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My First Blog Post

This is the post excerpt.

This is my very first post. With this blog, we hope to cover the construction industry issues that are important to the AEC industry in Pennsylvania. While the Keystone Contractors Association cover most of the state, we may not be in the know on all issues. If you’d like to guest write, please let me know. You can either email me (Jon@KeystoneContractors.com) or call the KCA (717.731.6272). I’ll be sure to promote you and/or your company to make it worth your while for contributing something.

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Happy Anniversary!?!? Pennsylvania Begins Its 108th Year Overspending on Public Construction

Next time you drive by a public-school building under construction, know that our state is intentionally spending 10% more on that project because of an archaic law that only exists in Pennsylvania.

On May 1, 1913, Governor John Tener put his signature on legislation to enact the Pennsylvania Separations Act.  Tener assumed our state’s top office as we were coming off of a construction scandal involving the Pennsylvania State Capitol.  State Treasurer William Berry had found that there had been an unappropriated cost for our state capitol’s construction of over $7.7 million ($211,282,599 today).  Mr. Berry found many questionable charges, which led to the conviction of the building architect and the former State Treasurer.  Due to today’s technology, every cent that is spent is easily tracked.

At the time, in 1913, a Separations Act-type law was the norm in America.  However, it is not the norm today as every other state, the federal government and the private sector enjoy options in construction delivery.  Yet Pennsylvania remains the lone holdout that mandates the Separations Act which requires the use of multiple prime delivery.

Supporters of the Separations Act like to debate the statement that Pennsylvania is the only state left with this cumbersome contracting requirement and they believe there are two other states joining us.  They feel that North Dakota and New York join us.  These two states have chipped away at their multiple prime mandate, allowing flexibility in public contracting methods depending on the type of project.  But regardless of whether Pennsylvania is the only state or one of three states, it’s a pretty weak defense to keep a law on the books that wastes tax dollars.

So, what is the Separations Act and multiple prime delivery? And why should taxpayers care?

The Separations Act requires that public entities, like a school district, solicit and receive at least four separate bids for one construction project.  This is referred to as the multiple prime delivery method.  Let that sink in – four separate companies tasked with building one project.  This multiple prime delivery method requires the public entity to hold and manage the multiple contracts, making the public entity responsible for coordination of contracts.  Consequently, the public entity increases its contractual liability exposure and is forced to be involved in contractual disputes among the primes.

Without one company in charge of the construction project, the multiple prime requirement is cumbersome and sets the stage for adversarial relationships amongst the prime contractors, resulting in a drastic rise in change orders and claims on multiple prime delivered projects.  Additionally, without one contractor guiding the project, there are multiple project schedules, and this lack of collaboration eliminates the prospect of early completion.  In the private sector, like the healthcare industry, it’s typical to read in the newspaper that the new hospital was built under budget and ahead of schedule – wouldn’t it be nice to afford the public sector similar contracting options that others benefit from?

There is draft legislation that would bring Pennsylvania inline with the rest of the country when it comes to project delivery for public construction, but most importantly it would save tax dollars.  This legislation would allow the public entity to choose between four different delivery systems: Design-Bid-Build Multiple Prime (current mandate), Design-Bid-Build Single Prime, Construction Management At Risk, and Design Build.  To the non-construction professional these terms might be foreign to you.  While there are thousands of resources that explain the various delivery systems (and I don’t mind pointing people in the right direction if requested), I’ll try to keep the explanation simple: each of the listed delivery systems have a different entry point to have the construction team join the design team.  Due to design and construction teams joining forces at different times, depending on the selected delivery system, the systems vary in collaboration as illustrated here:

Now I’ve been told that the Separations Act is a tough issue for the general public to understand.  Personally, I thought an issue that saves tax dollars is something the masses can get behind.  But perhaps I can use an analogy that may help:

  • Can you imagine if the Philadelphia Eagles had four head coaches?  This lack of leadership would result in chaos on the field with players unsure who to listen to.
  • Or what if the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra had four principal conductors?  The crowd would need aspirin and earplugs if the orchestra were to receive four different directions.

On Pennsylvania public construction projects, we have four head coaches and four conductors all giving different orders.  There is no perfect construction delivery method, and our industry has evolved since the days of Governor Tener.  We have adapted delivery methods in response to the customer’s changing circumstances.

The customer should be afforded the opportunity to select the most appropriate delivery method for a particular project on a case-by-case basis as cost, quality, and time vary from project to project.  Flexibility to choose the most effective and efficient project contracting method will enable local public entities to control costs on building projects, which ultimately saves tax dollars.    

Improving Project Outcomes: Advice to Owners, Designers & Builders

Improving Project Outcomes is an ongoing, open discussion among construction industry stakeholders in Pennsylvania.  Established in 2017, these collaboration colloquies are held three to four times a year and have been hosted by leading construction organizations in our Commonwealth. 

In 2020, CMAA Central PA, COAA PA, CSI Central PA, DBIA Alleghenies and KCA set out to find the best pieces of advice for industry stakeholders.  With the construction industry well represented by all stakeholders, we held three different events: 1. Advice to Owners from Builders & Designers; 2. Advice to Designers from Owners & Builders; and, 3. Advice to Builders from Owners & Designers. Below are the three lists that our five organizations believe can help Improve Project Outcomes:

To watch the unveiling of these lists at an Improving Project Outcome session visit: IPO 2021 Kickoff featuring Advice to Stakeholders.

Advice for Owners!

1. Involve more End-Users/Maintenance personnel in the design process (early)! 

2. HOLD Team Members Accountable! 

3. Expect Lean Techniques/Principles, continuous improvement process 

4. Stand behind QA/QC schedule 

5. Review Qualifications before price! 

6. Increase FEES! 

7. Improve communication flow Architects/Vendors

8. More clearly define Stakeholders 

9. Security/Safety, same as everything else! 

10. More Time Upfront and better Early Stage Decision Making, alternatives/innovation 

11. Project Delivery decision, earlier

12. Support the Use of Technology

13. Continuity of Expectations 

14. Design for Future Flexibility 

Advice for Designers!

1. More transparency into the design process – more collaboration and better collaboration early! 

2. Improve leadership during preconstruction and construction

3. FUN, more FUN

4. More construction visits and better strategy for CA. 

5. Make sure young designers get field experience!

6. Design to Budget, process in place. 

7. Must consider tolerances in Design! 

8. More exploration for Renovation work!

9. Adhere to agreed upon Design Schedule. 

10.Get to know each other, Team Building! 

11. Decision-Making! Include life-cycle cost analysis!

12. Understand the complete budget! 

13. Open to and Understand DA

14.Continuous estimating and Lean principles, get smart.  

Advice for Builders!

1. Open Lines of Communication – more collaboration and better collaboration early! 

2. Bring Solutions to the table, not RFI’s! 

3. More FUN! Team Building! Trades too. 

4. Realistic/Achievable Schedules, do not over promise!  

5. Understand Scope and Goals for project, ensure quality time during preconstruction when invited! 

6. Utilize Value-Adding Technology, develop plan for project and get the model to the field. 

7. Involve Entire Team in Pursuit Presentations, want to hear from key Superintendents/Project Managers/Foreman! 

8. Remove the Waste, explore prefabrication, bring it! 

9. Push for Design Assist, we need to stop complaining about the design!

10. Continuous Estimating, figure it out, please! 

NOTE: Safety is extremely important to all organizations, companies and professionals associated with Improving Project Outcomes.  Each session starts with a Safety Minute and we have held Safety sessions too.  It was discussed that Safety is an area that Owners, Designers and Builders embrace, and all the stakeholders care about the health and welfare of everyone associated with their projects.  While Safety is not a Top 10 list, we felt it was important to include this item on our publication because we all celebrate Safety!

To request information on Improving Project Outcomes or to be alerted of upcoming sessions, please contact Jon O’Brien – 717-884-2801 or Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

EVENT: 2020 Lessons Learned from PA Safety Directors

A Zoom webinar titled “2020 Lessons Learned from Pennsylvania Safety Directors” will be held virtually on Tuesday, January 26 at 3:00 PM.

2020 was a year like none other. The commercial construction industry had to change the way it operates to keep its workers safe. Hear from safety directors from across Pennsylvania as they share lessons learned and look ahead to 2021.

The esteemed panel features:

  • Darren Rech of Alexander Building Construction Company
  • Don Tracey of Quandel Construction
  • Mike Penrod of Rycon Construction
  • Tom Scott of McClure Company
  • Moderated by Bob McCall of the Master Builders’ Association

To register please email the Keystone Contractors Association (SethKohr@KeystoneContractors.com).

KCA Announces Virtual Legislative Event – Feb 1 at 10 AM

TITLE: Legislative Insiders Provide Insights to the 2021/22 Pennsylvania General Assembly Session

WHEN: Monday, February 1st at 10:00 AM

VIRTUAL: KCA’s Zoom Channel

If you’re wondering what may happen in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania during this upcoming legislative session, then this is the event for you. Listen to respected capital insiders as they share their opinions on the upcoming legislative session.

This event features:

  • Stephen Caruso of Pennsylvania Capital-Star
  • Alex Halper of Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry
  • Jan Murphy of PennLive/ The Patriot-News
  • John Wanner of Wanner Associates
  • Moderated by Jon O’Brien of Keystone Contractors Association/ General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania

To register please email the Keystone Contractors Association (SethKohr@KeystoneContractors.com).

Building PA Podcast Season 1, Episode 13: Building a Safety Culture at Leibold Inc.

Introduction: When I was hired at the Keystone Contractors Association, I explained how 90% of my construction contacts are Pittsburgh-based and I would welcome being introduced to others in the industry located around Pennsylvania.  KCA Board of Director Dave Jones of Cresswell Brothers was one of the first to offer help: “Hey Jon you should call Clayton Leibold.  He runs an impressive operation and places a strong emphasis on safety.” I’m glad Dave made that suggestion.  Clayton operates Leibold Inc., a mechanical contractor based in Pottsville, PA.  His company is highly respected in the industry due to its reliability, production and excellence in safety.  But how did Leibold come to be a safety-first operation? Listen to this Building PA Podcast interview to find out.

 

To listen to the entire interview visit: Building a Safety Culture at Leibold Inc.

Jon O’Brien (00:03):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building PA Podcast, a construction industry podcast taped and recorded right here in the great state of Pennsylvania for our wonderful construction industry. I am Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And I’m Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing, and we tell stories for people who build things.

Jon O’Brien:

Awesome. Good stuff. Hello, Chris, how are we doing today?

Chris Martin:

Hey, Jon, how are you doing today? I’m looking forward to our discussion today.

Jon O’Brien:

It should be fun. We’re talking safety today. We have a Clayton Leibold from Leibold Inc.. A fine mechanical contractor based in the great town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Hello Clay.

Clayton Leibold (00:47):

Hello. How are you doing today?

Jon O’Brien (00:49):

Good. Doing great. Doing good. Well, you are joining us and we’re going to talk safety. And this is part of our safety podcast series we’re calling, Building a Safety Culture.  Your company has been a member now I believe three years, going on three years at the KCA, which is awesome. And during that time, your company has taken home two of the KCA safety awards for safest subcontractor under 50,000 man hours worked with, this is the important part, with zero injuries. So you’re going on a two year streak here, zero injuries. So who better to speak with concerning safety culture, then an award winning safety contractor that places a strong emphasis in the area safety. So welcome to the podcast. Yeah like I said, we’re gonna talk safety here. So you know, you want to touch on your company and just first off, maybe introduce yourself and your company and then we can kind of delve into the safety topic.

