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).

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 8: Meet Bill Sproule, EST of the Carpenters Union

For this episode we have a nice chat with the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters EST Bill Sproule. I’ve been fortunate to have known and learned from many great leaders, from sports coaches growing up to Navy enlisted and officers to many in the construction world. I feel like I know a great leader when I see one and from what I’ve seen I think the Carpenters in Pennsylvania have some sort of leadership factory. Each of the ESTs I’ve dealt with have been exemplary – Brooks, Waterkotte and now Sproule. The representatives and training staffs work tirelessly to do what’s best for the industry. And the carpenters in the field are the best at what they do. So I hope you enjoy this episode as you get to know the new EST, his experiences, leadership style and he even touches on worker misclassification too. Mr. Sproule is the real deal, man of his word and I think you’ll agree that comes across in this chat. To listen to the episode click here: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/labor-meet-the-est-of-61532378/.

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Building Pennsylvania Podcast, a construction industry podcast, recorded right here in the great state of Pennsylvania for our Commonwealth’s best industry. I’m Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association…

Chris Martin:

And this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing. Joining us today, we’re pretty proud of this and pretty excited about this. We have Bill Sproule, the EST – Executive Secretary Treasurer for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. Hello Bill.

Bill Sproule (00:34):

Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you very much for having me on the podcast.

Jon O’Brien (00:39):

Thank you. So you’ve been EST now year and a half, maybe two years now.

Bill Sproule (00:43):

Actually I was appointed EST in April of 2019 when a promotion took place. My former EST Bill Waterkotte was promoted to Eastern District Vice President for our International. So in April I was appointed to the job and then we had an upcoming election that took place in August, where I was elected to a four year term to represent what was then Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters. We just renamed the council due to the very unique and diverse territories that we have in the Eastern and Atlantic States. So I was elected to that position in August of 19. So I’m in the first year of my term.

Jon O’Brien (01:33):

There is a diverse territory that the Carpenters Council now covers. And the big question is: who is Bill Sproule? You want to introduce yourself to our contractors?

Bill Sproule (01:47):

Sure, absolutely. I’m a 31 year member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. I got into the apprenticeship a little bit later. I was 22 years of age. When I finally got into the carpenter’s union back in 1989, it was pretty difficult to get in back then. I was trying in Philadelphia and I was trying down the shore and the Atlantic City area. And I grew up in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, but I spent my summers at the sure, but I’ve actually been in construction probably going back to the summer of 1981. I’ve been a roofer’s helper in the summers down the shore with some relatives that were involved in that business and actually got into Roofer’s Local 30 B, the residential arm of that on my 18th birthday in 1984. So I’ve basically been banging nails, carrying shingles, or doing carpentry, whether it’s interior systems or concrete you know, for quite some time now, although I was able to have the unique opportunity in 1999, I was working on the Brigantine tunnel connector project down in Atlantic city.

Bill Sproule (03:06):

I was a shop steward there with 90 Carpenters and one of our business representatives was considering retirement. And it blew me away when you know the business manager. And he came out to my site, which was the tunnel. It was a nice three year project, which you didn’t really see those kinds of jobs that often. And they asked me if I’d be interested in being a, you know, an organizer and a business representative. And I was actually able to make the cut and be the person that was hired for that position. And worked my way up. And it’s just been a learning experience ever since we’ve been an evolution of many regional councils. I started out as a rep in a council called the Southern New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters. At that particular time, there were four councils in New Jersey.

Bill Sproule (04:06):

There were multiple councils in the state of Pennsylvania, and there were hundreds of locals in the region as well. It was almost like every County or, or even more than that had a local. So in 2002, there was some mergers that took place. And some consolidations and New Jersey was turned into a regional council as a whole, instead of four councils. And they still remained having like 26 local unions throughout the state at that time. But I had already been on staff and was learning the ropes. And then and I was promoted to senior representative and then organizing director and regional manager. At one point, I became the president of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, which was a merger that took place in 2011. And you know things have just been evolving. The Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters was actually kind of disbanded and merged into KML and that occurred in 2018.

Bill Sproule (05:15):

And we were KML and I served as Bill Waterkotte’s assistant executive secretary treasurer, helping him run pretty much the whole Eastern side of the operation, which would be New Jersey Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley right on down through Washington DC in Virginia. And then we went ahead and Bill moved up and we just petitioned the International for our name change. It’s funny, you know, Keystone Mountain Lakes was a great name when the former Greater PA Council merged with West Virginia. But when you add a New Jersey, Delaware, DC, Maryland, Virginia, to that mix, you know, we used to joke around what are we going to call this Keystone Mountain Lakes Bays and Estuaries. So we started thinking of what could the name be and unanimously in early December, each board meeting we kind of came to a conclusion that everybody was on board with Eastern Atlantic States. I wrote to the International to request to see if we can get a name change. And they actually granted that within a week or so. So we’re in a unique spot right now where we’re rebranding. We are building our website out and our apps and things like that. And getting all of our identity changed around to the new council and get looking at a new logo and things of that nature. So it’s a pretty exciting time.

Jon O’Brien (06:53):

Very exciting, indeed. Yeah. For the early on I kept calling them the Keystone Carpenters and then the KML name finally clicked with me and I started using KML and then it switches again and then I’m sure I’ll adapt.

Bill Sproule (07:10):

The only one that was frustrated with us changing the name again, I hear it every time I would encounter folks that I hadn’t seen in a while. And I think one of the things that pushed me over the edge to really fast track this was we had a group of representatives attend an event called the League of Municipalities in New Jersey down in Atlantic City. And it’s basically three days where every elected official from a municipal level, county level, state level converges on AC and there’s workshops and it’s a conference. Well, we actually did a booth this year and we had some of our folks down there and people were coming up and they would recognize the carpenter’s label or the insignia that we have had since 1881. But when they saw the KML, they’d be like what’s KML?

Bill Sproule (08:06):

And it just got to a point where we really needed to change our identity. And I think in another six months or another year or so people really recognize who we are: Eastern Atlantic States, and we are Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and now Puerto Rico. And we actually have 10 counties in Northern North Carolina. What’s unique about this council, we have a 42,000 plus members at this time and a good majority of those members actually hail from Pennsylvania or New Jersey in those numbers. I got some numbers here for our Pennsylvania members, since we’re talking about the industry and the market and the diversity in the Keystone state, and we have 14,349 active members in the state, and we have 4,817 retired members in the State. So when you look at that you know, a really good percentage of our council is certainly domiciled here in Pennsylvania.

Jon O’Brien (09:17):

So different name, but same great partnership with the contractors. And you know, we just enjoy this relationship we have with the carpenters and let’s keep it going, but when it comes to your leadership style what sort of role and what can you pull on from your past experiences during your 31 years in the field and as a rep, is there certain people that kind of mentored you along and kind of guided you? Is there any certain experiences that really stick out to you?

Bill Sproule (09:50):

Absolutely. You know when I first started, well go back to the tools you know, being a roofer and then coming into the carpenters, I kind of thought I’d be able to just jump right in there and no sweat. I mean, I was strong, young, not afraid of heights you know, could handle a hammer and other tools and things of that nature. And I got dumped on a drywall job and I had never really done drywall. So I don’t know if you can imagine it. And I was tucked in the back of the Taj Mahal, you know, in the back Carter’s where they were doing triple layer dry wall. And the screws were like two and a half inches long. So starting out in that environment, on your first day, it was a little intimidating, but being that I worked with tools and I had a good construction background, I started picking it up pretty fast and became a really good interior systems carpenter, thanks to the journeymen that I had to work with.

Bill Sproule (10:55):

And although back then they used to torture the apprentices a bit, but they were very helpful in teaching us the craft. That’s something that we’re definitely getting away from is the old school where the hazing that used to take place, if you will it’s something that we’re definitely turning a corner on, and trying to avoid that, especially with the millennials you know, I’m a Gen Xer, and that’s how it was. And it was a great experience. I got to learn interior systems. I got to learn some finish work and then I got to get really good at and learn concrete work and high rises. I worked on several of the casino additions, as well as the tunnel and some bridges. So it was a very well rounded experience where I got to learn how to multitask and diversify my skills.

Bill Sproule (11:51):

I got to see the ups and downs, the cyclical nature of the business, you know, through booms and busts in the economy and got to learn how important it was to have a good reputation and be extremely productive if you want to make a good living. And you know, if you’ve got contractors that always want to try to get you on board, then you’re gonna make it through thick and thin. So that was a great experience. And then becoming a representative was kind of like starting all over again, because you got to imagine, I guess a 32 year old, I was working on concrete at the time, bolt bag and Spud, branch and formal, and, you know, just getting it. We had 50 foot by 30 foot gang forms on the tunnel that weighed 30 tons.

Bill Sproule (12:42):

And I was on that gang. I was a signal man and in the shop steward. And then next thing, you know, I’m walking into an office trying to figure out what to do with a fax machine. So it’s kinda funny to me, don’t even use those things anymore. But so I struggled a little bit for a short time in the office, just getting the hang of you know, wearing a tie and it wasn’t all office work. Obviously I was out in the field organizing and going on job sites and turning jobs around and gaining market share for our local and our members. But I think the best thing is I always had the mindset that you got to learn something new every day, no matter how experienced you are, there’s always somebody out there that’s going to probably teach us something.

Bill Sproule (13:31):

And then you know, as I get older now and move up in ranks in the position, you start to notice that you gotta actually be able to convey that same energy back to the people that are working for you so that they can learn. And you got to give them the opportunities to have failures and success at the same time. It’s the only way people are going to learn. So that’s kinda like my management style. I surround myself with a great team, my leadership team, everybody else, I expect them to work hard. This is not just a job. It’s more of a lifestyle. I can honestly say I probably log about 3000 hours plus a year. And I don’t expect everybody to do that. That’s what I have to do with my travels and everything else that’s going on, but I expect my people to work hard for the membership and we have a great team and I’m not afraid to surround myself with people that may even be smarter than I am, especially with the technology stuff we need folks that are great organizing things and great with the computer technology.

Bill Sproule (14:48):

I’ve been learning that as I go. And you know, I’m doing okay with it. I do read my emails, which is something in this day and age I never imagined that emails would be like the worst thing that you have to deal with in work. But just to give you an example, I come back from a vacation and I have over a thousand of the things. So, and I do read them some of the guys that have my job just basically say, you know, they leave it up to other folks to track them down about the important emails and all that stuff. But for whatever reason, I’m a glutton for punishment. I stay on top of things and try to multitask and try to lead this organization the best I can, but I honestly gotta say it used to be, I used to say a hundred phone calls, suck the life out here. And that’s when I was a new business agent, dispatching members to work and fielding phone calls and taking care of problems. But now it’s you know, I’d love to have maybe half those phone calls and maybe half less the emails that I deal with. And I think the world would be a better place

Chris Martin (16:05):

Bill, You’re not alone in that because I can say definitively, I feel your pain. That email volume is about the same for me. So I hear ya. Thank you for that introduction to yourself and letting our listeners understand a little bit more about Bill as Jon put it. But I, from my experience in the past, working with with the KML you know, we did website, we did newsletters, we did some other things, presentations and helping on the political side. I know personally that the carpenters have some issues that you want to rectify. Can you talk a little bit about some of those issues and how that’s affecting the vision and the direction that you’re taking in the future.

Bill Sproule (16:55):

Absolutely. Chris I think that the number one issue facing not only the carpenters, but many other trades in the construction industry is a misclassification, the underground economy tax fraud in the construction industry. And it mostly pertains to private sector. In some States you, you see it even in the public sector, work in the prevailing wage where there’s a lax enforcement of the regs and laws. But when you look at the amount of construction workers that are working off the books, just think about every one of those construction workers working off the books, there’s multiple victims and, you know, average people from other occupations do not realize that they’re victims of this as well. And basically what happens is when you have a workforce that’s not helping contribute into local state, County taxes, federal taxes, and things of that nature it creates less opportunities for young people that want to move into the construction trade.

Bill Sproule (18:11):

Not to mention legitimate contractors that have small, medium and large size businesses that have, you know, made their bones in this industry are under siege by this problem, because there’s no way to compete when a developer or an end user or somebody decides that they would rather not use union labor to try to save a few bucks. And the bottom line is that the general contractors that use the unscrupulous subcontractors that operate in this manner still make a ton of money. Margins are off the charts for the subs, because they’re not paying proper workman’s comp, they’re not paying taxes, and they’re exploiting a workforce where they’re violating state and federal laws, you know, labor laws and things of that nature. And it’s something that is an epidemic in some States. And in other States, it’s kind of just been growing and growing.

