The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Gangbox: Assorted News and Notes

By The Building Tradesman

Architects optimistic. One of the early indicators for the health of the nation’s construction industry is the Architecture Billings Index (ABI), which has reverted into negative territory for the last two months.

A product of the American Institute of Architects, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending. On May 21, the AIA reported the April ABI score was 49.6, up slightly from a mark of 48.8 in March. This score reflects a decrease in design activity (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). However, the “New Projects Inquiry Index” was 59.1, up from the reading of 57.9 the previous month.

“Despite an easing in demand for architecture services over the last couple of months, there is a pervading sense of optimism that business conditions are poised to improve as the year moves on,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “With a healthy figure for design contracts this should translate into improved billings in the near future.”


Headache ball. Michigan remains one of the few states, if not the only state, that allows construction workers to perch atop a crane’s “headache ball” to ride, if it is the only way to gain access to hard-to-reach jobsite areas.

That allowance by MIOSHA has conflicted with federal OSHA, which disapproves of the practice. Our records show the policy was last reviewed in 2002, with MIOSHA affirming the practice was still OK. Last month MIOSHA announced it had formed a committee to review headache ball rides.

As we have reported, MIOSHA is re-examining thousands of pages of job standards to eliminate unnecessary rules and streamline codes. According to the Construction Labor Report, the committee looking at the headache ball rule will look at how the change might affect employers.


Contract settlements. First-year U.S. construction industry contract collective bargaining settlements rose 1.3 percent through the first four months of 2014, quite a bit of a dip from the 3.1 percent average increase during the same period in 2013. Four months of numbers, however, typically represent only a relatively small shapshot of contract settlements.

All collective bargaining contracts saw a 1.8 percent average first year gain through April of 2014, compared to 2.0 percent during the same period in 2013. The figures are reported by Bloombeg BNA.

More wage cheats. The act of employers cheating workers out of wages is alive and well, at least allegedly.

Chicago law firm Seyfarth Show reported on May 20 that 2014 is turning into a record year for federal wage and hour lawsuits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 2014, marking the seventh straight year of increases in these cases.
The firm said in data obtained from the Federal Judicial Center, 8,126 FLSA cases have been filed in 2014, up nearly 5 percent from the same period in 2013 which saw 7,764 cases filed. FLSA cases have exploded across the country, rising 438 percent since 2000.

“The wage and hour litigation epidemic continues, and we expect this trend to expand further in the coming year,” said Richard Alfred, chair of Seyfarth’s Wage & Hour Litigation practice. “While the rise we’ve seen in FLSA cases is astonishing, these numbers are also just one part of the equation. They would be even higher if wage and hour lawsuits filed in state courts under state pay practices, data which isn’t readily available, were added.”


Talking federal minimum wage. The Congressional Budget Office said last month that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would require private businesses to spend $15 billion more in salaries when it takes full effect in 2017.

It’s worth it, President Obama said after Senate Republicans blocked a minimum wage hike last month. “After 14 months since I’ve called on Congress to reward the hard work of millions of Americans like the ones who we have here today to raise the federal minimum wage, we saw this morning a majority of senators saying ‘yes,’ but almost every Republican saying ‘no; to giving America a raise.”

“The workers who’d benefit from a minimum wage increase often work full-time, often in physically demanding jobs,” Obama continued. “They average 35 years of age. Most low-paying jobs are held by women. But because Republicans in Congress said “no” to even allowing a vote on the floor of the Senate, these folks are going to have to wait for the raise they deserve.”

The Economic Policy Institute rejected claims that the minimum wage is only for entry level workers. “The reality,” says the EPI, “is much different: Among workers who would be affected by raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, the average age is 35 years old, and more than a third (34.5 percent) are at least 40 years old.”


Workers’ rights. The United States lags far behind other nations in protecting workers’ rights, according to a new survey from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The rankings are based on 97 internationally recognized indicators and standards to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labor laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind. A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions or simply join a union at all.”

The nations are ranked on a scale from one (the best with just irregular violations of workers’ rights) to five (with no guarantee of workers’ rights at all).  The United States received a mark of 4, which, according to the ITUC system, means: “Workers in countries with the rating of four have reported systematic violations. The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.”

Along with the United States, 29 other nations received a four rating, including Argentina, Botswana, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan and Thailand. Belgium, Finland and South Africa were among the 18 nations that received a one rating, while 24 countries were rated five, including Belarus, Bangladesh, Egypt, Guatemala and Qatar. (From the AFL-CIO)