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Mass Carpenters Ceasing Work
Mass Carpenters Ceasing Work
Last week, carpenters stopped working on sites in Massachusetts due to abnormally dangerous conditions and will not return to work until it is safe to do so. This is NOT a strike, but a step taken in accordance with provisions in the Labor Management Relations Act. Members who have stopped working in Massachusetts can collect unemployment benefits.
There have been many questions about why this was done in Massachusetts and why not in other states in our council. There were several factors that came into play, including the availability of PPE, the density of sites, ability of contractors to maintain safe sites and the number of infections and deaths in Massachusetts and communities where members had been working.
This was not an easy decision and it was not made lightly. Throughout this crisis, the union has continued to work with our signatory contractor partners to develop plans to keep sites as safe and clean as possible so that when the time is right to return, you will be sufficiently protected.
The $600 increase to unemployment benefits funded by the CARES Act has started to show up for members in some states in our council. The increase was not immediate because the federal government had to clarify guidelines for states to participate and then states had to opt in. Still, the two-week turnaround from passing the bill to actual account deposits has been welcome efficiency.
The $600/weekly increase in benefits will be in place for about four months before returning to regular schedules.
The trouble for some members continues to be getting unemployment claims processed so they can start receiving benefits. The state of New York scheduled a two-hour shutdown of their system last week to install upgrades that will help it handle the unprecedented demand it is facing. Other states are struggling to upgrade on the fly or clear out a backlog in processing by hiring scores of new workers.
Massachusetts has announced that it will soon deploy an online unemployment system in Spanish. On Friday it launched a Spanish version of its COVID19 text alert system.
Massachusetts Congressman Richie Neal, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has said the direct stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per individual will start to be processed and sent early this week. Estimates on how long it will take for all of the more than 60 million checks to be sent are probably unreliable at this point. The IRS will use direct deposit information submitted with recent tax returns to deposit checks where possible and mail checks to others. The amount of an individual's stimulus payment will be determined by their adjusted gross income for tax years 2018 or 2019. It will include up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples, with $500 increases for children. Stimulus amounts will decrease and phase out at certain incomes.
Members should remember that unemployment benefits and stimulus money are considered income and are taxable. Be sure to plan for this to avoid trouble when filing your next return.
All union meetings for the month of April have been cancelled. If your local union was scheduled to have elections or votes for contract allocations, please check in to see how and when those issues will be handled.
A legitimate concern for many members out of work is the continuation of health care benefits for themselves and their families. Rules vary from plan to plan, but often there are ways that members that do not earn the full requirement of work hours in a period to qualify for coverage may still get coverage. It may include purchasing hours or combining the number of hours from two consecutive qualifying periods to meet a stipulated threshold. It is important for members to read plan summaries and contact their fund office to see which provisions exist in their plans and how they apply to their individual situations.
The UBC is currently working with a coalition in Washington on potential remedies that could help members receive health coverage through our funds. The Alliance for Health Care has identified four priorities, which they are presenting to Congress:
1. Aid for Americans who have lost their jobs or been placed on furlough by covering the cost of continuing their health coverage through the crisis
2. Support for financially struggling employers and health funds offering critical health coverage
3. Enhance availability and affordability of coverage in the individual market for Americans seeking coverage through Medicaid and the Federal or state-based Marketplaces
4. Promote policies that support our health care workers on the front-line of this crisis
We will share information about any progress or success from the effort as it is available.
If you need help connecting with available services--public or union--please reach out to your local union. Staff are responding to calls, email and social media and have been able to help members with many common problems. Though they may also be able to help you understand basic provisions of benefit funds, members are encouraged to contact their funds directly to learn how plan benefits and rules may apply to their individual situation.
Finally, if you are struggling with substance abuse, anxiety or fear, please use confidential support services available through the union.
Members in New York can call Magellan/Independence Administrators at 800-688-1911. Members in MA, CT, RI, ME, NH & VT should contact Paul Greeley or Jeff Smith from the Carpenters Assistance Program at 617-782-0100 or visit KGA online 24/7 at https://my.kgalifeservices.com/o/carpenters