Clayton Leibold (02:07):

Sure, sure. So, as you mentioned my name is Clayton Leibold, the owner and president of Leibold Incorporated. We’re a full mechanical HVAC sheet metal and piping contractor located here in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. We are going on eight years in business. My company has been going to be in business for eight years here, but I personally have been in the construction industry and in the field for going on 24 years as a union pipe fitter. So that’s kinda my background. And then as I mentioned, my company was formed about eight years ago and we, you know, serve as all of, pretty much all of Pennsylvania and surrounding States. And we do, you know, emphasize safety as a very important part and aspect of our job and our day to day activities in, in the field.

Jon O’Brien (03:16):

Now, concerning safety, is something that was kind of instilled in you during your 24 years working in the field prior to starting your company?

Clayton Leibold (03:27):

Yeah, it was early on, I could tell that obviously safety is important in the field and it was kind of brought to our attention on a regular basis and we always strive to do things in the safest manner. As you know, going back 24 years, as it’s starting out as an apprentice, obviously you are learning every day and things and certain incidences come up and hopefully you learn from them and can grow and understand how things work, how and why safety is so important, especially in the construction industry, in our field with so many things that could happen you know, on the job site related to heavy objects, multiple things that can occur that we may or may not have control of.

Clayton Leibold (04:31):

So my foreman, project managers I feel did a good job from early on instilling the simple fact that safety is so important. And if you want to continue to do your job, be healthy and continue to be able to do the job that you’re wanting to do it in the proper correct manner. And just be aware of your surroundings and always have it on your mind and kinda remain, not get too laid back in your day to day activities.

Chris Martin (05:13):

Clayton with your experience and clearly you have some amazing experiences leading into this, but what do you see as the biggest challenge for not only the safety industry, but more importantly, the construction industry as it relates to safety?

Clayton Leibold (05:31):

Probably maybe overcoming the jobsite hurdles, the things that are constantly brought up and in the day to day active daily activities of being on site, your timelines are getting shorter and shorter. Things are being accelerated, whether whatever the reason maybe, but I think we all have to keep in mind that can’t compromise the safety of how the job is getting done. And the manner that you do it. So I would say the more recent trend maybe of trying to do as much work as possible in a very short timeframe you know, we just can’t, we can look past or beyond the fact of just doing it in a safe manner.

Chris Martin (06:30):

You know, the construction industry has a, we’ve been talking about it with clients on our end. And I know Jon and I have spoken about it multiple times, and that is a worker shortage. Are you finding that in the safety industry as well? Are you having a hard time finding qualified safety professionals?

Clayton Leibold (06:53):

You know not as hard as someone may think. It is I guess the fact that the construction industry is experiencing a shortage in some fields with us being a union mechanical construction company, we have a good source for competent well-trained individuals up and coming through our apprenticeship programs. So the good key individuals are there to be found. And we’ve had good luck with taking some key employees – foreman, project managers – and kind of molding them into good safety individuals. So, you know, it kind of worked out real well good for us because I feel they’re the best and most competent because we’re taking their field expertise and knowledge and just fine tuning that and molding them into a good safety individual to lead and lay the foundation for the rest of our company as far as the safety program goes

Jon O’Brien (08:17):

And concerning new hires. And when you bring someone on new, either in the field or a project manager is onboarding a challenge at all, as far as making sure that these new hires also believe in safety and they buy into the safety cultures. Is that a challenge at all with new people?

Clayton Leibold (08:40):

Yeah, it can be especially maybe the younger generation or someone that’s not had the experience of being in the field, seeing examples of how safety is so important and possibly not experiencing near misses or smaller accidents that might catch their attention. If they don’t have that knowledge and if they’re coming from a field or something, or straight out of maybe, you know college or high school that just don’t have the experience it is harder, but we just have to take the time to educate them and give them the proper paperwork, the information the protocol of how we operate as a company. And we just have to make sure they understand it and abide by it because it’s not going to be taken lightly. And that’s what I would expect from all my employees. So it’s something that needs to be done and done correctly, or it’s just not going to work out.

Jon O’Brien (09:55):

Yeah. And I’m getting to know your company more and more, you know, we’re a few hours apart, but I’m getting to know your company more. And it seems as though there’s a buy-in amongst your foreman and your top people in the field and in the office on safety, and I’m sure that’s extremely helpful when it comes to onboarding. Do you have any advice to other companies, like how do you get the buy-in or I don’t know if you can touch on that a little bit.

Clayton Leibold (10:23):

Sure, sure. It is difficult at times to make sure that everybody is buying in. It’s important to have the top guys in our safety program leading by example showing that their fellow employees have someone to take after, or look up to, or just bounce questions off of, or conditions of a job site maybe, or someone there to offer some advice or guidance if they would have questions. But as long as they’re there leading by example, getting the rest of the crews to buy in and understand, that’s a way of doing business, that’s the way that I want the culture of the company to be like. And you know, they’re there to make a point that we’re going to discuss safety on a weekly, even daily basis.

Clayton Leibold (11:28):

And that’s what is expected and it is gonna have to happen. And if you just keep driving home that point eventually they believe that it does make sense. And there is proof that it works obviously we’re winning some safety awards and are zero injuries in the field speaks to that so if they see the results and as the results are compounding and building we are on a, knock on wood, a pretty good streak here of not having any work injuries in over three years. So they see the results. And I think it’s easier for them to buy in and accept it as a way of the daily routine.

Chris Martin (12:30):

Yeah. It’s obviously no accident in three years. That’s a great run. And obviously the buy in is there. Also maybe touch on outside resources? I mean, do you reach outside the company to help with maybe training at all? You mentioned the unions, are they helpful at all?

Clayton Leibold (12:50):

Yeah. Yep. They’re very helpful. We belong to a couple different associations, similar to Keystone Contractors Association. We affiliated with SMACNA Sheet Metal Contractors Association, also the MCAA, the Mechanical Contractors Association, and they do offer a wealth of continued education, safety seminars, conferences you know on a regular basis. So we do lean towards them with providing additional valuable tools such as the toolbox talks, the guidelines, some additional safety information that we can implement and add to our portfolio. It cannot hurt to have too much information. You don’t want to keep repeating certain things or harp on certain conditions or aspects. It’s always good to mix it up a bit.

Jon O’Brien (13:58):

Do you have any advice, maybe you’d like to share with a young entrepreneur that wants to start out in industry advice, safety related obviously. There’s various pieces of advice you can give someone, but when it comes to starting a construction company, anything you’d like to share

Clayton Leibold (14:21):

I would say there’s no real, no good example where taking a shortcut in safety, whether it’s your employee, yourself, your fellow employees, or your coworkers, there’s no good reason to do any shortcuts that would compromise the safety of anyone. It would really benefit anyone and would certainly do more harm than good by possibly causing accidents. Whether, like I said, to yourself or to others just for the simple reason that it might be quicker to do a certain task, one way that may be a little bit more unsafe or whatever the reason may be. I just wouldn’t recommend any shortcuts or trying to compromise doing something in a safe way. I actually have had the experience where I had to make a tough call and tell my guys to pull off of a job just for the sole reason that it was unsafe. And it wasn’t a popular decision. The customer was not happy, but in the long run, after further explanation from my point of view, he understood it and ultimately was okay with it and then thanked me. So that’s just a brief example of doing something correctly to not compromise potentially unsafe condition.

Chris Martin (16:11):

Clayton, that’s a great example of safety first, not only for your company, for your employees, but also for the client and the fact that the client came back and said, thank you, hats off to you for that, because that just doesn’t happen that often. But, but my question to you is do you find that a lot of your clients aren’t really focused on safety?

Clayton Leibold (16:38):

You know, honestly I don’t, we don’t. We are finding even more and more of our customers and clients are gearing up and leaning more towards a much safer environment, working environment and job site conditions and working conditions and doing the certain tasks that we were hired to do in the most safe, the safest manner possible. So maybe it’s cause we have some pretty good customers and clients, but I do feel.

Clayton Leibold (17:12):

We definitely work in some very sensitive facilities where that the unsafe type of work is just not tolerated. So we can’t afford to do anything but the job, but do the job safely because we just won’t be working there any longer. So I’ve found that the more, I can honestly say most of our customers and clients expect us and hold us to a very high safety standard. And that’s probably one of the main reasons we continue to be safe is we, we also have that in the back of our minds that if we don’t do this the right way, we may not be working here, not only for my company, but at that facility anyway.

Jon O’Brien (18:06):

Right, right. And I think too, you know, to your point that the entire industry has obviously put a huge emphasis on safety over the last 20 to 30 years, at least, we’ve even seen it with our clients you know, working with trade unions and, and contractors that we go on photo shoots and we know we can’t take photography or video of certain elements because there has to be a certain safety functionality to it. If not, it shows the wrong story or gives the wrong message if you will. So I think you’re right. It’s a balance of everybody understanding how important safety is to move the industry forward and get out of the typical thoughts and perception of the industry itself. So I’m glad to hear that from both you and your company and your clients. That’s great. That’s great. Right? Yep. Kinda done a lot to me. We touched on a lot here today, Chris, any other questions or comments or to say Clayton thank you. This has been really enlightening. And hopefully we can ask you back in the future and we can talk more about safety as it relates, not only to your company, but talk a little bit more about your company in general too.

Clayton Leibold (19:29):

Sure. Sounds good. I appreciate the time that we’re able to take in and continue to shed some light on a safety culture within the skilled trades sector and of the construction industry, and I’m happy to happy to help.

Jon O’Brien (19:52):

Absolutely. And you have been an award winning contractor. Of course, we’d like to have you back on, but I got to have one request. If we have you back in the future, we have to record it at your company. Chris, you have to see the farm. He has goats, horses. I believe you have horses and pigs and you name it. I love it.

Clayton Leibold (20:18):

Sure. We’re happy to show some folks around when we have visitors. We just had a baby donkey last week. So she’s she’s pretty darn cute. So she’s hanging around here, she’s always fun to hang around with. So it works out pretty well. Yeah.

Chris Martin (20:36):

Well, yeah, I’m there, man. I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a baby donkey, so that’ll be interesting.

Clayton Leibold (20:46):

Sure, absolutely.

Chris Martin (20:48):

All the stuff we talk about here. It’s not just about construction, right. It’s awesome.

Jon O’Brien (20:53):

Yeah.

Chris Martin (20:54):

Very cool. Yeah. Well, thank you for your time here. This is an excellent conversation and we look forward to seeing the baby donkey.

Clayton Leibold (21:05):

That sounds good. Anytime. Thanks for having me.

Building PA Podcast 2020 Year In Review

The Building PA Podcast made it to the 2020 finish line. The Keystone Contractors Association enjoyed working with Atlas Marketing in this endeavor as we talk construction with Pennsylvania’s construction professionals. Afterall, it was the guests who were the true stars of this podcast and we thank each and every guest we’ve had on the show. In 2021 and beyond, we look forward to getting more of you to join the conversation!

