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Boston pickets pay safety dividends for starters Posted by on

Picketing at a B Street site in South Boston has targeted Comprehensive Construction II, Inc, a Newton company run by Nick Zagarianakos. Comprehensive is self-performing carpentry work at the site for a development company called N&P Associates.

Different crews made up of entirely Brazilian carpenters working for between $10-15 an hour have been rotating through the job and reluctant to talk to union picketers. They are all brought to and from the job together in a van.

The line has not been without effect, though. When picketers first arrived at the site, none of the workers had hardhats or harnesses. Union members questioned and educated the workers about the issue and soon saw hardhats and harnesses issued to every carpenter on site.

Joists are now being put in place for one of the two buildings, which will be flat roof structures allowing 47 loft-style units. There is also work being done on a foundation for the second four-story building.

Some union leaders have been able to talk to N&P about standards in the industry for wages, benefits and working conditions which are not being met by Comprehensive. The hope is that N&P realizes the negative implications for the industry when contractors like Comprehensive are given work and that more responsible contractors can be hired for future carpentry work at this and other N&P sites.

Even if that doesn't occur, there are now crews of carpenters working on site with hardhats, harnesses and a better chance of going home safely, thanks to union members.

Obama speaks in favor of prevailing wages, unions Posted by on

The following question and answer is taken from a transcript of a Town Hall meeting President Barack Obama had at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa, California on March 18, 2009.

Q I'm President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the umbrella organization for construction unions. I would like to thank you for your leadership on the stimulus package, and particularly for trying to get construction workers back to work.

But during the last eight years, the administration chose not to enforce the Davis-Bacon requirements, chose not to enforce wage and hour conditions, and many thousands of workers were denied the wages that they were legally entitled to. What can your administration do to make sure that people get the wages that they're entitled to in this terrible economic downturn?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I have already said that we are going to promote Davis-Bacon. We think it is important that unions have the opportunity to organize themselves. (Applause.)

Now, you know, sometimes, you know, the business press says, oh, that's anti-business. And whenever I hear that I'm always reminded of what Henry Ford said when he first started building the Model T -- and he was paying his workers really well. And somebody asked him, they said, why are you paying your workers so well? He said, well, if I don't pay them well, they won't be able to buy a car.

Think about that. Part of the problem that we've had with our economy over the last decade at least is that -- well, there are a number of problems. Number one, it turns out that a huge amount of the growth that was claimed was in the financial services industry. And now we find out that a bunch of that stuff was just a paper growth that wasn't real and vanished as soon as somebody pulled the curtain.

Another part of the problem with our economy and the way it was growing was that wages and incomes for ordinary working families were flat for the entire decade. Now, I don't need to tell you this because you've experienced it in your own lives. You're -- just barely kept up with inflation while people at the very top -- and look, I'll be honest with you, because I'm now in that category -- we were seeing all the benefits.

So when I say that we should make it easier for unions to organize and observe Davis-Bacon, all I'm trying to do is to restore some balance to our economy so that middle-class families who are working hard -- (applause) -- they're not on welfare, they're going to their jobs every day, they're doing the right thing by their kids -- they should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while. You know, they should be able to save for retirement, send their kids to college.

That's not too much to ask for; that's the American Dream. And the only way we get there is if we have bottom-up economic growth instead of top-down economic growth. (Applause.) And that's why -- that's why the debate about this budget is so important.

Good news and bad news on 1099s in VT Posted by on

They're aware of the misclassification problem within state government, but they seem resigned to being able to do little about it. Vermont News Guy writes a considered piece on his blog about the issue.

The practice - scorned as "1099ing," by construction union officials (for the Internal Revenue Service form that freelance workers fill out) -short-changes Worker Compensation, Unemployment Insurance and Social Security funds. It also "creates an unlevel playing field," in the words of Vermont Labor Commissioner Patricia Moulton Powden. Businesses that play by the rules can be underbid by their competitors who do not.
Powden said that before adding more enforcement officers, the state should streamline its laws, which now include "no fewer than three definitions" of how to distinguish between employees and independent contractors, so that "it can be very confusing for small business to know which way (it is) supposed to go."

With her boss, Gov. Jim Douglas, intent on cutting the state work-force, Powden could hardly support adding more workers to her own department. Bouchard of the Carpenters Union said Powden was too concerned with being considered "anti-business" if her department cracked down on labor law violators. But Powden said one step she favored was increasing the fines that companies in violation now pay.
The Vermont New Guy blog does accept comments. Please feel free to express your thoughts in a respectful way.

Rx prices to be cut 5% thanks to NERCC Fund suit Posted by on

A judge has approved a final settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by the New England Carpenters Health Benefits Fund and an AFSCME health fun in New York that will lead to a reduction in prescription drug costs by 5%, starting in six months. The 400 affected drugs include nearly all of the most commonly prescribed drugs and could lead to savings of $1 billion.

The lawsuits alleged that from 2002 to 2005, First Databank and Medispan conspired with leading prescription drug wholesale provider, McKesson Corp., to arbitrarily increase by five percent the markups between what pharmacies pay wholesalers for prescription drugs, based on an industry benchmark called the "Wholesale Acquisition Cost" (WAC), and what health plans and insurers reimburse pharmacies for them, based on another benchmark called "Average Wholesale Price" (AWP). The difference between what the pharmacy pays the wholesaler and what the health plan pays the pharmacy is called the "spread," and it is the pharmacy??s profit on that prescription. The lawsuits allege that McKesson colluded with these two publishers to inflate these prices, in order to raise profits for
pharmacies, many of which were McKesson customers.

"Our Fund works hard to provide affordable benefits for our union members and their families," said Mark Erlich, Chair of the New England Carpenters Health Benefits Fund. "We got involved in this case to make real change for working people, and that??s what rolling back this price inflation will do for consumers nationwide. But we also need better regulation and accountability to prevent this kind of price-fixing in the future."

For more details about the settlement and history of the case, visit the Prescription Access Litigation (PAL) Project.