September is National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month

National Recovery Month logoThe Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is sponsoring Recovery Month to raise awareness of alcohol and drug addiction and promote treatment options for individuals suffering from these problems.

People can believe the false notion that drug addicts tend to be unemployed or homeless, however 70%-75% of addicts have a job. One problem is that they often are not particularly good at that job. Often, addicts can be unreliable, failing to show up on time and having low productivity. There is an increased chance of theft including tools and materials such as copper. Employers must also be aware of the increased chance of accidents or workplace liability. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimated that drug use costs employers about $80 billion annually.

And construction has a higher than average drug use among employees. Nationally about 8.7% of people are current drug users. A study by SAMHSA indicated that about 15% of construction workers were current users. This included 17.2% of supervisors and 17.3% of other workers. For more information on what you can do for Recovery Month, click on the banner below.

 

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New Energy Codes in Massachusetts

Massachusetts put new energy codes into effect on August 12, 2016 which are mandatory January 1, 2017. In 2017, all building permits and formal documents must comply with the new energy codes.

The new energy code is based on the 2015 International Energy Code Council (IECC). The stretch code is also being updated and is broken into three types:

  • R-use buildings 4 stories or fewer shall comply with an approved energy rating index, such as:
  • Use of Energy Star Homes 3.1 Path; Passive House Institute US Approved software; Other BBRS approved Software or rating standard (RESNET approach
  • Large buildings and high energy buildings must better ASHRAE 90.1 by 10%

There is no standard energy code nationwide, so states use a various codes depending on their local regulations. With this change, Massachusetts will join other states like Vermont and Washington who are notably efficient under the 2015 codes, while California and Florida continue using 2012 codes.

IECC Residential Energy Codes by state
The map above depicts state by state residential energy codes. Massachusetts will switch from blue (IECC 2012) to green (IECC 2015) with these changes.

Map of Commercial Energy Codes by state

Commercial Energy Codes by state

 

Vermont jump starts Home Battery Marketplace

With apprehension about a potential energy shortage in the Northeast or the chance of dramatically rising energy costs, Vermont is betting on a new technology to help bridge the gaps.

Tesla home batteries cost about $6,500 for the hardware and the same or less for installation. It is typically hooked up to a solar panel or small wind turbine and can store about 6 hours of power for the average home. Vermont’s utility company Green Mountain Power is seeking to spur early adoption. The company purchased 500 Tesla batteries and is leasing them to customers. The arrangement allows the power company to draw from the Tesla batteries in exchange for providing a payment plan and small discount to customers who have them.

Tesla Home Battery

In an update to this story, IBEW Local #300 has announced that Green Mountain Power is signatory to their contract and has begun training its members on the installation of the Tesla Home Battery.

Read More Here.

BTEA Sponsors Braintree Super Saturday Golf Tournament

 

Recently, the BTEA was proud to help sponsor an event to benefit Braintree’s Super Saturday program.   Super Saturdays is a social recreational program for students in Braintree, ages 8 and older who are serviced by the special education department.

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The BTEA was one of many sponsors who donated time, gifts or money for such a worthy cause.  Please consider doing your part at their website located here: Super Saturdays

ThankyouSuperSaturday

PBGC Issues New Pension Merger Rules

PBGC

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) has proposed new rules to govern the merger of troubled multi-employer pension plans.  The PBGC has authority under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA),
to support mergers if it benefits the failing plan without harming the stronger plan. In addition, PBGC can provide funding to promote a merger if it is needed to help plans avoid insolvency. Mergers help reduce administrative costs and increase pension security.

The MPRA was an attempt by Congress to provide PBGC better tools to deal with the growing issue of pension insolvency. The proposed rule is a logical interpretation of the MPRA giving reasonable options to troubled multiemployer pension plans.

The proposed rule provides guidance for requesting help in a merger. PBGC can provide financial assistance, technical assistance, and mediation. Also, the rule provides an informal avenue for multiemployer plan sponsors to explore merger discussions with the PBGC before filing a formal request. Finally, the proposed rule allows plan sponsors to apply for both benefit suspensions under the MPRA and a merger under the statute. The PBGC realizes that pension insolvency is not a zero-sum endeavor stating, “some plans may need both benefit suspensions and a financial assistance merger to become or remain solvent.”

The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on June 6. The deadline for submitting comments is Aug. 5.

Althlogo_pensionfund_br2ough the proposed rule is a commonsense step to facilitate pension mergers, many are still in precarious positions. The most prominent in the Central States fund whose emergency rescue plan was denied by the Department of the Treasury on May 6, 2016.

The Treasury Department found several issues with the methods Central States used in notifications to participants and in their proposal to cut benefits and reestablish financial stability.  Central States has announced that it will run out of money by 2025. As of the end of last year, the fund showed $16.8 billion in assets and $35 billion in retiree obligations. This is a 48% funding ratio.  That’s bad news because the average funding ratio for PBGC multiemployer plans in the construction industry was 44%.

Most experts believe that government action is the only way Central States will avoid bankruptcy.  However, given the national political scene this is unlikely, instead they are getting creative to cover the costs. For example, many employers have been exiting the plan due to its predicament.  Central States has increase the amount collected in withdrawal liability, the fee an employer pays to exit the plan.  Also Central States offers a Hybrid method where employers pay the withdrawal fee and remain in the plan, but are free from incurring any additional liability.