Bill Sproule (19:17):

And I’m going to say, you know, 30 some years ago when I was a roofer, you never really saw too much of this, not even with the home builders. And, but then it started happening in the residential industry. And then I think when the housing bust took place you know, before the great recession and everything, that’s when it really took off in the commercial industry where these unscrupulous subcontractors and, you know, developers and people that are looking to cut corners and make more money on their investments and save money would rather go down that path then and use a legitimate contractor that pays their workers, fair wages, benefits, and it’s just devastating to the industry. And if it keeps going unchecked and keeps growing we have a real battle on our hands. I deal with this you know in the DC Virginia market and the Maryland markets are ravaged by this practice.

Bill Sproule (20:22):

New Jersey probably has about 35 to 40,000 construction workers. They are working off the books. We’re starting to see it in places like Jersey City and up in the big urban areas now where multimillion dollar projects are being done with crews that are second, third tier subcontractors off the books, and we’re trying to get state government to step up. We know right now, federal government’s not going to do much about it. They’ve been watering down the IRS ever since going back probably two or three presidents ago. And it’s something that this is our battle cry. We did rallies last year in multiple locations on a tax day, April 15th, and we’re gearing up to do it again. And we’re going to continue to educate the public elected officials and anyone we can about this issue and how it affects everybody.

Jon O’Brien (21:24):

Absolutely. It’s a, it’s a huge issue. And I proudly stood with my carpenter friends at some of those rallies spoke at some of the rallies, testified alongside the carpenters. I just got to commend you and your staff and your people for doing an excellent job shedding light on this very serious issue. So Bravo to you, keep it up.

Bill Sproule (21:46):

Thank you very much, Jon.

Jon O’Brien (21:48):

Yeah. Any other big issues that you guys are looking at?

Bill Sproule (21:54):

Absolutely. You know, the industry apprenticeships that the United States Department of Labor and President Trump, I’ve been considering and there was actually a period of time where you could write in and comment on what you as an individual or an organization thought about that stuff. And I know there was hundreds of thousands of responses. We were very proactive. I have seven joint apprentice training funds that I co-chair throughout our council. And we had everyone of our training directors help weigh in on the issue. And we created a response that was kind of a collaboration throughout the council on why this should not happen in the construction industry. And when you look at some of the apprentice programs that have been active outside of the union trades and ours in particular, the UBC carpenter apprentice programs, they’re very watered down.

Bill Sproule (23:06):

There was no clear way of identifying whether or not people are actually fulfilling their obligations with their actual training. And they’re on the job training hours and things of that nature. And quite frankly, there was little or no data out there that actually proves that there’s even graduations and folks that are succeeding on to becoming journey folks. On the other hand, when you look at our stuff, it’s very regimented it’s dollar earned either by the States or the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training. And I had came through the program and I’m extremely proud that I did. And I think it’s a shame that there’s forces out there that want to water this down and allow the same contractors that I was talking about earlier that practice payroll fraud and cheat day in and day out to actually insinuate that they have an apprentice program and have apprentices on their projects that they’re trying to mentor and help them become journey people and create a long lasting career for them because it’s total BS.

Bill Sproule (24:23):

I mean, it’s absurd, but you know, we just have to keep fighting the fight. Our adversaries think that because of what’s going on down in Washington right now, and the administration that they’ve got the upper hand, but the reality is there’s nothing better than a union apprenticeship in this country when it comes to trades, especially when it comes to carpenters, millwrights, dock builders, floor layers, and a perfect example of that is yesterday. When I was out at the Shell Cracker plant, the contractor out there, it’s an offshoot of Bechtel, which everybody knows they’re huge you know, multinational contractor. They actually work all over the world, but the contractor called great Arrow Builders, which is the signatory that is employing a lot of our folks out there and self performing a lot of different things.

Bill Sproule (25:23):

From the scaffold, we have scaffolded subcontractors out there was over 1100 workers on that site right now that are UBC members, carpenters, millwrights, scaffold builders, there’s 240 apprentices on that site. And when I tell you what an organized well-run efficient, safe job site that was to tour yesterday and be down in the labyrinths of a $6 billion project, it was totally amazing. And what I heard from talking to some of the folks, some of our people, was that a similar project had recently been built, I guess, over the past five or eight years down in Louisiana. And it was the same type of a project. And it was before they were considering coming up into this area and doing the Cracker Plant. And basically there’s milestones that have been met on this project where we’ve absolutely out shined the performance of the workers down in Louisiana.

Bill Sproule (26:34):

That was an open shop job. And although, you know, people may not come out and admit it from the corporate world and all that stuff. It’s leaking out there that man, you know, the folks in Western PA that are on that project and all the traveling trades people from the carpenter’s union and all the other unions that are out there building that magnificent facility are doing a knockdown job. I mean, it’s incredible the praise that they’re getting, the safety record, things of that nature. So, we just have to keep making sure that we are promoting what we really are. We are the best in the business: we’re well-trained, we’re professionals. We promote ongoing training and journeymen upgrade, and there should be no reason why any medium or large construction site should ever consider not using those types of workers to build their buildings or their facilities or whatever it is that they’re constructing.

Jon O’Brien (27:49):

Amen to that well said. Yeah. I do a lot of outreach to the clients and the end users, you know, promoting our contractors. And when asked about the workforce, a common word I always use is spoiled. I say, our contractors are spoiled because of the carpenters that we employ on our job sites, you know from the quality construction, safety, and reliable drug free and just a world class best training program. So, we’re spoiled. So thank you for that. Thank you for spoiling us contractors.

Bill Sproule (28:30):

Absolutely done. I want to give you another quick example. Something just popped into my head. That is a perfect real life example of you get what you pay for. There’s a project that unfortunately went open shop down on the coast down in Monmouth County. It’s in Asbury park. And it’s an one of the types of projects that I actually get pretty upset when my team tells me: ”Oh, well, sorry, boss you know that one’s not us. It’s you know, it went non-union.: We’ve been doing investigations. The project might not even be done yet. It’s probably four years in the making, or maybe they’re close. They’re probably gonna try to turn key it maybe by this summer, but it’s a large probably like a 22 story condominium building rather large.

Bill Sproule (29:27):

And, and they went in there and they’ve been pecking away at this thing. And as you know, time is money. So they got very unscrupulous, low budget contractors in there to get their best price points. But when it came to the interior systems piece, they had hired someone that we know is no good. And basically hires people off the books and then hires the third tier subs. You hire people that just show up and it’s just a real mess, a hot mess. Well, the interior guys had all the doors and hardware as well in their contract. And I learned, I guess about six months ago that one of our signatory contractors that specializes in doors and hardware had to go in on a, we won’t even call it a punch list because it was basically every door, every piece of hardware in this whole building.

Bill Sproule (30:30):

And I’m probably talking about 400 plus condominiums that are in this place. They had to go into this site and practically fix everything. And my point is we do it right the first time, the punch lists are very minimal. Time is money and you get what you pay for. And I’m actually going to follow back up and try to find out from our subcontractor how many hours they logged, fixing every one of those doors and in this multimillion dollar mid-rise building, and hopefully utilize that as a poster child for developers and end users to certainly consider hiring the right contractors that use the best labor force in the industry to do their projects. Yes, indeed. Yeah.

Jon O’Brien (31:24):

Yeah. If you don’t mind sharing any, any sort of case studies that you have, I’m always promoting the contractors, like I said earlier. But yeah, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the discussion, like to keep it up. And Chris, do you have anything you want to add?

Chris Martin:

Oh, Bill, this has been great. It’s been a great chance to get to know you a little bit more and hear your work style and the approach that you bring. So thank you very much. I’m pretty sure our listeners are going to be very happy and hopefully you’ll be hearing from a lot of the KCA members and even other folks in the construction industry in the future.

Bill Sproule (32:03):

Sure. Thank you, Chris. Absolutely. I look forward to it. Guys, I got one more thing I want to bring to your attention, Jon. I haven’t been able to talk to you about this only because it seems like I get a little break and then I’m shot out of a cannon and then all the races again, I think, you know, being on seven health and welfare pension funds kind of keeps me busy every quarter alone, but we just developed a new department within KML and now Eastern Atlantic States called Industry & Labor Compliance. And I have them working hand in hand with our Political Department, our Communications Department and our Organizing Department. I’m starting to commingle these groups into one unit. That’ll basically also work with each region, like the guys out in Lebanon and up in Scranton and out in Duncansville, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, you name it.

Bill Sproule (33:04):

But we did case studies on every state within our council and we know what the laws are on the books against the unscrupulous contractors, as well as the prevailing wage laws. And the new gentleman that I hired for this department is very well versed. And he’s already conducted a couple of hundred forensic audits and we’ve filed complaints with various Department of Labors. Primarily started off in New Jersey cause that’s where he was very familiar with issues, but I have him now educating my teams in Pennsylvania and working with L & I in Harrisburg. We’re looking at Maryland, we’re looking at Delaware, we’re looking at DC, Virginia, but you’re going to hear more and more about this. And we’re trying to plan something right now. And I guess I’m going to have to break this up into regions, but we would like to invite the contractors to come in, meet us and hear about what we’re doing with this new department.

Bill Sproule (34:01):

So once I can figure out when we might be able to schedule something, instead of doing multiple meetings I’m thinking maybe we have Jon, your association come in, maybe I’ll invite the guys from the Pittsburgh area and as well as maybe we’ll do it in Philadelphia and Ben Connors and GBCA, and all those folks will come in. And we’d like to share with you some of the stuff that we’re building here, that’s going to be a very powerful, excuse me, as well as help us fight this issue that we have at hand.

Jon O’Brien (34:41):

Sounds amazing. That sounds awesome. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it and meeting this gentleman. And I can tell you firsthand, whenever I discuss this topic about labor compliance and labor issues with the contractors, and I tell them what the carpenters are doing, at first there was a little hesitation, like, are you sure they’re doing all this? You know, but now they hear directly from the reps and they know that yes, you guys are doing a lot on the issue. And we’re ready to work with you more on the issue. So yeah, it’s very exciting for us.

Bill Sproule (35:15):

Yeah. I think you’re going to see a lot in the next six months with regards to this you know, it used to be some of the representatives were pretty tenacious with this kind of stuff, but it was very limited. And I set out to try to start to educate them and it’s almost like not enough time in a day. You know, a lot of these guys feel like they’re multitasking, but by having this specific department now that can help do a lot of the administrative work and a lot of the tedious stuff that has to be done in order to file a proper complaint. We’re up and running. And you know, I can tell the unscrupulous contractors with all sincerity that we’re coming to a town near, you

Jon O’Brien (36:03):

Let’s do this. I’m excited. I can imagine there’s going to be a few unscrupulous contractors shaking a little bit here. Cause the force of the carpenters coming after him, it was going to be quite impressive.

Bill Sproule (36:17):

Yeah. We’ve already got that going on. Actually, we’ve actually signed a couple of outfits that were ABC affiliates over in Jersey because of this endeavor. So they decided to come over from the dark side. So I’m really looking forward to this program.  

Chris Martin (36:35):

Well Bill thank you for giving us the time today. I appreciate you helping us understand a little bit more about the EAS and the transition that you’re going through and look forward to many more conversations here on Building PA podcast.

Bill Sproule (36:51):

Yeah, absolutely. Gentlemen, I appreciate you having me this morning and have a wonderful rest of the week and we’re going to get off to the rest of our business that we have out here in the lovely town of Pittsburgh. Thank you, gentlemen. Have a good day. Bye bye.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 7: Leadership, ACE Mentor Program

After Chris Martin and I launched the Building PA Podcast in April 2020 and released about 20 episodes, we were approached by a podcast consultant. This professional offered to give our podcast a listen and provide some advice to us. After he listened to this episode about the ACE Mentor Program, he said this was an excellent one, probably our best so far. He said our guest, Allison Hanna, was an energized speaker who you could tell really enjoyed talking about the topic she was invited on the show to discuss. To listen, and to see if you think her excitement is contagious, visit: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/leadership-in-construction-ace-mentoring-61532379/

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to The Building PA Podcast, a construction industry podcast recorded right here in the great state of Pennsylvania. My name is Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association, and joining me is Chris Martin, the other co-host from Atlas Marketing, they tell stories to people that make things. Hello, Chris, how’s it going? You ready for another great episode?

Chris Martin:

I am very excited about this episode. I understand that you’ve lined up a great person to talk about ACE Mentor. So I’m real excited about this. This is good. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Jon O’Brien:

I mean the start of every year KCA surveys its membership, its contractor members. And we want to know about, you know the upcoming construction season: how much work do they anticipate? And we look a lot at employment as well. So we want to know, do you plan on hiring people this year and the results we got? I’ll share them with you right now. So from our construction company members, they, 64% expect to increase employees in the field and 35% construction companies in Pennsylvania expect to increase professionals in the office. So there sounds about online with the national average, right? Yes, absolutely. Yes. So there is a, quite a challenge for the industry to, to get the word out there and raise some awareness of these great careers in the industry. And, and there’s a lot of great groups out there. Like you touched on an ACE mentor earlier and today I’m glad to welcome. Alison Hannah. Alison is a alum of the ACE mentor program. And you want to say hello to the crowd? Alison?

