It’s time to think ahead in your landscape. If you want spring color as your pansy beds play out, host Walter Reeves has some suggestions on “Gardening in Georgia” Oct. 12 on Georgia Public Television.One trick to give a color contrast in a pansy bed is to underplant them with spring-flowering bulbs. Reeves shows how to plant bulbs in a pansy bed. He provides a list, too, of the ones that do best.Reeves takes a look at indoor ferns, too. He uses the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, N.C., as a backdrop to learn more about these primitive plants and their care in the home.Finally, Reeves points out that the luffa sponge you enjoy in your bath doesn’t come from the ocean but from a gourd you can easily grow in your garden. He shows how to grow the gourd and then how to make a sponge from its contents.”Gardening in Georgia” (www.gardeningingeorgia.com) is produced by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and GPTV. It airs twice each Saturday, at noon and 7 p.m.
By Brad HaireUniversity of GeorgiaGeorgia vegetable growers had a volatile 2006 growing season, says a University of Georgia expert. But for an industry ruled by strict supply and demand and the fickle fancy of Mother Nature, volatile is the norm. Vegetable supplies were too high or just right, prices were low or pretty good this year, said Terry Kelley, a vegetable horticulturist with the UGA Cooperative Extension.“The spring crop was anywhere from disastrous to tolerable,” he said.Due to Georgia’s subtropical climate, vegetables can be grown almost year-round there. Farmers are able to plant two crops of warm-season vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, squash and snap beans.Cool weather put the spring crop development behind, pushing it into the markets of vegetables grown further north, he said. Yields were good for peppers, for example, running as high as 32,000 pounds per acre. But pepper prices were bad due to an oversupply. Prices were as low as $6 per 23-pound box. Good prices would be double or triple that.Georgia’s spring snap bean crop was good. Average yields are usually around 140 bushels per acre, Kelley said, but some places reported fields with yields as high as 250 bushels per acre. Georgia watermelon growers saw both good yields and prices this year, he said. Yields were above the average of 35,000 pounds per acre. Prices didn’t reach the record of 24 cents per pound set in 2005. But they did stay above 10 cents per pound, which is good.Georgia’s fall crop, which is planted in late July, was hit hard by hot weather, Kelley said.“This held back the fall crop as tender transplants struggled in the heat to survive,” he said. “However, the fall crop has not been too bad for Georgia growers across the board.”Yields have been good, and prices have been better than in the spring, he said.Georgia and other U.S. vegetable farmers got some good international news recently regarding an important, but volatile, chemical fumigant they use to sterilize planting beds against diseases and problem weeds prior to planting.Methyl bromide will continue to be available to them through at least 2008, he said.In 1992, the United Nations Environmental Program began the phase-out of methyl bromide. The program was authorized by the Montreal Protocol, a treaty signed by the U.S. and more than 180 other countries to control ozone-depleting substances. The phase-out was to be completed by Jan. 1, 2005. Existing stockpiles could be used, but the U.S. wasn’t allowed to import or produce methyl bromide after that.A decision on November 3 by the Parties to the Montreal Protocol allows the United States to produce, through a critical-use exemption, about 827 metric tons of methyl bromide, about 18 percent of its 1991 baseline of 4,595 metric tons. An additional 3 percent can come from existing stocks, Kelley said.“While this was not all that the U.S. delegation requested, it was considered an optimistic conclusion to the round of discussion,” said Kelley, who helped the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association prepare and submit its critical-use exemption papers.The U.S. was granted its first exemption in 2003.The supply of methyl bromide available to farmers will continue to decrease, Kelley said. “And as supply continues to dwindle, prices will rise.”Georgia’s vegetable crop is worth about $850 million annually and ranks third or fourth in the United States, Kelley said.
