Housing starts improve in April
Housing starts increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 717,000 in April, up 2.6% from the upwardly revised March figure, and up almost 30% from April 2011.
The April Residential Construction from the Commerce Department report showed surprisingly strong housing starts combined with a decline in housing permits — just the opposite of the March 2012 report. In April, building permits declined 7.0% to a rate of 715,000, after hitting a three-year high in March.
Single-family starts were at a rate of 492,000 in April, up 2.3% from March, and up 18.8% from the same month a year ago.
On a regional basis, the Midwest showed a surge of year-over-year single-family starts, up 41.5%. In the West, single-family starts declined 3.1% on a month-to-month basis. The rest of the regions reflected the national averages.
March’s data was revised upward from a previously reported rate of 654,000 total housing starts, to a revised 699,000.
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Labor Department ramps up wage and hour enforcement
The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) wage and hour enforcement has become markedly more aggressive under the Obama administration, according to Paul DeCamp, former administrator of the Wage and Hour Division under President George Bush and now an attorney at Jackson Lewis’ Washington, D.C., regional office.
Speaking at the 2012 Jackson Lewis Corporate Counsel Conference in Washington, D.C., on May 11, DeCamp said the division’s investigators are being instructed to seek civil penalties even in a first investigation of a worksite. He described this as unusual, saying penalties used to be only for second or third violations.
DeCamp said he’s also seeing a broader effort to resolve claims on an enterprise-wide basis. It used to be that an investigation would be resolved at a site. Now if there is a violation at a site, a companywide investigation may follow.
He said there are 50 percent more federal wage and hour investigators now than in 2008, when there were just 1,208 investigators.
Industries targeted in Fair Labor Standards Act (the law governing pay and work hours) class actions and Wage and Hour Division investigations include:
• Construction, specifically residential construction;
• Corporate parent/subsidiary;
• Hospitality, specifically food/beverage and housekeeping;
• Home health care;
• Child care;
• Meat/poultry processing;
• Staffing companies; and
• Gentlemens’ clubs.
Increasingly, class-action wage and hour complaints name individual officers, such as vice presidents of HR, and managers as defendants, DeCamp noted. Courts have been reluctant to dismiss claims against individuals who arguably had some role in setting or implementing the policies at issue, particularly where there is an ownership interest, he noted.
Exempt positions scrutinized more closely
Positions receiving particular scrutiny in the professional exemption include accountants, engineers and information technology. “There is a lot of activity with the professional exemption,” DeCamp remarked.
The executive exemption hasn’t seen as much attention, he said, but there have been challenges to the classification of retail and restaurant store managers and assistant managers under this exemption as well as construction superintendents.
The amorphous administrative exemption is the hardest exemption to satisfy, he said, noting that mortgage underwriters, mortgage loan officers and “everybody else” who fits in this exemption is being targeted by the DOL and plaintiffs’ attorneys.
DeCamp highlighted timekeeping practices that can lead to class actions, including:
• Automatic meal deductions;
• Supervisors editing employee time;
• Required early arrival;
• Off-the-clock pre-shift meetings; and
• Off-the-clock shift exchange.
The automatic meal deduction is only unlawful if a meal is not taken, but often the DOL will conclude it has not, particularly in the health care industry, he noted.
In addition to complying with the FLSA and state wage and hour laws, Decamp recommended that employers tell employees that if their time records are not accurate, they should let employers know immediately.
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Illegal aliens and their
Illegal aliens and their underage kids cover the job sites that we deliver to, but I get a $5000 fine for my daughter working 15 minutes too long (8 hrs & 15 Min)on a busy Saturday when she was 15. The Feds won't investigate even when we tell them whats going on and where. What's wrong with this picture???
Home Depot lawn products are golden in Q1
Home Depot’s Craig Menear, executive VP merchandising, shared details and data from a first quarter that saw double-digit comps in certain seasonal product categories.
Overall, Home Depot saw comp-store sales increase 5.8% in the first quarter of strong sales and earnings growth.
A long list of products were described as double-digit comp generators, including walk-behind mowers, riding mowers, lawn accessories, soils and mulches. “Warmer-than-expected weather allowed customers to complete exterior projects and begin spring projects early,” he said, estimating a 300 basis point boost for U.S. comps due to the weather.
Double-digit comps in decks were also reported in pressure washers, siding, gutters, portable outdoor power, roofing, exterior paint, windows and fencing.
Only two departments failing to generate positive comps in the quarter — plumbing, which was flat, and kitchens, which were slightly negative.
“The core of the store continues to perform,” Menear said. “And we saw positive comps in fasteners, electrical repair, portable power, door locks and pipe and fittings.”
Among the new merchandising initiatives coming to or already on Home Depot shelves are new load center value packs for electronics in the home; Sharkbite dishwasher hook-ups; and new brushless motor technology in power tools from Makita and Milwaukee.
Menear also said the stores are seeing recovery of the pro business. Historically, pro sales account for about 30% of the company’s overall sales.
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