Excellent use of Eco-Devo tax dollars???  Ummmm….. 
Posted: 28 January 2013 02:34 PM   [ Ignore ]
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So, we handed GTM something on the order of $28 million in eco-devo dollars.  I belive most of this is from the old Medofab “bucket of cash”.  Isn’t part of the requirement for those eco-devo funds at the very least having to comply with Fair Labor Standards??  The Mercury front page indicates the Department of Labor has levied almost $100,000 in fines for violation of Fairl Labor Standards.  Does the City have no responsibility for monitoring any of this?  Are the entities receiving tax dolalrs for eco-devo projects completely self auditing… self policiing?

Guess it’s a little clearer how the single largest home in the City Limits can be built by the person receiving millions in eco-devo dollars.  The eco-devo funds are to create jobs… but those can be “sweat shop” jobs until the Department of Labor happens to perform an audit.  Of course, certain City Commissioners will suggest this is over-reach by ‘big gubmint’ and failure to comply with Fair Labor Standards is simply the free enterprise system our Country was founded on.

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Posted: 29 January 2013 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Rarely have I heard an employee from GTM that didn’t think they were being underpaid.  Granted most everyone feels they are underpaid in the types of jobs GTM is known for but it should send up a huge flag that the labor department was brought in.  From what I know this was just an audit for 1 year but how many years was this actually going on?  Wasn’t one of the biggest complains during the “quality of life” discussions that GTM wasn’t paying the majority of it’s employees a livable wage?

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Posted: 29 January 2013 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Larry:  I looked into your comment that GTM was given 28 Million Dollars.  The facts indicated that GTM received $800,000 dollars in a forgivable loan and received 28 Million in Industrial Revenue Bonds.  The Annual Eco Devo report has the following entry for GTM:

GTM Sportswear used an $800,000 forgivable loan to expand its custom embroidered and screen-printed sportswear business.  The company currently has over 700 employees and has made capital investments totaling over $16.8 million.  GTM is being monitored by the City.
The city passed a resolution of intent in 2006 to authorize 28 Million in Industrial Revenue Bonds for GTM.  It appears that IRBs in the amount of 6 million were issued in 2006, 3 million in 2008 and 1 million in 2009.  I could not find a record indicating that all 28 million had been issued.  Industrial Revenue Bonds are not give away items.  The 800K however could be called a giveaway. 

I looked at the article and it appears that GTM did not classify employees in a manner that the government liked.  The system for classification is interesting, it has a bunch of rules and at Barton our HR director goes to great length to ensure that our exempt employees meet all of standards. I do not think I would go so far as to call GTM a sweat shop.  But they for sure appear not to have followed the guidelines that establish and exempt and hourly employee. I am not sure I would call that failure in classification to be intentional. But the HR office could maybe be labeled as less than capable.  In either case the classification issue at GTM has little to do with future economic development plans.

I am not a fan of how the old Economic Development process was handled – and can agree with most of the criticism on the old system.  I only have direct knowledge of the process over the past 20 months or so.  The process has changed in the award of funds and the scoring is weighted in favor of higher paying jobs.  During the past 20 months only three entities have been awarded Eco Devo dollars – MATC, CIVICPLUS and Prathista. 
The total record for the past 15 or so years on Eco Devo should get mixed reviews, but generally when you add everything up it is more on the positive than negative side.  But for sure not all efforts resulted in positive outcomes, as companies took the money left town and some went under.
 
The ½ cent sales tax provides a source of funds for future Eco Devo efforts.  The amount allocated however is not fixed.  The tax provided about 35% for debt reduction and 65% for infrastructure/Economic Development.  It remains to be seen as to how much in dollars actually goes into the current plan. 

http://ourmanhattan.org/images/Manhattan_Economic_Develpment_Funds_Process_and_Procedures.pdf  Eco Devo Process
http://ourmanhattan.org/images/Eco_Devo_Report.pdf Annual Report
http://www.ci.manhattan.ks.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/7003 Industrial Revenue Bonds
http://ourmanhattan.org/images/Economic_Development_Comments.pdf Comments on Eco Devo

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Posted: 30 January 2013 03:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Over Labor Day weekend, I was fired from a medical transcription job (done online for a company in another state) along with a few dozen others. The company I worked for had also been categorizing employees incorrectly, and in medical transcription, that is very common. Investigating the issue showed, at least in my industry, that companies frequently categorize employees wrongly, because it saves companies lots of money. I haven’t found a single example of it being just an accident, though of course I have no info on GTM specifically. In the case of the company I worked for, we were all lied to, with the help of the MT school I had graduated from. (Not incidentally, that school just went under a couple months ago.)

