The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Gangbox - Assorted News and Notes

By The Building Tradesman

Republicans and Democrats hashing out the establishment of an asbestosis trust fund are reportedly only about $5 billion apart on a $140 billion package. That money would be placed in a trust fund from employers and insurance companies, and paid to workers harmed by exposure to asbestos.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has warned that negotiations may falter over how pending and future claims will be handled. In a letter to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), Frist said businesses and insurance companies are unwilling to set up a trust fund to compensate workers, only to leave open additional legal avenues for future claimants.

When it comes to road spending on the nation’s highways, there is also a lack of consensus in Washington.

The Senate wants to spend $318 billion per year for the next six years; the House want to spend $283 billion, and President Bush, not wanting to add to the federal deficit, has said he won’t spend any more than $251 billion.

The gridlock has been ongoing for months. In fact, five separate extensions of federal law have kept funding in place for highway construction work in all 50 states. As a “donor” Michigan only receives 90.5 cents on the dollar, one of the lowest returns among the 50 states.

“The lack of consensus or sign-off on a long-term bill between the Administration, the Senate and the House decreases the likelihood of getting the job done before the end of September ,” said Gary Nayaert of the Michigan Road Builders Association.

Chief executive officers at companies that export the most jobs are receiving bigger raises than CEOs at other companies, according to a new report, “Executive Excess 2004: Campaign Contributions, Outsourcing, Unexpensed Stock Options and Rising CEO Pay.”

The report, by United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies,
showed the average CEO compensation at the 50 firms exporting the most service jobs increased 46 percent in 2003, compared with an average 9 percent for CEOs at 365 large companies
surveyed by BusinessWeek.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers formed a unique safety partnership with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, five national electrical contractors and two industry trade associations to improve job safety in electrical transmission and distribution work.

The partnership will identify, evaluate and control health and safety hazards and
publicize best practices through training programs and materials.
Just weeks before new Bush administration rules that will take overtime pay protections from six million workers go into effect, workers face another threat to their paychecks.

At a campaign stop last month in Minnesota, President Bush called for new rules to allow employers to replace overtime pay with unpaid compensatory time off. Bush wants to let employers substitute time off at some undetermined future date in lieu of overtime pay.

Currently, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says eligible workers must be paid
time-and-a-half for any hours they work beyond 40 in a workweek.

Bush claimed his proposal is “flextime,” but the plan “is really about giving America’s corporations the flexibility to cheat their workers out of overtime pay after 40 hours a week,”
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.

The proposal also would allow employers to pay overtime only after employees work 80
hours in a two-week period. That would mean an employee could work 50 hours one week and 30 the next and not receive any overtime pay.

Backers of the plan claim it would be voluntary for workers. But Sweeney said it’s far likelier employers would pressure workers into agreeing to accept compensatory time
instead of being paid overtime. In addition, the plan would give employers the right to designate when that comp time could be taken.

Bush’s proposal is similar to legislation that failed to win support in Congress last year.

The percentage of U.S. workers with job-based health insurance dropped from 70.1 percent in 1987 to 64.2 percent in 2002, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The drop was even bigger for workers in firms with more than 500 workers.

EBRI said several factors contributed to the fall in health coverage for workers,
including the rising cost of health care benefits; workers moving from manufacturing to service-sector jobs; the increased use of part-time, temporary, contract and contingent workers;
and the lack of union representation.