Briefcase Departments

Briefcase

Paid Sick Leave Sent to Study by Lawmakers
BOSTON — Backers of a bill that would require certain employers to offer workers earned paid sick leave acknowledged in recent months that it would be an uphill battle to get the legislation passed this session. They were proven right when the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing sent the bill to a study, according to the House clerk’s office, effectively killing its chances of becoming law this session, with the Legislature planning to recess at the end of July. The paid sick-leave bill was drafted by state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and released favorably this year from the Labor and Workforce Development Committee co-chaired by the Springfield Democrat. Paid sick-leave benefits for workers have become a perennial issue on Beacon Hill, backed by a broad coalition of organizations and lawmakers who argue that legislation would improve productivity, reduce turnover in the workplace, and drive down health care costs by allowing people to seek primary care during the day rather than visiting emergency rooms after hours. Many business groups, however, including the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, warn that forcing employers to provide certain benefits could discourage hiring at a precarious time for the economy. Coakley-Rivera’s bill would have allowed workers at companies with more than 10 employees to earn up to seven paid sick days a year, while employers with between six and 10 employees would have been required to allow employees to accrue up to five paid sick days. Business, however, strongly resisted mandating sick leave, warning the bill could cost the economy as many as 12,000 jobs and claiming that such policies are best established by employers.

Construction Employment Stagnates in June
ARLINGTON, Va. — Construction employment stalled in June as more former construction workers left the industry, according to an analysis of new federal data released by the Associated General Contractors of America. The lack of current job openings, along with the departure of experienced workers, suggests a potential skilled-labor shortage may be developing, construction association officials warned. “Employment in the construction industry has fluctuated within a very narrow range — 1% above or below the June level of 5.5 million — for more than two years now,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. While the latest figure was 14,000 higher than one year earlier, the June 2012 total was just 2,000 higher than in May and in June 2010. “Construction employment has essentially been stagnant for much of the past two years.” Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for former construction workers fell to 12.8%, the lowest June rate since 2008 and much better than the 15.6% rate in June 2011 or the 20.1% rate in June 2010, Simonson noted. He added that, over the past two years, nearly 750,000 experienced workers have either found jobs in other industries, returned to school, retired, or otherwise left the workforce. “It will be hard for construction firms to get those skilled workers back when demand picks back up.” There was little difference among construction segments in terms of recent job gains or losses, Simonson noted. Residential construction added 1,700 total jobs in June and 8,900 (0.4%) over 12 months. Non-residential construction firms lost 600 jobs in June but added 4,300 (0.1%) over 12 months. Within the residential segment, residential specialty trade contractors added 7,600 jobs for the month and 14,100 (1.0%) over the past year, reflecting ongoing strength in multi-family construction. In contrast, residential builders — mostly single-family homebuilders — lost 5,900 positions in June and 5,200 (–0.9%) over 12 months. Non-residential job gains for the year were concentrated among non-residential building contractors, which lost 1,000 jobs in the latest month but added 4,300 (0.7%) over 12 months. Heavy and civil-engineering construction firms shed 2,000 jobs in June and 1,800 (–0.2%) in the past year. Non-residential specialty trade contractors boosted employment by 2,400 since May but only 1,800 (0.1%) since June 2012. Association officials noted that one bright spot for the industry was the 27-month highway and transit bill the president recently signed into law. They said the legislation includes many significant reforms that will allow more existing transportation funds to be invested in highway and transit construction projects, as opposed to unrelated programs. “This measure will certainly help staunch the decline in construction employment among highway and transportation builders,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Congress understands that investing in infrastructure is one of the best ways to support growth within the private sector.”

Summit Focuses on Academic Advising
SPRINGFIELD — More than 70 community-college faculty and advisors met at the Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) campus to participate in an academic advising summit on June 22 to focus on advising as a collaborative approach. The summit workshops explored national best practices in academic advising, apprised academic advisors of National Academic Advising Assoc. (NACADA) services and resources that support more effective academic advising, and detailed how to improve both individual academic-advising skills and overall campus academic programs. Sessions included topics about career exploration and advising tools, introduced advisors to the Advising Is Teaching program, and discussed important updates to advising software. Keynote speaker Susan Kolls, associate director of Student Account Services at Northeastern University and a member of the NACADA board of directors, said students today are faced with a variety of challenges. They work hard both in and outside the classroom balancing school, work, and families; they struggle with financial issues; and many are in the military, often finishing their schoolwork while in the combat zone. “We’re looking at the whole student,” said Kolls. “None of our students are only students, and if we don’t look at the things that impact them, if we only look at the academic side, we can’t help them with the things outside of school.” Knowing a student’s background, Kolls said, can help advisors understand how a student is better, or less, able to cope with their situation. Through her interactive session, Kolls questioned how to get faculty, staff, and advisors to think about all of the contributing factors that impact a student’s success. According to Kamari Collins, STCC’s director of Academic Advising, the summit allowed advisors from the region to get together and start a conversation. “It was a good way to have everyone focus and strengthen our campus as a whole, and it was a great opportunity for us to share our best practices with our colleagues at the other community colleges.” The summit, made possible through the Board of Higher Education’s Vision Project Performance Incentive Grant, was available to the four community colleges in the Western Mass. Vision Project Exchange: Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College, and STCC. This was the first time STCC has hosted the summit.

Hiring Lukewarm in June
NEW YORK — Hiring was lukewarm last month, with employers adding jobs but not enough to bring the unemployment rate down. The economy added 80,000 jobs in June, the U.S. Labor Department reported, barely an improvement from the 77,000 jobs added in May. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate remained at 8.2%. Economists surveyed by CNN Money had expected to see employers add 95,000 jobs and the unemployment rate to remain unchanged. The labor market has been volatile this year, with job growth starting off strong in the first couple months of 2012. Then a disappointing slowdown in the spring led many to wonder whether the recovery was taking a turn for the worse. June’s weak growth added to those fears. The economy needs at least 125,000 jobs added each month just to keep up with population growth. Revisions from previous months also showed the economy gained 1,000 fewer jobs in April and May than originally thought. Overall, the job market has a long way to go to climb out of the deep hole left by the financial crisis. Of the 8.8 million jobs lost, only about 3.8 million have been added back. Roughly 12.7 million Americans remain unemployed, and 41.9% of them have been so for six months or more. Another 88 million out-of-work people were not even counted as unemployed because they didn’t look for a job in the last four weeks.

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