PBGC Funding
This shows why the PBGC is unable to guarantee the Multi-Employer Pension Plans it was designed to protect. Level funding and low collections are dwarfed by skyrocketing obligations.

 

New Balance HQ LEED Certified

Boston, or more accurately, Brighton, is home to one of most energy efficient buildings in the world! The 250,000 square foot New Balance HQ on Guest Street is one of only a few LEED Platinum certified buildings in Massachusetts. It was the first building in the US to achieve every possible indoor environmental quality credits.

LEED Platinum certification examines certain areas including: energy efficient design, water use reduction, sustainable site selection and development, responsible materials selection and waste management, and enhanced indoor environmental quality.  New Balance HQ was statistically superior to many other similar buildings.

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  • 26% annual energy cost savings when compared to a code-compliant building.
  • 35% reduction in water consumption of plumbing fixtures when compared to a code-compliant building.
  • 76% waste diversion during construction
  • 86% reduction in site runoff post-development when compared to pre-development.
  • 28% of material used in construction derived from recycled content.
  • 74% of material used in construction derived from a regional source.
  • 100% of wood used in construction was Forest Stewardship Council certified.
  • 30% higher ventilation rate when compared to a code-compliant building.

Based on these statistics it is clear that not only is the ownership devoted to LEED certification, but so were the contractors who achieved it.

Best of all, it was built by many of our BTEA members!

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New Silica Regulations Being Challenged

We have presented at length the new Silica Regulations released on March 25, 2016. Although the rule is scheduled to take effect on June 23rd, 2017 it is currently being challenged in the US Court of Appeals.  The consolidated case features various challenges from both labor and employers and is currently awaiting a decision from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among the employers filing challenges were the American Foundry Society; the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association; and the National Association of Home Builders. From labor groups, statements were filed by the AFL-CIO and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU).

All the employers asked for judgement on OSHA’s justification to set the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica at 50 micrograms, and whether complying with the PEL is technologically and economically feasible.  They also want judgement on OSHA’s preference for reducing silica exposure through engineering controls, such as wet cutting and indoor filter systems instead of workers using respiratory protection.

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The unions focused on requirements for when employers must offer silica exposure testing to workers and the rule not including a “medical removal” provision that would provide some job and pay protection for workers who can’t be exposed to workplace silica.

Currently compliance requirements are not until June 23, 2017.  However this could be moved back depending on the time it takes for the court to rule on these issues.

OSHA Warning on Heat Related Illnesses

Thousands become sick every year and many die due to heat-related illnesses.  With temperatures rising, prepare your employees for working outdoors in excessive heat.

They must know the signs of heat-related illness—

  • Heat Stroke is the most serious and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include: confusion, fainting, seizures, and hot, dry skin. CALL 911 at any sign of heat stroke.
  • Heat Exhaustion symptoms include: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. Heat fatigue, and heat rash are less serious, but are still signs of over exposure.

 

They also must know how to handle heat-related illness. If you can,

  • move the person to a shaded area
  • loosen his/her clothing
  • give him/her water (a little at a time)
  • cool him/her down with ice packs or cool water.

 

Water Rest ShadeBut the best way to beat the heat is through preventative measures that will help avoid these issues. Tell your employees to follow these procedures:

  • Hydrate every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty.
  • Rest in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Know the symptoms and what to do in an emergency.
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers.
  • Acclimate – be sure to get used to the heat and build up tolerance.  Many people who die from heat were either new or returning from a break.  If a worker has not worked in hot weather for a week or more, their body needs time to adjust.

 

 

Searching for Energy in Massachusetts

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are looking for energy sources to power Massachusetts into the future. With the news that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant will be closed by May 2019 and the rejection of Kinder Morgan’s $3.3 billion natural gas pipeline into Massachusetts, the Commonwealth must find additional energy sources. Experts estimate that 8,000 megawatts will be lost in the next four years.

At this critical juncture, advocates see an opportunity to push investment in renewable energy. In 2015 alone, two dozen renewable energy companies spent over $1.5 million pushing for greater diversification of energy sources. This push has already seen some results.

In April, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill raising the net metering cap on solar energy in the state. This after SolarCity spent $220,000 lobbying state lawmakers last year. However, solar power alone will not fill the need for energy in the Northeast. That’s why the Governor has been pushing for legislation to encourage utilities to purchase as much as 2,400 megawatts from Canadian hydropower plants.

windmillIn addition, lawmakers, including Rep. Thomas Golden (D-Lowell), see a new opening for the development of offshore wind power. Failed projects such as Cape Wind have provided lessons learned for a new crop of developers. Most now plan to build further out to sea where the turbines would not be visible from land. Detractors who have questioned the cost of wind power were also rebuffed by a University of Delaware study which concluded that the prohibitive factor in wind power was the initial installment of the transmission cables, but that once these investments were made, the cost of offshore wind would decline by 55% thereafter.

While lawmakers work on a new state energy plan, developers are pushing to require utilities to sell 2,000 megawatts of wind power over the next decade. At that scale, project costs are estimated at $10 billion. Smaller scale projects in Rhode Island have included union members from laborers, carpenters, electrical workers, ironworkers, elevator constructors, plumbers, pipe fitters, cement masons, operating engineers and stevedores.