For more information on the Building PA Podcast, please visit: https://buildingpapodcast.com/

Building PA Podcast Shareable 2020 Fun Facts

Building PA Podcast published 46 episodes in 2020. The first was Business of Construction – Crisis communications published April 03 and the last was How Drone Technology is Impacting the Construction Industry published December 14. Did we improve this year? (Tweet)

In 2020, the most popular episode of Building PA Podcast was Apprenticeship Training – Sheet Metal Workers, published April 05 and downloaded 208 times. What was your favorite episode? (Tweet)

In 2020, Building PA Podcast was downloaded 902 times from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; our most popular city! Where do you listen from? (Tweet)

In 2020, fans of Building PA Podcast listened most using Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, and Your Buzzsprout Site apps. What’s your favorite app for listening to podcasts? (Tweet)

In 2020, Building PA Podcast published 46 episodes totaling about 21 hours of content. That’s about 1,250 minutes or 75,018 seconds for your listening pleasure. What was your favorite episode?(Tweet)

Building PA Podcast Season 1, Episode 12: The Joys of Being a Small Business Owner in the Construction Industry

Introduction: I don’t know if jealousy is the word to describe it. Nah that’s not the right word to describe it. I think it’s admiration – yeah that’s it. I admire business owners, especially the ones who started from scratch. I love when we interview business owners on the Building PA Podcast so we can hear about their launch, the challenges they faced and how they overcame those challenges. My co-host Chris Martin is a fellow business owner and I think it’s awesome when he interacts and shares experiences with our entrepreneur guests. Here’s a transcript of a podcast interview of Sandra Palone. Checkout her story, it’s a good one. I hope it inspires future entrepreneurs.

To listen to the entire interview visit: The Joys of Being a Small Business Owner in the Construction Industry.

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building Pennsylvania, a construction podcast for Pennsylvania’s construction industry. I am Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing.

Jon O’Brien:

Hello, Chris, how are we doing today?

Chris Martin:

Oh, I’m doing well, Jon. Hopefully little technical challenges aren’t going to screw us up, but hey, we’re doing really well.

Jon O’Brien:

Yes we are. And let’s hope. Yeah. Let’s hope there’s no issues. We have a great, great guest today. We have Sandra Palone from Palone and Associates. Hello, Sandra.

Sandra Palone (00:39):

Hi. And if I may Sandra Palone and Associates.

Jon O’Brien (00:44):

Oh, I’m sorry. Oh, okay. You got it. Sorry about that mistake. Welcome. And today we want to talk about a woman owned companies in the industry and you know, you’ve been around a few years. Well, you know, instead of me, why don’t you just give us a little history on your company and get us up to date on your company?

Sandra Palone (01:07):

Sure. Let’s see. I’m going to try to keep this brief. I opened the doors of Sandra Palone and Associates in 2015. So we’re about four and a half now. It’s been an interesting ride. I started the company as mainly a manufacturer’s representative for specialty precast concrete items and construction. That’s my background and I have grown into also now supplying of precast products, certain kinds. And I also do some consultation if you will. Whether it’s in the form of doing onsite representation for manufacturers of precast or other types of materials now. But that’s where we’ve gone from. We’ve gone from being a rep to a rep and a supplier and also to some consulting,

Jon O’Brien (02:10):

Pretty amazing four and a half years, time flies.

Sandra Palone (02:15):

It feels like it flies. And then it feels sometimes like it’s going very slowly. But it’s been really, really interesting.

Jon O’Brien (02:26):

And your market, is it public or private and what kind of your territory as far as what bridges do you cover?

Sandra Palone (02:34):

So my primary market is Pennsylvania. So quite honestly whether it’s Western Pennsylvania, center of the State or in the Eastern part, all over Pennsylvania, mid Atlantic overall, I would say that my secondary state is Maryland at this time. And those are the two areas where I have my WBE women business enterprise certifications as well. So I spend a fair amount of time in the public sector, as well as in commercial construction.

Jon O’Brien (03:17):

And concerning the certification, the WBE certification. You said two States, so Pennsylvania and Maryland, any lessons learned you’d like to pass on the future company owners or is that, or are we not have enough time for that?

Sandra Palone (03:35):

Well I will say this if I believe that the women business enterprise or the, what they call the disadvantaged is what it’s currently called. It’s kind of a bit of a umbrella term disadvantaged business enterprise, otherwise known as DBE. I think that these particular types of agencies and certifications are doing a really good work, trying to get people like myself involved in projects and whether that’s for a PennDOT project or whether it’s for a transit project. These agencies do a very good job of trying to do that. I will say that it is not an easy process getting certified. It’s not showing up and saying, Hey, I’m a woman. Gosh, I’d really like a certification. And that would be nice if it doesn’t work that way. It’s a very tedious process that is based off of mostly your financials and to show that you have financial control of your company. So I would say, go for it just don’t be daunted by the paperwork.

Chris Martin (04:55):

I’ve heard that too. And especially in the, you know, the marketing and advertising industry are there. It’s, I mean, obviously it’s the same across the board, but there’s a lot of there’s a lot of call for minority and women owned businesses, but Sandra, you mentioned working agencies, can you help our listeners understand what agencies you work with and what that means?

Sandra Palone (05:19):

So there are agencies that do, what’s called a, like a third party certification, and this is in a sense, like an independent certification process. And so what that means is instead of self-certifying, for instance, going to the state website and saying, I’m a woman own business click, it’s its own entity. If you will, these agencies, these third parties, and they actually have yes, a sort of a federal guideline as to what type information that they ask from you in order to determine your status. But they also have a component of an onsite audit to ensure that you are who you say you are and be that you do what you say you do. So that is all a part of it. And so one of the agencies that I am certified with that this called the Pennsylvania Unification Certification. I said that wrong. So I’m going to repeat it is the Pennsylvania Unified Certification Program PUCP and under that umbrella, is Southeastern Pennsylvania Transport Authority and a host of other government agencies such as in my area, Allegheny County.

Chris Martin (06:57):

Okay. So, as you’re working with these agencies, obviously setting and establishing your women business owned company, are you seeing advantages from that or are you running into more challenges?

Sandra Palone (07:15):

Both. and I’ll describe what I’m talking about. The nice thing about it is, it opens the door for me to bid on all kinds of projects. As I said, whether it’s a PennDOT project perhaps it’s something with a County, maybe it’s the turnpike or, or SEPTA. As I mentioned earlier, it gives me that opportunity to do that in order to meet certain goals that the general contractors normally have to meet the set asides, is that there’s a stigma out there. And difficulty, sometimes general contractors have with their own kind of qualification of people like myself to ensure that they are going to get an, one quality supplier to make sure that it’s not just someone who’s going to be a pass through. And so that’s where I think the real work is for a company like myself to differentiate myself. Sometimes they have to give me a shot in order to see what I can do for them. And what I have available to them is really my ability to service them as much as possible any opportunity I can to make their jobs a little easier. That’s how I distinguish myself. So, and that’s also how I break some of the stigma of what any woman business or a disadvantage business do.

Jon O’Brien (08:57):

Have you been involved at all with any of the DGS, the Department of General Services, any of their Best Value projects?

Sandra Palone (09:05):

Well, I’m working towards one now. We’ll see how it turns out. There is a DNA test lab that has recently been bid in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. That’s a DGS project. The types of projects that I go after, don’t always fall under DGS were the ones that I look for, but I do keep my eyes out for them.

Jon O’Brien (09:38):

Yeah. So over the past, you know, 15 years DGS has been using Best Value Contracting and, you know, to applaud them, they’ve been reaching out to stakeholders and various construction associations and various DBEs and general contractors, and they, I think they really want to get it right. When it comes to DBE and the bidding of a project, there have been, you know, quite a few black eyes with a lot of pass throughs, you know, assisting, you know, various contractors and getting work. And I think they’re on the on the right road to correcting these issues. I was just wondering if you’ve been involved in any of these peer groups or any of these feedback sessions that DGS claims to be holding them, they claim to be holding these events around the state.

Sandra Palone (10:32):

I have to say I haven’t been a part of that, but I do have an opinion and my opinion is that if it, the one way the great equalizer, you know, the common denominator, the way that things are checked seems to be through amounts of money on a project. So if you have a hundred dollar project and you need $12 of it to be with a woman own business, the easiest way to calculate that is to say, well, I’m buying $12 from this company therefore check the box. It’s just an easy way to do it. I personally think that beyond offering a product, which tends to push towards this pass-through scenario that they should look more for companies to offer an expertise in the form of say, if you want to call it consulting great.

Sandra Palone (11:40):

And what I’m getting at is whether it be onsite representation. As I started out saying, I started my business as a manufacturer’s rep, and you could take that through a project. If you know what you’re doing you could take your expertise and understanding of product and offering your service, if you will, as a value, add to a contractor whether it be in the form of really good communication to make sure that anticipate a problem that you might see down the road and take care of it before it happens ways to increase the quality of a project which also reduces the risk on a project for the contractor, finding ways to reduce risk. I can’t think of a better way to add value to a project than to help a contractor reduce their exposure. So that’s my opinion. Okay.

Chris Martin (12:53):

And Sandra is risk exposure, is that something that you offer in your consultation side of your business?

Sandra Palone (13:00):

That is what I market that I am available to work on projects in when I’m staying in my lane of understanding exactly the product and how it can help. I try to at least stay in my lane on that in my specialties as much as possible. But I do offer it and I find that some people say, huh, well, I don’t know if we need that. I mean, we have our project managers and these people have their project managers and I say, yeah, that’s true. I get it. But do you still have headaches? Do you still have issues with getting product? Do you still have when the product comes? Is there something not right. You know, I like to see myself as a bit of a conduit, someone who can help the contractor get the product that they need when they need it.

Sandra Palone (13:54):

And it’s just the part of my stamping on a project that Sandra Palona Associates was here. This product worked out really great. We’re really happy with it. It’s not an easy sell, but most, I think new ideas, if you will aren’t, they’re not easy sells, they’re a bit of an uphill climb. It is something that I continue to offer though, as a DBE, when I’m reselling, that’s what they’re getting, they’re buying that they may be buying a bit of a markup. But the markup is me making sure that’s what the value add is.

Chris Martin (14:35):

Okay. So you’re, you’re focused heavily on customer service and to that point, yeah. To that point, customer service is kind of one of those non-entities, if you will of the construction industry. So can you talk a little bit about how that customer service approach, as it relates to the construction industry is really beneficial.

Sandra Palone (15:03):

So if I am offering architectural precast to a Mason on a project and he calls and he says, Hey, there were supposed to be a 10 pallets, we got nine. Is he calling the manufacturer? No, he’s calling me, he’s calling me. And he’s saying, what’s going on with us? That’s when I go to work and do what I’ve got to do. So that’s what I’m trying to build. I’m trying to build some trust that I’m a seamless part of their operation, that I’m just another person on their team. And I’m the one they’re going to call for the product that they have come to me for. So regardless if everything’s great, and if everything’s so, so, or if there’s a hiccup, that’s what I think really helps. And here’s how you can tell if it works, do they call you again to quote something else and to work on another project that they have? That’s really the best way to measure if you’ve done a good job, in my opinion. And that’s where I operate from this sort of lather rinse, repeat type of mentality based off a service. So it is a non-tangible right? You can’t, it’s something you can’t say. Well, that value was worth is sort of that, but it is something that every project needs

Jon O’Brien (16:36):

Definitely. Yeah. Customer service is very important and definitely helps on future projects. But if you don’t mind, can we maybe travel back a little bit? Can we go back four and a half years? So was there a moment that like, you know what, I should start my own business and also along those lines where you’re fortunate or where you’re able to have any sort of mentors or coaches to kind of help you along. So take me back to 2016, what’s it like?

Sandra Palone (17:09):

Yeah, it’s a little scary. Yeah. 2016, you know, I’ll say this for those who just take a plunge into working for yourself, it may help to remain a teeny bit naive and extremely optimistic which is exactly what I had done. I didn’t have a whole lot going on at the time and early 2016. So let me just give a shout out as to what happened. And I have a mentor. Her name is Laura Kirkoff. I worked for Laura at my first precast plant known as Casscron Stone in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania area. She’s the one who taught me everything about precast. She’s the one who taught me about attention to detail. She was the first woman own business that I ever worked for. They’re third generation family owned business. And she was the best mentor a person could have.

