The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 06, 2016

News Briefs

By The Building Tradesman

Jobless benefit calls ignored, big-time

If you have had trouble getting through to Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) by phone, you're not alone. In fact, the odds are stacked against ever getting your call answered.

The news service MIRS reports the state's unemployment benefits agency did not answer 89 percent of the calls made to the UIA during the course of two separate week-long periods.

The information comes from a report released last month by the state's Office of the Auditor General, which also found irregularities back in February that included $65,000 in jobless benefits paid to people who were incarcerated. In addition, multiple lawsuits have been filed against the state, alleging that the unemployment insurance system too often finds fraud when claims are filed.

"That 90 percent of calls from unemployed Michiganders went unanswered is unconscionable,” said State Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet). “No Michigan citizen who is unemployed and simply trying to apply for the unemployment benefits they qualify for should have their phone call go unanswered. We require people to call into the agency in order to receive their benefits. The UIA needs to make sure they always have enough staff to answer these calls.

The Auditor General report shows that 89 percent of the 263,726 calls to its call center went unanswered in two separate weeks in 2014.

UIA spokesperson Ken Silfven told MIRS the agency is working toward moving claimants to "other channels" to ease the traffic on the phone lines.

New law lowers apprenticeship ratio

LANSING - Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill on April 5 that weakens the ratio of journeymen-to-apprentices for electricians on construction sites.

The House and Senate approved the bill earlier this year, along mostly party-line votes, that changes the ratio of electrical worker journeymen-to-apprentices from one-to-one, to one-to-three. The new law will take effect July 4, 2016.

Electrical industry union leaders and their contractors strenuously objected to the lower standard, saying it would lower worksite safety standards. The state Senate voted 22-15 to change the ratio from one journeyman-to three apprentices, with the entire Democratic caucus in that chamber voting no on weakening the ratio. Only four Republican senators joined them: Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights) and Dale Zorn (R-Ida). The state House had approved the measure 58-49 in January, with the GOP majority similarly driving the measure.

"Workers will be put into unsupervised environments, which could not only be dangerous, but fatal," said Mike Crawford, executive director of the National Electrical Contractors Association-Michigan chapter. He said the current 1-1 journeyman electrician-to-apprentice standard was born out of a spike of electrical apprentice fatalities in the late 1980s.

"IBEW-NECA worked to establish the apprenticeship ratio, and took steps forward to protect apprentices. We're concerned that this...bill will return us to those days in the 1980s," Crawford said.

Michigan about average in U.S. construction employment

As the nation's construction industry is generally getting better, Michigan seems to be about in the middle of the trend.

Michigan had about 156,200 construction workers in March 2016, a gain of 8,200 workers (+5.5 percent) vs. March 2015. That percentage gain ranks Michigan No. 22 in job improvement among the states, said the Associated General Contractors on April 15, using federal Labor Department numbers. Michigan also gained 900 jobs from February 2016 to March 2016, a .6 percent gain which also puts our state in the middle of the pack.

"Construction employment growth occurred in all regions in the latest 12 months," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the association. "The only soft spots in construction demand and employment are in states that rely on energy extraction for a large segment of their economy. The economic diversity across the leading job-growth states suggest that construction will continue to add to jobs gains in much of the country."

California added the most construction jobs (+39,600 jobs, +5.6 percent) between March 2015 and March 2016. Hawaii added the highest percentage of new construction jobs during the past year (+20.9 percent, +7,000 jobs), followed by Rhode Island (+13.3 percent, +2,200 jobs), Massachusetts and Nevada (+11.6 percent, +7,500 jobs).

North Dakota lost the highest percent and total number of construction jobs (-15.7 percent, -5,700 jobs) for the year. Other states that lost jobs for the year include Alaska (-8.7 percent, -1,600 jobs), Wyoming (-7.1 percent, -1,700 jobs), and Kansas (-5.6 percent, -3,400 jobs).