Not every food brand has its own canning and packing facility. Neither does every supermarket or grocery brand. This was clear in two recent canned-food recalls for Castleberry’s and Lakeside Foods.Both recall lists run long, with concerns centering on the potentially deadly organism Clostridium botulinum, which produces the toxin-causing botulism. And both lists include brands from grocery stores found in Georgia.It’s not because several plants are having problems. Each case involves one cannery. And that makes finding problems easier, said University of Georgia Cooperative Extension food specialist Elizabeth Andress.“One of the good things is that cans do have codes,” Andress said. “So the processor can narrow it down to a problem of one run if the problem is equipment failure and just recall that.”In Lakeside Foods’ case, the recall was voluntary. A company press release reported that after routine monitoring, employees saw that 15,000 cases of 14.5-ounce French-style green beans “may have been under processed, and some cans may have leaked.”No botulism cases were reported.At Castleberry, however, two confirmed and two potential botulism cases triggered the recall on July 18. The suspect there was also under processing.The reason under processing is a problem is that certain foods such as vegetables have low acid content. If these aren’t fully processed in a can that has had all its oxygen removed, the organism that causes botulism starts producing the toxin when the can is stored at room temperature.That toxin is deadly. That’s why both companies have warned people to throw away these foods, even if the product doesn’t smell or look spoiled.Castleberry even tells them to dispose of the cans “by double-bagging in plastic bags that are tightly closed before being placed” in an outdoor trash can used for non-recyclable items.Andress warns against even opening the cans. Splashed on a counter or other surface, the product could spread the botulism toxin, which can enter the bloodstream through wounds or when eaten. If a surface is contaminated, the best way to kill the toxin is to clean the area with bleach.Not all vegetables carry the botulinum spore. But the potential is there.A “commercial canning process is based on the assumption” that certain organisms are present, Andress said. The botulism organism requires the most heat to kill harmful bacteria.That heat “is going to take care of any other harmful organisms,” Andress said. “Technically, other organisms do survive. But they cause no problems if the food is stored properly and they’re not harmful. They just spoil the food in the can if they do grow out.”The recalls involving canned food “are unusual because there are so many safeguards, especially with low-acid foods,” she said.Those safeguards make co-packing, or using one plant to process many labels of food, attractive. Often a company can’t afford the equipment and certified personnel to open its own facility, so it turns to packers such as Lakeside Foods and Castleberry. Co-packing also helps keep costs down for shoppers.It’s not just for large supermarket chains. Co-packing “is quite helpful for people getting started in specialty food production,” Andress said.That doesn’t mean that each label a cannery runs for a product is unique. Some may put 20 different labels on the same product. Others will run 20 different products with individual labels. It depends on the customer’s specifications.With the French-style green beans, for instance, the recipe for the Kroger’s brand may not be the same as the one for Ingles’ Laura Lynn or Winn-Dixie’s Thrifty Maid labels. But all their cans were processed before the cannery noticed a problem.“It reminds us that the process isn’t risk-free,” Andress said. “Somebody has to do the daily job of checking these records.”
By Jeffrey DorfmanUniversity of GeorgiaAfter several long years of financial angst, people the world over are weary from recession depression. The prolonged economic drag has plenty of pundits asking: “What in the world happened?” Many factors have been suggested, some agreed upon and others argued. But, to really understand what caused the severe recession that we have just experienced in the U.S. and around the world, we have to look back to the previous recession in 2001. The cause of that recession is clear: the dot-com bubble in technology stocks burst. Unfortunately, many Americans didn’t start investing in the stock market until the 1990s and had experienced nothing but rising stock markets. Making money seemed so easy. Losing money as tech stocks plunged was a new and unpleasant sensation. Many people decided they didn’t like it. Millions of Americans began looking for somewhere else to put some or all of their money. They found their place in real estate.Risky businessAs Americans poured trillions into home improvement and new home purchases — first homes, bigger homes and vacation homes — home prices soared. People discovered a new investment class—real estate—where you could make money faster than in the stock market and enjoy the asset at the same time. We replaced the dot-com bubble with a real estate bubble that was even bigger and had a dangerous flaw the stock-market bubble lacked: debt.The stock market crash in the Depression was made worse by the use of margin accounts which allowed investors to borrow money to buy stocks. With borrowed money, even a small drop in value can cause investors to lose everything. The government passed regulations to strictly limit using margins in stock investing. However, real estate had no such limits.Buyer confidence that housing prices would continue to climb led Americans to borrow lots of money to buy houses. They borrowed even more money in home equity to buy other stuff. Banks, in turn, borrowed money to lend out in mortgages. People looking to get rich (or at least have good jobs) went into homebuilding. Many became developers, often using borrowed money. Housing bust When things went bad, neither the homeowners, nor the homebuilders, developers or banks had much equity in the deals. The drop in home prices was enough to bankrupt many lenders, builders and developers, and to push homeowners into foreclosure. To compound things, during the last four years before the recession, people increased their non-mortgage debt by 25 percent. They entered the recession with little available credit for a cushion. At the same time, state and local governments allowed their budgets to grow rapidly as all the housing-boom-fueled tax revenue flowed in. Now people, banks and governments must go through a painful period of paying down debt and adjust to living on a smaller budget.Recessions are a reallocation of resources when the economy gets out of balance. We had too much investment and employment centered in construction, the financial sector and state and local government. With too much invested in a single sector of the economy, some investments must go bad (such as new homes that go unsold). A recession allows an economy to recoup what it can from the over-invested sectors and steer the money that is left into different, more productive sectors. It hasn’t been fun, but the worst is over. (Jeffrey Dorfman is an economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. This is part one of a three-part series titled Rising from Recession. In part two, he explains how Americans know the recession has ended. In part three, he looks to the future.)