Sandra Palone (18:14):

She was respected by architects, engineers, and by contractors, which is not an easy feat. I’ll say that. So kudos to Laura. Luckily I do represent her product line and it’s excellent stuff today. So I stay in touch. You remember the recession that happened and Castcon Stone was a precaster manufacturer. We were extremely specialized in the type of precast that we did. And the recession when it came along, there was very little vertical construction being built and being that we made 99% of what we did at that time was precast stairs. And we sold to precast garage producers. So there wasn’t a whole lot of that business going on. So we had some pretty slow years where we were trying to pick up the pieces and find other things to quote, and everybody was trying to quote the same work and there really wasn’t much to be had.

Sandra Palone (19:24):

So we basically scraped by for a long while. And at the end of my tenure there, I was went from a salary employee to a full time commission employee because you know, we didn’t really have enough work to pay everybody a paycheck. So if I sold something I’d make money and I thought these people have taken care of me, I’m going to, you know, I’m going to invest myself into these guys getting back to where to where that they worked. And so we did that problem was in 2011. The bills came due and over the course of that time, even though we were making money again, and the business, the economy had increased, you know, the bills became due and the company went bankrupt and it was a real shocker. So I was one of the statistics along with everybody else that I worked with including Laura, who lost their job.

Sandra Palone (20:34):

And so I, like a lot of other people, were thinking, what am I going to do now? It was still not the best market. And I went out to several other precast companies and interviewed and had a couple of offers. And I waited and me and a couple of my other colleagues helped reopen the plant when it was bought by another company. And I’m really glad I did that. So I got the experience of knowing what that’s like to kind of reopen something that was shut down. It was difficult to gain the trust back of our initial customers, but we were able to do it. Something had happened to me though in that timeframe. And I didn’t quite understand what it was is this little boy saying, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be here.

Sandra Palone (21:33):

Even though we had hired back many of the same old people I just didn’t feel I was part of the culture of the larger company. And I decided to take another opportunity with a small civil engineering firm not too far away that also did land surveying. And I got to learn what it is to be on the front end of projects that are being designed from the site, whether it be a PennDOT type project or whether it be a commercial project. So it was great experience, but again, I felt, I don’t know what I’m doing if I’m going to be here full time. I just and what I mean by that is, I don’t know if I’m going to stick around. I just had this little thing in the back of my mind. And so in 2015 you know, like I applied for my EIN and basically packed up my stuff without a whole lot of commitment from companies to rep and said, I’m going to give this a shot. And that’s what I did. I took a plunge from a perfectly good paying job and decided to go into poverty for a little while

Sandra Palone (22:54):

Just to try it out. And at first it was really exhilarating, but it got a little scary going, wow. Now I did that. I left a paying job in order to work on my own. So it really instilled in me, I’ve got to do it now, now’s the time. And I was 50 and at the time, I was 50 and I figured if I’m going to do it, now’s the time. So that’s what I did. And so with the manufacturing representation, I figured I could rep for a few of these companies. And I mean, I don’t have the money to build my own precast plants, very expensive. So it would be kind of a nice way for me to get back into the industry. And I know I could make an impact.

Jon O’Brien (23:41):

A few years later and look at you,

Sandra Palone (23:50):

Go ahead.

Jon O’Brien (23:51):

I was getting ready to say that that it has, have kind of turned them. So are you mentoring instead of seeking for advice? Are you helping out other people?

Sandra Palone (24:01):

I do help out a few people and I do still have mentors. Laura has been a great mentor over the years but I do have other people in my life that mentor me and other entrepreneurs that sort of took the splash around the same time when we get together. When we talk about Hey, this is happening for me. Is this happening for you? So it’s really, really great to be able to do that. I, you know, and certainly I take a course here and there in order to do a combination of networking and also learning. And what I mean is places like UPMC University of Pittsburgh Medical Center will have construction management seminars that they offer. So it’s an opportunity to network, but it’s also an opportunity to learn how they expect a company like mine to work with them.

Chris Martin (25:16):

Well, it sounds like you’re just continuously learning and moving forward, so kudos to you for that. That’s fantastic. And obviously, you know, in a predominantly male dominated industry, it sounds like you’re making headway and moving things along. So congratulations.

Sandra Palone (25:35):

Thank you. I appreciate that.

Chris Martin (25:37):

And I know how much fun it is to start off on your own. I started my own business about 11 years ago and then a lot of sleepless nights. I know that feeling.

Sandra Palone (25:51):

Times I joke and I say, gosh, you know who’s the boss around here. And then I have to point the finger back at me. Good. If there’s any problems they’re mind to solve there, can’t deflect. So there are times though that I’d really like to deflect, but I don’t have that luxury right now. So yeah.

Jon O’Brien (26:18):

I too, just want to echo Chris, you know, she’s doing a great job and to be commended and, you know, just glad to know you and thank you. Yeah. Any other like major lessons learned you’d like to share with our audience, anyone that they’re thinking of taking the plunge and starting their own company, any, anything major you’d like to talk about?

Sandra Palone (26:40):

I would just like to say that don’t have the regret of not doing it. I am so grateful that I finally took the plunge and it’s a self-employment. And just to get out there and put my name out there, sometimes it’s a little scary at first, you put your own name on the company and you do that because you want people to know that the buck stops with you. When you first start out, sometimes there’s a sense of imposter syndrome, like, Oh, who am I to be telling, you know, these people, how I can help them. And then you get over it because you get hungry and you realize that you have to take all these steps in order to prove this. And I would say do it because not doing it is you’d regret it. I know that I would regret this.

Sandra Palone (27:35):

If I didn’t do it, what’s the worst thing that could happen. I could fail. Okay. But at least I had tried it and somebody liked me. I would regret not trying it. So I say do it. And I also say that if there’s an opportunity to work on a bigger project than what you’re used to working on talk to your mentors and basically work up the confidence and pursue it, just do it. I went from working on my very first project was a $6,500 project. And I had to beg that person to give me that work just so that I could get it. And my largest contract to date is $1.2 million. So we’ve gone from $6,500 to $1.2 million. So I say, go for it.

Jon O’Brien (28:28):

Bravo. Yeah, that’s awesome. And you know, I’m a supporter, a fan of yours and if you ever need anything, you know, think of, think of KCA. We’re always here to help when DGS reaches out, like I said, from time to time for feedback during the bidding process. And if you ever have any input you want me to pass on, you know, just, just let me know. And we’re here to help.

Sandra Palone (28:54):

Thank you. And Jon, I want to say this about the KCA. You guys have been great to me, and I appreciate that very much. And I want to say that those safety talks that you send I use those as an onsite representative for UPMC with the contract, a company I worked with every morning as a safety meeting. I want you to know that those went to good use.

Jon O’Brien (29:21):

Awesome. That’s always great to hear. I always wonder if people actually opened them on Monday morning. It’s always good to hear that. So thank you, Sandra. Oh, no. It’s like, yeah, thanks. I’ll make sure to pass that good word on to the staff.

Sandra Palone (29:43):

They’re worth it.

Chris Martin (29:45):

That’s good. Well, Sandra, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insight. It was great to hear from you and most importantly as a listener download more episodes, more coming reach out to Sandra. And in fact, Sandra, how can that happen? Somebody to get a hold of you?

Sandra Palone (30:11):

So you can call me, you can call Sandra Palone and Associates. You can call me at (412) 965-0069, or you can email at slp@sandrapalone.net. And if you would like to see what I do feel free to look at www.sandrapalone.net.

Chris Martin (30:37):

Perfect. Perfect. Well, thank you. Thanks for joining us on the Building PA podcast. And as I mentioned before, there’s going to be a lot more episodes coming. So make sure you download and share with your colleagues in the office and thank you for joining us today. Thank you. And all the best to you this year and beyond. So keep it up.

Sandra Palone (31:04):

Thank you. Take care.

Jon O’Brien (31:06):

Alright. See ya.

Building PA Podcast Season 1, Episode 11: The Benefits of Joining the Building Trades

Introduction: In the Fall of 2016, I became the executive director of the Keystone Contractors Association. In this position I was introduced to the world of the trustee. I became a trustee on medical plans, pension funds, apprenticeship committees, etc. It was a lot to soak in as it was completely new to me. It’s been my experience that no one wants anyone to drown in the construction industry and lifelines can be thrown when needed. As was the case in becoming a trustee on so many plans, I was overwhelmed by the support I received from the industry as many were ready to help me. One person who I got to know during this time was Irwin Aronson. As legal counsel on many funds, with lots of experience, he knows what he’s talking about in this area. Over the years, talking to him about medical, retirement and training funds, a light bulb went off that our industry offers such great reasons to join a building trades union – those reasons come in the form of awesome benefits like healthcare coverage, pension and education; but not everyone realizes what a selling point these benefits are. I contacted Irwin with this idea to have a podcast episode to talk about these benefits and he said: “that could be good but let me think about it and I’ll let you know who I think would be the best person for you to interview.” That’s when I told Irwin that he’s the best person to interview. Check out this episode and let me know if you agree with me: The Benefits of Joining the Building Trades.  

Chris Martin (00:00):

Hello and welcome to the next episode, if you will, of the Building Pennsylvania podcast, a podcast that is specific to the construction industry in Pennsylvania. My name is Chris Martin and I’m with Atlas Marketing, where we tell stories for people who build things. And with me is my partner. Hello, Jon O’Brien.

Jon O’Brien:

Hey, I’m checking in.  Jon from the Keystone Contractors Association and ready to rock and roll for another episode.

Chris Martin:

Yeah. Yeah. We have a real exciting, very energetic interviewer with us today. Irwin Aronson with the law firm of Willig Williams and Davidson. He’s a partner in residence in Irwin. Thank you for joining us. Welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the firm?

Irwin Aronson (00:49):

Sure. Be happy to thanks for having us. First of all, I appreciate being here and particularly being with my old friend, Jon, who does things that are so admirable that I am touched by them every day are from, is just the way you paid me to say it, right?

Jon O’Brien:

Absolutely. You nailed it.

Irwin Aronson:

Our firm concentrates its practice in labor employment and employee benefit law. And I concentrate my practice within the firm precisely in that space. I typically for ethical reasons, I don’t discuss who my clients are, but a few of them are pretty well known. And my clients have identified me or pointed me out as their lawyers. So I can name those I’m general counsel of the Pennsylvania AFL CIO, and I’m general counsel to the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council of Unions. As well as a number of both of those organizations, local and regional affiliates throughout Pennsylvania, and the work that I do ranges from representing labor organizations in collective bargaining in grievance arbitration and in litigation and before both the National Labor Relations Board.

Irwin Aronson (02:08):

And in other instances, particularly in the public sector, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, but a very significant portion of my practice as well as in the representation of employee benefit funds, typically jointly trusteed labor management funds in the space of pension and retirement plans associated annuity plans, health and welfare plans that provide healthcare and other insurance benefits to workers and their families and jointly trusteed training and development programs, particularly in the building and construction trades where we train both apprentices and journey people in their various trades ranging from laborers to carpenters, to elevator constructors, to electricians, the plumbers, pipe fitters, welders, painters, paper hangers, other finishing trades, travel trades like tile setters and show on the entire gamut of building and construction trades training programs. And those typically just like the employee benefit plans are jointly sponsored labor management committees. And I’m blessed that I’m not only trusted by the union sides of those equations, but also typically by the employer and employer organization association sides of those as well. So that’s basically the areas in which I try to work and I’ve been doing it for a while. I’m at this for a little over 40 years now, so I’m beginning to learn it and that’s why I still call it practice, I guess.

