Building PA Podcast: Season 1; Episode 1 – Crisis Communications

This Building PA podcast features co-hosts Chris Martin and Jon O’Brien as they talk about crisis communications for the construction industry. To listen to this podcast visit Building PA Crisis Communications.

 

Transcript:

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Welcome to Building Pennsylvania, a construction industry podcast. Co-Hosted by the Keystone Contractors Association and Atlas Marketing. This is Jon O’Brien and this is Chris Martin. Yes. And today we are here to talk about crisis communications. Chris is a nationally renowned figure when it comes to this topic, he’s spoken across the country for AGC, the Associated General Contractors. And just today, he was in Hershey to speak. If you want to talk about your experience today, what brought you here? How was the audience? Give us a little feedback on your presentation.

Chris Martin:

Well, thanks, Jon. That really set me up nicely there. Thank you. Well, today, as you said, I, I spoke at the Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health Conference that was held at the Hershey Lodge. Thanks to your colleague and cohort Seth Kohr, who is a committee member and invited me to come and speak the topic this year, Chris Martin (01:07): The morning was crisis communications and its impact on safety and really what we focused on today and the discussion was the correlation between having a safety program and the need for a crisis communications plan. The, conversation and the presentation went quite well. I will admit the interaction was quite lively. There was a lot of comments and questions. And, and one question that came up was toward the end of the discussion, but it was focused on having technical support or experts to help tell the story when it comes to a news conference or even with a media interview. And it was interesting because the, question came from someone who was a safety officer. And the question was quite simply, should you have, you know, more people engaged in the communications element and telling the story of what has occurred.

Chris Martin (02:17):

And my response was quite simply the more people the better, but make sure that they have a, they have a reason to be there. You know, a lot of the times you see like a news conference or even a, even a, a politician who is behind the podium and they’re speaking, and then behind them, are even more people who are there more of a support element. But I just prefer that if you’re going to have people stand back there, they should have a role and they should be able to answer questions and, be a part of the conversation as appropriately, rather than just standing there for, eye candy. So I thought that was interesting. Jon, would you, I mean, you’ve done a, you’ve handled a lot of crisis communications for members in the past. What’s your take on crisis communications and safety?

Jon O’Brien (03:11):

Well it’s a, you know, it’s a serious topic. You want to make sure your team’s prepared and you want to make sure you know everyone’s kind of on the same page. So like you’re saying you have various team members involved and again, I agree with you. You don’t want them to be there just to be there. You want them to have a specific role and a specific purpose, you know, to be involved. And part of that is, you know, making sure everyone that’s involved knows the story you’re telling and knows exactly what happened. And because the last thing you want to do is put someone up there and you hear, Nope, no comment, you know, it’s like you’re insensitive. You don’t care about this situation. You don’t want to comment on it. So you want to make sure knowledgeable people that are up to date on the incident or whatever happened, whatever the crisis is, make sure to have knowledgeable people with insight onto the situation are involved in the process.

Chris Martin (04:06):

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And it’s funny, you said, no comment because that was a topic that, or that was actually an individual slide in the presentation. And it’s funny, every time I do that for construction or engineering or even manufacturing, when it comes to crisis communications, people’s eyes get big. Like, what do you mean? I can’t say no comment. Yeah. And it’s always funny because you know, my take on it is, and I’ll share this with our listeners, you know, it’s you’ve worked hard to develop us a message and have a response and coordinate with your members and your leadership and all the people that are involved in your crisis communications team. Why wouldn’t you want to go out and tell your side of the story, rather than just hiding behind two words that literally zap all the credibility out of anything that you’ve done up until that point. Yes, absolutely. I know.

Jon O’Brien (05:05):

Did you focus on the written statement at all? And do you, think that’s a good process to get your company to put it in writing first before any sort of spoken word is given?

Chris Martin (05:16):

Well, it’s funny you say that too, because although we didn’t get into that, you know, the varying efforts or the varying degrees of how to respond, one of the participants did ask you know, we have he was talking about a specific instance where he was talking at a chemical plant and he had mentioned to the reporter that it was a caustic… I’m sorry. I can’t think of how he said it, but it was the cash Alison of the toxics. And he said that the next day, the headline was caustic, toxics at the site. And, you know, it was a matter of how, you know, how do you, make sure that those words are specifically what you want them to say? And my response was, you know, that might be a perfect opportunity to do a written statement.

Chris Martin (06:14):

So just the actual having a conversation. And a lot of people don’t realize that, that a written statement is a viable response. And so, and especially in the construction industry, because, you know, just as well as I do, you know, contractors try to avoid the limelight, they just want to do their job and go home safely. And on time, all those fun things that come along with it. But I think there’s a lot of opportunity for contractors and safety officials and leaders within the industry to look at, you know, situations or crisis situations. And, as an opportunity to not only tell their story, but talk about how safe and how productive they are.

