and methods used to minimize and control exposure; types of health care facilities; how infection control measures are determined; common types of contaminants and how they are spread as well as ways to control airborne mold spores. The training involves classroom training as well as hands-on practice using isolation methods, negative air-pressure environments, personal protective gear and contaminant removal methods.

The Connecticut Carpenters Apprentice & Training Program recently presented the first session of the Best Practices in Health Care Facilities class. Members employed with the S.G. Milazzo Company attended the first class. Instructor Timothy Moriarty presented the curriculum and supervised the hands-on practice session.

This training should be in high demand in Connecticut and the rest of New England with the large number of hospitals, convalescent homes, out-patient clinics and other health care facilities around the region. The volume of current work and projected work in the future indicates that the need for this important training will increase into the foreseeable future.

As I stood on a street corner on Rt. 28 in Randolp... Posted by on

As I stood on a street corner on Rt. 28 in Randolph, Ma. this morning with my Brother Goeorge Berdos holding one of his signs to elect him for the Randolph Planning Board, I had to wonder were the 60 some UBC members that live in his town of Randolph, and the some 30 plus brothers that had attended the BUILD Program on 03/12/09 were?
I had decided that it must be that they could not make it today but would certainly be helping there Brother out the following weekend on Saturday 04/04/09 or on Tuesday Election Day 04/07/09 after work or if they were not working maybe some time during the day as the polls are open from 7:00am- 8:00pm Brother George can be reached very easily here on Face Book, for any further information a Brother or Sister may need.
Fraternally: Brother DuBois

Digging for Footings and Foundation Posted by on

This week crews working for A.A. Will Corp were digging the ground in preparation for footing and foundation work. This work is being done at the future location of the building pavilion and stair tower.

The excavator, pictured below, digs down to the blue clay surface using a straight edge bucket. One foot of crushed stone is poured onto the clay to grade it out to a flat surface. Form work for the foundation is set on top of the crushed stone. Early next week the footings will be poured into the forms by S.& F. Concrete, Inc.

In the interior of the building, structural steel is being added for bracing of existing columns in preparation for the construction of the third floor and roof.

It is anticipated that the earth retention at the south end of the site will be installed in the next week or two. Soldier beam and lagging will be driven in to the ground to allow the area to be dug for the permanent retaining wall that will be the south wall of the parking garage.

Surprise, surprise! Posted by on

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) this morning released a report detailing how bad the Federal Government has been at helping workers who get cheated out of pay. The New York Times published a story in advance of the reports release about the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division.

The report looks like it will go a long way toward making it abundantly clear how the underground economy has been allowed to grow, even in periods of historic economic growth. According to the NYTimes story on the report, Federal investigators easily dismissed complaints from workers who reported they weren't paid properly without reaching legitimate resolutions. In other cases, they made workers wait for unreasonable periods before responding or ignored them altogether.

From the NYTimes story:

"In one case, the division failed to investigate a complaint that under-age children in Modesto, Calif., were working during school hours at a meatpacking plant with dangerous machinery, the G.A.O., the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, found.

"When an undercover agent posing as a dishwasher called four times to complain about not being paid overtime for 19 weeks, the division??s office in Miami failed to return his calls for four months, and when it did, the report said, an official told him it would take 8 to 10 months to begin investigating his case."

The report is also a compelling argument against those that argue that unions are somehow "no longer necessary." When the federal government is not fulfilling their mission to protect low wage workers, who will?
"In another case, the accountability office found that workers at a boarding school in Montana were not paid more than $200,000 in overtime. But when the employer offered to pay only $1,000 in back wages as the two-year statute of limitations approached, the division dropped the case."

More workers have to get paid the hard way Posted by on

The Attorney General of Massachusetts released a statement yesterday in regards to citing JPI, Inc for unpaid wages. The company was ordered to pay 26 former employees a total of $52,000 and pay a fine of $7,500 to the state.

The AG's investigation began in May of 2008 when employees complained they weren't given vacation pay they were owed when they left the company. Though the release says that the company "fully cooperated" with the investigation, it is unfortunate that an investigation was needed to ensure JPI complied with its own company policies. And that an investigation in which the company "fully cooperated" still somehow took almost a full year.

Earlier this month, JPI was in the news concerning massive safety violations issued to framing subcontractors Shawnlee on their project in Chelsea. The $70,000 fine for willfully disregarding worker safety protections brought Shawnlee's total OSHA tab over $300,000 in the last nine years.

While billed as a "property management company" in the release, JPI was a large-scale national residential developers during the housing boom. Because investment capital has dried up, they are believed to be sitting tight with just property management until things turn around.