Chris Martin (03:56):

Let me ask you this and then I’m going to back away and let Jon do it who I know has a lot of questions real quick. Why should young people enter our industry, why should they even care about a trust fund or their employment packages or let’s, how can we frame that for our young listeners that are out there thinking, well, why do I want to listen to Irwin today?

Irwin Aronson (04:23):

Well, why I want to listen to Irwin today is a very different question from the one that you initially teed up. I’ve listened to me for decades and I would pass on that anytime. But that’s another story why young people should be looking at what we’re talking about today has literally a plethora of reasons and rationales. First of all people get an opportunity to be trained in a trade or a vocation that is highly skilled and in high demand in every single instance throughout the gambit of the trades that I mentioned and more and they get to get that training to have access to that training, not only tuition free, and it is completely tuition free, but without any debt on the other side. And they walk away after four or five years of training, depending upon the trade with a ticket as a journey person.

Irwin Aronson (05:26):

And that journey person ticket allows them to go anywhere in the world, literally and practice their craft. They have complete portability of their skillset because that’s something that once attained can never be taken away on top of all of that really wonderful reality contrasted for example, with the college experience that I had, where I got the opportunity to sit in a classroom and pay tuition. And at the other end of that pay off student loans for about decade. Are there other practical realities? These jobs are family sustaining from day one, typically an entering in a pre-apprentice in one of the recognized traditional building construction trades and crafts is earning while she or he is learning and starts out as an 18 year old or 17 year old new apprentice at about 50% of the journey person’s rate. And over the course of four to five years maximum achieve the full journey person rate.

Irwin Aronson (06:33):

But in addition to that from day one, these folks are eligible for health care benefits that not only cover the worker, but cover his or her family, spouse, children, et cetera, and are accumulating credits for pensions, and annuities that really taken together, put people in a position by the time they’re a roughly age, 50/ 55 to be able to retire with a combination of benefits that is very close to what their full time earnings are. And there are very few alternatives in the academic path, which traditionally known as the academic path that are the equal of what I’ve just described. And they, of course all carry tuition bills and loan repayment plans with them. So this is really something that my parents’ generation understood my generation didn’t understand, and this new generation that’s coming up now is beginning to get it. And it’s all enhanced rather tremendously by another practical reality, the recession of 2008, 2009 had several impacts.

Irwin Aronson (07:49):

And one of them was that it winnowed out a number of people that were coming close to the end of their careers in the building trades. And now we have a real need, a high demand for qualified applicants and qualified apprentices for whom there will be a lifetime career once they come, once they apply, get admitted to and complete an apprenticeship and training program. So to my way of thinking, this is not merely a meaningful alternative to an academic and college career. It is in many foundational way superior because you earn while you learn and you have security that no corollary brings because there’s a skillset, it being a carpenter or a millwright being an electrician or a plumber or a pipe fitter, or a sprinkler fitter or a welder that is just not the same as having a bachelor of arts in philosophy and liberal studies.

Jon O’Brien (08:46):

Agreed, agreed. And we’ve been fortunate during our early stages of this Building PA Podcast to have many training directors join us and talk about the various trades and the various trainings that happen within their own trade, in their own craft, I think, and maybe I’m wrong here, but I think the young apprentices and those individuals thinking of entering a trade, I think they understand that the training aspect and they know they’re going to get like an excellent hands on education, but it’s the unknown. The other benefits that I don’t think they grasp, especially at a younger age, like 18 you know, early twenties as far as pension medical. And I don’t know what your opinion is, but I think we need to do a better job of promoting that.

Irwin Aronson (09:38):

Well, I think that on one hand, we all need to do a better job in communicating it. But not really communicating it in the context of it’s out there. This is available, but communicating it in the context that people are, they’re a few years older than that newly admitted high school graduate identify with quite differently every 18 year old that I’ve ever met, including the four that I raised or had a hand in raising my wife, raised them. I just showed up. I think the practical reality is they’re all immortal until they’re not. And

Jon O’Brien (10:19):

Wait, you mean, that goes away.

Irwin Aronson (10:21):

I understand that it goes away, but you know Jon the ages of your kids. So I know I kind of hesitate to give you a prediction when that happens.

Irwin Aronson (10:34):

In my instance, there is a this shock that took place. And I describe it with respect to my daughter who is an adult now and has a couple of kids of her own who never really thought about the value of health insurance until she developed a very significant series of adult onset allergies, which kept her from being able to eat any number of foods ranging from citrus products, to products with eggs, to products with dairy, to products with wheat, and that testing that she went through until we got to a point of understanding what that was cost, literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. And this took place when she was a new, recent enter into the workforce. And she was fortunate that she had a job that had health insurance for which she was paying a significant out-of-pocket premium and had a big deductible.

Irwin Aronson (11:40):

And all of a sudden it grabbed her attention in a way that she had never contemplated before. And then only a couple of years later when she became pregnant with her first child. And again, was with the medical world and learning what the cost of a normal pregnancy is. She became quite grateful for that health insurance benefit that was there now in the building trades that we were just talking about a couple of minutes ago, everybody from the newest apprentice to the most senior journey person after an immediate or very short period of time is eligible for these benefits at no out of pocket costs, other than it, depending upon the trade and the particular plan, a handful of rather minimal deductibles or copays co-insurance kinds of things. And they tend to be very broad programs that cover not only medical, but prescription coverage, dental coverage, vision coverage, and often a number of other kinds of things, as well as life insurance.

Irwin Aronson (12:40):

And for somebody that’s a wage earner who has a misfortune and suffers or premature death families are really very dependent upon those life insurance proceeds as well. So this is really an amazing piece of this puzzle that young people tend not to consider either because their families have provided healthcare for them as they’ve grown up, or they have been covered by one of the areas, public sponsored programs like chip the children’s health insurance program sponsored by the state. The other piece of this puzzle is a retirement plan again, because we’re all immortal when we’re young. We don’t think about being able to support and sustain ourselves when going to work every day is no longer as easy and option either because of age or because of disability. And all of these trades sponsored programs, these jointly trusteed labor and management benefit programs have a feature of both age based retirement, typically 62 in a few cases, 65, 66, and in some cases as young as 55 with full retirement, but they also have a disability retirement feature that is not age based at all, but based upon when an unanticipated illness or an unanticipated event results in somebody not being able to work at their traditional trade or craft, and they become disabled and they become eligible under these programs for a pension, that’s the same as what it would have been had.

Irwin Aronson (14:21):

They reached normal retirement age. And again, this is an extraordinary benefit for individuals and also for families, particularly families with dependent children. So these features are there, and they’re baked into these trades and crafts along with the training that we’ve described. And along with the career, I mean I know any number of sheet metal workers, plumbers, fitters, electricians, who are easily earning eighty to a hundred thousand dollars a year, plus the benefits and the benefits that I’ve just described can be worth easily out of cost $25 to $35,000 a year. And then some, and that’s more than competitive with alternative careers. And as I say, there’s people get a skill set that no one can take away from it.

Jon O’Brien (15:15):

Yeah. That’s for sure. Yeah. Now with my role within the KCA and the industry, I’m more familiar with the general trades, you know, carpenters, laborers, carpenters, laborers, brickies. Yeah, absolutely. And it seems as though amongst those crafts and those trades, the average age of the apprentice entering the average age of entering apprentices is upper twenties.,

Irwin Aronson (15:41):

That’s my experience as well. More recently that the typical is someone who has been out of school. Often somebody who has gone to college and frequently someone who is not, but has had another career or another vocational based career and finds the laborers, for example, one that you and I get to work on together frequently finds the carpenters, finds the millwrights finds the travel trades and signs up. And those people who are in their late twenties into their early thirties are folks who typically already have a family and find that as an entering apprentice, they have an opportunity to have a family sustaining job right away more so than the jobs that they are leaving and they get a career. I have a story about this, and I don’t know, Jon, if I’ve ever told you this, how I ended up being, how I ended up being a lawyer.

Irwin Aronson (16:40):

Back when I was a youngster, 26 years of age, I had applied for an apprenticeship in the electrical workers union in Harrisburg and the business manager at the time who was somebody with whom I was acquainted because of other career activities in which I had engaged at that point called me in for an interview. And he sat me down and he said, Irwin, you’re among the best candidates for an apprenticeship that we’ve ever had during my time as a business agent. And I, at that point I had completed college. I had a bachelor’s degree from Penn State, and I still wanted to do this because I recognize that while I had a bachelor’s degree, I had absolutely no marketable skills. And at that time there was an interesting phenomenon that took place. This was long enough ago that we did not have age discrimination and employment statutes on the books.

Irwin Aronson (17:34):

So as this gentleman described how great I was and told me that he indeed assumed that if he admitted me into the program, it wouldn’t be too much longer before I’d be running for his job either to succeed him or to beat him. Which would not have been the case, but that’s a sidelight. He said, we can’t take you in, we can’t take you because you’re 26. And we have a rule in place that says, we won’t accept anybody. Who’s over 25 years of age because we want to get a career out of you. And so in those days, 25 was the cutoff for all of the highly skilled trades, but also for the for the basic trades, like carpenters and millwrights and floor layers, the soft floors, as well as wooden floor layers that has since changed because the law has changed and the organizations have changed.

Irwin Aronson (18:26):

And the relationship between the employer, contractors and the unions have changed. The result has been that people who are a bit older than I was at that time regularly apply for and regularly are admitted into apprenticeship and training programs that all of the trades, and they get a career and it may not be a 40 year career like I was looking at at that time. But I ended up going to law school because George Segall at the time out of the IBW denied me admission into the IBEW. Otherwise right now I’d be an electrician and try to figure out how to collect my pension because I’d be old enough, unlike a lawyer who never quit.

Jon O’Brien (19:03):

Okay. Interesting. I never knew that about the age. So what year are we talking about, like what timeframe

Irwin Aronson (19:09):

That would have been roughly 1980, 81, somewhere in that range. Okay. So I went to law school from 1980 to 1982, but from the fall of 80 through the spring of 82 and that was after I’d been out of college for 10 years. I spent that 10 years working at the Pennsylvania AFL CIO in various capacities. During that time, after my own union, the Service Employees in Pittsburgh had loaned me to the AFL CIO.

Jon O’Brien (19:41):

Yeah. Also amongst all the various trust funds and different funds that you sit on. Do you feel, or do you think some of them do it better as far as communicating the benefits to the general public?

Irwin Aronson (19:57):

I think that some learn from, yeah, I think that some do, and if there’s no pattern to it, we might have a bricklayers fund in Pittsburgh be very communicative or attractive. I know that there’s a pipe trades fund in Pittsburgh that is really on the cutting edge of training. They just built a new exceptional training facility. That’s been open for about a year. And they are advertising on TV attracting very high quality apprentices. But I also know in central and North central Pennsylvania, the laborers and the contractors association, like the KCA are attracting a significant number of apprentices to become construction, craft laborers, and go through that training. And that’s a relatively young apprenticeable trade. It’s only been about 24, 25 years that we had such a thing as an apprenticeship and training program for construction craft laborers.

