Masco settles price-fixing lawsuit
Masco Corp., which was scheduled to go to trial on July 23 in a class-action suit filed by insulation installers, has decided to settle the case for $75 million, according to a July 26 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Taylor, Mich., firm, one of the nation’s largest installers of insulation, issued the following statement in its filing:
“While we continue to deny that the challenged conduct was unlawful, and we do not admit to any wrongdoing, this business decision eliminates the considerable expense and uncertainty of continued litigation and is in the best interest of the company and its shareholders.”
The settlement, which releases Masco from all claims outlined in the lawsuit, ends an eight-year legal saga that swept up four of the major players in the insulation industry. Columbus Drywall vs. Masco Corp., filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, involved 377 residential insulation contractors who claimed that Masco conspired with four manufacturers — CertainTeed Corp., Guardian Building Products, Johns Manville and Knauf — to fix prices. (The plaintiffs also claimed that Owens Corning was also allegedly part of the conspiracy but did not name the company in the lawsuit because it was in bankruptcy at the time.)
According to the lawsuit, Masco agreed to accept price increases from the four large manufacturers as long as its smaller competitors paid an even higher price for the same products. Masco also enabled the manufacturers to exchange information about pricing between 1999 and 2003, according to the plaintiffs.
Four of the defendants, CertainTeed Corp., Guardian Building Products, Johns Manville and Knauf, settled the case in 2008. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the four manufacturers agreed to a $37.2 million pay-out.
Masco continued to fight the charges, and a trial was scheduled for July 23 in Atlanta. But court proceedings were suspended when both parties entered in mediation talks. The plaintiffs, most of them local and regional firms, were seeking $250 million in damages. In antitrust cases, awards are automatically tripled.
A call placed to Masco for further comment was not returned.
Milwaukee cable cutter simplifies the task
Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. has introduced a tool for cutting large diameter cable.
The M12 600 MCM Cable Cutter has a compact design and powerful cutting mechanism. It takes care of two cutting challenges: fitting the cutting tool in panels/boxes and generating enough force to get the job done.
“Due to the cost of most cordless options, users have been forced to use hand tools that require a tremendous amount of force and can be extremely awkward to use in crowded panels,” said Corey Dickert, senior product manager, cordless for Milwaukee Electric Tool. “With an open jaw and a breakthrough powered ratcheting mechanism, Milwaukee delivers a tool that puts out more than 5,000 lbs. of force; fits into tight spaces; and simplifies one of the most difficult jobs an electrician, datacomm, utility or service contractor faces.”
With a 2-Speed gear case, the M12 600 MCM Cable Cutter delivers the power necessary to cut large cable, but also enables the user to switch into high speed and slice quickly through more frequent wires that are approximately 4/0 and lower.
Get ready: Workers will watch Olympics
The 2012 Summer Olympics will offer a technologically unprecedented opportunity for workers to plug in and slack off to watch live-streaming games on smartphones, tablets or company computers. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the London games, which get under way July 27, will hurt productivity much more than previous Olympics.
No doubt employees will take time on the job to click and follow gymnastics, swimming, track and field or any other of the 305 events from 32 sports through Aug. 12, 2012. NBC said it will be streaming all of them live on NBCOlympics.com, starting with early-round women’s soccer two days before the opening ceremony.
Challenger Gray & Christmas, the global outplacement consulting firm, places the Olympics among the top productivity-sapping sports events, and notes that live streaming and fast Internet connections make it easy to watch at the workplace. The firm, however, sees the boundaries between work and personal life disappearing and said companies are starting to measure productivity in quality and quantity of work, not in undistracted hours clocked at the office.
Employees will dive in
With NBC and Facebook joining forces to foster viewership and social media discussion of the games, it might be hard for even the most diligent employees to resist taking an Olympics break. On the other hand, the big time difference between London and the United States, and the tradition of evening Olympics-viewing with family and friends on network television, could keep productivity from taking a 10-meter dive.
“I think from a technology standpoint it’s going to be easier than ever to watch the Olympics from work” instead of working, technology forecaster Daniel Burrus, CEO of Burrus Research, said. “When I take in the human factor, I think we’re not going to see a major problem.”
Burrus said the 2012 Summer Olympics will be “a major event for smart phones and tablets,” for athletes as well as viewers. Members of the Singapore Olympics team are being equipped with Galaxy S3 smart phones so they can tweet and post Facebook updates from the event, he said.
More significantly, British Telecom has assembled the world’s largest high-density WiFi network to handle all the Facebooking, tweeting and photo- and video-sharing by Olympians and fans. The network’s capacity is seven times that of the Beijing Olympics four years ago, Burrus said.
The BBC has prepared “massive streaming of events live,” he said. “For the first time, you can see the event live and replay it if you want to.”
In addition, many Olympics apps are being created for iPhones and Android systems, including those being coordinated with watchmaker Omega, the official Olympics timekeeper, for posting results, Burrus noted. Omega will be posting live results on its website.
“It will be easier than ever to be able to see what’s going on live and on the spot, and there will be many workers tempted,” Burrus said. During the Beijing Olympics, however, people preferred “the excitement and thrill” of watching at home on big TV screens—even if they already knew the results, he said. Sports are a social event to share with family and friends, and people enjoy the background stories, higher production values and network hype they get when watching at home, he said.
Balance has a role
All that live streaming at work might cause server sluggishness and, of course, it would be a problem if work came to a halt, noted Challenger Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger.
Challenger, however, views the Olympics and productivity in the context of larger workplace changes. With advanced technology, “the idea of the 9-to-5 workday is just being shattered,” he said. “The boundaries that used to exist between work and home, or work and personal life … are evaporating before us.”
Smart companies measure productivity by the work done, he said. If an employee watches an Olympics event in the office and does work that night at home, it might be a wash. Challenger noted, however, that many companies continue to operate psychologically under the old time-clock model.
The Olympics can help business, too. As the world becomes more global, Challenger said, the Olympics are a way for companies to relate to customers and suppliers in other countries.
Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia.
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