Meet the Carpenter Steward and Carpenter Foreman Posted by on

Carpenter Steward Desmond Roach and Andy Guay, Foreman for H. Carr & Sons.

Boston Globe runs Erlich piece on stimulus, PLAs Posted by on

As part of their "@ Odds" feature, the Boston Sunday Globe today featured an Opinion piece by NERCC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mark Erlich. The opposing piece, which followed was written by Greg Beeman, President of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a group that opposes unions. The focus of the two pieces is the use of federal stimulus money in the construction industry and project labor agreements.

Boston pickets pay safety dividends for starters Posted by on

Picketing at a B Street site in South Boston has targeted Comprehensive Construction II, Inc, a Newton company run by Nick Zagarianakos. Comprehensive is self-performing carpentry work at the site for a development company called N&P Associates.

Different crews made up of entirely Brazilian carpenters working for between $10-15 an hour have been rotating through the job and reluctant to talk to union picketers. They are all brought to and from the job together in a van.

The line has not been without effect, though. When picketers first arrived at the site, none of the workers had hardhats or harnesses. Union members questioned and educated the workers about the issue and soon saw hardhats and harnesses issued to every carpenter on site.

Joists are now being put in place for one of the two buildings, which will be flat roof structures allowing 47 loft-style units. There is also work being done on a foundation for the second four-story building.

Some union leaders have been able to talk to N&P about standards in the industry for wages, benefits and working conditions which are not being met by Comprehensive. The hope is that N&P realizes the negative implications for the industry when contractors like Comprehensive are given work and that more responsible contractors can be hired for future carpentry work at this and other N&P sites.

Even if that doesn't occur, there are now crews of carpenters working on site with hardhats, harnesses and a better chance of going home safely, thanks to union members.

Obama speaks in favor of prevailing wages, unions Posted by on

The following question and answer is taken from a transcript of a Town Hall meeting President Barack Obama had at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa, California on March 18, 2009.

Q I'm President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the umbrella organization for construction unions. I would like to thank you for your leadership on the stimulus package, and particularly for trying to get construction workers back to work.

But during the last eight years, the administration chose not to enforce the Davis-Bacon requirements, chose not to enforce wage and hour conditions, and many thousands of workers were denied the wages that they were legally entitled to. What can your administration do to make sure that people get the wages that they're entitled to in this terrible economic downturn?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I have already said that we are going to promote Davis-Bacon. We think it is important that unions have the opportunity to organize themselves. (Applause.)

Now, you know, sometimes, you know, the business press says, oh, that's anti-business. And whenever I hear that I'm always reminded of what Henry Ford said when he first started building the Model T -- and he was paying his workers really well. And somebody asked him, they said, why are you paying your workers so well? He said, well, if I don't pay them well, they won't be able to buy a car.

Think about that. Part of the problem that we've had with our economy over the last decade at least is that -- well, there are a number of problems. Number one, it turns out that a huge amount of the growth that was claimed was in the financial services industry. And now we find out that a bunch of that stuff was just a paper growth that wasn't real and vanished as soon as somebody pulled the curtain.

Another part of the problem with our economy and the way it was growing was that wages and incomes for ordinary working families were flat for the entire decade. Now, I don't need to tell you this because you've experienced it in your own lives. You're -- just barely kept up with inflation while people at the very top -- and look, I'll be honest with you, because I'm now in that category -- we were seeing all the benefits.

So when I say that we should make it easier for unions to organize and observe Davis-Bacon, all I'm trying to do is to restore some balance to our economy so that middle-class families who are working hard -- (applause) -- they're not on welfare, they're going to their jobs every day, they're doing the right thing by their kids -- they should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while. You know, they should be able to save for retirement, send their kids to college.

That's not too much to ask for; that's the American Dream. And the only way we get there is if we have bottom-up economic growth instead of top-down economic growth. (Applause.) And that's why -- that's why the debate about this budget is so important.

Good news and bad news on 1099s in VT Posted by on

They're aware of the misclassification problem within state government, but they seem resigned to being able to do little about it. Vermont News Guy writes a considered piece on his blog about the issue.

The practice - scorned as "1099ing," by construction union officials (for the Internal Revenue Service form that freelance workers fill out) -short-changes Worker Compensation, Unemployment Insurance and Social Security funds. It also "creates an unlevel playing field," in the words of Vermont Labor Commissioner Patricia Moulton Powden. Businesses that play by the rules can be underbid by their competitors who do not.
Powden said that before adding more enforcement officers, the state should streamline its laws, which now include "no fewer than three definitions" of how to distinguish between employees and independent contractors, so that "it can be very confusing for small business to know which way (it is) supposed to go."

