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

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

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

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Jon O’Brien (01:02):

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

Rachael Cooper (02:03):

Thank you guys. Thank you for having me.

Jon O’Brien (02:07):

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

Rachael Cooper (02:22):

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

Rachael Cooper (03:19):

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

Jon O’Brien (03:53):

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

Rachael Cooper (04:23):

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

Rachael Cooper (05:21):

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

Rachael Cooper (06:05):

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

Rachael Cooper (07:23):

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

Jon O’Brien (08:40):

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

Rachael Cooper (09:15):

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

Chris Martin (10:38):

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

Rachael Cooper (11:04):

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

Chris Martin (12:22):

That they’re… I’m sorry,

Rachael Cooper (12:23):

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

Rachael Cooper (13:29):

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

Rachael Cooper (14:18):

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

Chris Martin (14:59):

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

Chris Martin (15:55):

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

Rachael Cooper (16:28):

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

Jon O’Brien (17:18):

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

Rachael Cooper (17:26):

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

Rachael Cooper (18:07):

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

Rachael Cooper (18:54):

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

Jon O’Brien (19:42):

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

Rachael Cooper:

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Rachael Cooper (20:28):

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

Rachael Cooper (21:26):

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

Rachael Cooper (22:29):

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

Rachael Cooper (23:30):

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

Rachael Cooper (24:19):

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

Jon O’Brien (25:12):

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

Rachael Cooper (25:52):

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

Rachael Cooper (26:48):

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

Rachael Cooper (27:43):

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

Jon O’Brien (28:56):

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

Rachael Cooper (29:10):

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

Chris Martin (29:32):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Rachael Cooper (30:00):

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

Chris Martin (30:04):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Building PA Podcast Season 1, Episode 9: Cement Masons Apprenticeship Training Program

“On a scale of 1 to 10, we always shoot for a 10.”

This was such a cool interview. Listening to Ron Stefaniak, I could just picture a concrete pour on an early morning jobsite as he spoke. Some people work but don’t like what they do and some people do like the work they’re in, but when you meet someone who has a strong passion for their profession it’s awesome to hear. I even felt the passion for concrete come through while reading this transcript. I can envision a perfectly poured floor when Ron says: “on a scale of 1 to 10, we always shoot for a 10.” Enjoy the transcript, but as great as it is to read Ron’s words nothing beats the passion in his voice. Listen hear: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/apprenticeship-training-cement-masons-61532370/

Chris Martin (00:00):

Welcome to the Building PA Podcast. I am sitting here with Jon O’Brien, my partner. My name is Chris Martin. I’m with Atlas Marketing. Good morning. How’s it going? Good, good morning. And I am with Ron Stefaniak. Well, I should say we are with Ron Stefanik, who’s the apprenticeship coordinator with the Plasterers and Cement Masons, correct? I apologize.

Ron Stefaniak:

Yep.

Chris Martin:

So Ron, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got here. Okay.

Ron Stefaniak (00:31):

I was taught by the greatest generation. That was my uncles who came back from the second World War and they were such an influence on me because they were my heroes. So naturally I listened to the stories every night at that dinner table. Even though mom wanted me to go to college, I did go to college and I got my degree, but that inside of me still I said I wanted to do construction. So lo and behold, after all these years, 40 years as a Cement Mason, but totally 51 years, because I started out as a Laborer out of Kittanning, PA in 1952. So that’s where I’m at this point in my life.

Chris Martin (01:13):

That is so… I love how you talk about the greatest generation and how you got here in terms of the influence from your uncles. That’s great because we know that is very typical in the construction industry. So what made you choose to become a Cement Mason?

Ron Stefaniak (01:33):

Okay so the thing about it is, at the time that I graduated or whatever, that’s when the Pittsburgh steel industry was in a downturn and we didn’t have the Renaissance yet, like we had today. So it was very easy for me, I started off with an office job with Babcock and Wilcox, and I knew that making out checks and doing time sheets wasn’t my cup of tea. I had to be out there with the excitement sounds of construction and the beep beep beeps and all that kind of stuff. So I followed my heart and I fell in. My mum passed away and my dad was still in the industry. And I said, no greater thing to be able to work with your father. So that’s why I evolved into that. The cement makes it, my dad would have been electrician or whatever. I would have followed them that way because he was my hero. And that’s why I chose to stay with the you know, the concrete end of it. So it’s because of my father.

