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):

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.

 

Private Sector Can Help Our Government

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Governor Wolf issued an Executive Order to shutdown all non-life sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania. The General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania (GCAP) was torn internally, with one faction thinking that this shutdown was necessary and another group that thought it was too excessive and businesses should still operate. Despite this conflict among our leadership and members, we had complete consensus that the health and safety of our workforce is our top priority.

Instead of advocating for construction to reopen, GCAP got to work on what we agreed on and in late March we published the Construction Industry’s COVID-19 Response Plan. It was a comprehensive safety plan with proper social distancing, PPE requirements, sanitizing, etc. I believe we were the only construction-related organization in Pennsylvania that did not lobby to reopen.  Because the health and safety of the worker was extremely important to us, I believe we gained the trust of Governor Wolf and that’s why I believe he used our safety plan to create his construction guidelines. (Governor Wolf’s press release.)

Heading into 2020 no one could have foreseen the conditions that we find our Commonwealth in. Unemployment went through the roof. Tax coffers are projecting shortages in the BILLIONS. Yes, it’s true, COVID-19 has steered us into uncharted times.

Citizens in this Commonwealth need public services now more than ever. From the nursing home residents to the young school kids looking for their next meal and to every age in between, Pennsylvanians are hurting. We cannot leave our neighbors stranded and simply chop out needed services in this year’s 2020/2021 budget negotiations when they resume after the short-term budget gets us through the fall elections.

However, what can happen is that a thorough review of all expenditures can make sure tax dollars are efficiently spent. Our Commonwealth is fortunate to have dedicated and intelligent legislators from both sides of the aisle involved in this review process. Additionally, much like Governor Wolf turned to the private sector in creating the Commonwealth’s safety guidelines, the legislature should continue to look to the private sector to incorporate proven best practices to improve the way our government operates. Each industry sector should join the process to help our Commonwealth.

When it comes to construction, Senate Bill 823 is a vehicle that can address construction procurement reform. This legislation, which has a diverse coalition and also has labor support, can save our Commonwealth 10% on public construction. Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that mandates an inefficient process known as the multiple prime delivery method (THE ONLY STATE IN THE COUNTRY – LET THAT SINK IN). Now is the ideal time to address inefficiencies in our procurement process on behalf of taxpayers.

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.

Coaches & The Career Journal

Life is beautiful. I’ve been fortunate to find myself in unique situations to receive mentoring and advice from some awesome people along the way. Starting with my parents who taught me to work hard for what I believe in to excellent leaders in the Navy to many construction executives, there are so many people who I’m fortunate to have encountered in life. And I’m lucky for learning some life lessons from these individuals.

In high school, I played football for two dynamic head coaches in Paul Cronin at Trinity and Rich Lichtel at Mechanicsburg. Coach Cronin was the first person in my life who truly incorporated input from all levels. With young minds, it’s typical for coaches to have the authoritarian attitude and run the team with zero input. I can recall my freshman year and we’re hanging in the game with powerhouse Bishop McDevitt – nobody gave us a chance (probably even many of the faithful green). During halftime, Cronin spent his time with the offensive unit just listening to the linemen talk about what plays we should run; this goes on while the running backs, receivers and I were staring in disbelief for being shunned from participating in the offensive game plan. At the time in the locker room we didn’t realize it, but Cronin was building team chemistry by involving those who seldom are asked for their opinions. Total team engagement. We ended up losing the game, but our team won in life that night and we were better off for the remainder of the season because of that halftime.

IMG_1687
Over Thanksgiving break, I visited my aunt’s house only to learn that she’s downsizing and moving to a smaller home. Over the years, she collected some stuff from her nieces and nephews and now she’s in the process of returning these items. She gave me this gem that I haven’t seen in decades. 

When it comes to Coach Lichtel, I feel like there’s nothing I can say that others in the central Pennsylvania area have not already said about this icon. He touched so many people. But for me, it was a very emotional time due mainly to the reason why I transferred high schools at the tail end of my sophomore year. I only knew of Lichtel as the region’s famous football coach and I never met him. When we did meet after I transferred, he and I just talked like we knew each other years. Coach Lichtel saw a young soul in me who was at a crossroads in life and he wanted to lift me up to a higher road. We would just talk…talk about anything and everything; geez did I enjoy those crazy stories of his from his younger days. Looking back, I now know how important this was since so many at the time saw me as just a ‘football player.’ This relationship carried on after high school into my Navy days when I would come home and visit with him just so we could talk.

I think due to such positive experiences with my high school football coaches, as I was maturing in life, I found myself studying successful coaches. I started out reading about the greats – Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Mike Shanahan, to name a few. I pulled some great advice as I learned about how these leaders operated.

Then I set out to learn more about the current football coaches. I constantly read articles about coaches to see if I can pull anything from them for tips I can apply in the business world. How do they manage and motivate people? How do they interact with others during the game, practice, community, etc.? From the current coaches I got some good quotes, tactics for team building, and great suggestions for books to read to gather more advice. But then IT happened.

In early 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin. Since I’m a Steelers fan I spent a lot of time learning about this individual who was set to lead the Black & Gold. In articles and radio interviews, I learned about Tomlin’s career journals. Per the articles it was stated how he had a vision and he would jot down the way to achieve that vision. No detail was too small. He would write about how to conduct practices, team meetings, etc. All of these details and strategies were for when Tomlin landed his dream job so that he would be prepared to achieve greatness.

When I learned about Tomlin’s career journal, I was sold. You can’t just sit there and hope for your dream career to be given to you. You have to prepare for it. Now granted I wasn’t a little boy growing up in Mechanicsburg thinking: “I’d like to be a construction association executive.” However, that was the world I found myself in during my mid-20’s. Despite not setting out to work in this industry, I really enjoy it. Working for a Pittsburgh-based construction association, I sat through many board and committee meetings, educational seminars, networking events, community functions, etc. and after learning about Tomlin’s usage of keeping good notes, I started keeping a career journal. I created this career journal to put down in writing what I would do when I was running a construction association. I experienced many lessons learned over the years, and I jotted them down, but as with Tomlin no detail was too small.

When I was invited to interview for the position of Executive Director for the Keystone Contractors Association, I studied my notes and I came prepared to discuss the many ways that I felt this association could prosper. It was a very enjoyable experience that felt more like a few friends hanging out, swapping business stories and not a formal interview as it was. I still refer to this journal, adding to it so that the KCA can work towards being a better association.

My advice to my daughters is to think about where they want to go in life, a career journal is an excellent tool to help them get there. Maybe this journal could help others too.

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!