Miles E. Waite, PhD, Principal Hydrogeologist and Owner of Waite Environmental Management, LLC, announces the opening of an environmental consulting firm in Burlington. The firm specializes in hydrogeological investigations, environmental site assessments, water supply permitting, and wastewater design and permitting.Waite has several years experience as a consulting hydrogeologist, operating in California, Colorado, and Vermont. He received his PhD in Geology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1998. Since that time, he has been working in the consulting field in the Burlington area. In addition to being a hydrogeologist, Miles is a Vermont liscenced Site Technician and designs residential wastewater systems.
For the second straight year, Rossignol has selected Tag New Media to design and develop its alpine product presentation.The Flash™-based 04/05 presentation introducesRossignol’s new product segmentation, and allows for multiple presentation modes, transitions, and uses. This years’ presentation was distributed on CD to dealers last month at SIA, a skiing industry trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. A French-version of the presentation is beingplanned for later this year.A sampling of the Rossignol 04/05 alpine product presentation can be viewed by visiting http://www.tagnewmedia.com/htm/portfolio/portfolio.php(link is external)Tag New Media, a leading web design and development studio, is focused on delivering value to its clients through thoughtfully conceived and appropriate interactive design and technology solutions.
B. Christopher Brown is pleased to announce the launch of Brown Builders Real Estate Investments LLC, a full service real estate investment advisory business with offices in Richmond and Burlington, Vermont. Brown Builders will provide individual investors with the opportunity to diversify their investment portfolios by offering a wide selection of professionally acquired and managed commercial real estate products. The advisory services of Brown Builders will cater to both experienced real estate investors who are looking for ways to maximize their portfolio by utilizing a Tenant in Common investment program in a 1031 exchange and to new investors who are looking for ways to participate as passive real estate investors.”Working as a builder/real estate investor for the past twelve years, I’ve come to recognize the importance of owning real estate in a diversified portfolio. Unfortunately, many investors overlook the “fourth asset class” when investing due to associated management responsibilities (toilets, tenants and trash). By focusing exclusively on the real estate market, I’ve identified a variety of passive investment strategies that are designed to maximize tax benefits, generate income and provide capital appreciation.”Investors who are interested in finding out more about building a diversified investment portfolio can visit www.brownbuilders.net(link is external) or call Chris Brown directly at (802) 434-2889.
(By Ed Barna, Vermont Business Magazine. 4.14.2010.) With the construction industry hit harder than most by the Great Recession and its “jobless recovery,” issues surrounding the anticipated $75 million reconstruction of the Champlain Bridge linking Vermont with New York, have had interested parties scrapping like drought-stricken animals at a waterhole. Just this week, Douglas rejected New York State’s plan for a PLA, citing factors that could hurt Vermont’s mostly non-unionized construction companies. In response, other politicians and labor unions said that it could save the project millions.Senator Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, Chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee said, “We should be exploring this opportunity, not just shutting the door without attempting to negotiate a resolution.” He, Senator Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and others said that the state could save $1.75 to $3 million. They have introduced a resolution today (see below) in the Senate to ask the governor to reconsider his decision. Vermont’s congressional delegation also supported the PLA.Meanwhile, representatives of construction companies see Douglas’ rejection of the PLA as positive news for Vermont workers and taxpayers.“Vermont Governor Douglas is standing up for workers and businesses by opposing this proposed union-favoring agreement for the Lake Champlain Bridge project. If a project labor agreement (PLA) is placed on this job, it will discourage, if not bar entirely, 9 out of 10 Vermont construction workers from competing. Our state needs job creation, not more unemployment,” said Mark Holden, president of the local Vermont chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.BackgroundTo some degree this debate simply might have resulted because New York will manage the project, as it has managed maintenance, even though Vermont and New York will share the non-federal part of the cost (80 percent federal-10 percent Vermont-10 percent New York). A similar but opposite situation applies to the Rouse’s Point Bridge to the north: both sides pay, but Vermont manages.The furor has arisen over whether non-union contractors, which prevail in Vermont, will be on the same footing as union contractors, which predominate in many parts of New York. Specifically, the controversy has focused on the likely use of a “Project Labor Agreement,” or PLA for short, to govern hiring, pay, conflict resolution and other matters during the construction of a new bridge.PLAs have been around for about 60 years in the public sector, and longer in the private sector. Both Bush administrations rejected them, the Clinton administration supported