I would say that classification issues of any company in Manhattan should affect future ecodevo plans. The Dept of Labor is taking a very dim view of companies that used to get away with these shenanigans (under a Republican watch, might I add) and cracking down. If a company can’t stay afloat except by exploiting workers to the point that the Dept of Labor has to step in, then questions should be raised as to whether ecodevo funds should be given. With GTM, there have been other issues including the nasty business with the product recall. I understand GTM is a big player in the town because of their relationship with sports and the university and such, but there has to be at least some accountability.

Those are some great links, Wynn, thanks for posting them.

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Posted: 30 January 2013 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Stacia… Shame on you!!!  Haven’t you been listening to Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush, and Brownback??  There is entirely too much gubmint oversight.  The Department of Labor should be abolished.  Why, it’s just something set up to stymie small business and free enterprise.  The Department of Labor is socialist… patterned right after Communism.  There is no reason for the gubmint to demand businesses pay fair wages.  If you don’t like the working conditions, the hours, or the pay… you can always go somewhere else!  I would assume we will see GTM receive an award from the City Commission, about the first of May, after the new Mayor takes office.  They will be congratulated for thumbing their nose at those pesky gubmint regulators.  This is an excellent example of why more eco-devo dollars should be handed to the politically connected.  If the gubmint is handing out dollars, it’s their responsibility to pick winners with those dollars… and those winners better be wealthy Republicans.  Someday, Stacia, you’ll understand…...

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Posted: 30 January 2013 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I do not see a bunch of government handouts from the city commission in the future, especially not on the 1st of May.  The Mayor does not hand them out anyway, it has to go through the process and would take at least three votes.  What Stacia posted may indicate that a number of companies do not understand the regulation or maybe they are violating the rules intentionally.  It would be interesting to see data that might shed light on the topic (number of audits and percent of companies not in compliance).  I know the Barton HR office goes over this stuff with a fine tooth comb, so not everyone is out to do evil to the workers.  The last time I dealt with the issue was for an employee that we had in Denver.  Much of the online staff for Bartonline.org are located in different states and cities.  To stay in compliance with the rules of the department of labor we needed to either reclassify the part time employee in Denver to hourly or raise the salary to ensure we were in compliance with the law.  We raised the salary as our goal was to keep the majority of our folks in the exempt category (that way we do not have mess with a bunch of other government rules, lunch, breaks, time cards etc – all of which are impractical for folks that are working online and out of sight).  I am still an optimist on the topic of how business treats it workers and believe that the majority of business does willingly comply with whatever rules are established.  After all most folks running a business understand that the most valuable asset are the workers.  Barton’s bartonline.org online education program is only as good as the people that we hire.  Larry does make a point about too many “gubmint” rules.  The more rules the more difficult it is to stay in compliance.  So I am for having fewer rules, but that is not the same as abolishment of the Department of Labor and elimination of all compliance regulations.  As far as the City Eco Devo issue, I do not think an audit of those rules (exempt/hourly and classification) is part of the economic development process.  Maybe it should be added.  But I am not sure how we could verify unless we made a compliance audit part of the process, will for sure consider that angle when the next application is presented to the Commission.

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Posted: 30 January 2013 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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You bring up an interesting topic, Wynn.  Who should be auditing companies who receive eco-devo dollars and what audits should they be performing?  Let’s say, for instance, we hand a firm $500,000 in eco-devo money.  Once in operation, they are hit with 2 or 3 consecutive $100,000 DOL fines.  They close their doors.  Depending on the ‘claw back’ provisions of the eco-devo contract, we could lose our entire investment. 
I still contend a representative of the City or County should be auditing the tax abatement provisons of eco-devo funding.  If eco-devo dollars pay for a specific addition to an existing facility and the tax abatement is restricted to that addtion and the equipment therein, how do we know just what is reported to the County for abatement?  We allow complete, I believe, self reporting/self-auditing.  If “clerical errors” might see components of the facility, other than those to which the abatement is restricted, neatly folded into the reporting to the County is that good stewardship of tax dollars?

