Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index
A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for June 8, 2012
*Western – regional species perimeter foundation; Southern – regional species slab construction.
Crow’s Market Recap — A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.
Lumber: Trading was light in SPF lumber, but mills were able to fill enough railcars to limit the number of deals. Deals were spotty, and seemed more prevalent in the East. A perception that mills might be more open to lowering prices because of reductions in export taxes to the U.S. existed among buyers. Slow trading in the Southern Pine lumber market left prices weak, prompting producers to get out ahead of price declines by discounting trouble spots more deeply. Distributors let holes develop in inventories rather than purchase depreciating volumes. Eroded order files and spot buildups forced some deals to take place in the Coastal species lumber market. Even with the lower prices, success at selling those volumes that mills needed to move was mixed. The existence of a volume of shorts stirred the Inland lumber market. Talk centered on how deeply mills would have to discount in order to secure that business. Lack of obvious surpluses caused some industry members to say that covering those shorts would be difficult. Radiata Pine Mldg&Btr is tight on the supply side and has an extended delivery time, leaving prices firm. All other Radiata Pine prices are also firm and unchanged. Ponderosa Pine 5/4 Mldg&Btr is not difficult to find, but prices are holding steady. Some surpluses have been reported in Ponderosa Pine 5/4 #2 Shop. Activity in Selects and Commons was erratic, with some Ponderosa Pine producers adjusting the prices of C&Btr Selects to try to give those items a little momentum. Eastern White Pine producers report having good order files, some mills reporting being up to two weeks behind in shipping. Buyers were reported to be “sniffing” at Idaho White Pine offerings, hoping for discounts to develop.
Panels: OSB markets were strong in all regions, with no price declines showing anywhere and some sharp increases in other places. Canada showed the greatest gains, with most U.S. areas either holding steady from mid-week through the end of the week or pushing up slightly. Supply was the key driver in the Southern Pine plywood market. Where supplies were ample, producers tried varying degrees of aggressiveness to move product. Where supplies were tighter, mills were able to use the same price levels throughout the week. Solid, steady demand for Western Fir plywood prompted price increases at even those mills where extending order files was paramount. Attempts by some Canadian plywood producers to moderate their order files by pricing defensively proved fruitless, as buyers kept placing orders and forcing prices upward. Sales volumes remained steady in both particleboard and MDF markets. Mills producing both products often cited MDF as the frontrunner in market strength, but particleboard lead times and pricing also held up well.
California stores unite to recycle bulbs
A “Bring ‘Em Back” campaign in Alameda County invites consumers to return their used-up CFL bulbs and tubes to 18 participating hardware stores.
Among the participants are seven Orchard Supply Hardware locations, Dale Hardware, Pete’s Ace Hardware and a handful of others.
The Bring ‘Em Back program is supported by StopWaste.org. A fact sheet on the program’s website explains that when recycled properly, fluorescent bulbs result in lower overall mercury emissions, even though the bulbs contains small amounts of mercury vapor.
Widespread use of CFL bulbs “means that national mercury emissions will decrease, since the biggest source of airborne mercury in the U.S. is coal-burning power plants — which provide much of the electricity used in the U.S.,” according to the website.
NLRB takes sledgehammer to social media policies
In a May 30, 2012 report whose guidance is likely to be challenged in the courts, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cautioned that it believes that many clauses common in social media policies violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
While Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon’s report outlined six cases where it found clauses in employers’ social media policies to violate Section 7 of the NLRA, it provided in full one social media policy that was deemed lawful in its entirety.
Employers might assume that it’s OK to prohibit employees from disclosing confidential information on social media websites. That’s not necessarily so, according to the NLRB.
In a retailer’s social media policy, the NLRB took issue with the employer prohibiting employees using social media from releasing confidential guest, team member and company information.
Sound innocuous enough? Not to the NLRB, which stated that this phrase “would reasonably be interpreted as prohibiting employees from discussing and disclosing information regarding their own conditions of employment, as well as the conditions of employment of employees other than themselves — activities that are clearly protected by Section 7.”
In addition, it found unlawful provisions that threaten employees with discharge or criminal prosecution for failing to report unauthorized access to or misuse of confidential information. “Those provisions would be construed as requiring employees to report a breach of the rules governing the communication of confidential information set forth above. Since we found those rules unlawful, the reporting requirement is likely unlawful.”
So, what if the employer’s policy instead prohibits employees from revealing nonpublic company information on any public site? This would encompass any topic related to the financial performance of the company, information that has not already been disclosed by authorized persons in a public forum and personal information about another employee, such as performance, compensation and status in the company, another policy provided.
No, no, cautioned the NLRB. “Because this explanation specifically encompasses topics related to Section 7 activities, employees would reasonably construe the policy as precluding them from discussing terms and conditions of employment among themselves or with nonemployees.”
And the NLRB didn’t like a rule prohibiting employees from posting information regarding the employer that could be deemed “material nonpublic information” or “confidential or proprietary.”
‘Don’t pick fights’
In addition, the NLRB was troubled by social media policy clauses that recommended: “Adopt a friendly tone when engaging online. Don’t pick fights. Social media is about conversations. When engaging with others online, adopt a warm and friendly tone that will encourage others to respond to your postings and join your conversation. Remember to communicate in a professional tone. … This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory — such as politics and religion. Don’t make any comments about employer’s customers, suppliers, or competitors that might be considered defamatory.”
Sound reasonable? Not to the NLRB, which “found this rule unlawful for several reasons. First, in warning employees not to ‘pick fights’ and to avoid topics that might be considered objectionable or inflammatory — such as politics and religion, and reminding employees to communicate in a ‘professional tone,’ the overall thrust of this rule is to caution employees against online discussions that could become heated or controversial. Discussions about working conditions or unionism have the potential to become just as heated or controversial as discussions about politics and religion. Without further clarification of what is ‘objectionable or inflammatory,’ employees would reasonably construe this rule to prohibit robust but protected discussions about working conditions or unionism.”
So, what exactly can an employer say in its policy?
An employer may prohibit users from posting anything on the Internet in the name of the employer or in a manner that could reasonably be attributed to the employer without prior written authorization from the president or the president’s designated agent.
And it’s OK to have a prohibition on representing any opinion or statement as the policy or view of the employer or of any individual in their capacity as an employee.
The report concluded with a verbatim copy of a social media policy approved in full. That policy provides that employees must:
• Know and follow the rules;
• Be respectful;
• Be honest and accurate;
• Post only appropriate and respectful content; and
• Not retaliate.
And some language about confidentiality apparently is lawful, as the NLRB approved this policy’s statement that employees “maintain the confidentiality of employer trade secrets and private or confidential information. Trade secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.”
The employer could require employees to respect financial disclosure laws when online and to not create a link from their blog or social networking site to an employer website without identifying himself or herself as an employer associate.
“Express only your personal opinions,” the approved policy also stated. “Never represent yourself as a spokesperson for the employer.”
The approved policy concluded by saying that “associates should not speak to the media on the employer’s behalf without contacting the corporate affairs department. All media inquiries should be directed to them.”
Allen Smith, J.D., is manager, workplace law content, for SHRM.
Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at ToolkitHR.com, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).