Chris Martin (02:35):

And I liked that too, because all the unions that we work with and say with Jon and the KCA and everything, everybody has that family story.

Ron Stefaniak (03:00):

And that’s the nice thing about the union side of construction is that brother, that hey tomorrow, I’m going to put my arm around you. We’re going to show you how to do this. So you’re not going to fail. And I can, you know, as the apprenticeship coordinator, that’s part of what you’re doing, you know, on a daily basis. Exactly.

Jon O’Brien:

How long did it take you to become the apprenticeship coordinator?

Ron Stefaniak:

Well it was actually okay. About 30 years I was in the field. Okay. And so I’ve been an apprentice coordinator for going on nine, actually going on 10 years. So if you take the 10 from the 40 years of concrete and simple math, that’s about what I was out and field for about 30 years. Doing floors, doing chimneys, doing well, you name it exposed me to a lot of different things over the years, so who better to teach the next generation, right? Yeah. Yeah. And as long as the passion is still there, as long as the passion, and then there’s such an opportunity for these young people today, that it’s unbelievable. And I want to make sure that, you know, I always say on my tombstone, I want it to be ‘Ron, did everything he could to perpetuate unionism on planet earth’ and I’ll be happy that these young kids followed my path. Right. That’s great. Great.

Jon O’Brien (04:20):

Very good. Speaking of young kids, let’s reach out to them and let’s focus on them for a little bit. So like what can they expect if they wanted to be a Cement Mason? Like what’s a Cement Mason do nowadays, what’s the training, like just kinda touch on that a little bit.

Ron Stefaniak (04:37):

Okay. So we look at, you have to, you have to be like an active type person and we don’t make you take a test, but when I interview, I want to see that sort of I need that look in your eyes that says, ‘yeah, I’m an outdoors person.’ I played a team sport because concrete is a team activity. It’s just like playing football or whatever. I’m looking for somebody that is not afraid of a challenge every day. You’re going to get challenged with the wind, the rain, the snow and the batching plant and all these things you have to, you can’t be that kind of place, a complacent person that says, ‘Oh, you know what I don’t want that kind of challenge.’ So I look at all these different things. Some of them are students, aren’t A students.

Ron Stefaniak (05:31):

They’re C, B students, but that doesn’t hold them back from not being dynamite workers, because a lot of them really didn’t like school, you know? And now I don’t hold that because some of my best workers are C and D students. So, I want to make sure I give them that opportunity. Maybe I don’t see something right away, but I get them out in the field and all of that light bulb comes on and it’s like, and that’s already happened to me. So we give them every opportunity to spread their wings and flying at the business, especially now when we all need workers that are willing to work and get a sustainable income, families is standing income for you know, and so that’s what we look for.

Jon O’Brien (06:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely. So is there anything a high school student could do now while they’re in school to prepare to become a Cement Mason?

Ron Stefaniak (06:30):

Well, yeah. When we interview I normally have somebody from one of the either the heavy highway or the builders trade that comes over and what we look at, we look at attendance, we look at that’s a big thing because that demonstrates the ability to want to learn. And if I get an apprentice out there and if he’s bucking me all the time and he doesn’t want to listen, well, then he’s not gonna learn. So I tell them naturally it’s good to you know, have good math skills and science skills, but that’s not a big thing in our business because, you know, we’re going to electrician to brain workers. We’re making calculations all the time. We’re more or less the type of guys that are like you know, I got girls in our custom cross-country skiers, and I got guys that are traders in a gym that was very active people that can sit still. That’s what I want to see. As a young person, no complacency because there’s no room for complacency when that paving machine starts going, you gotta have to be able to run with it and know that you’re that kind of person, that this is my challenge for today, and this is what I want to do, and I’m not going to get beat up, you know? So that’s what we’re really,

Jon O’Brien (08:04):

What have you seen over your 10 years as the training director, as far as the type people that are entering the program, people looking to get into the program, have you seen a shift at all as the economy has changed over the last 10 years?

Ron Stefaniak (08:19):

Absolutely. First of all, we preach, like my mum used to say, ‘till we’re blue in the face’, cleats you kid. So we preached to the guidance counselors in the high schools, and we say, listen you know, everybody wants their child to go to college, but yet there’s students out there that aren’t college material that want to work with their hands. And so please encourage them if they don’t want to go to college. I don’t want them sitting at home watching reruns of going in dial-in in her mom’s basement. And I want them to know that the building trades, 16 of us, there are workers: boilermakers, cement masons, on and on, and whatever that they’re going to be able to come in there and we’re going to embrace them and tell them, yes, we need warm bodies. We need people.