them, and most recently, in February of 2009, they were reinstituted under the Obama administration. This alternation, between labor-friendly Democratic presidents and management-minded Republican presidents, gives some idea of where the conflict lies.Both the Vermont and New York chapters of Associated General Contractors oppose the use of a PLA on the Champlain Bridge project, as do the two states’ chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors (the former’s members typically are more involved in road and bridge construction, while the latter’s membership includes more residential and commercial contractors). Maintaining the contrary position on PLAs are unions, and backing them have been Vermont’s congressional delegation: Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernard Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch.The three issued a joint statement on January 25 saying, “While it’s up to the State of New York to decide whether it will pursue a Project Labor Agreement, we believe the Champlain Bridge must be completed on time, on budget, and with fair wages and benefits paid to workers. Project Labor Agreements have consistently been shown to provide stability, efficiency, and productivity while ensuring fair compensation to all. These agreements will not prevent any Vermont contractor from successfully bidding on this project. We stand committed to putting Vermonters to work at decent paying jobs.”But the contractors’ organizations say that what happens after making a successful bid is so slanted toward the unions and so unworkable in terms of normal construction practice that Vermont companies may very well decide not to bid at all.Immediately following the Leahy-Sanders-Welch release, Brent Tewksbury, vice president of FR Lafayette, Inc in Essex, told the Burlington Free Press, “What really irked us is our congressional delegation went ahead and supported a project labor agreement and didn’t speak to any of us.”The AGC and ABC are urging the State of Vermont to take a more active role in preparations for the bridge project, to make sure the state’s overwhelmingly non-union contractors (said to be 96 percent) do indeed get an equal chance. According to New York sources, a possible PLA was going back and forth between the New York State Department of Transportation (NYS-DOT) and the Federal Highway Administration as of mid-March, the terms of which had not been revealed.So What Is A PLA?PLA’s were re-instituted by President Obama, with input from the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council, through Executive Order 13502 on February 6, 2009. An introductory section of the order states that “it is the policy of the Federal Government to encourage executive agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements in connection with large-scale construction projects ($25 million or more) in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement.”These pre-hire agreements require exact bidding (no overruns, no surprises), and prohibit strikes and lockouts and other work disruptions. They “set forth effective, prompt, and mutually binding procedures for resolving labor disputes arising during the project labor agreement,” and “provide other mechanisms for labor-management cooperation on matters of mutual interest and concern, including productivity, quality of work, safety, and health.”Any PLA must “allow all contractors and subcontractors to compete for contracts and subcontracts without regard to whether they are otherwise parties to collective bargaining agreements;” as much as to say, it is indeed true that non-union companies can bid.In its prefatory material, the Executive Order observes that on large projects involving many contractors, “A labor dispute involving one employer can delay the entire project. A lack of coordination among various employers, or uncertainty about the terms and conditions of employment of various groups of workers, can create frictions and disputes in the absence of an agreed-upon resolution mechanism.”The other rationale would not seem to apply well in Vermont: “Construction employers typically do not have a permanent workforce, which makes it difficult for them to predict labor costs when bidding on contracts and to ensure a steady supply of labor on contracts being performed.” Vermont firms do have such workforces, plus in a recessionary environment they may have laid-off personnel they can call back. Beyond that, typically they have subcontractors with whom they have worked before, so that the effective size of a project workforce expands and contracts in a way that is both efficient and well-coordinated.Having such subcontractor relationships, and having well-worked out supply chains and project management, are keys to making competitive but realistic bids. But on a PLA job, say the critics, all hiring must be done through the union hall. If employees temporarily become part of the union to find work, then they will pay union fees for retirement, training, lobbying, etc that they will have to leave behind when they drop their union memberships.According to Fred B Kotler, associate director of the Construction Industry Program at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the all-union provision hasn’t been that strictly interpreted in practice.