With her boss, Gov. Jim Douglas, intent on cutting the state work-force, Powden could hardly support adding more workers to her own department. Bouchard of the Carpenters Union said Powden was too concerned with being considered "anti-business" if her department cracked down on labor law violators. But Powden said one step she favored was increasing the fines that companies in violation now pay.
The Vermont New Guy blog does accept comments. Please feel free to express your thoughts in a respectful way.

Rx prices to be cut 5% thanks to NERCC Fund suit Posted by on

A judge has approved a final settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by the New England Carpenters Health Benefits Fund and an AFSCME health fun in New York that will lead to a reduction in prescription drug costs by 5%, starting in six months. The 400 affected drugs include nearly all of the most commonly prescribed drugs and could lead to savings of $1 billion.

The lawsuits alleged that from 2002 to 2005, First Databank and Medispan conspired with leading prescription drug wholesale provider, McKesson Corp., to arbitrarily increase by five percent the markups between what pharmacies pay wholesalers for prescription drugs, based on an industry benchmark called the "Wholesale Acquisition Cost" (WAC), and what health plans and insurers reimburse pharmacies for them, based on another benchmark called "Average Wholesale Price" (AWP). The difference between what the pharmacy pays the wholesaler and what the health plan pays the pharmacy is called the "spread," and it is the pharmacy??s profit on that prescription. The lawsuits allege that McKesson colluded with these two publishers to inflate these prices, in order to raise profits for
pharmacies, many of which were McKesson customers.

"Our Fund works hard to provide affordable benefits for our union members and their families," said Mark Erlich, Chair of the New England Carpenters Health Benefits Fund. "We got involved in this case to make real change for working people, and that??s what rolling back this price inflation will do for consumers nationwide. But we also need better regulation and accountability to prevent this kind of price-fixing in the future."

For more details about the settlement and history of the case, visit the Prescription Access Litigation (PAL) Project.

Bad drywall from China? Posted by on

Health and building officials in Florida are looking into the possibility that drywall made in China and installed in US homes could be dangerous to residents' health. It is also alleged that it does damage to wiring.

The complaints seem to be coming from homes built or renovated around 2005 and 2006 in Florida, though it could be more widespread. There is no information available at this time pertaining to the name of the brand names of drywall involved, where it was sold in the country or by what suppliers.

(CNN) -- Officials are looking into claims that Chinese-made drywall installed in some Florida homes is emitting smelly, corrosive gases and ruining household systems such as air conditioners, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says.
Gas emitted from defective drywall corrodes copper wiring, turning it black, some Florida homeowners say.

Gas emitted from defective drywall corrodes copper wiring, turning it black, some Florida homeowners say.

The Florida Health Department, which is investigating whether the drywall poses any health risks, said it has received more than 140 homeowner complaints. And class-action lawsuits allege defective drywall has caused problems in at least three states -- Florida, Louisiana and Alabama -- while some attorneys involved claim such drywall may have been used in tens of thousands of U.S. homes.

Homeowners' lawsuits contend the drywall has caused them to suffer health problems such as headaches and sore throats and face huge repair expenses.

The drywall is alleged to have high levels of sulfur and, according to homeowners' complaints, the sulfur-based gases smell of rotten eggs and corrode piping and wiring, causing electronics and appliances to fail.

Wood Structures is no more Posted by on

Wood Structures, Inc. the Saco, Maine based yard that sold raw lumber and manufactured trusses and other materials for lumber yards throughout New England, has closed and will be liquidated through Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.

Wood Structures has been struggling for some time as the housing sector steadily declined. The company, more than 40 years old has had multiple owners, according to news reports. The current owner was listed as Roark Capital Group of Atlanta, GA. The final 50 or so employees, who were members of Carpenters Local 1996, were laid off on Monday.

Employees who belong to Local 1996 of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters will be owed a week's pay for every year of service, said Bob Burleigh, the union's industrial representative. Severance and vacation pay will be among the issues the union will seek for workers during bankruptcy proceedings.

Union workers earned wages ranging from approximately $15 to $25 an hour and received benefits, including health care, a retirement plan and paid vacation.

"They were very good jobs," Burleigh said.

In addition to being a well known name to lumber yards and contractors in the region, Wood Structures was a familiar site to any New Englanders travelling to Maine. Its property sat right alongside Route 95, with its yard and materials in full site of passersby.

You'd hardly know from the news Posted by on

Another independent poll shows Americans would like it to be easier for unions to organize workers.

A new Gallup Poll finds just over half of Americans, 53%, favoring a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize workers; 39% oppose it. This is a key issue at stake with the Employee Free Choice Act now being considered in Congress.