Ron Stefaniak (09:15):

And you’re the type of person that wants to work, we’re going to show you how to make family-sustaining wages. And it’s a very warm situation that you know, all the ethnic groups of females or whatever, everybody has an opportunity. Unlike it’s ever been in my 40 years, it’s never been like this. It’s like, you know, when we’re begging them, people that say, come on, you know, and join the trades. And so that’s it’s so exciting. And right now it’s off the chart. As far as like these Cracker Plants, heavy highway, there is a need to do so many bridges in so many ways, like two years ago Pennsylvania, if he did we’d repair 600 bridges in so much time. So all of a sudden the money’s there and we’re going to deal with

Jon O’Brien (10:07):

Absolutely. Yeah. It’s a very, very exciting time for the industry, for sure. So yeah, you find, you know, a high school grad, he’s motivated, he’s excited. He wants to work out in the field. What’s he to expect the first year when it comes to training. And I heard a little rumor, you guys earn while you learn, so you might want to throw that in there too. But yeah, what’s the first year to expect?

Ron Stefaniak (10:33):

Okay. The first year kids, what we do is we take, put them through a pre-apprenticeship for two weeks. Pre-Apprenticeship we make sure they have OSHA 10, so they’re safe. We make sure they have CPR, AED and first day we take them out that week. We show them how to pound pins, set forms. They’re not going to be homerun hitters in two weeks, but they’re not going to be like a deer in the headlights either. They’re good, but we get their toe in the water. So then after two weeks, we put them on the out of work list. And then our contractors, our signatory contractors, we encourage them. Here’s young people. We need to get them to work. And so as June and July and August comes and we place these apprentices with the signatory contractors, whether it be heavy highway or building trade, and then that’s their opportunity to learn in real time, not just in a classroom setting, but in real time, all the sights and sounds, and smells and everything that’s involved in being on the job. That’s the beauty of apprenticeship.

Chris Martin (11:54):

And in that pre-apprenticeship period, a two week period, are they mostly in the classroom versus on the job? Which again, on Jon’s question, what can they expect there?

Ron Stefaniak (12:00):

What we do is we’ll about the first week we make them safe. Okay. We get them in a classroom. Then the second week we’ll go to like there might be a contractor out there that needs a section of driveway poured at his facility. We have a place down in Millville, Pittsburgh, mobile that has batches, he has a batching trucks and he’ll batch us 20 yards of concrete or whatever. And we’ll pour a section there. He always has something to pour. So that second week we actually take them on a jobsite forms and create real time, you know? And so the date that they have a real idea of just not, we first start them out in wet sand, just like you do. And at the beach, we start them off at wet sand and show them exactly how to straight edge, how to edge and everything. And then the next step is you. And then like that’s what we do the second week. We’ll find him something to pour. And sometimes we’ll even do community stuff like dugouts and little league field, or a set of steps or something like that, something that for a nonprofit, for profit organization. Perfect. Perfect. Yeah.

Chris Martin (13:22):

Yeah. With that said, what are some of the requirements that if I’m a high school senior hearing you talk or saying, ‘Hey, wait a second. I really want to do an adult job like this.’ What do I need to do to get involved?

Ron Stefaniak (13:37):

Okay, first of all, we cover 33 counties. So we’re not going to send you to one place to where you can get on a bus and go to work for the next 30 years. So we tell you, you have to have a driver’s license, you know, and then you have to have access to an automobile. Sometimes these young people, they don’t have any money yet. So grandma has a car, a grandfather has a car, as long as we have some sort of ownership that says, yeah, you know, an owner’s card, it says they have the ability to go to work social security card. Absolutely. They have to have it. We can take your applications before they’re 18 and get all the preliminaries done, but we can’t send them to work till they’re 18. So that’s a, you know, we can train them, we can get them ready, but then by June, the first after we get done with pre-apprenticeship in April, then they have to be ready. And you have to have a high school diploma or GED. And so we tell them, work on this. So it’s all out of the way. So there’s no roadblocks or obstacles to us getting you into the workforce.

Jon O’Brien (14:54):

And like you said, it’s a great time to get in.