“Hiring is conducted through union referral procedures,” he wrote, but “nonunion subcontractors are often permitted to retain a defined percentage [“core” group] of employees outside of referral procedures.”The Executive Order describes a PLA as “a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more (emphasis added) labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.” Conceivably, ongoing negotiations regarding the specific PLA for the Champlain Bridge may be trying to establish a middle ground along such lines.At The Fight, A Hockey Game Broke OutThe conflict over the use of PLAs subdivides into specific issues, themselves much contested.For non-union contractors, it may seem to defy common sense to say that PLAs help bring down the cost of major projects. (Note that the foregoing does not say “public projects;” PLAs have also been employed, so to speak, in the private sector, for instance by British Petroleum, General Motors, Toyota, and Disney, observes the NYS Building and Construction Trades Council.) Isn’t higher pay the main rationale for paying union dues? Isn’t it true that on union jobs, an idle worker can’t assist at another work site because of contract work rules?The website TheTruthAboutPLAs.com, maintained by the ABC, asserts that “A 2006 study conducted by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University found that the use of PLAs on school construction projects in New York increased the cost of the projects by 20 percent.” A 2001 study by Ernst & Young commissioned by Erie County in New York found that “bidder participation was diminished because the county chose to utilize a PLA…the use of PLAs strongly inhibits participation in public bidding by non-union contractors and may result in those projects having artificially inflated costs.”Jeff Potvin, president of the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council, countered in a newspaper commentary, “There are well over 20 studies by academia that show PLAs deliver responsible economic development and do not drive up costs.” And they can help local development by keeping hiring local: “Where was the AGC when the Richmond Bridge, Vermont’s first American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project, was built by an out-of-state contractor who was under no obligation to use local workers?”Cornell’s Kotler said, “PLA opponents argue that PLAs limit the pool of bidders and that this drives up costs. There is no evidence to support these assertions. While there are many reasons why contractors – both union and non-union – may choose not to bid on particular projects, there are no studies demonstrating that a PLA in the bid specifications is itself responsible for a decrease in the number or bidders; there is also no analysis showing that fewer bidders translates into higher actual project costs.”Kotler took note of, but blasted, the aforementioned Beacon Hill study.“One particularly vocal critic of PLAs is the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University [Massachusetts], a “free-market”-oriented think-tank founded in 1991 by Massachusetts millionaire and politician Ray Shamie. Beacon Hill published a study in 2006, Project Labor Agreements and Public Construction Cost in New York State, which analyzed 117 public school construction projects conducted in New York State since 1996. Of the 117 projects, 19 were conducted using PLAs.”“Beacon Hill’s conclusions should be dismissed as not credible for these reasons: 1) the study focuses on bid costs not actual costs; and 2) it fails to segregate labor costs or account for various factors that influence project costs,” Kotler went on. Including bids that could have been rejected as unrealistic based on the bidder’s background, and failing to compare labor costs with those of other projects, slanted the conclusions, he said.“The 14-page report is notable for what it does not include,” Kotler continued. “There are, for example, no data broken down by the 117 schools it claims to have sampled, no detail about the nature and size of each project, no comparison of similarly-situated projects performed with and without a PLA…Beacon Hill focused on the size of the project in square feet but did not account for such important determinants of cost as these: whether the work involved new construction or renovation, site preparation, laboratories, classrooms, kitchens, lunchrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums, or audio/visual facilities…(T)he study didn’t account for the likelihood that many PLA projects will be more complex, involve more amenities, be larger and operate under time constraints that can impact costs and that these same considerations are at issue when PLAs are authorized in the first place.”“What PLA opponents have consistently failed to demonstrate is that the PLA is itself responsible for a project’s increased costs,” Kotler concluded. That was also the case for a project in Beacon Hill’s back yard: the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel (“Big Dig”), then the largest public works project in American history, estimated at $2.3 billion in 1983 and pegged at $13.6 billion in 2000. “PLA opponents, including the Beacon Hill Institute, sought to pin the project’s mounting costs and overruns on the project’s PLA. This was not only simplistic. It is not true. The Massachusetts Transportation Authority conducted an extensive post-job analysis in 2007, a history of the project’s costs. At no point are labor costs or the PLA identified as responsible for the project’s increased costs. A US Department of Transportation fifty-page Task Force report in 2000, written in response to concerns about the project’s escalating costs, also found no correlation between the PLA and the cost increases.”As an example of how PLAs save money, Kotler cited New York City’s Department of Education 2005-2009 $13.1 billion School Construction Authority Five Year Capital Program. Consultant Hill International determined that by the end, taxpayers had been saved more than $221 million.Concerns over rights and fairness have also motivated opponents of PLAs. Statements by area construction executives may illustrate the tenor of the reaction.Don Wells of DEW Construction in Williston has said, “People that run open shops take a lot of pride in what they do and the services and benefits they provide to their employees. Typically what happens in a Project Labor Agreement is you lose your right to negotiate with your own employees.”Andrew Martin of Pizzagalli Construction in South Burlington has said that PLAs cost non-union workers when part of their pay goes to support union programs unrelated to the project.