The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 02, 2011

NEWS BRIEFS

By The Building Tradesman



Workers comp bill on GOP fast track

LANSING – Union members packed a Nov. 22 Senate subcommittee hearing on House Bill 5002, which would make it much more difficult for injured workers to earn workers’ compensation benefits.

The legislation, which has already been adopted by the state House, subtracts the benefits a worker could have earned, even if no job is available. So if an injured iron worker applies for workers comp benefits, and it’s determined he can’t walk the iron but he can flip hamburgers for Burger King, then his benefit is reduced by the amount he could earn from in the fast food industry – even if there’s no job or possibility of him being hired.

In addition, HB 5002 gives employers the option of choosing an employees’ doctor during the first 45 days of treatment after an on-the-job injury.

The Republican-backed proposal has angered workers in all walks of life. According to Gongwer News Service, Michigan State Police Troopers Association President Chris Luty testified that if fraud is the problem, then that’s what the legislation should address. For cops and firefighters who suffer on the job injuries and are looking for other work, “what’s really available out there and what’s theoretically available out there are often two different things,” Luty said.

One attorney who testified said his “business will explode” with new work if the law is passed – creating an added cost to the system – because injured workers will need help navigating the legal system to get benefits. The bill is on a fast track to be adopted before the end of the year.

Higher material costs hit contractors

Construction material prices climbed 6.9 percent in October compared to a year ago, causing continued “difficulties” for contractors chasing already slim profit margins.

That’s the word from the Associated General Contractors, who reported on Nov. 15 that a month-to-month half-percent drop in construction material prices from September to October helped a little.

“While the gap is beginning to narrow just a bit, prices for most construction materials have risen far more during the past year than the amount contractors can charge for completing construction projects,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Coupled with weak growth in demand for construction, the price gap is likely contributing to the stagnant employment levels the industry has been experiencing all year.”

Meanwhile, the price contractors charge for new nonresidential building construction edged up only 3.3 to 4.3 percent over 12 months, depending on the building type.

Prices for diesel fuel are up 27.3 percent since October 2010 while prices for copper and brass mills shapes fell 0.2 percent over 12 months. Meanwhile, prices for gypsum and steel mill products increased in October by 3.0 and 0.4 percent respectively. Gypsum prices are down 1.0 percent compared to last year, however, while steel mill product prices are up 13.6 percent over the past year.