Allison Hanna (01:43):

Yes. Hello everyone. Okay.

Jon O’Brien (01:45):

Yeah. We’re glad. We’re glad you could join us. I’m very glad. Thank you. You’re a engineer with Snyder security and associates.

Allison Hanna (01:54):

Yeah. Yes. I’m a landscape architect with Snyder security and associates.

Jon O’Brien (01:59):

Awesome. And you’re also the, the resident ACE expert in my eyes.

Allison Hanna (02:08):

Yeah. I think it’s a little bit on both sides of the program. So I, I know it pretty well. Yeah,

Jon O’Brien (02:13):

Absolutely. So, so for the benefit of our audience, could you kind of introduce them to ACE?

Allison Hanna (02:18):

Yes. Gladly. So ACE Mentor Program. ACE stands for Architecture, Construction and Engineering, and it is a national program. And basically, what it is, it’s an afterschool program designed to attract high school students who are interested in pursuing careers in what I mentioned before architecture, construction and engineering. And we also include skilled trades in there as well. It’s not just the people sitting in their office, so we get them involved with a little bit of the skilled trades too. So nationally there are about 70 affiliates. And then it’s operating in 37 States too. So you can see how big this program is. And we have our own chapter here in central PA and within the central PA chapter, we have programs in Dauphin County, in York County, in Lebanon, and in Lancaster, and then the County that I am, the chair of is Cumberland County, but we also include Perry County in there as well.

Allison Hanna (03:22):

So kind of my background, if I can go into that, if that’s okay.

Jon O’Brien:

Absolutely.

Allison Hanna:

Okay. So my background in the program is when I was in high school, my senior year from 2009, until 2010, I was a student in the program and this was the first year that it was offered at my high school in Cumberland Valley. And I also went to come on, Perry Vo Tech too. And my teacher told me that this program was coming in and it was kind of be good for me to go and like network with all the people there and kind of get a feel of all these different programs and different sessions that they offer to the kids. So I was like, sure, why not? I’ll go sign up. And I know they had a landscape architecture session. And when I went, I don’t think that I learned about all these different things, but when I went through it for the landscape architecture session, they had a landscape designer, like a local landscape designer come in and design residential projects.

Allison Hanna (04:17):

And in my head, I’m thinking I want to do more than just residential stuff. I want to do commercial. I want to do bigger things. So I told myself as soon as I graduated with my degree, that I was going to come back and, and be a mentor. So after like a year of graduating from college, I kind of got myself situated at home in the working professional world. And in 2015, I came in as a mentor in the Cumberland County program. And a couple of years after that, then they wanted me to kind of coordinate the Cumberland County program. So I got involved with that. And then I’m also a board member on the central PA chapter as well. Just doing a little bit of everything with ACE mentor here in central PA.

Jon O’Brien (05:00):

Absolutely. Yeah. Your efforts are awesome and appreciated. So keep it up.

Allison Hanna (05:06):

Yes. I love doing it.

Chris Martin (05:08):

Yeah. Keep it up. I like that. Can I ask you a real quick question? Alison, you mentioned that you went to Cumberland Valley. Where’d you go to college?

Allison Hanna (05:17):

I went to Temple University. Yeah. So they offer a four year degree in landscape architecture, whereas most schools it’s five years. So I just, didn’t want to spend that extra year in college. That’s why I decided to go to Temple.

Chris Martin (05:31):

That makes complete sense to me.

Allison Hanna (05:33):

Yeah. Save a little bit of money.

Chris Martin (05:37):

Yeah. Was there any assistance from ACE, either finding a college or while you’re in college, any sort of outreach or connection with ACE at all?

Allison Hanna (05:46):

Yeah. Through ACE. I mean, what I loved about it was so each session we go through, so we go through a little bit of everything between architecture, civil engineering, like I said, landscape architecture all the way down through like construction, admin and management. But we have working professionals that come in and give a brief presentation about like what they do. And then also kind of the skill set. You need to go into that field and then also do like a little work session to kind of like, get you integrated about like what you would do on like a daily like your daily work life. So during that time, I always like myself included when I was going through the program, but I always encourage the students to talk to these mentors, like network with them, get all the information you can. Cause they’ll be the people that you can go to, to ask for like a job shadow or even like an internship once you get to college and everything. Right.

Jon O’Brien (06:43):

And as far as hearing about ACE, you had mentioned that that your high school teacher had mentioned something to you about it. Is that kind of the typical route, how kids hear about it?

Allison Hanna (06:51):

Yeah. Mainly what we do at least in Cumberland County is we reach out to all of the all the schools in Cumberland and Perry County, their guidance counselors, career counselors, and they get the information out to the students or if they have particular teachers that they know that they know or like related to those fields, they will contact those teachers. And those teachers will get the word out to the kids. Yeah. My particular instance was at Vo Tech my teacher there, she knew I wanted to go into landscape architecture and she heard the program was just starting. So she wanted me to get involved with it.

Chris Martin (07:27):

Are there any challenges when it comes to running a program, it sounds pretty complex and it could cause you’re in all these different counties and all these different mentors are needed. So what are some challenges?

Allison Hanna (07:39):

Yes. I think our major challenge is definitely getting mentors to come and donate their time. I know it’s a little hard for some mentors to show up week after week, which I don’t expect mentors to show up every single week. Cause our program does run from like the middle of October all the way to the middle of March. So I know it could be a big commitment. But as long as you can come for just a couple of the sessions, especially like our work sessions that we have with the kids to really get them to know about what field and like the field that they’re going into and how it relates back to the big overall project that we have the kids work on. So each year we have like a different almost like a set project for the kids.

Allison Hanna (08:26):

So this year in Cumberland County, there is a project in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania that we’re working on, that the kids in architecture get to design the architecture of the building, the students in civil engineering will get to actually design the site and figure out the parking. And if they want to get into stormwater, if they can do that too. And my kids that are interested in landscape architecture, I make them pick plants and kind of figure out native versus non native and just like little things like that, that you would get to do on a daily basis at work.

Jon O’Brien (08:57):

Do you know of any sort of feedback or data that shows the positives of the ACE mentor?

Allison Hanna (09:03):

I personally, I don’t, but what I love about the program is that I see kids coming back year after year. It’s not just like a one year you do it and you’re done. We have had many, many students come back year after year. It goes through the program. Cause you learn something new each year. And I learned something new each year, cause it’s not like we have the same mentors that come back each year, some years we have different mentors that can help out cause the other mentor the previous year that has time restraints and everything. I mean I learned something new each year and I always encourage the kids to not just make this a one year and done thing like come back next year. It’s gonna be beneficial to you.

Jon O’Brien (09:47):

Have you also seen students come back after they graduate college? Have you seen any other alumni?

Allison Hanna (09:53):

Hmmm not in Cumberland County and I think because I’ve only been involved in since 2015 that hopefully in these next couple of years, I’ll start seeing some of the kids that I knew when I was going to mentor program come back. But I know in other central PA programs, I think in Dauphin County, they also have kids that were students come back and be a mentor there for the program, which is great news. We love that. Cause it definitely helps the other mentors that have come in and aren’t exactly sure about the program and it’s always good to have those people that went through the program, actually know how you feel when you sit there and you listen to the mentors talk the whole entire time and you kind of see like what works and what doesn’t.

Chris Martin (10:42):

Coming from the student’s side, Alison your experience is from the vocational technical side. Are you seeing that? Are you seeing that also for current students now? Are they coming more from the vo-tech vocational technical side or, you know, the, the general population,

Allison Hanna (11:01):

It feels like at least for Cumberland County, we have a lot more coming from just like the normal high school. We have very few that come from the vo-tech, which is unfortunate. Cause I kind of, I mean, being an alumni there too, I would like to see more of that because what I enjoyed about it was even though when I was going through vo-tech I got that experience, but we didn’t get like working professionals insights. Like we would get working professionals that would come in, but every single week, same working professionals, I’m learning about all these different career fields that you will have to work with you and you have to work with everybody getting that side was invaluable.

Allison Hanna (11:43):

Yeah. And I would imagine too, having the ability to work with a diverse way of thinking you know, not just you know, traditional high school approach or, you know, the, the VoTech, the vocational technical side has a little bit of a different way to look at things. So that’s going to be an advantage.

Chris Martin:

Yeah. Well, on that note are you typically seeing from your perspective and again, in your experience, who are the mentors? What are you looking for in a mentor so that they can, you know, people can or know, our listeners can look at it and say, Hey, this is something I need to get involved in. So from that mentoring perspective, what do you look for?

Allison Hanna (12:29):

Any mentor that has the willingness and wants to come in and talk to the kids. Sometimes we get mentors that just kind of show up and like sit in the back of the room, which is fine. Like we just need people there, but I love the mentors that can go up and talk to the kids, really get to know them and just teach them about what they do. So having like a person who will mentor, I just hold onto them and I try to keep them coming around year after year.

Chris Martin (12:54):

I don’t blame you. I’m like, no, I’ve done some mentoring myself. And I’ve always found that experience has been very helpful. You know, the longterm value of mentoring. Do you feel that it’s probably one of the challenges that you’re running into?

Allison Hanna (13:25):

Maybe I don’t understand your question. I’m sorry.

Chris Martin (13:27):

That’s okay. Like are you saying that, you know, the mentors that are coming in and are almost kind of expecting this, you know, immediate gratification versus the fact that, you know, they’re helping high school age students figure out where they want to go and kind of the return on that and time investment, if you will, is going to be probably five, 10, maybe even 15 years down the road. Do you see that as a challenge?

Allison Hanna (13:57):

Definitely. I think for the mentors that come in for maybe just one session, they’re not exactly understanding the whole process of ACE, right? So, I mean, we start from October and we go until March. So they get weeks upon weeks of learning all these different fields. And you have some kids that are interested in certain aspects. So you have kids that are really interested in architecture and that’s early on. And then they kind of slowly throughout like the sessions, they just lose interest. But once we get back to the work sessions, kind of near the end, that’s when their excitement builds back up. So when you have that architecture kid, whenever we’re kind of near the end and they’re listening to electrical and they’re like, Ugh, I don’t like this just isn’t as exciting, but when they come back from the work sessions, especially for me, cause I mean, I see these kids week after week and I see how like, I can see how differently they act and seeing them doing the work sessions. And then when they have to do their final presentation at the end and like that little light bulb goes off in their head, it just makes it all worth it. And having those mentors there as they go through the whole thing, they understand it.

Chris Martin (15:01):

Yeah. That that’s good to hear. So what I’m taking from you is give it a chance if you’re considering being a mentor you know, the instant gratification is if this is a longterm game versus a short term game.

Allison Hanna (15:16):

Yeah. And especially when you have those certain kids throughout the sessions that come up to you and ask you those questions. I mean, I personally grasp onto these kids too, and I want to see them do well. And even a couple of kids, like I’ll talk to them even after they go through the program and graduate and are off to college. Like if they have questions, they can always come back and ask me questions.

Chris Martin (15:36):

Yeah. And to that point, do you find that the kids are engaging from that perspective?

Allison Hanna (15:42):

Oh yeah. Cause I think they know, I think they understand that we’re there to help them and we’re there to guide them. Cause it’s not always an easy process trying to figure out what you want to do. And then also deciding on top of it, like where you want to go to school and the past to get a job around the area, if you still want to stay here. So that’s what I want these kids to get out of the program that we’re not just there to kind of teach them just that session. We’re there for as long as they let us.

Jon O’Brien (16:13):

Well, that’s good though. I had a question and I forgot it. Well, as you know, I’ve been around ACE for around 10 years now, dating back to my Pittsburgh days. And when Pittsburgh launched its ACE mentor chapter and, and when I moved here, ACE national contacted the board in central PA and so I continue to be a fan. And I constantly pound that drum beat the drum about the mentors do not get enough recognition.

Allison Hanna (16:46):

They do not you’re right.

Jon O’Brien (16:49):

Yes. So that’s my goal is to get more recognition for all of you mentors, to not only encourage you guys to do more and get more involved, but then to draw more into the program.

Allison Hanna (17:02):

Yes we are. We are always looking for more mentors, mentors. There’s never enough.

Jon O’Brien (17:07):

Yeah, absolutely. So any, any ideas, suggestions, I’ll keep doing what I can to help, but don’t hesitate to ask us at all. And maybe this program, this episode can help too.

Allison Hanna (17:19):

Yeah, I sure hope so.