Ron Stefaniak (15:00):

So I don’t know why you wouldn’t, let me leave you with this thought. So I asked myself, why did I decide to do this? I remember when I was in Catholic school, the nuns wanted me, they said, I liked art and they wanted to be an artist. Well, now I tell these young people that when I’m going to career fairs and stuff like that, I say our portrait is on the ground. Okay. My portrait is that concrete comes out of the truck and it looks like mother’s art or whatever at the end of the day, there’s your portrait. And so that’s the excitement, I look at myself as an artist. If I’m going to do your driveway or if I’m going to do you want to see some words street, go to Las Vegas and you’ll see, pervious concrete, you’ll see colored concrete, you’ll see polished concrete.

Ron Stefaniak (15:56):

And that’s just one example of the beauty of what we could do with something to I’ve got at a truck in the morning. So that’s what always floated my boat as far as taking something and developing a portrait. And so it’s that wow, that I do that at the end of the day, you know? And if you have the right team and mother nature support you as far as the beautiful day, no rain, no wind, all that kind of stuff. Then everything falls in line and it’s like, then you’re, you know, you’re happy, you know, you’re yeah. On a scale of one to 10, we always shoot for a 10. And so all those different things have to line up mother nature in a batching plant the correct amount of team work, you know, and so on and so forth.

Ron Stefaniak (16:46):

And then it’s like, yeah, I did my homework and everything’s great. So that’s it, every day is a challenge every day. And you have to have that kind of person that’s willing to accept that challenge. Just like it’s like the Steelers are playing somebody, you gotta be ready to go. That’s the way our industry is.

Chris Martin:

And yeah, I really love what you just said though, about how you were at you coming out of high school, you were in art, you liked art. You were really there, and you can apply that to the Cement Masons and your line of work. So any high school senior high school, junior out there, boy or girl, she can relate to that. And I think that’s important to help some of the younger kids now understand that you’re not going to go out on the job site and just be this nonstop hammer nails, and doing all these things. There’s an art form to it. There is a beauty to it. So thank you for sharing that. I think that’s great. That’s really good.

Jon O’Brien (17:44):

The market’s good. And the Cement Masons are looking for a future artists. So look them up

Ron Stefaniak (17:50):

I like that.

Chris Martin (17:51):

And if you’re interested in becoming a cement artist reach out to our friend here, Ron Stefanik. How can kids get a hold of you?

Ron Stefaniak (18:01):

Okay. First of all we have a website it’s www.opcmia526.org. Okay. And you can also look on the Builder’s Guild or apprentice order, but the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, it’s very elaborate. And they highlight all the trades. So, if I get a young person that maybe not sure of wanting to be at Cement Mason, I just say, listen, we want you in our union family. So, we want you to follow your heart. So make yourself happy and pick one of the trades. If I’m not one of them, I still feel you’re in good hands because there’s no bad picks in the building trades of western Pennsylvania, none. You know what? You’re in. good hands.

Chris Martin (18:51):

That’s true. True.  Great advice for our young folks who are considering a construction trade. So thank you. Thank you. Well, thank you for joining us today on the Building PA Podcast and Ron, thank you for stopping by. I appreciate it. Thanks a lot, Ron, and tune into our next podcast. Again, that’s the Building PA Podcast and have a great day. Thank you.

Building PA Podcast Season 1, Episode 8: Meet Bill Sproule, EST of the Carpenters Union

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

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Bill Sproule (00:34):

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

Jon O’Brien (00:39):

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

Bill Sproule (00:43):

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

Jon O’Brien (01:33):

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

Bill Sproule (01:47):

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

Bill Sproule (03:06):

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

Bill Sproule (04:06):

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

Bill Sproule (05:15):

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

Jon O’Brien (06:53):

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

Bill Sproule (07:10):

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

Bill Sproule (08:06):

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

Jon O’Brien (09:17):

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

Bill Sproule (09:50):

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

Bill Sproule (10:55):

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

Bill Sproule (11:51):

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

Bill Sproule (12:42):

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

Bill Sproule (13:31):

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

Bill Sproule (14:48):

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

Chris Martin (16:05):

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

Bill Sproule (16:55):

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

Bill Sproule (18:11):

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

Bill Sproule (19:17):

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

Bill Sproule (20:22):

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

Jon O’Brien (21:24):

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

Bill Sproule (21:46):

Thank you very much, Jon.