Jon O’Brien (06:59):

Yeah. That’s one thing I know every situation is different and perhaps it might not call for a written statement, but in the situations that I’ve helped out in the past with our various members, that’s one thing that we’ve kind of gravitated towards was first, let’s get a written statement out first, you know, get feedback and input from everyone on the job site, anyone that has input on the incident and then, you know, work with your superintendent and maybe the president of the company or whoever, and just deep have a good, detailed written statement. And that way, you know, if, the news cameras show up and not the right person’s there, or they don’t have issues, you know, they might have issues, you interviewing someone this way, they have a written statement that they can actually read on the news, just so that the perspective from the contractor is accurately described on the newscast.

Chris Martin (08:01):

Sure. Absolutely. And I think, you know, there is definitely a time and a place for that. And, and I agree with you. I think that that is always the right thing to do to, to write down your message, to make sure that the people that are going to serve as your spokesperson have that consistency. And, and actually one of the persons in the in the presentation this morning talked about unification and unified messaging. So I, I agree. I couldn’t agree more with it.

Jon O’Brien (08:28):

Yeah, that’s right.  The last thing you want the media to do is to show up at the job site and perhaps, you know, they have issues getting the interview from the contractor, and now they’re roaming the job site and they’re talking to, you know, just a passerby, or someone not really involved and might not be a good comment that’s coming out of that person’s mouth. That’s not really that familiar with the incident.

Chris Martin (08:53):

Very, very true. And you know, there’s been instances where that has happened and the comment was from a somewhat disgruntled tradesmen. Yes. Just simply had a bad day. And so you’re absolutely right, and making sure that the, you know, controlling that message and managing the situation is extremely important. And, that consistent single voice message and response is extremely important because that’s how you can manage the crisis situation going from that. Absolutely. When it comes to social media, was that brought up at all, as far as crisis management, the one thing that we always tell clients, and as you know, when it comes to social media in a crisis situation, the biggest thing is again, consistency, but more importantly, making sure that your response is well timed. And by that, I mean you know, let’s throw out an example.

Chris Martin (10:04):

There is a an explosion at a concrete plant out in the middle of nowhere. The explosion occurs the last thing you want to have is somebody going to Facebook or LinkedIn, or even Twitter and saying, Hey, I just heard a big explosion at my job site. So you want to limit that initially. We always look at social media as a great support for the followup as well as the opportunity to reinforce messaging. So I think that’s what I would recommend for utilizing social media simply because social media, one, there’s so many platforms and, you know, to be able to manage that it can be a little daunting, especially while you’re managing a crisis situation. And then the second part of that is, is making sure that you have your message in place before you start to get information out.

Chris Martin (11:11):

And, I say it that way because and all the crises that we’ve managed and have been a part of, you know, the messaging and the statements go back and forth and back and forth multiple times and are reviewed by a lot of people legal, financial, communications, safety, all of those people are involved. So you want to make sure that you have the right version of your response. So we always tell people that kinda go a little it’s in your best interest to go dark on your social media until you have something to say in terms of a crisis. Okay. So here’s an example here. Yeah.

Jon O’Brien (11:54):

You’re dark for awhile. Then you got your statement and you got your uniformity amongst your company, and you post something on Facebook. For example, your company releases a statement on Facebook about an incident, and you start getting comments that could be viewed as negative towards your company. Do you first off, would you recommend allowing people to comment would you? Would you respond or would you delete them? Or how would you handle that sort of situation?

Chris Martin (12:28):

That’s a really good question. I mean, typically if there is negative conversation or misinformation, we would encourage you to take that offline. And by that, I mean, having a conversation like in Facebook messenger, for example, or direct message in Twitter to that person and, the company representative, because that way you’re acknowledging their information, but yet you’re also making sure that whatever they’re saying, if it’s misinformation or just factually wrong, you don’t want to have that become you know, a mini crisis within a bigger crisis. So that would be the first thing I would recommend is, you know, take that information offline and have a conversation with someone. But the other side of that is, you know, depending on the level of the crisis you may want to turn off the commenting and not allow people to comment. You know, for example, if there’s a fatality on a job site the last thing you want to have is people, you know, jumping on to social media and saying negative things about the person that died, or the company that, you know, this infraction happened or something to that extent because you know, the bigger element is that we all want to be safe and we all want to go home and see our loved ones at night.

Chris Martin (13:59):

So it kind of becomes a sticky situation to say, a blanket response needs to just be go dark and don’t address things. But I think it’s in your best interest as a general contractor and owner a leader to manage the misinformation, if it becomes a problem.

Jon O’Brien (14:21):

Makes sense. Yeah, definitely. And every situation is different. Right. When it comes to a traditional media, like the print media and the news media, do you have any sort of a good feedback, pros, cons any sort of a good advice for contractors and dealing with them?