Irwin Aronson (21:02):

I was party to the application and approval by the state of the Pennsylvania State Apprenticeship and Training Council for the very first laborers’ training program. And that is one that is sponsored jointly by KCA and the Laborers’ District Council of Eastern Pennsylvania. And they’re attracting people. Part of it is industry-based. So down in south central Pennsylvania in Chambersburg, right now, there is a very significant solar power plant being built. And there is a need for electrical workers, both journeymen and apprentices. And there has been some significant outreach there at a recognition that when somebody gets a chance to work on this job, it’s on the cutting edge of renewable power sources. And the training they get in working on that job will be training that will serve people, particularly younger people for an entire career in something that government agencies and environmental organizations, as well as typical large construction project owners, like Penn State University like major hospitals and like government agencies will be seeking out.

Irwin Aronson (22:24):

And those skills will serve those young people for a career. And they will get the opportunity to learn those skill sets while being paid a very good wage and earning those benefits we talked about and helping to sustain the training program for a coming generation that’s yet to be identified all good stuff. So there’s just a lot going on out there. And I see it every day we have in Pennsylvania that the reality of a growing gas industry and the pipelines that go along with that. And while some people have expressed some understandable concerns about the pipeline construction for another generation of us, these are family sustaining jobs. Once again, with family sustaining wages, but much more significantly their jobs on which people learn skillsets that serve them for a career, not just for a job

Jon O’Brien (23:24):

So what’d you say, Chris, are you sold or is there a certain trade you’re looking to add?

Irwin Aronson (23:28):

I mean, the age, the age was lifted so

Chris Martin (23:30):

Well, unfortunately I’m 48, so I’m probably not going to be a good a good fit based on that, but

Irwin Aronson (23:38):

You’re in and I will sponsor you myself.

Chris Martin (23:41):

Well, thank you, Irwin, when I’m in, you know, I have a funny story as well. And that point I started my, my company 11 years ago. And at the time we had been working with a lot with the iron workers and we still do. And my wife, you know, start the company in 2008, which was great time to start the company. My wife says to me, well, what’s your plan B? And I said, well, worst case scenario I’ll become an iron worker. I don’t think she stopped laughing since she keeps reminds me of that. Every day I hear this…

Irwin Aronson (24:17):

Excuse me, I’m sorry for dropping. I have this wonderful sort of idiosyncratic story. A very dear friend of mine was the, for many years, the state director of the railroad unions here in Pennsylvania. And he was more than a client. And his son was born literally two days before my daughter was born and his son went to school in Harrisburg and graduated high school with honors, went to Duquesne University, got himself a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He went back to Duquesne and got a master’s degree in education and had planned on being a teacher. And he ended up getting a job as an instructor in the academic side of a welding program that the pipe trade unions out in the Pittsburgh area had sponsored along with a company called Maglev incorporated. And in the process, this young man became exposed to a number of folks who were in the boiler makers union and had been trained on precision welding techniques.

Irwin Aronson (25:36):

And he became so enamored of them that he applied for and was admitted to the boilermakers apprenticeship and training program out in the Pittsburgh area. This is a young man with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He went through that apprenticeship training program became the number one boiler maker, welding apprentice in the country in his fourth year of a five year program. And has since had a career where he has literally traveled all over the world on welding jobs. He’s been of course, up in Alaska on that pipeline work, both working in training people. He’s been all over the middle East on pipeline work. He’s been throughout Asia. He’s been throughout most of Europe and he’s been in South America and even in Australia. And he is earning whatever he really feels like earning as much as he feels like earning. He has already been vested in a pension program at the ripe young age of 39. And he has an extraordinary healthcare program and can basically name his own tickets. He is among the highest workers that I’ve ever met, and he earns well into the six figures any year that he chooses to good for him.

Jon O’Brien:

We should have him on the show.

Chris Martin (26:57):

We’ve done a lot of work with the boilermakers and I can attest to that from their international work and their travelers fund and the way that they support that the opportunities that aren’t just here in the United States, but all over the world. I know there’s a lot of big local growing in Puerto Rico, actually with all the issues that have been facing there on, in Puerto Rico. So you’re absolutely right. And it’s not just the boilermakers. It’s, it’s every trade.

Irwin Aronson (27:28):

It’s every one of the trades. I mean, one of the fascinating and unique things I’ve alluded to this earlier in this conversation that people secure a skill set through our training programs that no one can take away from them. And part of the reality is in in two instances, one is when you’re living in the Northeastern United States or in the in the Northern part of the central United States, and the weather gets cold, you have those skills. And if you want to work in Florida or work in Arizona, you have to pick up the phone or you send out an email to the sister, local union in your trade in those areas and see if they need people. And more often than not, you get a referral and you can work as a traveler in those areas and avoid the cold weather if that’s your interest, or if you want to see some spot on the planet that is just intriguing as all get out to you.

Irwin Aronson (28:24):

And, and that’s the way that is. You make the appropriate contact, you make the appropriate phone call. And these folks refer to one another as brother for a reason, and they treat one another like brothers and they make space and they make time for this to happen. And typically all of these healthcare and pension and annuity and training funds have what they refer to in the industry as reciprocity agreements. So you earn the access to your benefits in one location, but it is the funds are sent to your home area so that you don’t have any lapse in benefit eligibility or investing for a pension. And the benefits themselves are completely portable in this respect. So that’s another aspect when one works for an individual company with an individual employer sponsoring your healthcare plan. If you lose your job, you lose your benefits in these trades.

Irwin Aronson (29:23):

If you get laid off because of a short term, lack of work, your benefits continue. Typically when you’re working actively, you are in benefit credits, show that during a period of unemployment, whether it’s unemployment because of some structural issue or unemployment, because you just feel like working for a period of time, you want to knock off for a week or two for hunting season, for example, your benefits, don’t lapse, your benefits don’t get canceled. They travel with you and they’re completely portable both for traveling and work in both and in terms of periods of layoff or downturn. So it’s another feature that people just don’t realize.

Jon O’Brien (30:02):

Yeah. Another great benefit. So I know KCA will continue to beat the drum and really promote these hidden benefits and make sure it’s well communicated to the masses.

Irwin Aronson (30:14):

Well, you know, one of the realities is that the unions that KCA members have relationships with and KCA members have a truly symbiotic relationship that they’ll get into a wrestling match here and there over what these rates should be. But the rates ultimately are collectively bargained and nobody is getting forced to pay more than the than the economy locally can bear. And the unions and the employers work together jointly to assure that admission to crafts is based upon what they anticipate will be the actual industry needs. So there aren’t too many extra apprentices and too many extra journeymen that are competing for work. The work is there based on the estimates and they work in tandem. Just earlier today, I was working on a piece of legislation known as house bill 1100, that would provide some specialized tax benefits for building another petrochemical plant up in the North Eastern part of Pennsylvania. And I was working with a group of contractors as well as a group of union folks, standing shoulder to shoulder and working arm and arm to get the General Assembly of Pennsylvania to attend and pass the legislation that will enable this to happen. And it’s a ton of jobs in Pennsylvania, but it’s also a ton of tax income. And it’s also a ton of real and meaningful profits for contractors who successfully bid and get that work.

Jon O’Brien (31:53):

Well, thank you for your efforts there. I’m hearing leadership is slowly coming around.

Irwin Aronson (31:59):

Nope. Nobody ever explained it so well before.

Jon O’Brien (32:02):

Yes. On behalf of the industry. Thank you. Yes.

Irwin Aronson (32:06):

Thank you for giving me the opportunity. It really is a pleasure to work jointly that’s yeah, so many times in my world, it’s an antagonistic relationship, but in this piece of my world, it really never is antagonistic. It’s really a joint effort. And that’s why I emphasize these jointly trusteed training programs and jointly trusteed healthcare programs and jointly trusteed apprenticeship and training programs, because that’s the deal.

Jon O’Brien (32:34):

Absolutely. It’s teamwork. It’s all about teamwork and yeah on behalf of management in KCA, I’d like to just thank you for all your hard work over the years, and we’d like to keep picking your brain and bring you back on the show from time to time.

Irwin Aronson:

Well, I’m happy to come back. I have an intimate understanding of what’s in that brain and there isn’t much, but it’s all yours.

Chris Martin (32:56):

Okay. Irwin we thank you so much for your time today and thank you for everyone listening. Be prepard because we have a lot more coming from the Building PA Podcast, more episodes about interesting and useful information such as this. So thank you, Irwin and thank you Jon. Have a great day, everybody.

Jon O’Brien (33:23):

Alright. We’ll see ya.

Building PA Podcast Season 1, Episode 10: Opioids & the Pennsylvania Construction Industry

Introduction: The story of how the Keystone Contractors Association became a respected authority in the opioid epidemic goes like this: in late 2016, early 2017, the KCA embarked on creating a strategic plan. This activity included trips around the state to get to know the contractor members better: learning about their strengths, weaknesses, challenges, etc. During these conversational meetings, a reoccurring topic kept creeping into our talks – opioids are wreaking havoc on our industry and communities. The KCA Board was in agreement that we have a major problem and they turned to me to find solutions. Not knowing where to turn for help, I asked a bunch a industry friends for advice. The best advice I received was from my former co-worker Bob McCall who said I should start with the National Safety Council and see if they can help. The KCA started with the NSC and here we are four years later still working with them to help in the battle against drug and alcohol addiction. In this episode, my friend Rachael Cooper of the NSC talks with the Building PA Podcast about opioids.   

To listen to the entire episode visit: Opioids & the Pennsylvania Construction Industry.

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to the PA construction industry podcast recorded right here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am one of the hosts, Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing, where we tell stories for people who build things.

Jon O’Brien:

Awesome. Glad you’re with us today. I hope you’re ready for another episode here, Chris. This is a very timely very important topic for not only for both of us, but for the entire industry. So this is great. Yeah, absolutely. The topic is something very near and dear to the construction industry and the KCA members. So about three and a half years ago, I was hired by the KCA and the KCA is located in central PA. The headquarters is Harrisburg and I left Pittsburgh and this was a new membership of construction companies for me.

Jon O’Brien (01:02):

And the first thing I wanted to do was really find the strengths and weaknesses of these members and get to know more about them and their challenges. There was a reoccurring issue that kept popping up throughout these construction companies. And it was the opioid issue and how it is drastically affecting, you know, their own workforce and their communities. And it’s just tearing families and communities apart, and the KCA wanted to do something about it. So, I started making a bunch of calls and contacts to industry friends, and everyone said the same thing. You got to go to the National Safety Council, they have the premier resources. It’s a great educational outlet for information. And I’m just thrilled and excited to have Rachael Cooper from the National Safety Council with us today to talk about opioids and, and yeah, I’m really excited to welcome her to the show right now.

Rachael Cooper (02:03):

Thank you guys. Thank you for having me.

Jon O’Brien (02:07):

Yeah. So, as I mentioned, the topic today is opioid awareness and the effect on the industry. Can you kind of give us maybe your background and kind of lead up to you know, your involvement in, on this serious issue?

Rachael Cooper (02:22):

Absolutely. So, thanks again for having me. My name is Rachael Cooper and I am the senior program manager and subject matter expert on opioids for the National Safety Council. My personal background is one that’s based in both international and public health. So, I started working on the opioid epidemic abroad when I was living in France several years ago, I have moved back to the States and I have worked both on the front lines, doing a lot of programming, getting people into treatment and getting people to support that they need people who have an opioid use disorder. And then now I’m working for the National Safety Council. And what we’re primarily working on right now is the intersection of opioids and how it impacts the workplace. So, when I say workplace, I mean, both employers and employees. So that is how our programming came to Jon’s ears.