Jon O’Brien (17:21):

Yeah. And to that point, Alison, how, you know, I was in Pittsburgh, but now in central Pennsylvania and obviously, how can a listener to our episode get involved? Is there a place they can go? Can I call you, help our listeners out?

Allison Hanna (17:40):

Yeah. So the easiest way to go about finding more information about ACE mentor and also how to contact anybody in your area is go to ACE. So it’s www.ACEmentor.org and there’s tons of information there. It’s just general knowledge about ACE mentor, how students can get involved also mentors and volunteers. And then even in that mentors and volunteers section, there’s a nice little map of the United States and it takes you to different sections in the United States and you can click on different affiliates and then it has all of their contact information there.

Jon O’Brien (18:15):

Great. That will definitely help. Absolutely. Yeah. We’ll make sure to spread the word too after the podcast we’ll blast that info out as well. Yeah. So question for you, Alison, what has been your, your greatest experience or effort to date with mentoring?

Allison Hanna (18:41):

Hmm. I think personally, I just really loved working with the students. I feel like that’s my bread and butter of this whole thing. As much as I love working with the mentors I really love working with the students and just seeing them from day one, when they come into our orientation session and them thinking that they want to do one thing, like they have their mind and heart set on them wanting to do this one aspect of the ACE career field. And they start going through all these sessions and they learn more and then they start realizing that’s not exactly what they thought that was about. And they learn so much more about other disciplines and then they changed their mind and then they start working with the mentors more. And I feel like that’s my favorite part is seeing these kids, like when the light bulb goes on in their head and they realize that maybe what they thought they wanted to do, wasn’t exactly what they originally thought. And then just going into their final presentation and just, I don’t know. I just love seeing that little light bulb moment and them kind of glowing when they realize that, yes, this is what I want to do. That’s great. And even the kids that come in, even the kids that come in and they think they want to do something in these fields and then they come out thinking, Oh, I don’t want to do any of this. I’m fine with that too. That’s why we’re here. Yeah.

Chris Martin (20:05):

Awesome stuff. That is great. That is fantastic. Well Alison is anything else you’d like to talk about while we’re still here?

Allison Hanna (20:17):

I think that’s one thing I want to add is if you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, just come out to one of the sessions talk to the leaders, talk to the other mentors there, talk to the students. It’s so rewarding and I just wish there was more people that will come out and well, like Jon said, we’ll do our part. We’ll try to get as many people out there to focus on ACE mentoring and, and hopefully we’ll help that achieve it. We can do it.

Chris Martin (20:44):

Yeah. We can all do it. Yeah. Nothing wrong with giving back. Right.

Allison Hanna (20:50):

Oh, there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Jon O’Brien (20:51):

Yeah. Good. Well Alison on behalf of building PA podcasts, I want to say thanks for joining us.

Allison Hanna (21:01):

So thank you for having me.

Chris Martin (21:02):

Thank you so much. This was awesome. Very thorough. I loved it. Yeah. Very thorough. And as Jon has said in previous episodes, we’ll be following up with you in a few months and have you come back and maybe we could build upon this conversation and really help our listeners see you in the future and where ACE mentoring is headed.

Allison Hanna (21:25):

I would love that in a couple of months, we will be done with our Cumberland County session so I can come back with a report of all of my students.

Jon O’Brien (21:32):

Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Allison Hanna (21:34):

You are welcome. Thank you for having me.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 6: CASPA Law Discussion

Back in 2016, when I moved back to central PA, I was welcomed with open arms by the KCA Board – awesome people, so thankful these amazing and friendly people are in my life and my family’s life. Outside of the KCA Board, I was fortunate to meet such great industry people like Michael Metz-Topodas. Michael’s an awesome dude and I’m glad to call him my friend. It’s crazy to think us two PA people could have met in 1990s when I was living in Norfolk, Va and he was living across the Bay-Bridge tunnel in Hampton Roads, VA. Regardless of when we met, I’m glad it happened.

Michael is a wealth of construction contract knowledge. Give this podcast a read below with this transcript or click to hear him educate Chris Martin and me:https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/business-of-construction-caspa-law-61532373/

Chris Martin (00:00):

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Building Pennsylvania Podcast. I’m Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing

Jon O’Brien:

And I’m Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And today we are going to be talking with Michael Metz-Topodas of Cohen Seglias, and we are going to be talking primarily and asking Michael’s input on CASPA law and how that affects contractors throughout the Commonwealth. Michael, thanks for being here. Yeah. Welcome Michael.

Michael Metz-Topodas (00:40):

Yeah, it was great to be here. Appreciate it guys.

Chris Martin (00:43):

Thank you. I know we have a lot of questions, so let’s dive in here. And Jon, I know you wanted to lead with the first one, so let’s go from there.

Jon O’Brien:

Yeah. Michael, how about we start real basic. And how about just kind of explaining what is CASPA? The Construction & Subcontractor Payment Act.

Michael Metz-Topodas (01:05):

Exactly. Jon said it best the Contractor & Subcontractor Payment Act. Generally speaking is a statute in Pennsylvania. It applies to private projects and it outlines a certain requirements regarding payment to both contractors and subcontractors. In particular, it allows for either contractors or subcontractors to obtain additional relief beyond what they might be able to get in the contract or under Pennsylvania contract law, additional relief where those contractors or subcontractors have not been paid under the terms and conditions of their contracts in particular. It allows for an additional 1% interest penalty per month or sorry, 1% yearly interest that’s calculated per month on any unpaid balance and as well, one of the most aggressive features of it is it allows for a contractor or subcontractor who has not been paid to recover its legal fees for any litigation or other legal action that needs to take to get itself paid. That’s generally what the statute does. There are a lot of details that it provides for us to how you go about that. But in essence, it was created to protect contractors and subcontractors to give a little extra ammunition for them to make sure that they’re paid for work performed on a project. And that should be work that is undisputed with respect to the amount of what is paid.

Jon O’Brien (02:40):

You lead us off here. We’re setting a nice foundation there, cause we’re talking a little CASPA today. Michael, did an awesome job there. And as both, you know, Chris and Michael, as you both know, KCA does a lot with politics in the Harrisburg state Capitol. And it seems as though with CASPA every few years, this issue pops up and there’s a movement of foot amongst the construction industry to kind of tweak CASPA a little bit and improve it. And one of those tweakings came along last session and House Bill 566 came, which passed through the legislature and Governor Wolf signed as Act 27. And are you you’re pretty well versed on that, on that piece of legislation. Aren’t you Michael, you want to touch on that for a little bit.

Michael Metz-Topodas (03:35):

Yeah, no doubt. As, as most of the construction bar was certainly well attuned to what was going on with the changes to CASPA we saw it coming and we all eagerly awaited back in October of 2018 when that bill became law after it was signed a few months earlier it was certainly an interesting and compelling change to how CASPA was structured. I believe it came out of you know, a push from some of the subcontractors to afford them the opportunity to recover and still enjoy the benefits of CASPA because there they were being pushed in certain instances to forego some of the rights that they may have otherwise had. There are several changes that the law created for CASPA, but I really will only focus on the three major ones that became the focus of a lot of the literature and a lot of the discussions that the bar had regarding the changes. The first one involved waiver essentially the statute provided that any contract that asks or purports to have an agreement by a contractor or a subcontractor to waive that entities rights under CASPA, that provision, no matter how many times people agreed to it, signed it initially at whatever is null and void and unenforceable under Pennsylvania law.

Michael Metz-Topodas (05:06):

So that was the first revision there and made it easy for contractors and subcontractors with regarding those provisions, because they could sign the contract and not have to worry about waiving their CASPA rights cause it’s unenforceable. And it’s one less thing to negotiate. You know, during the course of ramping up to getting started on a job the second provision, the second change that the Act amended CASPA render concerned on concern suspension of work for either contractors or subcontractors. And it outlined a schedule that was sort of the floor by which a contractor or subcontractor could effectively suspend work. Oftentimes construction contracts will have provisions that require a subcontractor or a contractor to keep on working despite disputes about payment. This change though, is to make sure that if it’s an undisputed amount then a subcontractor would not have to keep, you know, essentially working for free or, or financing a job.

Michael Metz-Topodas (06:10):

That’s sort of the complaint you hear often from those in the industry, you know, I keep working on financing the job. And so these provisions now allow for a contractor or subcontractor to walk away only a certain procedures are followed. So first you have to wait for the billing period and the payment due date to expire. So at 30 days past the payment due date, a contractor or subcontractor can send written notice to the owner or to the general contractor form it as an agreement notifying that entity that payment has not been received at that point. However, the contractor or subcontractor still has to keep on working and another 30 days needs to go by at which point a second notice would be sent. Now, I certainly recommend that those notices identify the amount owed and identify all the 30 days has passed, identify the statutory provisions.

Michael Metz-Topodas (07:08):

And then also remind you the contractor or the owner that if payment is not received that in accordance with CASPA, work would be suspended. So after the second 30 days, you send a second notice providing all of the information I talked about earlier, as well as notifying the recipient that after another 10 days of nonpayment the contract or subcontract will have a right to suspend work and we’ll exercise that route. Right. and importantly to that second notice must also go to the owner. That’s in particular for subcontractors, obviously the general contractor is already going to be notifying the owner, but for subcontractors, they make sure the owner gets a copy of that second notice for obvious reasons an owner doesn’t want to see its project appended or, or paused for any reason, especially if it can make sure that just by putting a little pressure on the general contractor can keep the project moving along.

Michael Metz-Topodas (08:05):

And then as well as you can see, there’s an obvious benefit to the subcontractors too. So these are the procedures that somebody out in the field needs to follow in order to make sure that they can properly suspend work on a project for nonpayment of again, undisputed amounts. You can have this schedule short and I called it a floor earlier. You can have it shortened by way of contractual agreement, but you can not have it lengthened. So any contract that has terms and conditions that lengthen any of these periods for notice and suspension, they too would be null and void under CASPA. And therefore it would default to what is provided for the statute, the final major change that the admitted CASPA concerned with holding of amounts out an owner or a contractor can withhold amounts from the general contractor or a subcontractor for deficient work.

Michael Metz-Topodas (09:10):

However now under the new CASPA that owner or general contractor must provide a notice of the withholding and an explanation for the reason for the withholding and must do so from within 14 days of the decision to withhold, that applies irrespective of what other contracts or requirements might be. And also in terms of whatever payment schedule might be there. So once the decisions made about withholding there needs to be a notice provided if however, the owner or the general contractor fails to provide this notice then the right to withhold is waived and the payment must be made. So that’s a very important provision. It serves two functions, one, it allows the subcontractor or the general contractor, whomever it may apply whatever the case may be. It allows that entity to correct any work that might be deficient or address the reason for the withholding and as well it ensures that if an owner isn’t conscientious and just withholds the money, but it doesn’t have a good reason or cannot provide one.

Michael Metz-Topodas (10:23):

Then there, isn’t an unnecessary dispute over arbitrary withholdings and that the parties get a, that this isn’t used as leverage over a contractor or subcontractor for their work on the project. I know a lot of that gets, you know, down into the weeds as to how all of these things operate. And it’s really, we’ve given even a very you know precise recitation as to how these provisions operate. I think though that anybody out in the field can see that with all of these measures in place it changes the dynamic as to how a project would proceed. And it gives a great deal of advantage to contractors and subcontractors in the event that they are denied payment, that they are otherwise entitled to. And so it affords that, you know, money is flowing properly that there aren’t suspensions of payments you know, for reasons that aren’t justified and ensures that a project moves efficiently in a manner that’s beneficial to everyone.

Chris Martin (11:26):

Very, very thoroughly explained there. Thank you, Michael, for that, for the third item, though, the withholding that does that notice have to be written, or can that be an oral statement from the owner and or GC? I know that’s written notice written. Okay. Yeah. Just thoughts. I just wanted to make sure about that. And then as far as the suspension of work, there’s quite a few notices that you mentioned. So if you max out on all of those notices, you’re getting close to a hundred days, I believe, right.

Michael Metz-Topodas (12:02):

It could be that long, depending upon, you know, how the payment schedules are set up in the original agreement. Yes. And that was one of the critiques that was brought out. And some people said, well, wait a second. Yeah, that’s terrific. I can suspend work, but my goodness, you know, it’d be so long. I might already be done with my work. If you’re an excavator on a small project, you might be done by the time it comes time to suspend. So yeah, so the one hand there’s a certain benefit, but that practical consideration was noted that that said, Jon, there is a possibility that those who do have a shorter timeframe for work on a project could negotiate perhaps a more favorable schedule. It just depends upon whether it’s worth it to the subcontractor. And that really comes down to a business decision, but I’m glad you asked that question because it really gets down into the intersection as to what the law provides and then how it really operates for guys out in the field. Those sometimes can be two different things.

