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July 7, 2006
LANSING - Many Michiganians who work as salespeople, nurses, or truck drivers - among several other types of occupations - currently are not eligible for mandatory overtime pay under federal law.
And Michigan's Republican House members want to hammer home that rule in this state, under the guise of saving employers money and reducing layoffs. On June 20, the GOP-dominated Michigan House passed legislation that would continue to block thousands of workers from being eligible for overtime pay.
The bill passed along straight party lines, 57-49, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against.
"In these tough economic times, overtime pay is how thousands of working men and women make ends meet so they can better care for their families," said House Democratic Leader Dianne Byrum (D-Onondaga). "Republicans should stop protecting the status quo and stand up for our working families instead."
House Bill 6213 now goes to the Michigan Senate, which is also dominated by Republicans.
"Without this piece of legislation employers will be forced to eliminate the jobs altogether because they cannot afford to pay the added expense," said State Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), chair of the House Commerce Committee. "In a time when Michigan's economy is struggling to gain traction and compete against surrounding states and foreign nations, that would be a huge step backward. This bill is critical to protecting jobs and preventing outsourcing in Michigan."
Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who holds veto power over the bill, isn't inclined to approve the measure. Her spokeswoman, Liz Boyd, said the administration is "still assessing the impact" of the bill but does not "see a need for this legislation."
Republicans have tied this bill to counteract the passage earlier this year of a statewide minimum wage increase. The minimum wage increase will go from the current $5.15 per hour to $6.95 per hour on Oct. 1, and finally to $7.40 per hour on July 1, 2008. The state rules limiting worker classifications that can get mandatory overtime pay will expire when the minimum wage increases Oct. 1.
Because the law signed earlier this year raised Michigan's minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, many employers who had been exempt from paying overtime must now begin paying those wages effective Oct. 1, 2006.
State Republicans had refused to hike the state minimum wage since 1996. But they agreed to it this year in order to stop a labor-sponsored petition drive that would have placed a higher minimum wage requirement in the state constitution.
Now, passage of that same law had the unintended consequence
of expanding the pool of workers eligible for mandatory overtime
- a "problem" which Republicans are attempting to fix.
In 2005, the average CEO in the United States earned 262 times the pay of the average worker - the second-highest level of this ratio in the 40 years for which there is data.
A CEO earned more in one workday in 2005 (there are 260 in a year) than an average worker earned in 52 weeks.
That information comes from an annual survey by the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, which said that CEO pay has "exploded," especially over the last three years. In 2005 the average CEO was paid $10.9 million a year, or 262 times that of an average worker ($41,861).
In 1965, U.S. CEOs in major companies earned 24 times more than an average worker. This ratio grew to 35 in 1978 and to 71 in 1989. The ratio surged in the 1990s and hit 300 at the end of the recovery in 2000. The fall in the stock market reduced CEO stock-related pay (e.g., options) causing CEO pay to moderate to 143 times that of an average worker in 2002. Then the rate nearly doubled over the next three years.
U.S. executives' pay is also higher than salaries in other countries. In 2003, for example, the EPI said U.S. executives earned 1.6 times more than their counterparts in Britain. The same year, U.S. CEOs' incentive payments, such as options, were 5.2 times what they were for Britain.
Next year, according to the New York Times, the total compensation numbers may go even higher. New Securities Exchange Commission rules that are expected to take effect call for high ranking corporate officers to disclose all types of compensation, including deferred, retirement benefits, severance pay and cars and chauffeurs - so-called "stealth wealth."
Paul Hodgson, a compensation expert at the consultancy Corporate Library, told the UK paper The Guardian that the pay increases have two points of origin: stock options riding the bull market, and what he calls the "ratchet" effect. "A chief executive will look around at peers and say 'I want what he is getting.' "
Forbes Magazine said last year that "some chief executives really earn their pay. Some don't. Some are so bad they should be paying their shareholders."