Jon O’Brien (21:48):

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

Bill Sproule (21:54):

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

Bill Sproule (23:06):

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

Bill Sproule (24:23):

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

Bill Sproule (25:23):

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

Bill Sproule (26:34):

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

Jon O’Brien (27:49):

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

Bill Sproule (28:30):

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

Bill Sproule (29:27):

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

Bill Sproule (30:30):

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

Jon O’Brien (31:24):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Bill Sproule (32:03):

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

Bill Sproule (33:04):

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

Bill Sproule (34:01):

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

Jon O’Brien (34:41):

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

Bill Sproule (35:15):

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

Jon O’Brien (36:03):

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

Bill Sproule (36:17):

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

Chris Martin (36:35):

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

Bill Sproule (36:51):

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

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

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

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Allison Hanna (01:43):

Yes. Hello everyone. Okay.

Jon O’Brien (01:45):

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

Allison Hanna (01:54):

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

Jon O’Brien (01:59):

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

Allison Hanna (02:08):

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

Jon O’Brien (02:13):

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

Allison Hanna (02:18):

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

Allison Hanna (03:22):

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

Jon O’Brien:

Absolutely.

Allison Hanna:

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

Allison Hanna (04:17):

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

Jon O’Brien (05:00):

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

Allison Hanna (05:06):

Yes. I love doing it.

Chris Martin (05:08):

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

Allison Hanna (05:17):

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

Chris Martin (05:31):

That makes complete sense to me.

Allison Hanna (05:33):

Yeah. Save a little bit of money.

Chris Martin (05:37):

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

Allison Hanna (05:46):

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

Jon O’Brien (06:43):

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

Allison Hanna (06:51):

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

Chris Martin (07:27):

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

Allison Hanna (07:39):

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

Allison Hanna (08:26):

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

Jon O’Brien (08:57):

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

Allison Hanna (09:03):

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

Jon O’Brien (09:47):

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

Allison Hanna (09:53):

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

Chris Martin (10:42):

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

Allison Hanna (11:01):

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

Allison Hanna (11:43):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Allison Hanna (12:29):

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

Chris Martin (12:54):

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

Allison Hanna (13:25):

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

Chris Martin (13:27):

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

Allison Hanna (13:57):

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

Chris Martin (15:01):

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

Allison Hanna (15:16):

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

Chris Martin (15:36):

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

Allison Hanna (15:42):

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

Jon O’Brien (16:13):

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

Allison Hanna (16:46):

They do not you’re right.

Jon O’Brien (16:49):

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

Allison Hanna (17:02):

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

Jon O’Brien (17:07):

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

Allison Hanna (17:19):

Yeah, I sure hope so.

Jon O’Brien (17:21):

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

Allison Hanna (17:40):

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

Jon O’Brien (18:15):

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

Allison Hanna (18:41):

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

Chris Martin (20:05):

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

Allison Hanna (20:17):

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

Chris Martin (20:44):

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

Allison Hanna (20:50):

Oh, there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Jon O’Brien (20:51):

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

Allison Hanna (21:01):

So thank you for having me.

Chris Martin (21:02):

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

Allison Hanna (21:25):

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

Jon O’Brien (21:32):

Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Allison Hanna (21:34):

You are welcome. Thank you for having me.

Upcoming Virtual Construction Events in PA

The Keystone Contractors Association is teaming with some industry friends to host the following virtual events over the next few months. Please feel free to share with whomever you think may be interested. If you’d like to learn more about the KCA or these events just reach out to us at 717-731-6272 or Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

 
Why Pennsylvania? A Construction Recruiter from Ireland Considers PA for a New Office

Thursday, October 29, 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Our state government asked the KCA to provide insights on our state’s construction industry to a company based in Ireland. The purpose of this request is because this HR company is considering various locations in the USA, including PA. On October 29 this company will provide their thoughts on PA and then they will present a brief demo on their HR platform. To register visit Why Pennsylvania? A Company from Ireland Considers PA for a New Office.

An Overview of the PA One Call Law

Thursday, November 12, 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM

Co-hosted by NUCA PA & KCA and presented by Armando Ferri, excavator representative on both PA One Call Board and PUC’s Damage Prevention Committee, this educational program will touch on safe digging practices in PA. Plus, the Q&A session will allow for your questions to get answered. To register please visit An Overview of the PA One Call Law

An Afternoon with KCA Builders 

Tuesday, November 17, 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM

This virtual event allows for you to meet with some of the KCA construction companies. Build your network while finding out what projects these firms are proposing on. Each of the following contractors will have their own breakout room: Alexander Building Construction Company, JEM Group, Penn Installations, Performance Construction, Quandel Construction, Rocky Bleier Construction Group, and Serviam Construction. To register please visit An Afternoon with KCA Builders.