Jon O’Brien (12:57):

Yeah. You mentioned the site work. I was thinking that as well for the site work, but then also as far as the small, you know, mom and pop shops that get in there might do a little interior work and they’re done in a week or so, you know, their works long gone. And they’re the people that probably need this law the most. And they have to wait for a long amount of time like that. So I’m just thinking out loud here.

Michael Metz-Topodas (13:20):

Well, they might have to wait, but I think the other point is it just might not apply to them. And I think that’s what you’re getting at as well. And it’s a good point is okay, fine. Then they can suspend their work. They finish it and they move on all the other protections that cast before it’s remain. And so if there’s no dispute from the owner about that, the workers performing the money is owed, and for whatever reason that owner or general contractor doesn’t want to pay, they’re going to be subject to that 1% penalty among others. And as well, subject to attorney’s fees for the collection, if it’s a small enough amount, those attorney’s fees could be a substantial portion of the amount. You know, that entity is that business is seeking to get paid. And, that’s a great advantage to allow those small mom and pop shops, Jon, because you know, oftentimes those entities would forgo their rights and just say, well, I can’t go, I agree. You go for that money. It’ll cost me too much money to get what I’m seeking. Well, now, if you know that you’re protected by, but then you can go after the money you’re entitled to. So in that respect you know, cast was original provisions are the ones that are for some of the best protection.

Jon O’Brien (14:26):

Yeah. Good point. Good point there, Michael. Yeah. Also, I mean the law just recently went into effect this year. I believe. I don’t have the exact date, but it’s probably too early to tell any sort of actual feedback, you know, in the field feedback, have you heard anything at all?

Michael Metz-Topodas (14:43):

You know, we really haven’t, I’m kind of surprised by that. The issue of the suspension just hasn’t come up typically. We often advise our clients to continue to keep working on a project only because suspension and again, I mean, look, Jon, you got us right back to the, I think that the key point, which is the law can have its provisions, but what really happens in the field could be different. And that is that if a subcontractor or a contractor decides to suspend for nonpayment, if for whatever reason that entity, that business guesses wrong. And they did not have justification for suspending work, let’s say they were not entitled to the payment that that business was seeking. Then that entity would be liable for all the delay damages, the damages that flow from that suspension. So you gotta be careful now, granted, if it’s, you know, if it’s clear on the project that looked the work was done, there were no objections and then people moved on and, and accepted it then.

Michael Metz-Topodas (15:46):

Yes. I think go ahead and suspend it and not worry about any of the delays. But if there’s any dispute about that or any uncertainty, then you just need to calculate that risk. And the liability that could flow from that even so, you know a measured and calculated suspension you know, could be another way to make sure that payment properly flows. But again, as you point out with that kind of long period there, sometimes the work required it might be long gone long done and completed before that suspension period ever arises.

Jon O’Brien (16:19):

Yeah, that’s true. My favorite is whenever I find myself in the halls lobbying for bills like this and the various subgroups come up to me and they say, you know, if we could only work for your GCs all the time, we wouldn’t have to do measures like this, you know? And I’m like, yeah, but when we do measures like this, you know, we have to change the way we operate just to make sure we’re abiding by the new law and the new contract.

Michael Metz-Topodas (16:48):

Oh, that’s such a great point only because I don’t know, I know we, you and I have talked about this. Others may not know, but before becoming a lawyer, I was a teacher. And one of the things I learned as a teacher in terms of making rules or policy for people is you gotta make your rules for the worst kid in class, not the best kid in class, unfortunately. So good to see the same rule applies in legislation, right? Absolutely.

Chris Martin:

And that’s a good point, Michael. Michael, I have a question for you. So clearly you have a solid understanding of this law and really know how it, how it works, but if I’m a contractor or a subcontractor, what’s the process that I have to go through to actually make a claim or file under the, under the legislation. If I feel like I’m not being paid accordingly.

Michael Metz-Topodas (17:43):

That’s a great question Chris. And it’s actually a very pointed and almost obscure legal question. We have this debate in the hallways of our firm all the time. I’ll give you the short layman’s answer first, and then maybe we can get to some of the technicalities legally call your lawyer. And that started there. Quite honestly thankfully there, unlike the mechanics lien law, CASPA was a little more forgiving and doesn’t have quite the stringent requirements as to what you need to do to operate under it, separate apart from some of the withholding and suspension provisions. We already talked about any time we file, for example, our firm, we filed complaints against either general contractors or not paying our owners who are not paying we’ll include a breach of contract claim. We’ll include a casebook claim. And we’ll just do it as a matter of course assuming that there’s an undisputed amount for which payment is owed and I can get into later if you guys are curious to why I keep saying undisputed amount, but that’s, that’s a separate issue.

Michael Metz-Topodas (18:43):

But there is this sort of a stylistic debate as to whether you even need to have a separate CASPA account, and you can just put the CASPA damages as part of the breach of contract either way. The way to bring in the way they get recovery under CASPA is to, by bringing legal action. You could arguably, if you have an owner or a general contractor who is not paying, you could just make a request or a demand letter, a demand for that payment and ask for the CASPA damages. But I can’t see to any owner to GCs, we’re going to cough up the interest in attorney’s fees, unless there’s a court order, making them do it. So going to courts the only way and very often to you know, you’ll follow that legal action and then find some sort of settlement you know, that will account for some of those costs, but damages, if you can, otherwise just their mere existence are enough to drive people, to finding a way of resolving a dispute.

Chris Martin (19:37):

Perfect. Thanks, Michael. Yep. No problem. And that’s good for, for our listeners so that they understand, and I kind of figured the first response was going to be call your lawyer cause that’s what I would be doing too. So another question for you in your experience, is there a typical contracting category for that that typically has to fight for this, this form of payment? You know, you mentioned an excavator earlier, you know, like maybe there’s a, is it, do you typically see this in like tile contractors or, you know, residential versus commercial, like help us understand where the, that typically happens.

Michael Metz-Topodas (20:24):

I haven’t made any formal study as to any sort of percentages of that would be a fascinating question to see you know, it’d be a twofold analysis. Who’s not getting paid and then who’s bringing CASPA claims and they’re not always coextensive with each other. That’s not always the same group of people. But certainly I think as we all know, they’re the pressure flows downhill, if you will. And so very often we see a lot of subcontractors, you know, guys who are sort of towards the bottom of the food chain, if you will. Well, I should say the contractual chain only by way of just their positioning on a project. They sometimes fail

Michael Metz-Topodas (21:03):

Certain amount of pressure in terms of, you know, not being able, not receiving the payments promptly or, or payments that are owed or an attempt to try to leverage negotiation from the original amount agreed upon for work perform. And so that, that tends to be yeah. How it will play out. I think really to give a full answer to that Chris would be the subject of a whole another podcast. We actually, as a firm, do a whole presentation on all the things that occur on a project where there are pressure points applied to subcontractors to trim if you will, the amount they otherwise expected to collect for the work performed based on the agreement they have. So it’s a really complicated dance that occurs throughout the life of project. I have also seen instances where owners sometimes just are paying or a dispute them an amount of work. I think also to CASPA tends to come into play on some of the smaller projects only because it’s such a great mechanism to help obtaining payment obtaining payment where there’s, you know, you otherwise might think twice about going down a legal Avenue to obtain recovery.

Michael Metz-Topodas (22:17):

I think the other thing to your point in all of this, I know we’re going a little bit of a tangent here, but because a lot of these issues arise throughout the life of a project. I do have to repeat my warning earlier as to calling your attorney early and often only because this case was definitely a situation or any kind of payment issue on a project where I announced that prevention is worth a pound of cure and early intervention can sometimes be very effective, even if your lawyer’s in the shadows and unknown to the other parties of the involvement. I can provide some effective advice on how to proceed, you know, through the course of a project little field from what you originally asked. But I think it was such a good question that it inspired a lot of that additional information. So thank you, Chris. I appreciate that. That’s good. That’ll help your listeners here in the Building Pennsylvania podcast. So that’s great.

Chris Martin (23:06):

There we go. Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Metz-Topodas (23:08):

I would I know we’ve had a rather technical and detailed discussion here about CASPA and some people might find it overwhelming. And maybe just a lot of detail. And I know certainly there’s a culture and an ethic of look, let’s just get the job done. And I don’t disagree with that. I think at the end of the day that’s what makes our industry great is that there’s that focus on you know rolling up our sleeves if you’ll permit the cliche and putting up buildings and structures that people can use and, things that workers take pride in. But that said it’s always a shame to me when I see people, businesses sometimes, you know, businesses that have been within families for years, generations, et cetera, being shortchanged, any amount of money. And so there are ways of doing both of our roll up our sleeves and getting the job done, but also making sure that you don’t get short changed.

Michael Metz-Topodas (24:06):

And that’s what I mean again, earlier about early intervention with your council. We take calls all the time at our firm from people who are, you know, midway through a project, Hey, what do I do? And we offer the guidance to say, okay, here’s the end game. Let’s see what we can do about today. So we can safeguard your rights for later on tomorrow. And you can go back to doing what you do best. And that is like I said getting the job done. So that’s our role and that’s our philosophy. And we’ve been doing it coincidentally us for, for 30 years. I’ve been honored to be a part of this firm for now since 2014. And I love every minute of it. For a lot of those reasons you guys know as well as I do, we have a great industry full of great people. It couldn’t be more fun.

Jon O’Brien (24:52):

Absolutely well said.

Chris Martin (24:54):

Well, well said, I agree with you. That’s a great way to end it. And thank you for your time and definitely the technical information. Very good information.

Jon O’Brien (25:07):

I just want to remind everyone out there. This is a new law. There’s going to be a lot more questions. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Michael is a resource. But Michael, you want to toss your, your contact info out real quick.

Michael Metz-Topodas (25:19):

Oh, Jon, thank you so much. As you can tell, I kind of like talking about this stuff and I see each other at a lot of KCA events and he probably has always seen me quartering poor guys, lecturing them about everything. So it’s all good. It’s all good. It’s over a cold beer. So it makes it even better, but no, in all seriousness my contact information is on the web at our website. www.cohenseglias.com. I invite anyone and everyone to reach out at any time with any questions, always happy to talk shop about this. I’m always happy to help people out in the industry. As you can probably tell I love our industry. I love being a lawyer and I love helping people.

Jon O’Brien (26:04):

Well, thanks for the education. And I look forward to seeing you at the next KCA event,

Michael Metz-Topodas (26:08):

Jon, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the industry.

Chris Martin (26:10):

Thanks, Mike. And thank you for listening to the Building Pennsylvania podcast more episodes to come and we will talk to you next time. Thank you very much.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 4: Building a Safety Culture the Alexander Way

ABOUT THIS EPISODE: Since the KCA and its contractor members are renowned for safety excellence, we wanted to showcase safety with our podcast. Alexander Building Construction Company has a proud history especially when it comes to safety. Its founder, H.B. Alexander, was a pioneer in the area of construction safety and he was an active and early member of the Associated General Contractors of America’s Safety Committee in the 1950’s (two decades before OSHA was established and decades before construction companies placed safety as a priority.) Something tells me that Mr. Alexander would be proud of the work that its current safety director, Darren Rech, does to build a safety culture with the company. To hear the interview visit: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/safety-alexander-building-and-construction/id1506259467?i=1000470794135

Jon O’Brien (00:01):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building PA Podcast, a podcast for construction professionals living right here in the great state of Pennsylvania. I am one of your co-hosts, I’m Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association and I’m joined by my other cohost.

Chris Martin:

Alright, this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing. We tell stories for people who build things.

Jon O’Brien:

We have an excellent episode today, you know we’ve touched on so many topics whether it’s on workforce development, legislation, construction contracts, but I think, well, when we talk about safety, nothing beats construction safety…and we have a Bonafede superstar in the area of safety, Darren Rech from Alexander Building Construction. Welcome Darren.

Darren Rech:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Chris Martin:

Yeah, so one thing when we started with this podcast is, you know, we wanted to make sure to touch on a lot of construction industry topics.

Chris Martiin (01:04):

And when it comes to safety, we have this series and reminding other contractors just to get their feedback and their comments related to building a safety culture. So, you know, welcome to the podcast. And let’s talk about building a safety culture. What do you say, Darren? You ready?

Darren Rech:

Sure. Yeah.

Jon O’Brien:

Do you have any comments for our crowd or audience?

Darren Rech:

Not necessarily. I guess. My experience in construction is over 12 years in various managerial roles and I actually have a safety science degree from IUP, so I actually went to school for safety. And you know, I’ve been doing it now for geez, almost 30 years. So in various industries.

Jon O’Brien:

And how long have you been at Alexander?