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Posted: 31 January 2013 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Wynn Butler - 30 January 2013 01:43 PM

To stay in compliance with the rules of the department of labor we needed to either reclassify the part time employee in Denver to hourly or raise the salary to ensure we were in compliance with the law.  We raised the salary as our goal was to keep the majority of our folks in the exempt category (that way we do not have mess with a bunch of other government rules, lunch, breaks, time cards etc – all of which are impractical for folks that are working online and out of sight).  I am still an optimist on the topic of how business treats it workers and believe that the majority of business does willingly comply with whatever rules are established.

See, much of the problem is that people consider those rules to be expensive nuisances. You speak highly of those employees, but also state that you don’t want to give them breaks and such. It’s not impractical to keep track of these things for people who work online. In the medical transcription biz, companies who were caught by the Dept of Labor switched over to paying hourly, but only after forcing employees to download tracking software or lending them company computers that log every second worked. Friends of mine who write for professional publications are paid piecemeal based on a standard rate everyone gets. Those that edit or moderate are told to work X hours a day and are paid per hour, with the contract stating that if more hours are needed to finish the work a new contract must be negotiated immediately. So it can be done.

Related: Those computers and that software the transcription companies use are also abused. There have been repeated complaints from employees that they were harassed and yelled at and fired for taking bathroom breaks; the employers felt that if they were paying hourly, that person should be typing every single second for their entire 8-hour shift. Can you imagine? Do you know of ANY office job like that? No breaks for eating, to rest the muscles, to stand, to go to the bathroom. So then the Dept of Labor steps in again, and the company closes down. In two cases, the owners of the companies moved on to different businesses where they started trying to scam the system by keeping all their employees exempt again. It doesn’t end, and it’s attitudes like this that mean we need laws. Less laws means less rights for employees.

And it sounds like GTM has enough problems that the City, maybe the State, need to start looking into the situation to make sure employees rights are being met. Rights in this state are really, really limited anyway. If the Dept of Labor had to step in, I can’t even imagine how bad it was.

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Posted: 31 January 2013 06:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Stacia:  You are correct that a bunch of rules make it difficult to do the job that is intended.  I for one favor exempt employees when possible.  But, not so we can be evil to the employees and deny them breaks or a lunch hour, but simply because it is easier for all parties, especially for folks that are delegated tasks.  The folks do not need to be micro managed with time cards and other useless control measures.  I for one hate to be classified as an hourly employee and have to deal with dictated times for work, fixed breaks and various OSHA lunch rules.  The set hours for hourly staff did not work for us (Barton) anyway due to the customer service requirements of a worldwide operation across many time zones.  So my goal at the college was to achieve exempt status for all of the folks that work at a distance (we do have some hourly employees in Customer Service at Fort Riley).  That entailed having HR figure out the implication of all of the rules.  The end result was that as part of the classification process, we paid higher wages.  The labor standards in this case worked in favor of my goals and in favor of our staff, it forced the senior administration of the college to support my desire for a higher pay scale.  I think that was a good thing for members of the Barton team.  Again I am pretty optimistic and believe in the Deming Management model for business.  I buy into the concept of employee empowerment.  We have what Dr. Deming called willing workers.  They deserve to be treated will respect and be paid a commensurate salary.  Barton achieves that goal as evidenced by our low turnover of online staff and what I consider to be an excellent salary scale/benefit package.    It sure sounds like the medical transcription company that you dealt with truly missed the boat on how to manage people and worse on how to become a successful company.  The reason that unions came into being was because of bad management.  Bad management produced the unions.  Bad management and abuse also produce excessive government regulation.  But not every business is a bad apple business.  A little optimism is in order, but I agree that all oversight cannot be eliminated.  One day GTM is paying a fine.  The next day the headlines are that they are creating a few hundred more jobs.  You mentioned that the people working for the medical transcription company lost their jobs because of the fair labor act.  I wonder if that really worked in anyone’s favor.  Seems like the government oversight resulted in the elimination of jobs and may have made the situation worse instead of better for the workers.

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