Chris Martin (14:43):

Yeah we’re really teaming up here, bro. First off personally, I always, I recommend and encourage conversation and, you know, a lot of the times, if you’re talking with a reporter you know easily, you know, the first question is are we on the record? So that, then that way you can know your level of engagement specifically with that reporter. Secondly, you know, always assume that you’re on the record so that you don’t make mistakes and share information that you don’t want out there, because if you do, it’ll be in the public record and the public domain. So you want to avoid that. But I’m always a huge proponent of having the opportunity to talk with someone. And mainly it’s not so much that I want to talk to the reporter, but I want to know what the reporter knows relevant to this topic or this situation.

Chris Martin (15:47):

So I would use that as an opportunity to ask questions and get them to talk a little bit more, and then not so much shut down the interview, but say, you know what, you’ve given me a lot of good information. Let me go back to my team, confirmed that this is all within the investigation and make sense, because I just don’t know at this point in time. And let me get back to you. That’s how I typically would use that conversation so that you have an opportunity to prepare yourself rather than just walking in there and doing your best to respond to a question or have that conversation right then and there. Yeah. Great advice. Good stuff, huh? Yeah. Anything else that stuck out today? Any good questions or good feedback you heard?

Chris Martin (16:39):

There was a lot of questions and I have to admit that I’m still trying to pull it through in my head, but I really enjoyed the fact that there was so much interaction between the participants and myself as the presenter. It was great. People were you know, quick to offer comments and questions. One woman in the audience even talked about her PR person who was very good in handling media and talking about things, but that person’s boss would be the one that would come in and in her words “screw things up.” So it was interesting to hear. And a lot of people had examples of, you know, instances that it didn’t go quite so well as they expected. So I was shocked by that. I wasn’t expecting that. So that was good. But overall, I really enjoyed it and had a great opportunity to speak to was probably about 60 people maybe 70 people at the Governor’s Occupational and Health Conference.

Jon O’Brien (17:50):

And hopefully that was just as good for everyone else as well. Absolutely. well, as, as you know, I’m a big proponent of KCA be an extended staff for all of our members. And I always tell them if they have any sort of crisis communication issues or problems, you know, feel free to get in touch with me. I can help help as needed or get professionals like you to come in and help. But another thing I was thinking was it’d be great if there was a crisis communication resource guide or some sort of like a crisis communications guide to kind of give contractors and construction companies some help on a (PHONE RINGING AT KCA OFFICE) Sorry about that call there. Hopefully that wasn’t a contractor with a crisis.

Jon O’Brien (18:46):

Right. I was thinking, it’d be great if KCA and, you know, maybe a firm like yours put our heads together and come up with some sort of crisis communication guide. And I was wondering what your thoughts are, and if that’s a needed resource.

Chris Martin:

So I couldn’t agree with you more and having the opportunity of, you know, here are the basic steps of what you need to work on and pull that together. I think that would be a great resource for your members. And we’d be glad to participate in and help to pull that together. Absolutely. That would be a fantastic thing for the industry and for KCA members. Awesome. And if any members or construction companies are listening to this podcast, I know our Building Pennsylvania podcast website, isn’t quite up and running yet.

Jon O’Brien (19:35):

We’re not at that point yet, but if they have questions or they want to get in touch with you, is there a good number or email just to reach out to you?

Chris Martin:

Sure they can. They can reach me at chris@atlasstories.com. You can call my office at (412) 749-9299. And we will be glad to offer assistance and provide the best knowledge that we can based on the situation and go from there.

Jon O’Brien:

Awesome. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say KCA’s glad to have Atlas Marketing as a member, and you do a lot of good stuff for the industry, like giving today’s presentation and keep up the great work.

Chris Martin:

Well, thank you. It’s great to be a part of KCA and we love being a part of this industry. So thank you. You bet.

Jon O’Brien (20:30):

Thank you for all you do. And for all you listeners out there, I hope you enjoyed it. Many, many, many more topics are coming. You know, like I mentioned earlier, we might talk about ACE mentor one week, workforce development the next. We might talk about the various trades and what does it take to get into those trades? Talk about different delivery systems and ways to improve collaboration in the industry. The topics are endless when it comes to Building Pennsylvania, the list keeps growing literally just like Pennsylvania. Yes, absolutely. Great. Well, thank you for giving us a few minutes of your time. I hope you enjoyed it and please don’t hesitate to contact us and stay safe. Thank you.

 

Our Students Deserve Better – Support House Bill 163 & Senate Bill 823

Bravo to Governor Tom Wolf and to Sen. Vincent Hughes for raising awareness and wanting to address the dangerous lead and asbestos contamination in structures and water systems across Pennsylvania. Concerning the school buildings, our students deserve better than current conditions (if you have not seen the videos on Sen. Hughes’ website click here: https://www.senatorhughes.com/toxicschools/).