Advice to Builders from Owners & Designers

Wednesday, December 2, 3:30 PM to 6:00 PM

This is the third and final in the Improving Project Outcomes series. Earlier we discussed the best pieces of advice for Owners and Designers – now it’s the Builders turn. We will follow the same schedule as past meetings with the program and breakout rooms from 3:30 to 5:00 PM, followed by a virtual happy hour for those that want to stick around. To register please visit Advice to Builders from Owners & Designers

The Pennsylvania Races I’ll Be Tracking Election Day

Like most of the country I’ll be watching the presidential election this year, heck I watch it closely every four years. I hope it’s fair and, most of all, I hope after the winner is announced that the entire country gets behind and supports this individual. However, since my work is at the state level, this article is about races in the Pennsylvania legislature that I’ll be closely watching this year.

Here are the races that I find intriguing:

The Home Game

I’m a believer that citizens need to know who represents them and people should not blindly vote in elections. Get to know your elected officials and see how they vote on issues that affect your life. For the past few years, our family has lived in Dillsburg and here are our races:

Senate District 31 Race: Mike Regan, R (incumbent) v. Shanna Danielson, D

House District 92 Race: Dawn Keefer, R (incumbent) v. Doug Ross, D

As an advocate of businesses, especially small businesses, one factor I consider when gauging the performance of a legislator is how they treat businesses in their district and in turn how local businesses feel about their elected officials. I’ve yet to encounter a single business who is displeased by the two incumbents – Mike Regan and Dawn Keefer. Additionally, for Regan, I really like the effort he puts into helping our veterans – they served our country and he doesn’t forget about them as a Senator. As for Keefer, just ask her a question related to the state budget and tax dollar expenditures and get ready to hear a passionate and intelligent response.

As for their opponents, campaign staff from Danielson contacted me a few times the first week of August about the State Senate race (I think registered Independents get extra unwanted love come election time). The staff asked if I would accept a call from Shanna to hear directly from her about her priorities and I said “sure.” As of the publishing of this article, I never received that call. And for the House race, I have seen three Ross signs in Dillsburg and that is all that I know about this individual.

Will Flippers Get Flopped Out of Office

In September of 2020, a piece of legislation that allowed school districts to be in charge of attendance and safety protocols at sporting events passed in both the House and Senate with veto-proof numbers. Governor Wolf vetoed it. The Pennsylvania House tried to override the veto. 24 Representatives from the House flipped their votes and the House was unable to advance the override to the Senate. Nine of the 24 flippers have opponents in the General Election while the rest run unopposed. Of the nine, I’ll be watching these three:

House District 33 Race: Frank Dermody, D (incumbent) v. Carrie Delrosso, R

House District 143 Race: Wendy Ullman, D (incumbent) v. Wendy Labs, R

House District 163: Race Michael Zabel, D (incumbent) v. Michael McCollum, R

It’s tough to beat an incumbent. More info on these races:

I find the Dermody v. Delrosso race fascinating due to the labor support…for the Republican candidate. For a Democrat Leader in Harrisburg, it’s just kind of assumed that labor unions have your back, but not so much in this race. Delrosso has backing from numerous building trade unions like the Laborers District Council of Western PA, International Union of the Operating Engineers Local 66 and the Cement Masons Local Union 526.

A few weeks ago Wendy Ullman notoriously made national headlines when she jokingly said to Governor Wolf during a press conference that wearing a mask is ‘political theater’ and then laughter followed. It was a bad look for a politician.

For Michael Zabel, I found his comments on the House floor related to this legislation to be inappropriate in my opinion. Yes, COVID is real and yes COVID is scary, but our state has been impacted differently across the state and I don’t think we should have one rule to follow – science and data prove that rural areas have been hit less than Philadelphia yet a place like Elk County follows the same rules. By saying that people at high school sports to watch our kids is a “frivolous use of legislative resources” is a ….well I want to keep this article PG.