Darren Rech:

So it’ll be in June, it’ll be seven years with Alexander as a safety director. Okay, thank you. Yes, we cover State College and Harrisburg and the surrounding regions, you know, York, Lancaster Williamsport, if necessary, wherever the job is, that’s where I go.

Jon O’Brien (02:22):

Okay. So your corporate wide with Alexander, you’re the safety guru, correct?

Darren Rech:

That’s correct. My title is Safety Director. We have at Alexander, a project in Mechanicsburg, the Hampton medical center project. It’s a Penn State Health project and we have a site safety coordinator on that particular project in State College. We had a site safety coordinator on our Paterno library project. And since that project completed, we have her moving around to different jobs in that State College region. So sort of helps. And she does a lot of the site assessments and whatever’s needed on those particular projects in that region.

Jon O’Brien:

Well, that’s a good place to start. So let’s talk about the two people you were mentioning there. How do you build a safety culture within them? You know, how do you coach them?

Darren Rech (03:24):

Yeah so my approach personally is one of coaching and mentoring. I’m not necessarily a, there were days of safety cops if you will, back years ago. And in this day and age with the workforce and different types of people working, really the method to get through to people is through coaching and mentoring and really just having an opportunity to build alliances with these people and build a rapport and build relationships you know, rather than the old yelling method or throwing somebody off the job. So that’s sort of my approach with our two site safety coordinators and they’ve done a good job adapting to our industry, especially the building construction and have come a long way and just, you know, sending that message out to their folks on their particular projects and in our region as well.

Jon O’Brien:

So you get a sense and you see that the buy in is there, you know, the people, your two safety professionals buying into the safety culture.

Darren Rech (04:27):

Yes, absolutely. You know, we have owners and we have some important owners who, who really value safety. And so when we can provide a site safety coordinator, you know, on one project, that’s pretty rare. Usually it’s one person per company hitting, you know, multiple jobs and doing site assessments and, you know, compliance regulatory assessments, things like that. So when you have multiple people, you know, you can create more of a focus on safety and you can drill down a lot more and into the training incident investigation, site assessments, and, you know, just have a well rounded safety program.

Chris Martin (05:05):

Do you find that the employees outside of the safety department are embracing safety? I mean, I I’ve been working in construction for about 30 years, just like you. And it seems to be this. Everybody might not love everybody, but everybody knows it’s of importance. Everybody recognizes how vital it is to the job site, but do people really buy into that safety culture?

Darren Rech (05:36):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And in reality, you have buy-in at various levels. Certain individuals will buy into it more so than others. And I find also that certain project teams will buy into safety more so than others. They’ll support the safety approach. They’ll do the initiatives that we typically set out for on those particular project. So, you know, it’s constantly up and down and we push this buying on a constant basis. And again, it’s really a lot of chemistry between the project teams and you hope that you have a team that a few people are buying into it and at least take the lead on safety for that particular project, because the way we’re set up is just really the site safety supers. I’m sorry, the site superintendent is in charge of safety, ultimately, but we have project managers, we have project engineers and also carpenters working on these projects.

Darren Rech (06:41):

So our approach is really to encourage everybody to buy into safety and have a stake in the safety approach. If you see something step up and do something to fix it. So that’s really our method of safety and communication is if you see something, make sure you step up, it’s not just the superintendent’s job. So that’s really what we try to push here.

Chris Martin:

And to that point, what are some best practices that you’ve seen instituted or are looking to institute at Alexander as it relates to that buy in?

Darren Rech:

So typically some of the methods we’ve incorporated where just tool box talks, for instance to discuss a task with your teams performance, or a morning huddle to discuss what task you’re going to do that week and have a review of that task and sign off by each team member.

Darren Rech (07:44):

So everybody has buy in. We also do what’s called a job safety analysis and really what that entails is reviewing what the hazards are for the task you are about to complete. So “do you have the right equipment for the job?” “Has everyone understood what is needed?” “Does everyone understand the hazards?” And so as a team, you have different levels of experience. Some guy might be working for 30 plus years. You may have a guy who’s, you know, maybe less than a year in the industry. So there’s such a variety of experience. And really what we’re trying to do is between each team member just communicate what the hazards are that they see and make sure they understand how they’re going to approach that. And what did we do to eliminate or minimize the hazard? So the job safety analysis, and we call it the thing card is something that we really push.

Darren Rech (08:39):

And we want to make sure that we understand what tasks the hazards are before we jump into the tasks. So oftentimes when I do incident investigations, a lot of times the correct or the root cause was some something to the effect of, well, we just, you know, we did something stupid or we knew better. And so, you know, many times, if they would just think through the task and pause before doing something, then often you get a good positive result. So that’s what we constantly encourage is the JSA – job safety analysis. Another thing we do on a monthly basis, we typically have what’s called a site safety stand down, and we will have a huddle. And it entails a group of foreman carpenters. It could be a project managers and we all walk the site together and we look for observations with deficiencies and things that need corrected and also you know, just pointing out things of areas of improvement.

Darren Rech (09:47):

And it’s a real collaborative approach. No, one’s yelling at each other or finger pointing. So it’s real positive buy in from everybody. And we typically do that once a month and, you know, we would buy lunch, maybe it’s you know, grilling hot dogs or hamburgers on the grill and you stand around and talk safety for maybe an hour, hour and a half with everybody on the job site. And so the personnel working, they typically have a good feedback response to us and you know, it’s well received. So it’s been an effective way of promoting safety and thinking about what they’re doing before they jump into their tasks.

Jon O’Brien:

Would you say everyone on the job site? So you’re including subs, consultants, anyone that might be on the site?

Darren Rech:

Yeah, that’s correct. So at Alexander we’re a construction manager and we have mostly subcontractors on our project. So these walk throughs will be mostly subcontractors. Oftentimes the owner will jump in and join us, but primarily it’s Alexander and our subcontractors and the owner at certain times.

Jon O’Brien:

For the client, what’s the owner’s take on not only the walkthrough, but the culture of safety at Alexander?

Darren Rech (11:10):

Yeah. So, you know, more and more these days, we’re finding owners who really look at safety and the culture of safety within your company. What we have is in every company what’s called an experience modification rating, and it’s a number used by insurance companies to gauge both past costs, injuries, and risk, or chances of risk. So the lower, the EMR of your business, the lower your workers’ compensation insurance premiums will be. And so what we’re finding is a lot of owners are really looking at that number. So if you have an EMR, for instance, of 1.0, that’s considered the average. And so to mitigate the insurance risk, they raised the workers’ comp premiums when your EMR starts creeping up over 1.0, right? And so, you know, the bad news is the, as an EMR increases, it sticks with you for about three years.

Darren Rech (12:14):

So it doesn’t go away after say a year. And as I said, more and more clients are starting to look at that that particular number. And you know, I sort of use the analogy, if you have your auto insurance premium, you know, on your personal vehicle, then you get into maybe two or three accidents a year. You know, what happens with your premiums, they shoot up, right? So the same thing is the case for workers’ comp insurance. And again, a lot of companies, a lot of owners, clients are starting to look at that EMR a little closely when they do their due process for a particular project. So it’s a very important number.

Jon O’Brien (13:13):

I heard on a conference call recently a comment, from I think a General Contractor from New York City I believe, and he made the comment that these young professionals that are coming out of a school they have been born and raised to talk safety. Their entire lives safety’s all around them. They’re always thinking about everything around them, and the educational process is doing a great job of preaching safety. It’s the old timers on the job site, it’s the guys that have been there forever and they’re like, Oh, I’m just doing it this way and I’ve always done it that way, you know? So yeah I’d like to get your feedback on that comment.

Darren Rech:

Yeah. That’s you know, it’s interesting. And I mentioned earlier, my approach to safety is more coaching and mentoring. And, you know, as we grow older into this business of safety and in some of our industry experience and your dad’s move on, you know, I’m seeing a shifting culture from that mentality. These, you know, a lot of these guys are getting older and they’re starting to feel their aches and pains and things like that that are creeping up after years of working in the construction industry.

Darren Rech (14:13):

So, you know, they’re starting to appreciate safety a little bit more, which is interesting. So it makes our job a little easier because they’re open to safety, suggestions and ideas to make their job easier. So, you know, ironically, I’m hearing a little bit less of the, you know, this is the way I’ve done it for 30 years now approach. So it’s been good and it’s been refreshing. And I think the culture of the industry starting to shift a little bit more towards that, you know, let’s do something safely and, and easier so we can, you know, go home safer.

Jon O’Brien:

Absolutely. And are you saying that too, amongst the younger professionals, their safety conscience too?

Darren Rech (15:16):

Yeah, it’s interesting. A lot of the folks coming out of the union halls and just entering industry in general you know, carpenters, electricians, plumbers laborers, most of these folks have the OSHA 30 hour training or the OSHA 10 hour training at least. So it’s been a good training for these folks. And, you know, I noticed on some of our projects that the owner will actually require that anyone working must be trained by a licensed OSHA 30 hour trainer, as well as maybe the labor has the OSHA 10 hour training. So there’s certainly a requirement from owners that a certain level of safety, the training is completed. And so that’s been a great plus as well, as far as culture and maintaining the safe culture.

Jon O’Brien:

I think it was maybe a year or two ago, you approached me, Dan, you approached me and mentioned a topic I’d never heard of before – Prevention Through Design. Is that still active on your radar? And if so is it a needed process during construction. And do you wanna explain what that is first of all?

Darren Rech (16:17):

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Prevention Through Design is you know, it’s a concept that’s been around for years and it has a little bit of a change in name, but ultimately what the concept fundamentally is one that you think of safety. You know, I’ll take building construction, for instance. You think of safety during the design of the building throughout the construction of the building, as well as the life cycle, after we’ve finished the building and the end user comes into occupy this building. We think of safety all through it from cradle to grave, basically. So, you know, we obviously want to work safely while we’re building it, but when we give up the project and the building is complete, and we turn it over to the owner who has folks who need to work daily in this building, or you know, different types of maintenance folks, they have to maintain this building and how do they do it in a safe manner?

Darren Rech (17:21):

So Prevention Through Design is really a concept of, you know, making sure that gauges, switches, light pictures and anything that must be maintained can be maintained in a safe manner. So the elimination of ladders, you know, maybe it’s a light the community lowered, so the bulb can be changed or maintained. And so, you know, the concept of just minimizing the risk is really what PTD is. And we continue to push that on all of our projects and we do it in different levels. It depends what the owners buy in from a safety standpoint and what they’re willing to spend with the design phase. So it varies in different degrees. You know, PTD is typically on one of our projects, but you know, we certainly continue to push it as a company and the certain requirements. So kind of in a nutshell, that’s what PTD is.

Jon O’Brien:

So it varies depending on who the owner is?

Darren Rech (18:34):

Yeah, varies, I guess of what it could involve. The occupants would be involved in the Prevention Through Design process and kind of let their opinions weigh in. Got some, right. Yeah, yeah. Really it’s driven by the owner. So the owner may say if, for instance, if the owner hires the architect, they, as well as the engineers, they really push the architects and engineers to design a building that’s safe, you know, for instance, a parapet wall should be at 39 inches. And of course there’s a cost to that. But if the owner is pushing the architect to design that building, regardless of cost, you know, you may have typically a 12 inch parapet wall on a rooftop. So if you can raise it to 39 inches, the folks who need to get out on that roof and maintain equipment and things like that can do so without fall protection, because you already have that parapet wall at the required height. So that’s an example of PTD and how the owner can certainly push it down the community to the architect and engineer, so to design it to be a safe building.

Chris Martin (19:44):

That’s a really interesting concept. I know when I worked for a contractor out in the central part of the state where your headquarters are, nothing against that company, but that just wasn’t happening at the time and that wasn’t a thought of how to you know, it was just, here are your keys, we’re onto the next project. And literally pulling together the ability to think beyond that is a heck of a great service for your customers. And as well as the people that are going to ultimately work in there beyond just the building and the trades and the other folks. So kudos to you guys for that.

Darren Rech (20:27):

Yeah. And that’s a great point too, cause I think really that that’s a key part of safety culture. And within Alexander, we have executive leadership who pushes safety. We have a parent company based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and, you know that’s our parent company. And from our parent company down to Alexander’s executive leadership throughout, we have multiple safety directors. And so, you know, they’re really encouraging to know that they’re pushing safety and they make our life easier when, you know, they expect safe work projects and people were considerably. So, and they typically give us the resources as safety directors to do our job and, and do what’s needed to keep working safely. So, you know, really it did call it true from an Alexander standpoint.

Jon O’Brien:

That’s good. I’m guessing along that process too, there’s some good best practice sharing between your businesses and the safety professionals.