Wanting our children to be educated in 21st century schools is commendable; however, constructing and renovating the schools with a procurement law enacted in 1913 is foolish and wasteful. Over a hundred years ago, Pennsylvania legislature enacted the Separations Act. This Act mandates that public construction projects be delivered by multiple prime contractors. Every time you drive by a public construction project just think to yourself: this project has (at least) four companies in charge. This process often leads to delays, lawsuits, conflicts, etc., and it averages about 10% more than contracting methods that the rest of the country utilizes. Because of the inefficiencies of the multiple prime contracting method, Pennsylvania is the only state left to require such a cumbersome construction delivery process. 49 states join the federal government and the private sector in allowing choice in project delivery. It’s time for Pennsylvania to do so as well.

There are two pieces of legislation that can modernize the Separations Act: House Bill 163 and Senate Bill 823. These bills can allow for savings in public construction. Tax dollars do not grow on trees and with that in mind we should be stewards of tax dollars to assure construction projects are built efficiently. Additionally, it’s a big election year so we’ll likely hear a lot about education and jobs. Just think if the $1 billion that Governor Wolf is suggesting for public infrastructure comes to fruition and the Separations Act is modernized, we can spend it wisely resulting in more school projects, which results in more construction jobs.

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.

Labor & Management – We’re Friends

NOTE: This week I had the honor of providing welcoming remarks for a construction labor-management conference held in Harrisburg, PA. This event was sponsored by the General Building Contractors Association of Philadelphia, The Builders Guild of Western PA, Keystone Contractors Association, and the Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council. The following are my prepared remarks:

 

Good morning. How’s everyone doing today? To our Philadelphia and Pittsburgh friends, welcome to Harrisburg. I hope that you are enjoying yourself in central Pennsylvania. Before jumping into my remarks, I’d first like to ask Leo Gallagher to stand up…Leo for your efforts to create this statewide labor-management conference, I’d like to thank you and I wanted to make sure all of us here today know who the person is that’s responsible for this event. (clap) Thanks Leo.

My name is Jon O’Brien and I am the Executive Director for the Keystone Contractors Association. The KCA is a commercial construction trade association based in the Harrisburg area, with members located around our Commonwealth. KCA offers services in labor relations, safety, government affairs, business development, workforce development and community service.

When I was thinking about my comments for today, I kept going back and forth on which topic I should cover, either the ACE Mentor Program or Opioid awareness efforts. I ended up calling Leo and asking him what he’d like for me to express during my brief time on stage and he said to “just share a labor-management story.” So that’s what I’ll do, but first please allow me to briefly update you on the two topics I mentioned.

Concerning the ACE Mentor Program, KCA is proud to support this program that’s mission is to encourage high school students into entering the construction industry. ACE, if you didn’t know, stands for Architecture, Construction, Engineering. The central PA ACE Chapter is really unique in that this chapter allows students to enter into a professional track or a building trades track. The professional track focuses its programming on sessions related to A/E and Construction Management services. Due to our labor friends being with us today, I especially wanted to mention this ACE chapter in central PA with its labor track – and I believe this ACE chapter is the only one in the country to feature an exclusive labor track. If you’re not involved with ACE, I would highly suggest you consider it and help our industry attract future workers. Our labor track could be so much stronger, with a strong support cast from our labor unions.

Additionally, concerning ACE, KCA has been working with Penn State University and others to establish a new ACE chapter in the State College area. We could use help from labor and management to launch this ACE chapter. Please see me during the conference to see how we can use your talents, expertise and contacts to make this happen. Hopefully at next year’s labor-management conference, I can report that this ACE chapter has successfully been established.

As for the Opioids awareness campaign, KCA was all in this year, working with our contractor members to provide them with the tools and resources they can use to educate their workers on this critical issue that’s wreaking havoc on the construction industry. With these tools and resources, we are able to help our members start the conversation on this topic. During this year, we did a lot on raising the awareness on the opioid issue and educating the construction industry on this issue. We’re not done on this issue. You should expect to hear more from us during 2019. Later this week, KCA will be in Boston to strategize with the National Safety Council to develop plans to improve education of workers on this topic in 2019. Trust me, there will be more to come on the opioid issue from the KCA in 2019 and beyond.

Now that’s a brief update on two important initiatives of the KCA and our current efforts related to the ACE Mentor Program and combating the opioid issue. If anyone would like more information on either topic, please stop by our table in the hallway, as we have resourceful materials. But now, as requested, I’d like to tell a labor-management story. I’d like to tell you about my first day of work at the Master Builders’ Association, a contractor association based in Pittsburgh. Before jumping right to that day in 2005, allow me to set the stage.

After graduating high school, across the river from where we are today, from Mechanicsburg High School, I enlisted in the US Navy. I proudly served our country during the mid-to-late 1990s. After my four years in the Navy, I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. Upon graduating from Pitt, I started working for the SSPC – Steel Structures Painting Council. And actually my boss from SSPC is here today. Great to see you Michael Damiano, a person I haven’t seen since my SSPC days. At SSPC, I worked in the certification department and assisted contractors. I found joy in being an extension of a company’s staff. I liked learning about companies; how they operate; what their challenges are. I’m a sports junkie and I saw how successful business owners and coaches are similar in that both can drive their employees and players to higher levels and both can overcome challenges. I definitely enjoyed working on the management side.