NOTE: Days after this article was written, the State House of Representatives attempted another veto override. This time it was in relations to capacity limits and mandates for restaurants and bars. The override of House Bill 2513 fell two votes short in the House because 12 Democrats flipped their vote; Mr. Zabel was once again one of the flippers.

Blue Targeting Some Senate Seats

It’s tough to beat an incumbent. Prior to the 2018 Elections, the Republicans had a healthy 18-seat lead in Pennsylvania’s upper chamber. After the 2018 Election, the Democrats picked up five seats to close the margin. Due to one sitting Senator allegedly questioning the direction of the Democrats in Harrisburg and switching to an Independent, the minority party now needs to flip four seats in 2020 to gain control. Here are four seats that Democrat politicos are talking about:

Senate District 15 Race: John DiSanto, R (incumbent) v. George Scott, D

Senate District 9 Race: Thomas Killion, R (incumbent) v. John Kane, D

Senate District 49 Race: Daniel Laughlin, R (incumbent) v. Julie Slomski, D

Senate District 13 Race: Scott Martin, R (incumbent) v. Janet Diaz, D 

I don’t think any of the incumbents have done anything to warrant a change and businesses in their district speak positively about each. But hey, it is 2020 and anything can happen, so I’ll be tracking the races.    

Other Important Senate Races

It’s tough to beat an incumbent. I keep hearing about the four seats listed directly above when it comes to flipping the Senate; however, this sentiment assumes all other incumbents win their race in the Senate. I don’t think Senate Districts 37 and 45 are slam dunks for the incumbents. While Pam Iovino has the upper hand and will be difficult to beat, this should be a competitive race. Not only do we have two veterans vying for this Senate seat, which I love to see, but since 1981 Republicans have held this seat for 35 of the past 39 years. As for District 45, with incumbent Brewster, a casual viewer might see it as an easy win for the Democrat, but in 2016 Trump performed way better than expected in this district and since Brewster has been running unopposed in the past, it’s unsure how things will play out in this race.

Senate District 37 Race: Pam Iovino, D (incumbent) v. Devlin Robinson, R

Senate District 45 Race: James Brewster, D (incumbent) v. Nicole Ziccarelli, R

The Metcalfe Watch

In 2002, as I was in the process of getting married and graduating from University of Pittsburgh,  I moved to Cranberry Township, PA (an area north of Pittsburgh). Shortly after moving there I called the offices of both the State Senator and Representative – I did this to get to know the people who represent me and it was not job related (I wasn’t hired in a government affairs position until a few years later). I never heard from the office of the Senator. As for the office of the Representative, they called to ask if I’d like to meet for a morning coffee and I said yes. I showed up not knowing what to expect and thinking maybe a staffer might show up to hand me a Metcalfe pen or sticker. I end up meeting with Daryl Metcalfe and it was an enjoyable conversation. I was impressed how he insisted on getting to know his constituents. A few years down the road, I started working in the union construction sector and every two years I hear this from Democrat supporters in Harrisburg: “this is the election that we finally get to take down Metcalfe.” But here we are, and Daryl is going for his 10th re-election term.

House District 12 Race: Race Daryl Metcalfe, R (incumbent) v. Daniel Smith, D

Tuesday, November 3 should be a fun night as results come in. I can’t wait. What races are you watching? I’d love to hear from you. To get in touch with me, email me at Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

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

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

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

Chris Martin (00:00):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Chris Martin:

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (00:40):

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

Chris Martin (00:43):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (01:05):

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

Jon O’Brien (02:40):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (03:35):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (05:06):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (06:10):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (07:08):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (08:05):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (09:10):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (10:23):

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

Chris Martin (11:26):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (12:02):

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

Jon O’Brien (12:57):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (13:20):

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

Jon O’Brien (14:26):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (14:43):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (15:46):

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

Jon O’Brien (16:19):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (16:48):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (17:43):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (18:43):

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

Chris Martin (19:37):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (20:24):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (21:03):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (22:17):

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

Chris Martin (23:06):

There we go. Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Metz-Topodas (23:08):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (24:06):

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

Jon O’Brien (24:52):

Absolutely well said.