“You’re going to have to pay as an open-shop contractor into those benefits set up in the PLA, but you’ll never see any of those benefits if you’re not in the union,” he said.On the New York side, Ted Luck of the Luck Brothers highway contracting company in Plattsburgh predicted that “(l)ike the Global Foundries chipfab plant in Malta, a PLA on the Champlain Bridge project will guarantee that labor is imported from far away since there isn’t enough local union labor to meet the ambitious time schedule on the bridge. Why should my employees at Luck Brothers be denied the right to participate in this project just because they are nonunion?”In a release from the Empire State Chapter of ABC, president Rebecca Meinking alleged that “Special interest PLAs result in increased costs and reduced competition. PLAs deny taxpayers the accountability in public works projects they deserve from government.”“This area of New York State – Essex and Washington Counties – and the State of Vermont are largely served by nonunion contractors,” Meinking said. “More than 70 percent of the construction workforce in this area of New York and 95 percent of Vermont’s construction workers do not belong to a construction labor union, according to government data. The use of a PLA will actually mean that the majority of local labor will be shut out of the opportunity to work on this bridge replacement project in a time when the unemployment rate in the construction industry is 24.7 percent nationwide, and even higher in the areas where this bridge project is located.”Mark Holden, president of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc, based in Concord, NH, said that he sees a larger pro-union agenda in the use of PLAs.“Project labor agreements, established years ago to create harmony and reduce disruptions among construction trade unions on union-only projects, have today become politically motivated market recovery programs for the construction trade unions. In Vermont, statistics for 2009 show total construction trade employment at 13,987 with 625 or 4.5 percent being union members. A project labor agreement is authorized discrimination against nine out of 10 Vermont construction workers who choose not to join a union. Great news with construction employment at over 20 percent.”Holden pointed out that a PLA is not necessary to govern wages on the Champlain Bridge project, because it would fall under the federal Davis-Bacon Act. Since the 1930s, that law has required that workers on federal projects be paid the prevailing wage in that county – which would probably be to Vermont’s advantage if the bridge project was deemed to be based in New York.Critics of PLAs are likely to cite a study by John R McGowan, professor of accounting at St Louis University, titled, “The Discriminatory Impact of Union Fringe Benefit Requirements on Nonunion Workers Under Government-Mandated Labor Agreements.” (The title is somewhat misleading: PLAs are “encouraged,” not mandated, says Kotler – the word used in the Executive Order – and for one to be used in New York, “(t)he burden is on the New York public owner to demonstrate, typically through a consultant’s feasibility or due diligence report, that a PLA has a proper business purpose, that it will provide direct and indirect economic benefits to the public and promote the particular project’s timely completion.”)In the executive summary to his 2009 report, McGowan said that, “The economic disadvantages faced by nonunion employees and employers related to a PLA’s fringe benefit requirements explains why many nonunion construction companies are discouraged from participating in the bidding process for government-mandated, union-only PLA projects.” The problems came in three areas, he said:– Nonunion workers lost $184-$613 million in pay for all federal PLA projects, the figure depending on assumptions. Money sent to union pension funds, etc reduces take-home pay about 20 percent.– Nonunion contractors pay extra costs, by a factor of 25 percent or more, to work under PLAs. Had the Executive Order been in effect during 2008, such losses would have amounted to $230-$767 million, again depending on assumptions.– “Nonunion contractors will face increased and unnecessary exposure to pension fund liability if they perform work under PLAs, including possible withdrawal liability when the project is completed.”VBM asked the offices of Vermont’s two Senators and Representative if there was someone on their staffs who could explain their support for PLAs and respond to anti-PLA assertions about them. The only such source was someone connected with Senator Bernard Sanders, but he does not go on record to make statements, and in any case he was out of the office and unavailable. The question was referred to Jeff Potvin, president of the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council.Potvin agreed that PLAs support unions, but said that was not a bad thing.