According to a report last year by faireconomy.org, "if you had invested in the stock of the company led by the year's single highest paid CEO since 1990, you actually would have lost money. You would have done nearly six times better by investing in the S&P 500 index. A $10,000 investment in the Greedy CEO portfolio in 1991 would have decreased in value to $8,079 by the end of 2004, while a similar investment in the S&P 500 would have increased to $48,350."
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney pointed out that executives and workers aren't sharing in the pain of reduced retirement benefits.
"Executives," he said, "have received extraordinary
retirement benefits at the same time workers are being asked
to bear increased risk for their retirement security. By contrast,
many executive retirement plans promise a lifetime of income
far exceeding what the recipients would be entitled to under
the retirement plans of their rank-and-file workers. These preferential
retirement benefits undermine the goal of linking pay to performance:
CEOs who have been guaranteed million-dollar retirement benefits
are inherently less concerned if their stock options are under
GRAND RAPIDS - The building trades are bringing out of the ground what will be this city's largest development in the last decade.
Spectrum Health's Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion will anchor the six-acre Michigan Street Development, which will also provide space for three offices towers of five to seven stories for life sciences and technology research. A 2,300-space parking deck will also be erected. The price tag for all the work: $200 million.
The cancer pavilion, itself with a price tag of $78 million, will be a six-story, 200,000-square-foot facility scheduled to open in the fall of 2007 on Michigan between Coit and Division streets.
"It's undoubtedly a substantial project, but nothing we haven't seen before," said Joe Hooker, development services manager for the project's general contractor, Christman Construction. "It's been a long time coming together. So far we've been very pleased, we've had a very good start."
The construction process has begun with a below-grade parking deck - itself a $61 million venture that will also serve nearby Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute. An existing building on the site will be demolished and replaced. The entire site, Hooker said, is challenging because it is about 1,100 feet long, but one end is about 100 feet lower than the other. In the past, the site was used for parking, a Burger King, a brewery and an armory depot, Hooker said.
Spectrum Health sees this development as an opportunity to streamline and strengthen its health care delivery process for cancer patients in West Michigan.
"The Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion is the cornerstone that will allow us to take cancer care in West Michigan to the next level," said Matt Van Vranken, president, Spectrum Health Hospitals. "This facility will enable us to intensify our work on clinical research and our multi-specialty approach, where newly diagnosed cancer patients can meet with multiple physician subspecialists to review their case and receive a treatment plan - all in the same day."
The pavilion will enable Spectrum Health to bring together the majority of its Grand Rapids cancer services. Radiation treatment, medical oncology, chemotherapy, research, cancer multispecialty clinics, a genetic evaluation clinic, research labs, physician offices, a consumer library and administrative offices are among the services that will be located there. The building will also house a multi-floor life healing garden, and will be connected to other nearby buildings via tunnels, walkways or skywalks.
Spectrum Health cares for nearly 3,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients each year, or about two-thirds of all cancer patients in Kent County. One of Spectrum Health's goals is to use this new facility as a focus in expanding its cancer services into a regional resource for West Michigan.
Hooker said the most difficult part in the development phase of the project was "creating a critical mass of necessary users" for the space. "But in the end, this development is going to attract jobs in the health care and medical technology areas, which are the jobs this area would like to have," Hooker said.
Completion is expected in 2010. Until then, a few construction jobs will be created, too.
With the summertime in full swing, this is another opportunity to remind construction workers that the tan you get on or off the job, is anything but healthy.
"The myth of health associated with a suntan is simply that - a myth," said Craig Wax, D.O., an osteopathic family physician practicing in New Jersey. "Some people expose themselves to the sun for the vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D made available is minimal compared with the risk of skin cancer with prolonged exposure."
He said that tanning is the body's way of protecting itself against ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure. The brown pigment melanin produced by skin is spread throughout the exposed areas. But this pigment only minimally protects the skin against further damage from UV radiation.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests that, regardless of skin type, a broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 should be used year-round. Even on a cloudy day, 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds.
