Local employers embrace refugees
Refugee resettlement became a hot-button issue before the Nov. 8 election, as presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to stop or slow resettlement. But Boise’s three resettlement agencies say they attracted record donations, numbers of volunteers and requests from local employers to be paired with refugee workers.
Refugee employers sometimes face challenges with language barriers and adjusting to the fast pace of the American workplace. However, employers told the Statesman that their refugee workers show a strong work ethic and bring welcome diversity to business.
Airbnb agrees to collect taxes
Airbnb, the web-based platform that lets people turn their homes into short-term rental properties, has started collecting and remitting taxes in Idaho. In Boise, those taxes include the state’s 6 percent sales tax, 2 percent state travel and convention tax, and 5 percent Greater Boise Auditorium District tax, adding $13 to a $100 bill.
Tax collection and remittance will now be an automated at Airbnb.com. Before, Idaho Airbnb hosts were responsible for collecting and remitting taxes, which some hosts said was difficult, since the Idaho Tax Commission did not spell out host responsibilities until 2015. Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that charge taxes complained that Airbnb’s policy gave it an unfair price advantage.
WinCo warns workers to avoid politics
A top lawyer at Boise’s WinCo Foods issued a notice Nov. 11 telling employees to be respectful and “refrain from any discussions regarding politics or the election” while they are at work. The notice was spurred in part by several complaints about employee conduct after the Nov. 8 election.
The complaints were “from individuals coming into our stores (customers and vendors) about employees making inappropriate and offensive remarks regarding their nationalities, religious beliefs and/or immigration status,” the email said. It did not specify in which stores those employees worked. The employee-owned company has stores in eight states.
Overtime rule in limbo
A federal judge in Texas granted an injunction against a rule change that was slated to dramatically restructure salary and overtime rules. The regulation sought to shrink the so-called “white collar exemption” that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 a year. The rule would have raised that threshold to about $47,500.
Some employers told the Statesman they were sticking with decisions to increase worker salaries or convert them to hourly pay. Others said they would await court decisions that will determine whether the new rule will survive. Estimates of the number of Idaho workers affected range from 20,000 to 64,000.
Boise aquarium faces eviction
Having survived a string of legal and management problems since 2010 — and after being taken over by a new nonprofit in 2013 — the Aquarium of Boise now faces a water-damaged roof and eviction.
The aquarium’s new leadership has overseen a remodeling, addition of new exhibits and education programs, debt payoffs and an increase in attendance in recent years. But a lawsuit filed in November says the aquarium is refusing to pay for a $300,000 to $360,000 roof repair. The aquarium’s annual budget includes $75,000 for the building lease.
Bodybuilding.com lays off 90 in restructuring
The online nutritional-supplement distributor laid off at least 90 workers on Dec. 1 as part of an “organizational downsizing.” Bodybuilding.com, one of Boise’s largest home-grown technology companies, employed between 450 and 500 workers before the layoffs.
“The change is part of an ongoing planned restructure designed to strengthen Bodybuilding.com’s core business and reach a wider set of customers,” the company said.
Gowen on F-35 short list
Boise’s Gowen Field is one of five locations the U.S. Air Force is considering as a base for about 18 F-35 fighter jets, according to the Idaho National Guard. If Gowen is selected, the F-35s would replace 21 A-10 warplanes now based here.
Before that decision could be made, an environmental-impact study and a facility-validation inspection would have to be done, according to the Guard. The new fleet likely wouldn’t arrive in Boise until 2021 or 2022.
Nampa plant lands tax break, to hire 40
Milne MicroDried, which makes dried fruit and vegetable products, announced plans to expand its plant at 8100 E. Executive Ave. The company says it will invest about $8.5 million in the plant and increase to about 109 employees from 69.
Canyon County awarded the company a tax exemption applied to $5.4 million in property value in 2017 and 2018, and up to $6.4 million in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The county can recapture taxes that would have been paid during that time if Milne MicroDried does not follow through.
Meridian’s Coleman Homes sells to Toll Bros.
National high-end home builder Toll Brothers is entering the Treasure Valley market with its purchase of Coleman Homes in Meridian.
Coleman, which employs 60 workers and uses nearly 100 subcontractors, built more than 200 homes in the Valley last year. Its projects include The Oaks, a 1,400-lot subdivision under construction now in north Meridian.
The Coleman family has built homes since 1972 and entered the Treasure Valley market in 2004. The family sold its Las Vegas operation to Toll Bros. in 1997. Based in Pennsylvania, Toll Brothers was founded in 1967 and went public in 1986. The company operates in 19 states.
More places to plug in around the valley
Some of the latest growth is due to an Idaho Power pilot program that gave nine businesses almost $100,000 in rebates after they installed charging stations for employees and customers to use. The six-month program ended in mid-November, having helped to pay for new stations in 25 places.
Eagle woman sued over Yelp complaints
A Virginia woman who sells jewelry on eBay claims her sales fell to zero after Diane J. Taylor, of Eagle, started posting false statements on the internet about her company.
The Virginia woman filed a defamation suit against Taylor, the former Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce senior marketing and communications manager. Taylor says she paid for a diamond ring with two credit cards, but was only refunded charges to one card when she returned the ring. The suit claims Taylor created a Yelp account and posted that the seller had “stolen thousands of dollars through this diamond scam.”
Taylor denies the claims.
Blue Cross sued for denying coverage
Two Lewiston men say in separate lawsuits that Blue Cross of Idaho wrongfully refused to pay their medical bills after both were seriously injured in motorcycle crashes.
Blue Cross had denied their claims based on a little-known rule: Insurers may deny coverage when a patient was harmed while committing “illegal acts.” But the lawsuits say neither patient was arrested or charged with a crime.
Judge Candy W. Dale ruled against Blue Cross in one lawsuit, finding flaws in the process that Blue Cross used to conclude that the plaintiff was intoxicated. Blue Cross is appealing to the 9th Circuit.
The Idaho Medical Association says more clarity is needed in the “illegal acts” exclusions — that a third party should decide whether a crime was committed.
Hung jury in case of ex-utility CEO
A jury deadlocked in the case of Kenneth Morehouse, 57, former president and CEO of MDU Resources Group Inc.’s utilities, including Intermountain Gas in Boise. Morehouse resigned in January 2015.
His estranged wife called police Feb. 22 to a home. When deputies arrived, Morehouse pointed a gun at them, and a deputy shot him in the shoulder.
Prosecutors say he was attempting “suicide by cop.”