Not all that surprising considering consistent annual findings by the Gallup folks that Americans support unions.
Previous Gallup polling has shown that Americans are fundamentally sympathetic to labor unions, and these underlying attitudes are no doubt reflected in their general support for legislation characterized as making it easier for workers to unionize. For example, Gallup's annual polling on workplace issues, conducted each August, has found consistently high approval of labor unions in recent years, including a 59% approval rating last summer. The current level of support for a new law facilitating more union membership -- 53% in favor -- is only slightly less favorable to unions.

Glimmer? Maybe a very slight, distant one Posted by on

Interesting run of news in the industry lately.

Yesterday, news broke that new home construction was up.

WASHINGTON (AP) ?? The number of new housing projects that builders broke ground on in February rose sharply, defying economists' forecasts for yet another drop in activity.

The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments jumped 22.2 percent from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units. Economists were expecting construction to drop to a pace of around 450,000 units.

February's pickup was led by a big increase in apartment construction.

By region, all parts of the country reported an increase in overall housing construction, except for the West, which led the housing boom and has been hard hit by the bust.

Some economists said the new housing figures offered a glimmer of hope.
But on a local level, all the news is clearly not good. Today, the Globe reports that LNR is apparently further delaying construction on a massive project in South Weymouth, MA.
An executive briefed on plans by LNR Property Corp., the project's developer, said the firm does not expect to close on the $43 million purchase by a March 31 deadline. That means construction of the long-anticipated SouthField development, a cluster of villages set to include businesses and homes, will remain on hold.

Carpenters Arrive on Site Posted by on

The first crew of Union Carpenters arrived on site this week, working for H. Carr & Sons.

Carpenter Steward Desmond Roach, Local 33 and Foreman Andy Guay, Local 67, installed safety railings around the perimeter of the building.

Steward Desmond Roach.

On the first floor, a temporary office/meeting space is being built. Here carpenter Bruce McDonald, Local 218, is working on the metal stud framework.

Globe focuses on construction unemployment Posted by on

The Boston Globe led today's front page with a story by Casey Ross about unemployment in the construction industry. The story and accompanying video features Local 67 Brother Mike Kerrin and Anthony Fedele of Carpenters Local 40.

The video story is embedded below, follow the link above to read the entire story that appeared in the newspaper.

Many news sites allow readers to post comments about a story. Reader comments may appear beneath the story with a form for submitting more comments. Members are encouraged to use this feature and express their feelings about stories they read online concerning union and construction issues. Remember these are public forums, so be direct, but respectful of others. Site editors do reserve the right to remove comments they find objectionable.

Demo nearly complete, building to begin Posted by on

Crews are finishing up demo and debris removal at the site this week.

Steel beams are loaded onto truck.

This week crews worked in the area that will be the future location of the welding training area. Debris needed to be cleared from this spot. Notice the drop from the foundation to the dirt below. With the area cleared out, it will be ready for concrete to be poured to level the foundation.

In the coming week, the site will be prepped for construction to begin. The Building Permit is being issued and a work order has been put in to the gas company to cut and cap gas lines.

The carpenter steward will soon arrive on site to implement safety measures, which include installing guard rails around the perimeter of the building and installing rails and temporary covers for floor openings. The openings cut into the foundation allow access to the electrical and plumbing throughout the building.

Here??s a look at the building before construction began:

This is a view of the building on March 12th:

It's already working Posted by on

The Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in Congress yesterday and is already having a positive effect:

"Citigroup cut its target price on Wal-Mart - the largest US private sector employer and a regular target of union criticism - and downgraded its recommendation to "hold" on the belief that the retail giant could be forced to pay higher wages and benefits if the bill were made law."

The Financial Times also gets credit for being one of the few to report this aspect of the bill correctly: "Instead of employers having the right to insist on a secret ballot, employees would make the choice."

Bloomberg reports on the extent to which businesses and their groups will spend money to avoid spending money.
"Card-check opponents, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, have said they will spend about $200 million on advertising and lobbying to block the measure."

Employee Free Choice Act discussed on Maddow Posted by on

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC led her show last night with a discussion on the Employee Free Choice Act. SEIU General President Andy Stern joins live via satellite after Maddow provides a nice context for the bill and the debate about it.

WARNING: You'll have to watch a :30 commercial first, but it's worth it.

I live down Dorchester Avenue from this project an... Posted by on

I live down Dorchester Avenue from this project and my kids and I drive past this location every school day. We are amazed at the progress you have made and look forward to seeing something new everyday. The kids loved to watch the brick wall being eaten by the crane.