It is impossible to completely avoid sunlight when you work out of doors, but here are a few points to ponder by the dermatology academy, the Laborers Health and Safety Fund, and other experts, that will help save your skin:
The sunscreen SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce a sunburn on sunscreen protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin. For example, if a sunscreen is rated SPF 2 and a fair-skinned person who would normally turn red after ten minutes of exposure in the sun uses it, it would take twenty minutes of exposure for the skin to turn red. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would allow that person to multiply that initial burning time by 15, which means it would take 15 times longer to burn, or 150 minutes.
But SPF protection does not actually increase proportionately with a designated SPF number. In higher SPFs, such as an SPF of 30, 97 percent of sun burning rays are deflected, while an SPF of 15 indicates 93 percent deflection and an SPF of 2 equals 50 percent deflection.
wage hike gets Senate majority of votes - but it's not enough
The latest attempt, like the others, was backed by organized labor and pushed by by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). He proposed raising the minimum wage from its current $5.15 an hour to $7.25. Seven Republicans voted for it and the rest did not.
Kennedy tried to insert the hike into a defense bill. It marked his third try in the last three years to raise the wage, but the first in which he got a majority. The wage has not been raised since 1997. Kennedy's bill needed a super-majority to overcome a potential filibuster and parliamentary rules this time. Aides said he would try again later this year.
(Pressured by a petition drive by organized labor, the Michigan legislature passed a minimum wage increase for our state earlier this year).
The vote "clearly demonstrates the Republican leadership cannot stand in the way of fairness for America's low wage workers forever," Kennedy said. "We have been fighting for nearly a decade to give minimum wage workers a fair raise. And today, a majority of the Senate now agrees with the majority of Americans that an increase in the minimum wage is long overdue.
"This battle will continue until at long last justice is done. It's time for the Republican leadership to stop its obstruction and get out of the way," he declared. Polls show 3-to-1 margins, or better, including most Republicans, favor a raise.
Kennedy accused the GOP of being "out of touch with reality" of U.S. workers, saying the opposition "caves to industry lobbyists and special interests." The AFL-CIO and Change to Win, which both lobbied for the hike, agreed.
"It is simply scandalous that Senate Republicans still refuse to legislate a decent increase in the minimum wage, and then have the nerve to try to sneak in 'poison pill' provisions that weaken and eliminate the wage and hour protections workers currently have," AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said after the vote.
"Republican leaders tried to don a political fig leaf with a smaller increase, but could not resist adding measures that would have stripped overtime and minimum wage protections from more than seven million workers and undermined the 40-hour week. Fortunately, that cynical move failed, too," Sweeney added. The GOP hike, to $6.25 in two stages over 24 months, lost 52-43.
"While this increase won't exactly make work pay for millions toiling at the bottom, it will help a lot," CTW said in a legislative alert to its seven unions before the vote. "For a low-income family of three, a raise to $7.25 an hour would amount to just $15,080 in pay a year.
"That would still keep them below the federal poverty line, but it's worth eight months of rent, 15 months of groceries, or two years of health care to them. Most of those who would benefit are adults, not teenagers seeking some spending money," CTW added, countering a common argument of the raise's most-vigorous foes, the lobbies for restaurants and retailers.
At least Kennedy got a vote. Over in the GOP-run House, seven
Republicans joined all the Democrats on the House Appropriations
Committee to attach a minimum wage hike, from $5.15 to $6.25,
to the Labor Department's money bill. But the 32-25 tally did
not convince the House's GOP leaders. They said the amendment
broke parliamentary rules and vowed to strip it from the bill,
thus preventing a full House vote.
YPSILANTI - In an area dominated by low-level buildings, the 13-story critical care tower going up on the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital's 360-acre campus is difficult to miss.
The landmark building will be the largest and most visible symbol of the St. Joseph Mercy Health System's $100 million "Renewal Campaign." The money will fund the construction of two new patient towers and the nearby 60,000-square-feet Surgery Pavilion.