Darren Rech (21:35):

Yeah, yeah, that’s correct. And you know, in fact, we’re having a safety director meeting next Tuesday and the safety directors from each region basically get together. We typically do try to do one on a quarterly basis or at least, you know, twice a year. And we talk about best practices, what each region is doing for safety, sharing ideas and just really a good general discussion on safety on you know, where resources are needed and how we can do a better job and improve our project safety. It’s a great opportunity. And I, and again, it goes back to our executive leadership, you know, enabling us to do that and providing resources of your time away from projects and working on these ideas and concepts and making sure we can share these ideas.

Chris Martin:

It definitely starts at the top. Doesn’t it?

Darren Rech (22:33):

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. There’s no question that’s you know, if you don’t have good leadership in place who focuses on safety it makes it really difficult for everyone you know, working down to work safely and to really buy into it. So certainly starts at the top.

Chris Martin:

Well, that’s something we want to do also with this Building PA Podcast, do a lot of best practice sharing. We want to give good stories, good answers, hopefully something in there, some company or some construction professional heard something that the light bulb went on. And, Oh, that’s a great idea. You know, we should try that. So we’re constantly want to drive home safety on this podcast. And safety these days is not something that is sort of copied, right. You know, in the past, people wanted to keep their ideas, you know, because they were their ideas.

Darren Rech (23:31):

And nowadays I see a lot more sharing of ideas with safety to promote safety just between different directors and you know, safety professionals everybody’s willing to share their ideas or, you know, help each other out. And that certainly goes a long way with a more safety. And, you know, especially in the construction industry, it’s a pretty tight knit industry. So when you have different professionals helping each other, you know, helps us individually. And that certainly happens. And you know, at least with Alexander and a lot of the subcontractors that we work with, that’s it professional. So, so yeah, it’s really helpful. And you know, again, it’s about building, building a relationships and, and trust between each other.

Chris Martin (24:24):

Well, Darren, thank you for taking time to talk safety with us. I know we’d love to have you come back on and we can continue to have this conversation on safety. We can reach out to you in the future and have you back on the Building PA Podcast. That would be fantastic. Thank you. Brought a lot of great insight and best practices clearly from the Alexander Company. So thank you for that and thanks for your time.

Jon O’Brien (24:53):

Yeah. Thanks, Darren.

Darren Rech:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me guys have a good day. Thank you, you too.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 2: COVID-19 Impact on PA’s Construction Industry

NOTE: This COVID-19 conversation was recorded on April 1, 2020; a lot has changed since then. For more information visit Building PA Podcast.

Chris Martin (00:01):

Welcome to the Building PA Podcast, a podcast specifically for the construction industry and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am Co-Host Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing, where we tell stories for people who build things. And I’m with my partner, Jon O’Brien.

Jon O’Brien:

Hey everyone. How’s it going, Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association based right here in good old central Pennsylvania. Hello, Chris.

Chris Martin:

Hello, Jon. Hey, I know that you have been a busy these days, and I know that, you know, our topic today is a very timely, special topic. We are going to be talking about, and Jon has been instrumental in this. So I get the tables are turned a little bit here. This isn’t our normal interview process, but today we’re going to talk about the Coronavirus and its impact on the construction industry. And like I said, Jon has been integral and very, very busy to say the least for the last few weeks. And even though this is not a typical Building PA Podcast topic, we want to start with this and share as much information as we can through the podcast platform. So, Jon, I know that the Keystone Contractors Association and GCAP, the General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania have been very, very instrumental in helping get the industry back to work these last few weeks, but can you explain for our listeners the difference between the KCA and the GCAP associations?

Jon O’Brien (01:50):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s probably good because there does seem to be a lot of confusion with the two different groups. So yeah, KCA, the Keystone Contractors Association is a full service construction trade association. We offer typical services that contractor associations offer like labor relations, safety services, marketing, community service, you name it, we’re pretty busy, pretty active helping our members. That’s KCA. So, yeah, KCA was founded in 1940.  And as far as GCAP, which is the General Contractor Association of Pennsylvania, GCAP is an association of associations. So KCA is a member of GCAP. And our other level one members include the Master Builders Association in Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, the General Building Contractors Association and GCAP’s primary and main purpose is to be the advocate for the commercial construction industry. Let me make that clear commercial construction industry, because that adds some confusion as well. When you mix in residential and people think we cover it all, but no, we’re busy enough just in the commercial world. Yeah.

Chris Martin (03:19):

That is more than enough time, effort and energy to be put toward one at one element.

Jon O’Brien (03:24):

Yeah. So, the for the staff, I double as the executive director of both KCA and GCAP, and I’m also the registered lobbyist for GCAP. So don’t hold that lobbyist thing against me, you know,

Chris Martin (03:40):

And, and more importantly you, that lobbyist hat has been in on your head for quite some time now for the last couple of weeks regarding the pandemic that we’re in, but can you give us an update on what GCAP is doing, but maybe some other associations are coming together to really work for the industry. Can you tell us what’s been going on?

Jon O’Brien (04:04):

Absolutely. If you like, why don’t I start with the work shut down. Governor Wolf posted the Executive Order on Thursday, March 19th, leading up to that Thursday afternoon, there was talk, you know, earlier in that week, and even the week before this might be coming, you know, once we heard NHL canceled and they’re not canceled, but postpone season of Major League Baseball, you know, all these big corporate events everything’s shutting down there is rumblings and a lot of rumors that construction might be shutting down as well. And out of the blue, out of nowhere on a Thursday evening governor Wolf just imposed a workstop of all nonessential businesses and per his administration’s classification, construction was listed as a non-essential classification. So being that, you know, I have a hundred members of KCA, and then you factor in GCAP with another 700 construction members….

Jon O’Brien (05:12):

So Thursday night, I think the Executive Order was issued around 4:00 PM or so an hour before the work day shut down. And from four o’clock till, probably two in the morning, I was on the phone all night, receiving text messages, emails. “What’s this mean” “what’s going on?” And there was no heads up that this was going to happen. As you could expect, because this was such a drastic measure, the communication did not stop Friday either. So it’s a Friday, yeah we had tons of questions Friday morning. About 7:00 AM I had a conference call with Labor & Industry. You know the while the Executive Order came in on Thursday, all work was to cease, I think, close the business that Friday, the 20th, and then it was extended to Monday the 23rd. But regardless of that time period, we got most of that and there were some issues with inspections because we already had counties that were getting hit pretty hard by the Coronavirus. So we had some issues and L&I was telling their inspectors, if there is any hesitation at all, and you don’t feel comfortable inspecting a job site, you know, do not go, just use your best judgment. From members they were saying the use of their best judgment meant none of them are showing up.

Jon O’Brien (06:48):

Yeah. So there were some major Philadelphia projects and they wanted to find out what was going on. So we scheduled this call first thing in the morning with Labor & Industry. And we’re, the call was just intent, designed to talk about inspections and how will the inspection process work during this, during this shutdown? And we were wondering, is it possible to do like virtual inspections? Is that even a possibility? And we’re still looking into that. But then at the same time with this shutdown and earlier in the week, other businesses were shuttering down. And this led to a, I think a five thousand unemployed, I got the numbers in my head. They’re all jumbled together, but there was something like 75,000 unemployment cases within the unemployment office in one day.

Jon O’Brien (07:47):

And then that just added up every day that first week. So Monday the 16th, 17th, 18th, I think by the end of the week, they were over 500,000. So that call that we just wanted to talk about inspections. We had tons of questions about unemployment compensation and, you know what should we be getting out to our members? What should employers be doing? What should their employees be doing? And, Oh, it was a crazy day that Friday. And then it did not ease up on Saturday, Saturday, the 21st, we had some good email exchanges and some good conference calls with GCAP and other government organizations. And now I was talking to a lot of labor leaders as well, and collectively amongst all of us, you know, labor-management, we decided that a good route to kick off our plan of action would be for GCAP and the Pennsylvania Construction Trades Council should send a joint letter signed by labor and management and send that Governor Wolf.

Jon O’Brien (08:54):

So Sunday the president of the Building Trades, my good buddy, Frank, Frank Sirianni. I hope you’re listening Frank. Frank and I swapped emails and texts and phone calls all day that Sunday, that would be what, I think March 22nd. We wanted to put together a nice communication to the governor and why we felt construction is essential to our economy and to our society and why we thought construction should keep working. So yeah, we finished late night, you know, midnight or so on Sunday, we had a product we were happy with. We sent it to the GCAP Board and were like there’s not a lot of time to review this, but let me know if you’re okay with this. Next thing, you know, Monday morning, March 23rd, some of the leaders on both sides, labor and management, weren’t quite sure if we should be reacting so fast to this shutdown order and, you know, there is talk about, should we let the dust settle a little?

Jon O’Brien (09:59):

I mean, we’re inside learning about this COVID-19 and the whole pandemic. We’re still learning about this. Are we really doing the right thing? You know, pushing the economy to move forward as if this doesn’t exist, you know, we should just ignore it and just keep working, you know, so there was a lot of questions internally, you know, and ultimately we couldn’t come to a decision. So we decided just to, just to sit back a little bit and let the dust settle. And when I say sit back, I mean, sit back on side of the lobbying. So while we were sitting out on the lobbying game, we kind of shifted our attention towards the area of safety and you know, through GCAP we’re rather fortunate to have that partnership with Master Builders and the General Building Contractors in Philadelphia. We’re fortunate to be partners with those two great associations. And we created within probably three, four days, maybe a week, we created the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Response Plan for Construction,

Chris Martin (11:19):

Excuse me, I know it’s good I’ve seen that plan. And not only is it thorough but it, it lays out a solid way for the industry to showcase not only how important this is to our industry, but more importantly, the level of intensity that we’re taking this as it should be.

Jon O’Brien (11:49):

Yeah. I mean, the plan is pretty awesome, you know, I mean, you saw it, but hopefully our audience as too. We’ve posted it online. It’s on our website. It’s kind of all over the place. I believe through the Master Builders and their Director of Safety Bob McCall. And I believe in Bob used a lot of connections and a lot of his relationships through the Associated General Contractors. He used those relationships to kind of form what I was calling the dream team of safety. I mean, they had safety professionals from across the country come together to really create this plan. And it’s awesome from details all the way down to making sure your autos and all sorts of transportation devices are cleaned daily make sure 24 hours a day, they were cleaned. You don’t see too many safety plans that go that into detail.

Chris Martin (12:49):

Yeah. That was one thing that I was shocked when I saw was just the level of detail that cleanliness comes into. And let’s be honest.

Jon O’Brien (12:58):

Yeah.

Chris Martin (12:58):

Our industry is not exactly the cleanest. So, you know well, Jon, let me ask you this, as far as the, you know, that process that you’ve gone through has there been any I mean, obviously there’s been a lot of progress since that initial announcement from Governor Wolf, but on the legislative front, can you explain a little bit about what not only the KCA and the GCAP is doing, but where things could potentially go as it relates to the industry?

Jon O’Brien (13:32):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So early on when the shut down order came, there was a process that the governor allowed to have projects get waived, you know, and they could proceed. Yeah. So there is a lot of confusion with these projects cause you had similar projects submitted by contractors and some were approved, some were denied. You had elected officials, you know, state reps telling contractors if your project gets denied, resubmit it again, because a different set of eyes might see it a different way. And sure enough, you know, projects were getting submitted and approved the second time. So it was, it was crazy.

Jon O’Brien (14:21):

Yeah. And then further confusing the matter was this past Friday. So that would have been what I forget what the, my phone’s a little slow…the 27th. So Friday the 27th in the evening people within the governor’s office were sending emails out to the industry saying that K-12 school construction work is now allowed to proceed assuming they get approval at the local level. So school districts would have to approve this process. And we had that added another layer of confusion because there’s a lot of contractors that submitted waivers for projects

Jon O’Brien (15:12):

You know, they were denied in some cases, in most cases, I think all school was denied up until the 27th. So they were denied and then schools, we had schools out in the Pittsburgh area, tell contractors, just keep working. You don’t have to worry about that waiver process. And we’re like, what? And then you get this one line statement from the governor’s office that Friday night saying, you know you’re allowed to proceed if approved at the local level. And we’re like do we need more proof than just this little email? I don’t know. It’s not even that the top official, you know, it’s like, you know, a couple levels down, they sending this email.

