The Department of Labor is considering a rule change designed to clarify the status of independent contractors under the existing Fair Labor Standards Act.
In a statement, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said that once the new rule becomes reality it will not only make it easier to identify employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards legislation, but will support “the freedom and entrepreneurialism associated with being an independent contractor.”
Independent contractors, long a presence in the construction industry as well as many other traditional businesses, make up anywhere from 7 to 10% of the country’s workforce, a percentage that work experts say has increased with the advent of what are known as “gig economy” jobs such as personal shoppers, food delivery drivers, and Uber and Lyft drivers.
The Labor Department’s rule change determination will center on what is called an “economic reality test” in gauging whether a given independent contractor is dependent on the company he or she is doing work for.
A second factor will focus on how much profit or loss control the contractor actually has.
If the proposed rule is finalized, it will mean that such contractors could be protected by wage and hour laws as defined under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The matter is one that is sometimes thorny, say employment experts.
In a statement, Scalia maintained that the rule change will not be aimed towards “classifying independent contractors as employees. In part, that’s because we recognize there are powerful reasons why some workers would prefer to be independent, rather than accountable to a company as its employee.”
The new proposed rule change comes with a 30-day public comment period that will end on October 22.
By Garry Boulard
The federal Department of Transportation is awarding $17.4 million in grant funding for the building of what is known as the 35th Avenue Safety Corridor Project in Phoenix.
The money is coming through the department’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.
The 35th Avenue corridor slices north to south through the middle of Phoenix, extending from Interstate 10 to Camelback Road.
It is a heavily used thoroughfare that also connects to the campus of Grand Canyon University.
But, according to city officials, it has never been a safe place for pedestrians, with 7 people killed in pedestrian/car accidents since 2014.
The corridor project will be designed to rebuild nine signalized intersections, expanding and raising medians, installing new LED street lighting, and adding defined pedestrian crosswalks.
The city also plans to build fiber optic cables up and down the 3.2-mile corridor that could be used in the future for bus rapid transit or automated vehicles.
Plans now call for the completion of a series of environmental surveys, with actual construction beginning in the latter part of 2022.
Total cost for the project is estimated at just under $25 million, with additional funding coming from state and local sources.
By Garry Boulard
Work could begin sometime early next year on the construction of a metal composite materials manufacturing plant in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
The Tainan City, Taiwan-based Xxentria Technology Materials Company wants to build a new facility for its operations on a 40-acre site inside the 2,600-acre Westpark Logistics Center business park.
The announcement comes after months of talks between the company and the New Mexico Economic Development Department.
Besides its Santa Teresa plans, Xxentria has said it will also build an additional facility in Chihuahua, Mexico.
That two-project approach, said Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes, speaks to a “greater opportunity to restore manufacturing to the United States and to collaborate with our neighbors and friends in Chihuahua.”
In a statement, Howard Chen, chief executive officer of Xxentria, said, “Establishing manufacturing operations in North America will allow us to better service our valued customers in the United States.”
The company, which began operations in 1994, produces everything from aluminum composite panels to galvanized steel for the international market, and has its U.S. offices in both San Francisco, as well as Kendall Park, New Jersey.
The company’s products have proven to be particularly popular in the U.S. architectural, transportation, and solar industries.
By Garry Boulard
There were just over 334,000 job openings this summer in the construction industry nationally, according to a new report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That number, from BLS’ end of July survey, is roughly 5 percent down from where it stood, at 353,000 openings, in the mid-summer of last year.
The report, officially called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, more troublingly reveals that total construction job openings from March through June of this year were off by 43% over the same period of time in 2019.
New hires in July at 463,000, meanwhile, represented only a marginal increase of 0.7% over the numbers recorded in July of 2019.
At the same time, layoffs and discharges as a percentage of the total employment picture, increased from 2.2% in July of last year to 2.5%.
Crunching the numbers for all industries, the latest BLS report notes that the “number of job openings increased to 6.6 million on the last business day of July.”
With the job separations and discharge rates decreasing, says the report, the latest changes in the labor market “reflect an ongoing resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it.”
The report additionally notes that job openings overall stood at 4.5% in July, significantly higher than the 3.8% recorded in March, during the first month of the Covid-19 outbreak and economic shutdown.
By Garry Boulard
With business booming nationally, the Quik Trip convenience store chain has just purchased a nearly 3-acre site in Gilbert, Arizona, with plans to build a new store there.
The reported purchase price for the property: just under $3.2 million.
That currently vacant site is located at 2366 S. Higley Road, at the busy intersection of Higley and Williams Fields Road, on the southeast side of Gilbert.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based corporation, with annual revenues in excess of $11 billion, to date has more than 800 stores in just under a dozen mostly Southern and Western states.
Its presence in Arizona has always been particularly strong with more than one hundred locations, including three that are already up and running in Gilbert.
Launched in 1957, Quik Trip was one of the first national convenience store chains to operate on a 24-hour basis. Its stores have traditionally measured around 4,000 square feet, but in recent years the company has expanded that format to 5,700 square feet, with larger kitchen and coffee shop space.
Earlier this year the company announced plans to build at least 50 new stores in the lucrative metro Denver market.
By Garry Boulard
Plans to build a new College of Nursing on the main Albuquerque campus of the University of New Mexico are expected to take a significant step forward if voters in November approve the statewide General Obligation Bond C.