“They can look at it that way, I suppose,” he said, “but it could be a lot better than that. (Nonunion contractors) could just sign as unionized contractors and their employees would get all those benefits.”In Potvin’s view, the higher labor costs said to exist on PLA contracts are the same as paying local workers living wages. Those workers are also members of the general public, and the money benefits people generally when it goes into local circulation and has an economic multiplier effect.The higher cost argument can be turned around to say that nonunion workers are being exploited in non-PLA projects, he said. Were construction workers being exploited in Vermont? “In some cases, not in all cases,” Potvin said. The worst problem comes when, on non-PLA jobs, workers are brought in by out-of-state contractors and those in the region get paid nothing on that job, he said. He prefers the term “community workforce agreement,” under which “you have to hire from within the community.”It’s wrong to think that Vermont’s trade union are working at cross purposes to the interest of contractors, Potvin said.“I work hand-in-hand with my contractors,” he said (Potvin is the business manager of UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 693 and serves on the Vermont Apprenticeship Council, as well as heading the Building Trades Council). Notably, hourly pay includes 70 cents that goes toward union-run professional training for the workforce, he said.“We’re just trying to do the right thing for our workers and for our contractors,” Potvin said. “They want to be able to hold their own on a level playing field.”And VTrans?“We are on record with New York as thinking that a PLA is not necessary,” said Secretary of Transportation David Dill. New York does think that if a PLA is justified, it must be managed so as not to be unfair to Vermont’s overwhelmingly nonunion companies, he said.“I just don’t see a PLA as being a part of this process.” He added, “I may be wrong.”Potvin may have spoken for many when he said, “I’m waiting to see what happens.” Holden, too, may have expressed the general feeling when he said, “The devil’s in the details.”In any case, there may be plenty of non-PLA work to go around in the near future, at least if the Obama administration can persuade Congress to continue making infrastructure improvement the keystone of economic recovery. According to the VTrans 2009 annual report on structures, of 2,688 bridges in the state, 464 are “functionally obsolete,” 494 are “structurally deficient,” and 139 have posted restrictions due to structural problems.Ed Barna is a freelance writer from Middlebury.Senate ResolutionBy Senator Shumlin,Senate resolution urging the Douglas administration to reconsider its decision to reject the implementation of a Project Labor Agreement for the new Lake Champlain Bridge.Whereas, the construction of the new $75 million Lake Champlain Bridge between Crown Point, New York and Chimney Point, Vermont is one of the largest transportation projects in Vermont in decades, andWhereas, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) has proposed that the two states adopt a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to ensure that work proceeds effectively and without conflicting labor contract provisions, and at the lowest possible cost, andWhereas, a PLA is a negotiated, pre-hire, collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project, and pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order 13502, federal agencies are encouraged to use PLAs in connection with large-scale, federally financed construction projects, andWhereas, according to testimony before both the Senate Committees on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and on Transportation, harmonizing conflicting labor agreements takes on added importance on the Lake Champlain Bridge project because many of the trades working on the project are expected to be union trades, each with its own collective bargaining agreement with terms that may conflict with agreements of the other trades, andWhereas, before issuing the draft PLA, the NYSDOT commissioned Arace & Company Consulting, LLC, an outside expert firm with no financial stake in the project to conduct an analysis of the PLA’s impact, and the analysis concluded a PLA will harmonize conflicting contracts on this particular project, and save an estimated $1.75–$3.0 million, andWhereas, the cost savings achieved with a PLA result when labor unions agree to forego overtime and other contract benefits in exchange for an opportunity to work on a project, andWhereas, without a PLA, there is no guarantee that Vermonters and New Yorkers will be employed on the $75 million project, thus preventing qualified Vermonters who work in the building trades from benefiting from a major employment opportunity in this region, andWhereas, PLAs have been used successfully in other states, andWhereas, the Douglas administration has directed the Vermont Agency of Transportation not to negotiate a PLA, andWhereas, this refusal is based on the mistaken premise that the PLA will prevent nonunion Vermont subcontractors from applying for work on the project, andWhereas, some Vermont subcontractors have opposed the PLA on “philosophical grounds,” now therefore be itResolved by the Senate:That based on available information, the proposed Project Labor Agreement will reduce the overall cost of the project and help to ensure Vermont and New York residents will obtain some of the work on the project, and be it furtherResolved: That the Senate of the State of Vermont urges the Douglas administration to reconsider its decision not to attempt to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement for the new Lake Champlain Bridge, and be it furtherResolved: That the Secretary of the Senate be directed to send a copy of this resolution to the Secretary of Administration.