Rachael Cooper (03:19):

And a lot of what we do right now as pertains to opioid awareness is really about realizing that this is an issue that we can all impact. This is something that we can all learn about that we can all change. The opioid crisis is complex, and it has many different faces and many different storylines, and it impacts us all differently, but we can support ourselves and help ourselves and help our neighbors and our communities and our colleagues and our coworkers by learning more about the issue and really increasing the education and awareness about the issue.

Jon O’Brien (03:53):

Great. Great to have you on the show here and on behalf of the KCA membership, thank you for all the resources you guys have supplied us, the NCS supplied us. They’ve been extremely helpful for the employers. You know, we get the stickers on the insurance and medication cards. That’s been awesome. It’s been chronicled in media outlets and others, of course you got the resource guide just came out.

Rachael Cooper (04:23):

Yeah. Yeah. Let me give a, I can talk a little bit about the things that you know that we’ve put out. So, the stickers that you mentioned, just to clarify, those are the warn me labels and warn me labels are intended for anybody who uses a pharmacy, right? So, anybody who receives a prescription, which is most of us, one thing that we know is that oftentimes when you’re prescribed a medication, you’re not exactly sure what it is, right? You might be prescribed something and it doesn’t sound like something you’ve heard of. We know that’s also very true with opioids. A lot of us are very familiar with say oxycodone or Percocet or Vicodin. Those names are very familiar to people, but there’s ones that are equally unfamiliar, such as Tramadol. Tramadol is also an opioid for example, or some of the generic names that we might not recognize as an opioid, what a warning label does is it, you stick it on your own pharmacy loyalty card or your insurance card or whatever.

Rachael Cooper (05:21):

And it says, opioids warn me. And it’s a reminder to yourself to ask your doctor for questions, which are provided to you about, you know, am I being prescribed an opioid? Is there an alternative, if there isn’t an alternative, how can I take this safely, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s a reminder, not only for you, but when you present your pharmacy card to your pharmacist, it’s a reminder for them as well. So, this is one of those tools that we thought was really useful in the workplace. And there’s a lot, like you said, it’s been published in the media because we give them out in little cards of four. So not only do you put it on your own pharmacy card, you can take it home for your family, or you can pass it to friends and they are free and can be ordered on our website at www.nsc.org/takeaction.

Rachael Cooper (06:05):

So that’s one of the really concrete tools that we’ve put out the second tool. And this is really about engaging businesses and understanding the impact that the opioid crisis has had on the workplace is our substance use cost calculator and the substance use cost calculator takes your organization’s size it’s industry and the state that you’re in and uses a variety of sources to debt of data, to calculate the financial impact that the opioid crisis has had on your workplace from turnover to absenteeism, to increase health care costs, to workers’ compensation costs. This tool pulls together all of that information so that you can see the cost of substance use, not just opioids, but also including alcohol cannabis, et cetera, is having on your workplace. It also shows you how much money you can save by supporting employees through recovery. The third tool that was just mentioned is the NSC opioids at work employer tool kit, and the employer toolkit is a set of resources targeted at four main audiences, HR professionals, safety professionals, managers, and supervisors, and employees themselves.

Rachael Cooper (07:23):

We came to the conclusion after serving several hundred organizations across the country that all four of those groups are necessary to create a comprehensive program to address opioids in the workplace. Opioids have a safety impact. They’re in impairing medication. They’re impairing when they’re taken as a drug, some people may show obvious signs of impairment, many people won’t. How do we recognize those safety risks? How do we understand the business risks, again, talking about the substance use cost calculator and those costs. How do we understand the human component, the culture component, when there are people in the workforce who are struggling with drug use or an opioid use disorder that impacts the workforce and how the workforce feels, the health of the workplace in general, as well as the individual health of the employee. And then of course, education resources for employee themselves to have a better educated, more aware workforce. So that opioids at work employer tool kit came out recently in September of 2019. And again, it has a set of it’s four sets of documents and tools that you can use to in your workplace to really evaluate where your workplace is at and re-addressing this and give some key action steps that can be really helpful when addressing the opioid crisis in the workplace

Jon O’Brien (08:40):

Concerning the warn me stickers. There is another benefit that we realized. And I don’t know if other companies that you talked to realize this as well, but as far as the actual handling of the sticker from the employer or employee, in some cases, some contractors told me there was kind of a, you know, a bond was built, you know, relationship was improved. Now their employers showing they have put this on you, I care about you and take some home to your family. I care about your family too. So that was an absolutely touching feedback we heard there. So, yeah.

Rachael Cooper (09:15):

Yeah. We hear similar things. I think that one of the things that is really critical is when we talk about the opioid crisis or the overdose epidemic, or any of the intersecting parts, is that you can’t overstate the impact that stigma has when people are trying to seek help. When people are trying to figure out how to handle an opioid use disorder or a substance use disorder, either with themselves or within their family, right? It might not be, you know, your employee, it might be their spouse or their child or another family member, or a dear friend who’s dealing with this, which also is stressful and can really impact their presence in the workplace. And if they’re on your healthcare plan, of course, there’s costs associated there as well. But if people feel like they will be judged, if people feel like they will lose their job, if people feel like they aren’t safe in disclosing this to a coworker, a manager, an HR professional, anybody, they’re not going to say anything, which means that we’re not going to learn about it, and then we can’t help. So like you said, that first step by saying being proactive and saying, I care about this, I care about you is certainly one of those unspoken things that’s critical for the success of any opioids at work program implementation.

Chris Martin (10:38):

So Rachel, you mentioned the human and cultural impact of the opioids epidemic. I’m sorry. I left that out. What are you seeing from not only from the national level, but more from like more specifically to Pennsylvania, how is that impacting contractors and, and overall the industry as it relates to Pennsylvania?

Rachael Cooper (11:04):

Sure. So, there’s a lot of information out there about how the construction industry is one of the hardest hit industries in terms of drug use in general. Late last fall NYU came out with a study that showed that construction workers were the most likely to use opioids and cocaine. So, there’s a lot of different reasons for that involving, and some of them are specific to Pennsylvania, some of them aren’t for example, that Eastern seaboard area, Pennsylvania, you know, even the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and then a little bit into the Midwest, including Ohio, West, Virginia, et cetera, et cetera, these are all very hard hit areas in general, right? Access is definitely part of this conversation areas where opioids are less prevalent for in the plain States like North and South Dakota, Wyoming, et cetera. There’s a much lower level of opioid use due to the access component. But when you’re in a place where access is pretty high, where the capacity to access these substances or any substances is higher, obviously that does also equate to more people using them. So that’s certainly part of it, but we also know that there’s certain factors in construction and also mining and extraction industry.

Chris Martin (12:22):

That they’re… I’m sorry,

Rachael Cooper (12:23):

Hazards, you know, falls injuries from overexertion being stuck in our crop by heavy machinery injuries from repetitive or strenuous work, et cetera, leads to pain. And the most frequent reason that people misuse opioids is to treat pain. This is why most people misuse opioids, most of the time, you know, you think that we’re talking about physical pain, there’s certainly a mental pain component to it as well. But oftentimes, especially when it comes to chronic pain, there’s a lot of research that has yet to be done in terms of how to best treat chronic pain. So people self-medicate, they don’t know what else to do. Sometimes it’s opioids, sometimes it’s marijuana with opioids. Of course, once you start to develop a dependence on the medication, then it can be really, really difficult to wean yourself off. And when you’re continuing those movements or those motions, or those repetitive motions that can really exacerbate injuries or pain, or when you’re still putting yourself at risk, then people aren’t going to understand how to get themselves off these medications.

Rachael Cooper (13:29):

So that’s one of those, you know, those factors with the construction industry, that’s really important to consider. Another thing that we know from a variety of sources is that when people don’t have stable, sick time, when they are not sure how to help, they’re going to be employed you know, in the next week, or if they’re, they’ve only got a month and people tend to push through their pain, right. As opposed to taking time off and going back, they tend to push through it because they need to so that, you know, they don’t miss work so that they can come back to work. So oftentimes these are the kinds of, this is the intersection that we really see here is this, this high impact, higher risk injury for injury, as opposed to, for example, an office. I mean, I work from home, right? My risk of injury is generally me slipping on my hardwood floors.

Rachael Cooper (14:18):

Right. It’s very, very different which I do by the way, because, you know, I shouldn’t be wearing, but sometimes I don’t wear shoes and sometimes I’m wearing socks and when I slip and I’m like, well, that was great. But in general, you know, when, when you’re looking at those people will go to really extreme lengths to hide their, their drug use as a general thing, they don’t want to get fired. And they need, they need their job. Right. And, and especially when it’s a seasonal thing, we see this in the fishing industry as well. Well, another high impact industry where it’s seasonal, where people might get hurt three weeks in, but they’re not going to stop because they can’t. So this is, you know, one of those, a similar situation in that, in that case,

Chris Martin (14:59):

You know, it’s funny Rachel, you mentioned, you know, slipping on the hardwood floors and stuff, but I had surgery a year and a half ago minor surgery, nothing crazy as I was getting discharged, the nurse was, you know, standard procedure going through everything. And she handed me a prescription and it was for Oxycontin and she looked at it before she handed it to me. She, she looked at it again and she goes, Oh, hold on a second. I need to check on this. So she walks, goes, checks with the doctor, comes back. It was, you mentioned, I’m bringing this up because you mentioned access. The prescription was for a hundred Oxycontin. Wow. And like, my wife looked at me and says that there’s no way we’re going to, you’re never, ever going to use that. And I said, exactly. And the nurse at least had the foresight to go and at least confirm, are you sure you really want to do this?

Chris Martin (15:55):

And then when I went to the pharmacist and I said, give me 10, I don’t need a hundred. That’s ridiculous. You know, but to your point, there are so many times when people look at it and say, well, Hey, I got a hundred, I’m going to use all. You know, that isn’t really helping anything, but the access side of things I think is, is another part of it. You know, the, the pain management world of the medical industry is always trying to help with that. But at the same time, they’re really not helping at all.

Rachael Cooper (16:28):

Yeah. And I think that, you know, from a personal perspective, what I’ve learned is, I mean, so I broke my leg a few years ago out on the West coast. And then we had to drive home and I live in Madison, Wisconsin, and it was a long drive obviously. And they gave me a bike and then I took it for a day because it made me sick. And then I was sick and had a broken leg. And I was like, that’s a bad combination too. So we’re just not going to do that. But those just, they just sat in my medicine cabinet. And that’s a pretty common thing where people forget about it, or they specifically choose to keep it, because what if they need it down the road, especially for people who are under insured or who aren’t sure where their next prescription is going to come from, or if they’re going to be able to get the support that they need, that a lot of that can happen. And when people are going to elect to say, no, I’m going to keep these in case I need them, because what if I can’t get them when I do need them?

Jon O’Brien (17:18):

Yeah. It’s kind of scary to think that that is that’s the mentality, but you understand it too.

Rachael Cooper (17:26):

Right. And I think that’s one of those really critical moments where we know when, when you think about it and you’re like, I just wish people wouldn’t do that. Of course you do, but it needs to, and this is where we have this. We talk a lot about a multifaceted response here, right? This has to be about more than just personal responsibility to get rid of your medications. You know, people have to be able to access what they need for pain management, including possibly, you know, if you know, your doctor says that actually we want to put you in occupational therapy, or we want you to go to chiropractor once a week or whatever they end up saying. Oftentimes, I mean, it’s a lot easier and it’s a lot faster to take a pill, right. It’s just easier.