After a few years at SSPC, a friend of mine told me about an opportunity at the Master Builders’ Association, and how this opportunity would afford me the chance to continue working on the management side. I was interviewed, offered the job, and accepted it. Prior to starting, my mindset was on this management position and what I can do to help business owners. Leading up to the first day, I was thinking only about what I can bring to the table to help business owners.

Well, the first day arrived – January 10, 2005. I show up, meet the staff at the MBA and then grab a seat in my new office. I sat there for about fifteen minutes, fumbling around with my new laptop when I heard a knock on the door. As I look towards the door, a head pops inside the office and I hear: “Hey you’re spending the day with me today. Don’t worry I talked to your boss and he’s aware of it,” said this stranger. I mumbled something like: “Excuse me, what’s going? who are you?” Then this individual said: “Hey I’m labor and you’re management; we’re now friends, we have to be friends to succeed. If you fail, I fail; and if you succeed, then I succeed.”  That person turned out to be Bill Waterkotte, who at the time was the number two person for the Greater PA Regional Council of Carpenters, which is now the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, a seven state labor organization in which Bill oversees.

Bill and I spent my entire first day of work at the MBA together, touring jobsites and getting to know each other. We’ve been supporters of each other since that day, helping each other’s organization succeed. That was a valuable lesson for me; the labor-management partnership is extremely important. There is strength in numbers and an adversarial labor-management relationship hurts both sides. This partnership can drastically help both sides; I experienced this firsthand at the MBA in Pittsburgh. Since moving to the central PA area, I see a need for a stronger labor-management partnership, which could help both sides in this competitive market that we face. I look forward to working better and communicating better with our labor allies in central PA.

Thank you for all for attending this labor-management conference in Harrisburg and I look forward to strong labor-management relationships moving forward.

 

AMB Incorporated: Say Hello to Heaven Brian

NOTE: Around five years ago I wrote the following article for BreakingGround Magazine, a construction industry publication that covers the Pittsburgh region. The article never ran, but after hearing that my friend, Brian McKay, passed away this afternoon, I felt the need to share it. Brian had one of the biggest hearts and would drop everything to help people.  Upon hearing the news of his passing, one of Brian’s good friends said to me: “There’s a big plumbing job in heaven that was behind schedule and Jesus needed Brian.” RIP Brian.

 

 

AMB is a well-known, respected name in Pittsburgh’s construction industry. Well, not the entire construction industry knows of this contractor. “We have our own set of clients that we serve and they keep us nice and busy,” said Barbara McKay, President of AMB Incorporated. “We’re pretty selective in who we’ll work for. Our focus has always been on quality in the field – not image off of the jobsite.” To illustrate their point one needs to only look at company vehicles and notice that they do not even place a logo on it.

“AMB is a very dependable firm and their field guys are very conscientious. I enjoy working with them,” said John Paul Busse, President of F.J. Busse, Company, Inc. “They have reasonable prices, which is great, but the part that does it for me is that they have the owner’s interest on a construction project. They ask the right questions and have the solutions to help a project succeed. Plus they understand coordination and schedules which comes in handy for digging as their excavating work can help other contractors on a project”

AMB is a certified woman-owned company that was founded in 1989 by Barbara under the name of AMB Excavating. The company’s initial mission was to handle the excavation services for Bryan Mechanical. “We started small, with a Superintendent in the field digging and me in the office,” said Barbara. The company grew over the next decade until it landed its most renowned project to date in Heinz Field. AMB joined a consortium of contractors to handle all of the underground piping at the home of the Steelers. The contractors included in this consortium were: Bryan Mechanical, SSM Industries, and Sauer.

Along with growing in size, the company also expanded its service over the years to include plumbing. Barbara’s husband, Brian McKay, joined the AMB team in 2004. He is a card-carrying member of Plumbers Union Local 27. He graduated from the apprenticeship school in 1983 and he went right to work for Bryan Mechanical. He worked there until SSM acquired the mechanical contractor in 2001. In 2004, when Brian went to work for AMB, he did not have to travel too far as the companies are in the same yard on Neville Island.

AMB has a pretty even workload of half its work public and half private. Some of the notable projects that AMB has worked on over the years include: Master Builders’ Association Headquarters, City of Pittsburgh Public Schools, PPG Place, Omni William Penn Place, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Chevron Science Center and Salk Hall. For the latter two projects, AMB was hired by Burchick Construction. “Brian’s hands-on approach always makes sure the appropriate resources and equipment are allocated for each project,” said Dave Meuschke, Vice President of Burchick Construction.