Comp? Who needs comp? Posted by on posts a story that is a bit scary. While being the state was checking to see if workers were properly classified and covered by workers's comp, a power box exploded, hurting two. Luckily, they were covered by comp. Others weren't.

The Connecticut Division of Wage and Workplace Standards pulled 11 workers off of a Stamford, Conn., construction site last week after an electrical power box exploded and injured two others.

Division Director Gary Pechie said Friday his inspectors were on site at a refurbishing project at a downtown YMCA building when the box exploded last Tuesday.

They were conducting a routine check of JV Construction and Drywall as part of the division's sweep of Connecticut construction sites to verify workers' compensation coverage.

"Our people had to run out of the building because of the smoke," Pechie said. "It was ironic, because we were there checking to make sure they had coverage."

Pechie said the electricians suffered second-degree burns. One has been released from a local hospital and the other is expected to be released soon. Both workers were covered by workers' compensation for the project, which involves converting the old YMCA into a 99-room hotel.

But Pechie said inspectors ordered 11 other workers for JV Construction and Drywall off the site because they were identified as independent contractors.

Another bad actor makes news Posted by on

On the heels of AvalonBay's subs being hit for misclassification on three of their Massachusetts jobsites and National Carpentry being arrested for non-payment of wages in Connecticut, comes this news item. Shawnlee Construction, one of the largest nonunion woodframe contractors in New England, has again been cited by OSHA for serious fall protection violations.

This time out, OSHA is accusing Shawnlee of willfully disregarding the safety of workers at JPI project in Chelsea, MA and issuing a $70,000 fine.

Disregard is perhaps too kind a word in this situation. The article notes that Shawnlee has been fined 25 times in the last nine years, racking up more than $300,000 in fines!

TAGS: Shawnlee

Concrete Block and Brick Removed Posted by on

In addition to completing the dismantling of the steel structure of the second floor, NASDI has completed the demolition of the building's walls.

After the second floor beams and columns came down, the brick and concrete block were removed from the entire building.

This is a picture of the building before construction began:

Here is the structure on March 6th. The second floor has been entirely removed, as well as the walls on the first floor.

Stamford Advocate takes owner to task for National Carpentry sins Posted by on

The Stamford Advocate, which covered the arrest and criminal charges brought against National Carpentry, followed up Friday with an editorial placing some of the responsibility on the project's owner. A portion is included below...

Question: Mr. Kirk's company was hired to work on two East Side housing developments, East Side Commons and Glenview House. If he is guilty of the crimes of which he is accused, should the owner of the housing developments bear part of the blame?

The principal owner, Seth Weinstein, says no.

"We hire a general contractor (Florida-based Thomason-Stevens, LLC)," Mr. Weinstein said last month. "We expect our general contractor to follow all rules and regulations and we have no relationship with the subcontractor."

In all due respect, Mr. Weinstein, we disagree. An owner of a development property should know what's occurring there. After all, he could gain financially from potential illegal building practices in this case.

Activity south of Boston Posted by on

Local 424 Business Agent Rick Braccia checked in with some goings-on in his area...

--StreetWorks, the Master Developer of Downtown Quincy is presenting their proposal to the City Council on Monday night at City Hall at 7:00 P.M.
The plan was presented to the Building Trades last week. Although the project isn't a solution to our immediate needs for jobs, the potential for development in Quincy is unbelievable.

--There is a public hearing on Thursday night (March 5) at the former Watson Library in Braintree. This is a joint hearing by Braintree and Weymouth officials to explore infrastructure improvement as a means of attracting business development to Weymouth Landing.

--Last Tuesday night, there was a meeting of the Braintree Town Council Ordinance Committee at which NERCC Director of Organizing Brian Richardson, Local 33 President John Murphy, and Rick Braccia testified in support of a responsible employer ordinance (REO). The town currently has an REO Policy, but this is merely a recommendation to contractors doing public work in the town. If Braintree adopts this as an ordinance, it give legitimate contractors a more level playing field. The response of the committee was overwhelmingly positive. The REO is being proposed by Councilor Tom Bowes.

--The next VOC meeting is on March 11. On the same night, we are asking Quincy residents to attend the Planning Board meeting at City Hall at 7:00 P.M. The Planning Board is going to reject an application by anti-union, developer Michael Corcoran, and it would be beneficial to have some applause in the audience. A few years back, Corcoran was the developer of the Cliffwalk Apartments on Willard St that we held rallies and a six month picket line on. That was the job with Plumbhouse as a GC. In case nobody recalls, Plumbhouse is the guy who has his trucks lettered "Merit Shop Builds Best."