That bond will provide some $30 million for the construction of a facility that will not only house the school’s nursing program, but also its College of Population Health.
In a statement, Christine Kasper, dean of the school’s College of Nursing, said the anticipated 84,500 square foot structure “will provide the space necessary to increase enrollment and graduate additional nurses.”
Kasper said the new structure will additionally help provide “an interactive education that encourages collaboration and improves patient outcomes for our great state.”
The current College of Nursing building, located at 2502 Marble Avenue, was completed in 1975 at a cost of $3.4 million and, according to UNM officials, has outlived its usefulness.
The College of Population Health is currently located at 2400 Tucker Avenue in the Family Medicine Center, which was built in 1977.
The state-wide $155 million General Obligation Bond C will provide funding for higher education facility construction and upgrading projects across New Mexico.
Altogether, it includes $51.4 million for a variety of facility projects at UNM’s main Albuquerque campus, as well as its branch campuses in Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos, and Valencia.
By Garry Boulard
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has approved legislation designed to promote energy efficiency in government buildings, while also promoting what is known as green infrastructure.
The Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, otherwise known as H.R. 4447, is now on its way to the full House for consideration.
The bill requires that all federal buildings will phase out the use of fossil fuels over the course of the next decade.
In so doing, the legislation hopes to achieve energy consumption levels that are “not less than 30 percent below” the levels established by the International Energy Conservation Code.
Another aspect of the legislation requires the Department of Energy to support the adoption of building codes by states and municipalities, while also providing technical assistance, training, and support for building industry professionals.
In addition, the bill will put additional funding into hydroelectric and advanced geothermal research and development programs.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said he expects quick action on the legislation, noting: “Our climate is changing and we not only need to take dramatic steps to slow the carbon pollution that has driven this climate crisis, but we must also seize the economic opportunities that this challenge presents.”
It is not known, if the legislation passes the House, when it will be taken up in the Senate.
By Garry Boulard
Construction could begin sometime next year on the building of a bridge in Gila County, Arizona that will span the rural Tonto Basin.
Residents attempting to cross the basin, which sometimes floods, have long petitioned state officials to have a bridge built, particularly after the drowning death of three children late last year.
Those children died when the vehicle they were in was swept away by the Tonto Creek’s powerful floodwaters. Two adults and several other children were able to get out of the vehicle in time.
Those deaths were added to another five people in the last two decades who had drowned trying to make it over what is called the Bar X Crossing, some 75 miles northeast of Phoenix.
Earlier this year, Arizona Department of Transportation officials said that while they wanted to see the structure built, there was not enough state funding for the project.
This spring, after Gila County officially submitted an application for funding, Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema wrote to the federal Department of Transportation, noting, “Heavy rainfall and snow melt frequently cause severe flooding on the Tonto Creek, limiting access to schools, jobs, and health care facilities.”
Now Arizona has secured up to $21 million in funding, money that is coming through the federal Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.
Gila County officials are hoping that construction of the new bridge can be completed by 2023.
By Garry Boulard
The county of Los Alamos has issued a Request for Proposals for the replacement of a transformer at the El Vado Hydroelectric Plant.
That plant is located in the town of El Vado, just below the famous El Vado Dam, which was built in 1935 and impounds the large Rio Chama.
While the dam is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, the 8-megawatt plant is owned by Los Alamos County, which built the facility in 1988.
Work on the plant transformer project will include removing the existing transformer, installing a new transformer with a required fast depressurization system, making all the necessary conductor connections, the removal and replacement of existing fencing and guard rails, and concrete removal and repair.
Earlier this year the Bureau of Reclamation awarded a nearly $17 million contract to the Roanoke, Virginia-based Carpi USA for a project designed to reduce seepage and erosion at the dam itself.
The RFP submission deadline for the hydroelectric plant transformer project is September 29.
By Garry Boulard
Despite several failed attempts to pass a new stimulus bill, members of Congress are saying that compromise legislation may still be in the offing before election day.
The most recent move to pass a bill failed due to a more than $1 trillion difference between Democrat and Republican stimulus proposals.
Although Democrats have continued to push for a bill with a roughly $2.2 trillion price tag, which would include just over $900 billion in relief for state and local governments, President Trump has now told reporters that he is willing to go as high as $1.5 trillion, adding: “Some Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with that.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a CNBC interview, said she is holding out for a larger proposal, explaining: “It’s stimulus. We are a consumer economy and the more we have, whether it’s food stamps or unemployment insurance, that is stimulus to the economy.”
Both Democrat and Republican leaders say they want to act soon on replacing the $600 weekly enhanced federal unemployment insurance payments that expired at the end of July.
New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, in a press conference, said he counts himself as among those who are pushing for a reinstatement of the $600, calling it a “financial lifeline” for millions of Americans.
Udall also noted that a larger stimulus bill will “send relief to state, local, and tribal governments.”
In a speech on the Senate floor, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, remarked: “There is no one single package of legislation that we can walk away from, spike the ball, and say that our job is done here.”
Gardner went on to note that Congress may end up passing several different versions of relief legislation, each targeting various areas separately, rather than one large bill.
The House is scheduled to take an election break beginning on October 2, with the Senate following on October 9. According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, new relief checks could be in the mail by the first week of November should Congress pass a bill before the scheduled breaks.
By Garry Boulard
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