Today, AMB features three operators, four plumbers and Barbara and Brian in the office. One of the plumbers in the field is the son of Barbara and Brian – Matt McKay. Matt is a fourth generation plumber. The vision now for the elder McKays to assist Matt to succeed as an owner of a construction company. Matt, along with longtime employee Stanley Marciak, are both being mentored to be an owner. “My time is short in the industry. I want to make sure Matt is set up to succeed,” said Brian. “Matt is a graduate from Local 27 so he has the hands-on knowledge, but now he needs to fine-tune his management skills. I stress all the time how important estimating is – a bad estimate leads to losing money and you can’t have that when employees count on you.”

“I’m in a real fortunate position where I not only get to go to work with my parents, but I get to learn from them. While it’s a real hands-on learning process, I’m lucky in that I can walk down the hall and ask advice from someone that has been there, done that,” said Matt. “Going from a tradesman in the field to the office can be a challenge: you have to learn to operate a business and maintain relationships while cultivating new ones. My parents know what I’m going through and they are good at offering advice when I need it.”

Another point that the McKays stress to the next generation is to be active in the industry you work in. The company is signatory with Plumbers Local 27, Operating Engineers Local 66, and Laborers Local 373. Brian serves as the Chairman of Plumbers Local 27 Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, as well as serving as a Trustee on Local 27’s Pension and Healthcare Fund Boards. “Brian is the model Board Member,” said Rege Claus, Executive Director of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Pennsylvania. “He’s knowledgeable in the field, a card-carrying Local 27 member proves that, and he’s quick to volunteer to help the association. He serves on each of the MCA’s negotiation steering committees, plus he’s respected by his peers.” The last point is proven with Brian being elected to serve as President of the MCA.

Along with helping in the industry by serving on construction association boards, it is also important to be a steward of the community and improving the place you call home. The following story demonstrates the McKay’s hands-on, get-it-done volunteer spirit. Last year at a Pittsburgh Builders Exchange Board Meeting, Board President Brad Bridges of R.J. Bridges presented a community service idea for the association: they would renovate a home for the Habitat For Humanity. “Brad set his sights on rolling up the sleeves and getting to work and I told him that I was not sure how construction executives on the Board would react,” said Del Walker, Executive Director of the PBX. “When we presented it to the Board, the first volunteer amongst the group was Brian McKay. Then on the renovation day he shows up excited to work, but there was no plumbing work on this project. Instead he was tasked with building stairs for a deck and he shined at the assignment. He did a great job on the stair stringers and I was amazed.”

“I find it funny that people were surprised a plumber could have carpentry skills. I’ve spent my life in construction and picked up a few secrets from the other trades over the years from the many talented craftsman that I’ve worked alongside,” said Brian.

I Stand Corrected, but I still believe Safety First!

Last week was the fifth annual OSHA Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. The Keystone Contractors Association members joined the rest of our country’s construction industry in being excited about this weeklong tribute to safety.

This enthusiasm rubbed off on the KCA staff, and as a result I penned an article about how the staff plans to hold a Safety Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. We held the training and I’m glad we did it so now we’ll be prepared if something happens at our office.

However, after the training we were informed that while OSHA encourages training, if you’re going to hold a Stand-Down during May 7-11, 2018 and call it a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week event, then it has to be falls related. Upon learning this fact, the KCA staff had a safety consultant speak to the staff about fall hazards during the week so that we could state that we held a falls related Safety Stand-Down during OSHA’s Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. We urged each KCA member to conduct a Stand-Down during the week and because of that we felt it was important to practice what we preach.

While I erred in encouraging any type of safety training to be held during the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week, I later discovered that the error was in the moniker I used in labeling the event during the week of May 7-11, 2018. Five years ago, this May week was originally named an appropriate title to try to help in reducing the number one cause of construction fatalities – falls. But over time large, national/global construction firms working through the Construction Industry Safety Institute (CISI) created Safety Week (which is held in conjunction with the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week).

The aim of Safety Week is to raise awareness of the construction industry’s continuing commitment to eliminate worker injuries, and to clearly communicate the industry’s dedication to a culture of care and concern and the belief that every week must be Safety Week!

So, I messed up and called our emergency evacuation training a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week event, when in fact it should have been called a Safety Week event. But I’m kind of glad I flubbed this one, because of this blunder the KCA staff received two safety trainings during Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week and Safety Week.

Safety First!

Let’s Pause for Safety During May 7-11

This Monday marks the beginning of the 5th annual “OSHA National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week.” On May 7-11, 2018, thousands of construction jobsites across the country will hold a safety Stand-Down event. It’s time ALL industries join construction and take a moment to pause and talk about safety hazards at work.

A safety Stand-Down is a voluntary event to allow for employers to speak with its employees about safety at work. Any workplace can conduct a safety talk, and any topic can be focused on – distracted driving, proper lifting, emergency evacuation, workplace stress, etc. Just because OSHA refers to it as: “Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week” doesn’t mean this week is only for construction and the only topic is falls. This week-long tribute to safety was born out of the construction industry and falls are the leading cause of casualties in this industry so I assume OSHA wanted to draw more attention and training to falls hazards.