Governor Jim Douglas was in Iraq today with a delegation of governors to meet with troops and receive a first-hand update about the situation in Iraq. The Governor departed from Andrews Air Force Base yesterday after meeting with Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn and visiting Walter Read Army Medical Center during the day. He arrived at Baghdad International Airport this morning and had an opportunity to meet with soldiers, including Vermonters, at Camp Victory and Al Faw Palace. During the day he also received a briefing from Lt. General Kenneth Hunzeker, the Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq and the NATO Training Mission in Iraq and had a hands-on MRAP vehicle demonstration. ‘The Vermonters who have served and who are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are an inspiration to us all,’ said Governor Douglas. ‘The sacrifices our troops and their families back at home have made to bring peace and security to this region of the world are tremendous. It is a privilege to be able to see firsthand the work they have done in Iraq.’ Travelling with Governor Douglas are Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA), Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), Governor Jay Nixon (D-MO) and Governor Mike Rounds (R-SD). This is the Governor’s second visit to Iraq. He first visited in March of 2006.Source: Governor’s office. 7.21.2010
NBT Bank,NBT Bancorp President and Chief Executive Officer Martin Dietrich today announced that former Vermont Governor James H Douglas has been appointed to the company’s board of directors. NBT Bancorp entered the Vermont market in 2009 with the opening of its NBT Bank Vermont Regional Headquarters in Burlington under the direction of Regional President Matthew Durkee. Today, NBT Bank operates two branches in Vermont ‘ one at its regional headquarters and a second that recently opened in Williston.‘I share with NBT Bancorp a common interest in creating a bright future for our local communities,’ said former Governor Douglas. ‘I am looking forward to contributing to the company’s overall growth and development while offering support specific to NBT’s efforts to expand the banking and financial services it offers to the Vermont marketplace.’Douglas has been serving the people of Vermont for more than 35 years. He served as governor of Vermont since his inauguration in 2003 until earlier this month. During his tenure, he focused on strengthening the state’s economy, reducing the cost of living in Vermont and protecting the state’s natural environment. Prior to serving as governor, he was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives and acted as assistant majority leader and majority leader in his second and third terms, respectively. He also served as secretary of state for 12 years and state treasurer for eight years.In addition to his positions in Vermont state government, Douglas served in key national leadership positions. He is the immediate past chairman of the National Governors Association. In February 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Douglas co-chair of the Council of Governors. He has also been active in a number of community organizations over the years including town moderator for Middlebury, VT, a post he has held for more than twenty years.‘Jim Douglas has proven to be an invaluable leader to the people of Vermont and that is a streak we look to continue with his appointment to our board of directors,’ said Dietrich. ‘His unique understanding and perspective on market dynamics will aid NBT Bancorp’s ability to positively develop the ways in which we serve the communities of Vermont and those across our footprint.’Albany-area businessman Timothy E. Delaney has also been appointed to the NBT Bancorp Board of Directors. Delaney has been affiliated with NBT Bancorp since 2006, when he joined the NBT Bank Board of Directors concurrent with the Company’s acquisition of the Gloversville, NY-based CNB Bancorp. He is the founder and president of The Delaney Group, Inc., a Tetra-Tech company, located in Mayfield, NY.NBT Bancorp Inc. is a financial holding company headquartered in Norwich, NY, with total assets of $5.3 billion at December 31, 2010. The company primarily operates through NBT Bank, N.A., a full-service community bank with two divisions, and through two financial services companies. NBT Bank, N.A. has 124 locations, including 85 NBT Bank offices in upstate New York, two NBT Bank offices in northwestern Vermont and 37 Pennstar Bank offices in northeastern Pennsylvania. EPIC Advisors, Inc., based in Rochester, NY, is a full-service 401(k) plan recordkeeping firm. Mang Insurance Agency, LLC, based in Norwich, NY, is a full-service insurance agency. More information about NBT and its divisions can be found on the Internet at: www.nbtbancorp.com(link is external), www.nbtbank.com(link is external), www.pennstarbank.com(link is external), www.epic1st.com(link is external) and www.manginsurance.com(link is external).NORWICH, NY (JANUARY 26, 2011) ‘ NBT Bancor