When construction is complete in 2011, the hospital will have a total of 750,000 square-feet of more efficient space - a gain of about 100,000 square-feet.
"A crane visible from nearby U.S. 23 serves "as a reminder that St. Joe's is on the Road to Renewal and, through these construction projects, is renewing its mission to heal body, mind and spirit and to improve the health of our communities," said William B. Holmes, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Development Committee chairman.
The renewal theme for transforming health care delivery at the hospital provides a reminder for how quickly medical care is changing. St. Joseph's hospital was built in 1977, but emerging technologies, new health care practices and patient desires have made their patient and surgical areas outmoded.
Thomas Tocco, St. Joseph Mercy Health System's director of facilities and engineering, said a number of issues tilted the decision in favor of building new patient room and surgical space instead of performing renovations:
The building process for the tower, which began last year, is being managed by Christman Construction. St. Joe's will replace its existing patient rooms in phases, which will ensure that all hospital beds remain in service throughout construction. The new 13-story critical care tower, will include 324 hospital beds and 36 select specialty beds. A seven-story patient building with 216 beds will also be constructed. The hospital will demolish some of its existing in-patient bed facility to make room for one of the new towers. The hospital is also getting a new entrance, atrium and chapel.
The hospital complex's heating, cooling and electrical systems are being upgraded, with the installation of two 1,500-ton chillers and five new emergency generators.
Barton Malow is managing construction at St. Joe's new surgery pavilion, which will allow the hospital to double the size of 16 operating rooms in the main OR to accommodate state-of-the-art and evolving equipment and procedures and increase patient prep/recovery space. A massive infrastructure of wires will link health care personnel throughout the complex. All the work is set for completion in 2011.
"We're well situated in the Ann Arbor area, we're fortunate to have a wealth of good subcontractors and trades people," Tocco said. "We will be well-served for many years."
Some 280 Hardhats are working on the project - 200 on the 13-story tower (set for completion in August 2007) and another 80 at the surgical pavilion (which should be ready for patients in mid-December).
"We've had really good cooperation from the subs and the trades, and you couldn't ask for a better owner," said Michael Adler, project superintendent for Christman. "Things have gone really well."
Tocco said the team involved in the new design "made dozens of road trips to get best practices from health care facilities around the country, " looking for ideas on how to improve patient services and maximize movement efficiency for employees. Even a group of "alumni" patients provided input.
"There's not one authority in the country that knows everything, and has the perfect facility," Tocco said. "But we're going to be right out in front."
Nonresidential powers U.S. construction gains
Nonresidential building maintained the upward trend witnessed so far in 2006, and it was accompanied by growth for nonbuilding construction (public works and electric utilities). At the same time, McGraw-Hill said, residential building continued to "gradually settle back" from its record pace of the past year.
During the first five months of 2006, total U.S. construction on an unadjusted basis was $276.9 billion, a 9% gain compared to the same period a year ago.
"On balance, construction activity has held up quite
well this year, making the transition from a housing-led expansion
to one where growth is coming from other sectors," stated
Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill
Construction. "The plus for nonresidential building has
been healthier market
By geography, total construction in 2006's January-May period
reflected the following behavior - the West, up 17%; the South
Central, up 12%; the Midwest,
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) today last month that it has reached an agreement with The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) for the development of a set of standard industry schemas for exchanging electronic data among computer software applications, in order to increase efficiency and collaboration among facility owners and design and construction professionals.
The development of the software, said AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr, 'has the potential of saving contractors countless hours of data-entry, which can lead to hard-dollar savings. This robust solution will also support the differing office applications employed by various segments of the construction industry."
Called AGCxml, it will be a document exchange standard to enable any software products or tools using AGCxml to exchange information in a manner that is recognizable between authors using different software systems. Included will be software designed for generating construction contract documents, project management, accounting or related construction work-flow systems.