However, over its brief five-year existence, this has grown and more and more industries are celebrating safety during this week. Every year more non-construction employers are holding Stand-Downs. In fact, OSHA claims that the largest single participant for one stand-down was the United States Air Force in 2015 and 2016, both times reaching more than one million military and civilian personnel.

toolbox talkThe Keystone Contractors Association is a commercial construction trade association. We hope 100% of our members participate in an OSHA Stand-Down this year. We, the association staff, are not construction professionals – we work in an office providing various services to contractors. But our staff of three will conduct our Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. Hopefully we won’t find ourselves in an emergency in real-life, but thanks to this year’s Stand-Down we’ll be prepared. This also shows that any sized employer can hold a Stand-Down.

Following the Stand-Down, employers should visit the OSHA Stand-Down website to download a Certificate and provide feedback on the experience. (https://www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown/index.html).  The sharing of best practices is an excellent way to improve safety and protect our workers.

At KCA we believe that teamwork improves safety and we hope that work teams across Pennsylvania will take a moment to focus on Safety during May 7-11!

Veterans – The Forgotten DBE

Last evening, the City of Harrisburg and the Capital Region Water hosted an informational event. The purpose of this event was to educate disadvantaged business enterprises on getting work so that small, emerging companies could perhaps gain a piece of advice or make the right connection to help their business. Awesome initiative – that’s why the Keystone Contractors Association was there to support it. The KCA looks forward to assisting in the delivery of more events that benefit DBE firms. The KCA has established and respectable construction companies that look forward to helping emerging companies, plus we represent quality DBE firms.

However, I cannot let an absent item slip by without speaking up. During the two-plus hours of speakers during the program, not a single speaker mentioned Veteran Owned Company. The KCA supports all DBE classifications and we were glad to hear that both the City of Harrisburg and Capital Region Water supports DBE participation on their projects. Both groups were pointing out how they help to get participation from the minority, woman, and gay-and-lesbian-owned companies.

But during all the speakers, I kept thinking: “What about the Veteran Owned Company?” The owners of these companies protected our country.  By no means am I saying that one DBE classification is better than another one – all are important and should be supported.

As a Veteran myself, who represents many fine Veteran Owned Companies throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, maybe I’m a little sensitive to this subject. To all the Veteran Owned Companies in Pennsylvania’s construction industry, KCA will work to make sure you’re recognized. On behalf of the KCA President Ron Virostek (Army) and myself (Navy), we want to thank each of the Veteran Owned Companies that belong to the KCA for their service and say that we are honored to represent your company:

  • Serviam Construction
  • AJ Roofing Inc.
  • Howard Warner Construction
  • RBVetCo LLC
  • Spartan Construction Services

 

2018 PA Budget Hearings with DGS

As was the case the last year, the Separations Act was a discussed topic during the Budget Appropriation Hearings with the Department of General Services.

In the Senate, DGS Secretary Topper was asked questions about the Act by Senator Folmer. The gist of the Secretary’s comments related around DGS experiencing increased administrative costs, but they are unsure if total cost is more. DGS would like to continue to study the issue more.

As for the House, Representative Everett led the way with the questioning. Topper echoed his comments from the Senate – increased administrative overhead in the norm for a Separations Act project, but he felt there was a need for more studying of the issue. Everett countered with hints about a new legislative strategy that allows for the current multiple prime delivery system to be used if that’s what the public owner chooses; however, the public owner can also select from other delivery options too.

Personally, I think if the DGS was serious about wanting to study the issue more they should make three phone calls to Pitt, PSU & Temple. When these schools receive state funds they have to abide by the Separations Act and build as the school’s call it: ‘the DGS way’ but when these schools build with their own money they build using Design-Bid-Build with Single Prime; Design Build; Construction Management At Risk; and PSU is even trying IPD. All DGS would have to do is review projects built on these campuses using multiple prime compared to using a variety of single prime. End of ‘we need data’ story.

Click here to hear DGS Topper answer questions from Senator Folmer: https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/6d6hud1x5z

Pennsylvania’s Top Construction Stories of 2017

The news was overwhelming in 2017. From healthcare mergers and insurance coverage to gender inequality to natural disasters to international relations to political squabbling…. Every time you looked at your phone or watched the nightly news there appeared to be another breaking news crisis being reported. Meanwhile the construction industry kept chugging along, adding jobs to the payrolls and improving the quality of life. That’s not to say that 2017 was just another typical year for the construction industry. No not at all. Last year we experienced some remarkable events.

Below are the top Pennsylvania construction stories of 2017 according to me. I kept them brief so you can breeze through it quickly, but if you want more information on any item listed please don’t hesitate to contact me at 717-731-6272 or Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

Lastly, let me know what you think. What construction story in your mind did l leave off my list? Or what item did I list that is not a big deal?