Chris Martin (15:50):

You know you have been working your tail off here along with so many others that are in the industry. And, I want to emphasize how much I appreciate not only what you’re doing, but what everybody is doing to help move this along. But are you, you mentioned earlier there was a, a little bit of a, you know, some contractors say, “hey, wait a second are we doing the right thing here?” Are you seeing that there is a I don’t want to say a separation if you will, between the industry one being, “Hey, let’s get back to work.” The others, “maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Jon O’Brien (16:40):

Yeah, I’m seeing that, but I think a good thing for our cause was creating that safety plan and we had some legislators in both the Senate and the House that want to legislate the industry returning to work, which I personally, I don’t believe that’s the right route to take. I think that would take too long. I think the better approach would be leaders in both chambers and industry leaders sit down with the governor and his staff and, you know, talk their way through. Cause we keep saying, you know, along with a safety plan

Jon O’Brien (17:21):

Much like the schools can work because you know, schools are shut down for who knows how long, at least until the end of April. So those projects can proceed because, you know, there’s a trust that the industry knows how to operate safely and there’s no students and there’s no faculty within those schools. And I think that same logic should be applied to the entire industry. And if projects are currently halted, you know, halfway through the project and the business has shut down, there’s going to be no harm to the community or the occupants, so the industry should be able to get in there assuming they have a good safety plan, which is part of the K through 12, the school districts approach, the plan at the local level was okay, the governor’s office is giving us the authority to proceed. Our only requirement is we want to see your social distancing safety plan and we want to approve it. And I actually heard just yesterday, there was a handful of contractors that submitted our GCAP safety plan as their company safety plan. And it was approved every time. So that was always good to hear when you spend time creating something and knowing it’s getting used within the industry.

Chris Martin (18:39):

Yeah, absolutely. Especially with such a quick turnaround. Well, let’s just get this because this is a thought that’s been kind of percolating in my head, but potentially when we are back to a, some level of normalcy, not only within the industry, but you know in society as a whole, has there been any talk about what are the steps when we get back to that normalcy? In other words you know, Governor Wolf said, okay we’re going to start off with no big groups of 200. Then it went down to a hundred, then it went to 50 then to 10 and then everybody stay at home. Is there a ramping up? Have you heard that there’s a ramping up process or are we still too early in this process to figure out how we’re going to get back to work?

Jon O’Brien (19:35):

Well they are letting some highway projects resume. I thought that was a no brainer because they’re outside. And when you drive by a highway project, I’m not a highway construction expert by any means, but when you drive by, you don’t see people on top of each other, they’re pretty spread out in the field. So there’s the social distance aspect is covered there. So yeah, let’s approve some projects to proceed. I believe they letting 61 this week and I’m hearing there’s going to be more as far as like I said, the school districts, they’re now in the process of approving projects to proceed. We’ve actually approached the administration and leaders in both the House and the Senate and said, projects are, like I said earlier, if a location doesn’t have any occupants in it, the industry should be able to proceed. I heard word from some legislators that we should legislate, you know, only 10 people on a project at one time, and I don’t know how you quite do that. You know, it sounds like, kind of Russia to me, you know, like how many people can go inside a building and I think that decision’s up to the GC and the subcontractors to manage their workforce.

Chris Martin (20:59):

Yeah. And obviously with a safety plan in place, or at least maybe it’s not GCAP plans that people are using, but their own individual plans. Yeah. There is a policy, but has there also been talks with more on the legal side cause this, that was my first concern when we started talking about job sites, getting shut down and those type of things, we have that with our clients too. But has there been any conversation from a standpoint of contracts and, you know, a start date is now let’s, let’s say this, the pandemic goes into May. That’s my stating this for the conversation. I’m not saying that’s what it is. But if it goes into May and there are job sites that were, or jobs that were supposed to be completed in May, what would be the impact to the actual completion of that project?

Jon O’Brien (22:02):

Yeah. I mean those questions are coming in. It’s just going to be a legal nightmare to answer your questions. It’s going to be, you’re listening to our podcasts. I mean, you have worries about the supply chain and, you know, is the material pricing gonna increase, contract and might’ve estimated steel at X. And now with all the, the issues when the industry comes out full tilt, you know, that price might be jacked up a little bit and, how’s that going to be adjusted? And you mentioned the schedules, how are the schedules going to be adjusted? And then, manpower within the unions I’m hearing now that the unions are creating two lists, a list of people that want to work during the pandemic and people that do not want to work.

Jon O’Brien (23:03):

So now as more projects go, there is a contractor able to work, but do they have enough people and as more projects come out, you’re going to need more people. Yeah. And then plus factor in the projects that can proceed now, the healthcare emergency repairs, the waiver approved projects, the PennDOT projects, there’s more and more projects. And I’m getting word this week that some subs’ workers just aren’t showing up. There was a project in a Harrisburg area where the whole subcontractor team didn’t show up. And they said, we feel as if we’re putting our family at risk by working at this time. And so I mean, legally, what do you do there? I mean, yeah, yeah.

Chris Martin (23:54):

It definitely kind of adds a whole different level to contract management and contract administration. Yeah. Cause I know I’ve talked with other business owners who have said, you know we’re leaving it up to our employees and if they feel like they’re putting themselves in danger or harming their family, you know, there’s also that element. And I know we’re not really gonna talk about this now, cause we’re focusing on the industry, but you know, the element of pay over periods of time, I’ve had people ask me about, you know, our business at Atlas Marketing and how is the pandemic impacting our business? And fortunately for us, for me, my response is, well, you know, it’s impacting us, but it’s not impacting us as much as it is the industries that we work in.

Chris Martin (24:50):

And so, you know, but it’s interesting to hear how other business owners are addressing it. And that comes back to the whole contract administration aspect because that’s going to change the way that things are. Jon, let me ask you this, where do you see this going, like from again from your efforts on the working with the administration with Governor Wolf and his team and other association leaders as well as trade and industry leaders, where do you see this going? Like what do you think are the next steps here?

Jon O’Brien (25:26):

So we had a GCAP call, I think that was about a week ago or so. And you know, they asked where do I see it going? And I said, well let me get out my crystal ball here, let’s see what’s going on here. So I’m kinda off a few days: I thought all highway work would start this past Monday, but it started today I guess. Okay. So I was off a day or two. And then I thought the sixth, this upcoming Monday, I thought that would be a full two week for the shutdown and all projects construction would resume. And then I that all construction would resume Monday the sixth. So I thought it would be highway the first week and then commercial building the next week. But now that these numbers are coming in and Governor Wolf does seem pretty firm in his stance, which is good. You know, he’s trying to do what he thinks his best for the health of Pennsylvania. Sure. It might’ve been a knee jerk reaction at first. Maybe we could have eased into it a little bit more, but, but still, I mean, he has the right intentions.

Jon O’Brien (26:44):

I’m thinking now maybe like the 13th, I think we might need another solid week, you know, of all workers coming back. Okay. Just so you know, as you hear every day in the news, as we needed another week to flatten the curve. So we couldn’t have an interview on the coronavirus without talking about the curve.

Chris Martin (27:05):

That is true. I honestly never heard of that phrase until you know, March of 2020, so

Jon O’Brien (27:12):

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. But still our stance, I mean, that’s me personally, that’s my opinion personally, but within GCAP, you know, the stance is if a project’s unoccupied right now, the industry should be in there finishing the project.

Chris Martin (27:31):

Well on behalf of everyone who works in the construction industry. I thank you for your efforts. I know that you and other association and Building Trades and industry leaders have been working extremely long hours and dedicating yourselves to moving our industry to where it was just a few weeks ago. But thank you. And thank you for sharing this information with us. And as we continue, we’ll provide updates but you know, feel free to download more episodes. We have other episodes of Building PA Podcast available and thank you for listening. And Jon, thank you again for all your efforts.

Jon O’Brien (28:18):

You bet. And if anyone out there has any questions, concerns, comments, and wants to reach me. My email is Jon@keystonecontractors.com or give me a call. Either way, I’m here for you.

Chris Martin (28:33):

Perfect. And then I can attest that he is there. We’ve had so many calls just between he and I just on podcast related information that have been rescheduled or pushed to another day. And I can attest to Jon’s effort for the industry. So again well done and thank you.

Chris Martin (28:54):

Separations Act Legislation Advances in the PA House: Does Dan Jalboot know about this?

Pennsylvania is one step closer to making it easier to construct high-performance public buildings with the passage of House Bill 163 in the House State Government Committee.

With a passage vote of 15-10, this Separations Act legislation will now move to the Pennsylvania House Floor. Enacted in 1913 the Separations Act is a requirement that mandates the public sector must bid and award to at least four prime contractors for one project. The named primes in the Act are: General Trades, Plumbing, HVAC, and Electrical. When enacted over a century ago, there were payment concerns from Contractors to their Subcontractors, so the major Subcontractors were made Primes. Over the years the General Assembly has enacted many important pieces of legislation to ensure payment is made to all firms that provide construction services, rending the Separations Act needless.

Pennsylvania is the only state left in the country that abides by a multiple prime delivery system and after the recent HB163 vote we’re one step closer to ending that unwanted title. It’s exciting news for Pennsylvania’s construction industry as we can now work towards educating the public sector on all the many great advancements of the industry on topics like: Construction Management At Risk, Design Build, Design Assist, Lean Construction, to name a few. Through legislation enactment, different delivery options can be considered by the public that offer different entry points for the construction team which allows for collaboration to commence at various phases of the construction project.

When it comes to the Separations Act, my journey began in 2005. I was hired by a construction trade association and my boss at the time asked me if I had any government affairs experience. I said: “No but I’m willing to learn and work on whatever.” He returned with a stack of file folders that was around eight inches thick, dropped them on my desk, and said: “here’s some info on our top issue, the Separations Act. Study this stuff and keep in mind there’s a lot more info in our file cabinets: letters, studies, articles, you name it so read up on this stuff I’m giving you and grab more when you’re ready.”

I remember studying this information and thinking to myself: no one in the world builds multiple prime and I highly doubt an entire private sector would use a method that costs more so why does our state keep a law on the books that results in taxpayers overpaying for public construction due to an archaic law? This should be easy to repeal – I think people want government to spend less which means potentially we all could pay less in taxes. People want to pay less taxes, right? This was my ‘welcome to politics’ moment. Just because an issue may appear obvious, don’t fool yourself into thinking it can easily be changed. That thought was in 2005 and today, fourteen years later, a vote finally happened on the Separations Act.

Over the past years working on this issue, I’ve been fortunate to meet so many great construction professionals – both for and against a modernization of the Act. I could probably make this a series and discuss so many people that care about their construction industry, and who knows maybe I will revisit this topic and focus on a different person as this issue moves through the legislature. But today I’d like to focus on an architect who addressed this issue like no one else back in my early days of learning about the Separations Act. And honestly no one since has addressed the issue quite like him.

While I was learning about the Separations Act, my old work first suggested we form a coalition. We had so many public owner organizations that wanted this law changed as well as other contractor, engineer and architect organizations. I remember that AIA Pennsylvania was interested in joining the coalition, but first its executive director Caroline Boyce wanted to talk. We spoke, great conversation, super person, and she suggested I reach out to a Philadelphia architect named Dan Jalboot.

Up until I spoke with Dan, all of the feedback from everyone was something along the lines of Pennsylvania can save money if we repeal this Act. I called Dan and he told me that the Separations Act impedes green construction in our state – THIS WAS IN 2005, BEFORE IT WAS HIP TO BE ON THE GREEN BANDWAGON. Dan would say that yes, our state can save money by repealing the Act, but more importantly we can improve the chances of constructing environmentally-friendly buildings if we did not have to abide by a multiple prime delivery system. We should want our children to receive education in green buildings – it will bring out the best in them.

Dan sent me a few articles, stuff that was over my head back then. This helped to educate me. We had a few public hearings in those days and there were a lot of blank stares from legislators when he spoke, since green construction was not the norm back in mid 2000s like it is today. He would say stuff like: we need to look at the lifecycle of a building and stop looking only at construction costs; a building should be thought of as a single being with all systems working together and we can’t do that when an architect has to break a project into four pieces that must be meshed back together by strangers; construction needs collaboration from pre-construction through project closeout to truly benefit the environment, end users, and occupants. He would say how it’s very difficult to achieve collaboration in the multiple prime world since the architect is getting zero input from the builders when the design is being finalized and the public sector could benefit so much more if constructors could add their expertise during the design phase. (I just wish I would have hung on to his written testimonies that accompanied the hearings when he spoke. I’m just going off of memory and I’m sure he would sound so much better if I wrote it in his own exact words.)

A few years ago the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out its updated certification – LEEDv4. I saw that pre-construction meetings from the design and construction teams is now encouraged and points are achieved when it happens. This is what Dan was preaching about a decade earlier and a decade later it is still difficult to achieve in the Pennsylvania public construction market due to the Separations Act. Now that the Separations Act issue is moving in the General Assembly, and a vote on this issue was actually held for the first time in decades, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts and let Dan Jalboot know I thought about him today. Not sure if he’ll see this article, but with today’s vote I think our state is moving in the right direction to improve the quality of public buildings that are constructed.

 

NOTE: If you’d like to stay informed about the modernization effects of the Separations Act, please let me know. Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.