Unions Sue Labor Department Over Safety
Lennar Asks Subs For Givebacks
Energy Efficiency Tax Credit
Worker advocates argue that employers
should pay for personal protection equipment
On January 3, the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial
Workers union filed suit to force OSHA, a division of the
Department of Labor, to issue a long-promised ruling making
employers responsible for paying for workers' personal
protection equipment (PPE). The issue has been a source of
contention since the early years of the Clinton administration.
In 1994 OSHA published a rule requiring employers to provide
their workers with whatever PPE was needed to protect them from
workplace hazards. Although OSHA leaders at the time said they
intended "provide" to mean "pay for," employers have argued
that there is nothing in the wording forbidding them from
back-charging workers for the cost of the equipment.
Not surprisingly, union officials disagree. "When there's a
legal obligation for the employer to provide the equipment to
protect the worker, our view is that they should pay for it,"
says Peg Seminario, director of safety and health for the
"You're not providing it if you say, ‘Here, wear this,
and it's going to cost you fifteen bucks'," adds Dale
Shoemaker, a senior technical coordinator for the United
Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.
Even employers who willingly bear the burden of paying for hard
hats, respirators, and the like have questions about whether
— and how often — they are required to replace
protective devices that are lost or abused. There's also
disagreement about whether certain specialized personal-safety
items, such as welding masks and trade-specific gloves, ought
to be considered "tools of the trade" — equipment, in
other words, that a skilled craftsperson is expected to furnish
as a condition of employment, like a hammer or saw. In the
past, OSHA has said that employers need not pay for items that
can be worn off the job, such as prescription safety glasses
and steel-toed safety shoes.
In 1999, the agency promised that a final PPE rule —
which would settle once and for all who should pay the bill for
protective clothing, face shields, lifelines, and other
job-specific safety equipment — would be issued in July
2000. However, not long after the agency missed that deadline,
the Bush administration came into office and, according to the
unions, let the matter drop.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia, seeks a court order that would direct
the secretary of labor to issue the long-delayed PPE rule
within 60 days. — Tom O'Brien
• If a recent survey is to be believed, home builders
who incorporate more green into their building practices end up
with more green in their pockets. Of the 250 residential
builders from around the country polled by Green Builder Media
), a Vermont
consulting firm, more than half reported that buyers are
willing to pay a premium of as much as 25 percent to get a
green-built home. Ninety-six percent of the respondents said
they intend to increase their use of environmentally friendly
products and building practices in 2007. Concern for the
environment was the No. 1 reason builders cited for going
green, but most readily admitted that buyer demand and higher
profit margins were also important factors.
• Insurance companies are taking on global warming one
policy at a time, says the Wall Street Journal. The
catastrophic weather caused by climate change means insurers
have to pay on more claims; now some insurance companies are
offering incentives for energy-efficient buildings as part of a
broader effort to reduce damaging greenhouse gases. Insurers
are also exploring ways to reduce the damage from catastrophic
weather through building codes or land-use policies.
• Stung by criticism after ousted CEO Bob Nardelli was
allowed to walk away with $210 million despite mediocre
performance, Home Depot has restructured the compensation
package for his replacement. According to a report in Home
Channel News, incoming CEO Frank Blake will have to make do
with a base salary of $975,000 per year; unlike his
predecessor, Blake gets no guaranteed bonus or severance
benefits. Still, it won't be Ramen noodles and canned beer for
the new boss: Blake could make as much as $9 million in his
first year through performance-based incentives largely tied to
the company's stock price. Nardelli averaged $38 million per
year during his tumultuous six-year reign.
• Job-site safety may be a higher priority than ever
before in the construction industry, but you'd never guess it
from the data compiled by one pharmaceutical company. According
to the "America Hard at Work" poll commissioned by
GlaxoSmithKline, maker of pain-relief medications, 28 percent
of Americans believe that construction workers have the most
painful jobs in America. Armed services personnel came in
second, with 16 percent of the vote, followed by professional
athletes and farmers. The pollsters found that 70 percent of
working Americans — regardless of occupation — say
they experience some sort of discomfort on the job, with back
pain ranking as the No. 1 complaint. Nearly one in five
respondents reported suffering pain every day. Ouch!
•In January, an executive from an Indiana concrete-supply
company was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison for his
role in a conspiracy to fix the price of ready-mixed concrete.
Gus "Butch" Nichols III, president of Builders Concrete and
Supply Co., the second largest supplier of ready-mix in the
Indianapolis area, was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. In
December 2005, four executives from the region's largest
supplier, Irving Materials, were fined and sentenced to
five-month jail terms for taking part in the scheme, which
federal antitrust officials say involved an agreement to raise
prices and drop discounts. Other co-conspirators have been
convicted and await sentencing.
Lennar Asks Subs For
As the building boom continues to fizzle and the industry's
biggest names take turns posting record losses, more and more
builders are tightening their belts and asking their trade
partners to lower their bids for upcoming jobs. But at least
one very large company isn't stopping there: It's pushing for
lower prices for past jobs, too.
According to a story in California's Orange County Register,
Lennar Corp. — which made $1 billion in profits in 2005,
but reported a $196 million loss for the fourth quarter of 2006
— is asking subcontractors in five Orange County
developments to lower their charges for work already completed.
Various subs who spoke to the paper said they received a letter
from the company stating that they would be "excluded from
bidding future work for a minimum of six months" if they didn't
reduce their unpaid invoices. The requested cuts purportedly
ranged from 5 percent to 20 percent, depending on the trade and
location of the sub.
The paper added that Miami-based Lennar, which has projects in
at least 12 states, has made similar requests of subcontractors
elsewhere. — T.O.
DeWalt is recalling about 13,000 portable generators because
of a faulty ground-fault circuit interrupter that may not
protect users from electric shocks. The recall involves DG2900
2900-watt gasoline-powered generators with date codes 200150
through 200635. These devices were sold from December 2001
through November 2006. For more information or to arrange for a
free repair, contact DeWalt at 888/742-9108 or visit
Energy Efficiency Tax
Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, builders of qualified
energy-efficient homes may be eligible for a credit of up to
$2,000 per home when they file 2006 and 2007 taxes. To meet IRS
qualifications, a home must be located in the U.S.; have been
substantially completed after August 8, 2005; and have been
acquired from the eligible contractor after December 31, 2005,
and before January 1, 2008, for use as a residence.
In addition, the building must meet specific energy-saving
criteria. For a site-built home, requirements include a 50
percent reduction in energy consumed by heating and cooling
equipment, and an improved building envelope that, in itself,
reduces energy consumption by at least 10 percent. Those energy
savings are based on a comparable-sized home that's built to
comply with the standards of the 2004 Supplement to the 2003
International Energy Conservation Code.
Energy-efficient manufactured homes are also eligible for tax
For more information, visit www.irs.gov and type the words "energy
credit" in the search box. — T.O.