Rachael Cooper (18:07):

It takes less time. You don’t have to take time off of work. You don’t have to do something that maybe you’re not comfortable with. You know, people who are scared of needles, aren’t going to want to go to acupuncture, that kind of stuff. Right. So, you know, it’s part of, it’s a multi-sectoral response and that not only do we need to increase the access for non opioid pain management options, but workplaces have to be able to give people the time to go access those options. And also to say that, Hey, I know that, you know, maybe your recovery from your injury is taking a little bit longer than expected, but we want you to be back here and fully healthy as opposed to back here and partially healthy and still trying to self medicate to be able to come back to work. So there’s definitely a several different levels of engagement here.

Rachael Cooper (18:54):

And we have to rely on the treatment industry to increase access to treatment. And we need to work with, you know, the prevention organizations to, to work on some of the more in depth prevention mechanisms. And there’s so many different capacity factors here, and we don’t have the capacity to do all of them. So, you know, this is where we talk about teaming up in your community. And Pennsylvania has a ton of resources. It’s one of the States that has a lot of different resources across the state from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and everything in between where it’s the state has been really proactive, which is a really pretty cool thing because there’s definitely States where it’s not the case. So everything from harm reduction organizations to you know, the criminal justice world of social services to employment stuff, there’s some really cool stuff in Pennsylvania as a whole.

Jon O’Brien (19:42):

And recently our governor, Tom Wolf, gave his budget address and he was commenting how overdoses are down in Pennsylvania last year for the first time in so many years. And they really credit all the outreach that these organizations and companies do. So I just wanted to echo your comments as a man, he does do a great job, but like our governor said, it’s not done until we’re down to zero, so we just gotta keep it up.

Rachael Cooper:

And you said something Chris there. Sorry. Sorry. No, that was a really good point there, Jon.

Jon O’Brien:

So Rachel, my question for you is what’s coming next. What’s the National Safety Council doing next to continue to build off of all the great things that have happened?

Rachael Cooper (20:28):

Sure. So a couple answers to that question. So one is that we do recognize that a lot of the resources that we have built and that NIOSH has built that other industries or other organizations have built really tend to focus on organizations who are not only really advanced in their safety, but also have a lot of resources at their disposal. So for example, when I say that, one of the things that I mean is oftentimes we talk about making sure that employers structured their benefits plans to not only cover to not only cover alternative pain management mechanisms of non-opioid pain management mechanisms, but also to cover medications for addiction treatment and, you know, behavioral health therapies, et cetera, et cetera. You can’t do that. If you don’t have an employer health care plan, if you’re a small organization, if you’re a small business, right, this is not an option for you.

Rachael Cooper (21:26):

You know, you can do the best you can internally, but if you’re not the one providing and negotiating with your health insurance providers, then you’re at their whim of the ones that your employee chooses to buy or to not buy for that matter. So that’s one of the things that we’re really diving into is ensuring that small businesses have the resources that they need because this impacts small businesses as well. We know that the majority of opioid overdoses that happen on the job happen in small businesses, small businesses are less likely to drug test. They’re less likely to have, you know, some of the policies in place that we want. So how do we work with those businesses to get them to them point where, you know, they can also take these, these actions. We are also understand of course, that regardless of the size of the business and regardless of the industry, that there’s different levels of maturity, some people are still learning about this.

Rachael Cooper (22:29):

Maybe it hasn’t hit them very hard yet. You know, the West coast is just starting to be hit by the fentanyl crisis. It’s different. It goes East to West here. So the East coast is starting to see a rise in stimulant use after the fentanyl use the West coast just now is starting to really get hit with the fentanyl. So it depends on where you are, right? So understanding that those particular caveats is really important and understanding that there’s always going to be organizations that are starting from scratch. So the more that we know and the deeper we go into this and the more mature organizations that we partner with closely that we really work with become, you know, as they do, as they work along the entire spectrum of prevention and treatment and recovery and all those different recommendations about how to navigate opioids in the workplace, how they implement these programs, how they learn about it, what works, what doesn’t really taking, what we learned from the implementation that people are doing right now, and helping create a framework for businesses who are going to be coming a little bit later.

Rachael Cooper (23:30):

We also understand, of course, that this is a pharmaceutical drug issue. It’s not just opioids. I live in Wisconsin, we were up in Wisconsin, Northern very Northern Wisconsin. Last May, and all we heard about was alcohol and because that’s what the issue is up there. So it’s important, of course, at all times to really understand that while we do talk about the opioid crisis and the opioid crisis is what sparked this particular movement, that there is always going to be stuff that is that you can use for other talking about other drugs you can use for talking about alcohol, being in recovery is different from person to person, but you can be in recovery from a lot of different things or just one thing or whatever that looks like for you. And how does that translate to the workforce?

Rachael Cooper (24:19):

How do we make a recovery friendly workforce? It’s not just going to be recovery friendly for opioids, it’s going to be recovery friendly for everything. So really working on, you know, getting to that point where this understanding of substance use disorders as it pertains to any substance, not just opioids. And then lastly, really looking at what does it mean to be a recovery friendly workplace? How do we support people in recovery? What does that look like? And that is a question that it has a lot of different answers. There are certain organizations that have really focused on being a recovery friendly workplace. There’s different States that have really worked on it on a state level creating programs. And what that looks like is going to be critical, moving forward as more and more people move to recovery. Cause that’s the whole point is to get people to recovery.

Jon O’Brien (25:12):

I think KCA is much like probably a lot of the groups that you touched on. A lot of the associations you touch in that there seems to be some companies that are more active in areas, and some are more involved in raising the awareness on opioids and some don’t do as much, but the ones that seem to do a lot, they always come to me and they’re always like, well, what’s an example of someone that really does good in this area. And I want to turn to them and say, you know, you, but in your role, cause I always want to get better, you know, internally, but within your role, do you know good examples of companies that really go above and beyond and really lead by example?

Rachael Cooper (25:52):

Sure. Absolutely. So there’s a couple that come to mind and everything. Everybody does things a little bit differently. So for example, at KCA, you have focused a lot on this prevention component. The warn me labels, the education, the awareness, the stand downs, which is, you know that’s a classic prevention mechanism, education and awareness drives everything else. So, you know, when people are talking about prevention mechanisms, we talk about you, which is great. So that’s cool. When we talk about some of the policy stuff, we talk a lot about Nationwide, as an example, Nationwide has worked really hard to create a program for their for all of their campuses where there’s a lot of education components too, but they’ve also built a system that exists outside of their company’s intranet. So people can access it anonymously and get the support they need.

Rachael Cooper (26:48):

And then they do have a program that gets triggered when people either have a positive drug screen, or when they voluntarily go to a director, supervisor HR professional and say that they want to be enrolled. And it’s a treatment program. Well, it’s not a treatment program onsite, but it links them to a treatment program they’ve partnered with. And they work with doctors to find the best source of treatment. That’s the type of treatment that this person needs. And their success rate is very high for people who choose to enroll in the program. And then from a very frontline perspective, I’m fishing partnership support services in out of Boston is a really excellent example of working with the limitations of an industry, right? So fishermen often are out on the water for weeks at a time, meaning that they don’t have support if something goes wrong or, you know, if they are in an active addiction stage or if they have an opioid use disorder, then it can be really, really tricky.

Rachael Cooper (27:43):

So, JJ Bartlett and their crew have really worked to get in a lock zone on the boats to do peer report peer to peer recovery services to work with treatment providers in the local area, so that some of so that they work with them so that people can take their medications and all in a quantity that they can bring out on the water for several days so that they don’t have to miss doses, et cetera, et cetera. So those are some of the main ones we talk about, but I mean, there’s so, so many, and you know, one of the larger take home messages is that any action makes a difference. You might be an organization who doesn’t have a ton of capacity right now for whatever set of reasons, which is fine. It happens to all of us, you know, we all have to work on different things. There’s other, you know, there’s always urgent things and we all work to make sure that the urgent doesn’t crowd out the important, but we have to do both. So anything makes a difference. You know, we have videos in our opioids at work employer toolkit, there is a two and a half minute about drugs in the brain that you can show your employees, you know, during an all staff meeting, there’s five minutes, safety talks, the warning labels are free. Any one of those actions can make the difference in somebody’s life.

Jon O’Brien (28:56):

Yeah. I’m often approached by other contractor associations and they’ll say, Oh, you’re a leader in this area. And I’m like, well, I’m actually not, not a leader. I’m just a follower. National Safety Council is the leader.

Rachael Cooper (29:10):

You are a leader like in that, that’s the, one of those things that, you know, we all lead in different ways because leading by example is one of those really important things. And that’s one thing that we talk about a lot internally is we, you have to lead by example, things are important and you know, then you have to prioritize them. But if we don’t do it, then how can, you know, we all have to do it together.

Chris Martin (29:32):

That’s a great way to kind of pull this together. And Jon, I’m going to put words in your mouth and thank Rachael, but more importantly you know, isn’t it nice to hear from somebody that is overseeing the nation and how things are going, that you’re a leader. So hats off to you, Jon and the KCA for, for doing such a great job in Pennsylvania.

Jon O’Brien:

Thank you. We just want to keep doing our small little part and thank you for helping us.

Rachael Cooper (30:00):

Yeah. Oh yeah. Anytime. Yeah. That’s what we do. Yeah.

Chris Martin (30:04):

Well, Rachel, thank you for joining us today. And it was very, very important topic for the industry. Again, this is Chris Martin and my partner, Jon O’Brien we want to say thank you and we’ll have more exciting and very relevant topics coming up in future episodes. So stay tuned.

GCAP: Governor’s Veto of Legislation that Provided COVID-19 Liability Protection for Employers is Disappointing

November 30, 2020, Harrisburg, PA – The General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania (GCAP) was one of eighty Pennsylvania associations who united, led by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, to support House Bill 1737.  This legislation included comprehensive, temporary, pandemic-related liability protections.  A statewide, collective sigh of rejection from the eighty organizations happened today when Governor Tom Wolf vetoed HB1737.

GCAP executive director Jon O’Brien issued the following statement in response to Governor Tom Wolf’s veto:

“Across Pennsylvania, during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction companies have been focused on keeping the workforce safe while trying to recover economically.  GCAP construction companies have been exemplary in abiding by Pennsylvania’s Construction Guidelines and we continue to share our best practices with Pennsylvania Departments of Community Economic Development and Labor & Industry.  Also, concerning the guidelines, I feel compelled to point that we assisted in creating them (Governor Wolf’s press release announcing the creation of Construction Guidelines).”

“This veto was deflating and comes at perhaps the worst time.  During these unprecedented times, many construction companies are working in good faith when it comes to arming our workers with the PPE to be safe on the jobsites, since these PPE costs were not part of the original estimate and no one foresaw what 2020 would bring.  Many clients are telling contractors that ‘they’ll settle up’ after the project on added PPE costs.  Additionally, backlog of future work is down since some clients are unsure of what the future holds so they are not willing to put work out to bid.  Our industry was hopeful that we could get some good news and some much-needed liability protections, instead construction companies have to keep their guard up against trial lawyers anxious to profit from the pandemic.”

“The construction industry will get through this pandemic stronger and smarter than before.  Our industry always learns from challenges that face us.  While the veto of HB1737 was definitely disappointing, we look forward to working with the General Assembly and groups like the Pennsylvania Chamber to improve our economy while keeping our workforce safe.”

ABOUT GCAP: Established in 1953, GCAP is an organization representing the memberships of General Building Contractors Association, Keystone Contractors Association, and Master Builders’ Association. Collectively, GCAP represents over 700-plus commercial construction companies based throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more information visit https://generalcontractorsofpa.com/.

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