Enjoy and keep in mind they are not listed in any particular order:

Amazon H2 Fever

After an announcement that it would build a second North American headquarters, online retail giant Amazon snagged 238 bids for its “HQ2” and the construction industry was on the edge of its seats wondering if this massive project would be built in their region. But I think construction professionals and the general public also were hoping that any sort of tax incentives included in the bid would not hurt their region too much in the future. Pennsylvania had numerous sites submit a bid. For more on Amazon H2 and the crazy amount of incentives click here:   http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-hq2-cities-developers-economic-tax-incentives-2017-10/#memphis-tennessee-60-million-1.

 

Silica Standard Arrives

After a lengthy extension to review input from industry stakeholders, OSHA’s new silica standard went into effect on September 23, 2017. What that means for the construction industry is that contractors who engage in activities that create silica dust, such as cutting, grinding/ blasting concrete, stone and brick, must meet a stricter standard for how much of that dust workers inhale. The same goes for the employers of the tradespeople working around such activities. Numerous trainings were held and educational materials were produced to prepare the industry for this new standard. Many organizations, like KCA, even teamed with OSHA to host informational roundtable discussions. For more information please contact the KCA or visit: https://silica-safe.org/regulations-and-requirements/osha.

 

Opioid Crisis Continues to Plague Construction

The opioid epidemic is hurting America. Scary stats when you consider that our country makes up 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 80% of the opioid supply and we are losing 100 people a day. The construction industry has been suffering along with most every other industry too. While it is not an easy task to find the stats by industry, insurance underwriter CNA estimates that 15.1% of construction workers have been affected by the opioid crisis. Much like the rest of society, KCA finds these stats unacceptable and we are doing something about it. Our plans are currently developing and we could use your help to implement them. If you want to join the fight to help Pennsylvania’s construction industry tackle the opioid epidemic, get in touch with us. This offer is extended to all – KCA members, nonmembers, organizations, etc. Together, we can make a difference.

 

USGBC releases LEEDv4 and AIA Updates its Contracts

Both of these items are similar in that in both instances two groups – U.S. Green Building Council and AIA National – worked with their respective memberships and industry stakeholders to update something that is of value to the construction industry. The USGBC issued its updated version of LEED version 4 and AIA issued its 10-year update of its contract documents. Both are also similar in that while they might have been updated in 2017, the industry can still use the previous version a little bit longer to have time to get acquainted with the newer version. The overall sentiment is that both are improvements from the previous version, encouraging collaboration in construction. For more information on LEEDv4 click:  https://www.usgbc.org/leed-v4-old-new and for information AIA contracts: https://www.aiacontracts.org/.

 

Philadelphia is Carrying Good Times into 2018!

By all accounts, 2017 was a great year for the construction industry in the City of Brotherly Love. But 2018 is going to a new level in Philadelphia. More than 8 million square feet of development is forecasted in Philly. To put this into perspective, during 2017 Philadelphia finished 3.3 million square feet of construction. A big chunk of this upcoming work will come from Aramark’s new headquarters, uCity Square on Market, and One Franklin Tower in Logan Square. For more information click here:    https://philly.curbed.com/2017/11/30/16715170/philadelphia-new-construction-analysis-2018.

 

Separations Act Gets Some Attention

As stated in my blog last week, the Separations Act had some memorable moments in 2017. To read this post click:   https://wordpress.com/post/buildingpa.blog/267.

 

Federal Tax Legislation Helps Construction Industry

Before ringing in the New Year, Congress passed a comprehensive tax reform legislation that will lower rates, spur economic growth and have a positive impact on construction businesses for years to come. The AGC of America put together a comprehensive chart to illustrate the benefits of this tax reform package:  http://images.magnetmail.net/images/clients/agca/attach/1218_House_Senate_Tax_Reform_Comparison_v6.pdf.

 

Harrisburg has Big Plans in its Sights

During 2017 two mega projects having been moving closer to the bidding/construction stages. The one project, the Federal Courthouse, has been in the works for the better part of the past decade, but it received a big boost early in 2017 when it received funding authorization. Since this funding announcement, the GSA has been moving quickly on this $200 M-plus, 243,000 square foot Federal Courthouse project. This project has encountered a few snags this past Fall, but hopefully it will break ground soon. Here is a blog post I wrote about this project: https://wordpress.com/post/buildingpa.blog/51.

Another project on the mega scale includes the vision that Harrisburg University has in constructing the tallest building in Harrisburg. In the Fall of 2017, the school announced plans to build a 36-story, $150 M mixed-use tower that will feature 200,000 square feet of educational space that includes fitness center, conference space, hotel, and housing for 300 college residents. For more information:  http://www.cpbj.com/article/20171115/CPBJ01/171119902/harrisburg-university-plans-to-build-citys-tallest-tower.