Chris Martin (24:54):

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

Jon O’Brien (25:07):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (25:19):

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

Jon O’Brien (26:04):

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

Michael Metz-Topodas (26:08):

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

Chris Martin (26:10):

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

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 5: Workforce Development, Sheet Metal Workers

In 2019 when I approached the KCA Board of Directors to suggest that we launch a podcast, the first question I received was: ‘what topics do you think we should cover?’ I said, I think the topics for construction are endless from safety to succession planning to business development to BIM to ……the list went on and on (trust me I was prepared for this question and reeled off a nice list). I ended with this list with workforce development. I said we should heavily lean on workforce development to showcase all the great careers in construction.

Now I don’t want to speak for Chris Martin, co-host of Building PA Podcast, but I think we hit a homerun on our first workforce development episode when we had Joshua Moore of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 12. I think Joshua’s passion and excitement for his trade come across in this episode. Below is the transcript and here is the recording: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/apprenticeship-training-sheet-metal-workers-61532372/.

Oh by the way, yes you do earn while you learn! Pass it on to future builders!

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

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

Chris Martin (00:14):

And this is Chris Martin with Atlas Martin.

Jon O’Brien (00:16):

So we have a great episode for you today. As you may recall, we like to focus on anything and everything related to the industry. Anything from safety, construction contracts, labor relations, you know all that fun stuff, but we also want to devote a lot of effort into workforce development and we’re excited to have with us today Joshua Moore from the Sheet Metal Workers Union, Local 12.

Chris Martin (00:42):

Welcome Josh.

Josh Moore:

Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me today.

Jon O’Brien (00:46):

Let’s jump into the meat of the episode here. You just want to provide a couple minute introduction on yourself just to let us know who we’re talking with. Okay.

Josh Moore (00:55):

Yeah, sure. I’m the apprenticeship coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers, Local 12 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but we cover 23 counties in Western Pennsylvania. And I oversee the apprenticeship and training for the local.

Jon O’Brien (01:08):

It’s a big territory you got there.

Josh Moore (01:10):

Yeah, we do. We cover quite a bit of a of area. So you know, we’re looking for people from all around Western Pennsylvania

Jon O’Brien (01:19):

And our industry definitely needs people.

Josh Moore (01:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Recruitment is one of the toughest challenges that we face along with retention. So it’s, it’s great to get something like this out here where we can we can reach some different people.

Chris Martin (01:34):

Absolutely. And part of our effort also is to work with local school districts and K through 12 educational school boards across the state. So for the benefit of this audience, you just want to introduce, what is a sheet metal worker? What exactly do they do? What type of projects, you know, all that good stuff.

Josh Moore (01:55):

Fortunately for a sheet metal worker, we do a wide variety of things. We have sheet metal workers that don’t touch sheet metal. You know, we have drafting people, we have planning and ticketing. We have estimating and we have welders, we have installers, we have all kinds of people and jobs within the sheet metal industry. So it’s not just specifically one thing.

Jon O’Brien (02:23):

So since it’s not just one thing, I assume that training is more complex,

Joshua Moore (02:30):

Absolutely. We’re looking for people that are interested in all kinds of different things. Our apprenticeship program offers people the opportunity to pick a career path. We’re a five year program. So they get to in their fifth year kind of concentrating on a particular sector of the industry, which benefits the member.

Chris Martin (02:53):

So it’s a five year program. Can you kind of walk us through the first year or two and you know, that obviously the workers are getting their feet wet and kind of understanding the trade and the industry. Can you walk us through that process?

Joshua Moore (03:08):

We usually bring apprentices in July. And that’s when they start their first year of apprenticeship. We, we go to school for a week. We’re a day school. So you go to school for a week, then you’re off for six weeks. Then you come to school for a week. So you do that five times a year. So you go for 200 hours a year here at the training center. But while you’re in training, you’re eligible to receive unemployment. So you’re not completely out of making a living as you’re getting trained. So you get paid while you learn. No one is having to miss out on making a living while they’re learning the trade. So you don’t have to be still living at home. You can be someone that’s a different stages of life and still become an apprentice with local 12. Those first two years you’re in and out of a shop. You’re learning the trade, you’re getting familiar with different aspects of the trade. So in those last couple of years of apprenticeship, you can kind of concentrate on what you like. And then after your fifth year, you become a journeyman. And obviously, you know, the sky’s the limit once that happens.

Chris Martin (04:24):

When you say that an apprentice or someone applies and it starts in July, is it only a small window of time for you to apply or do you accept applications year out?

Joshua Moore (04:37):

We accept applications year round. Usually our deadline is the end of February is when we’ll stop accepting them because we have to start scoring applications, getting interviews ready, getting things set up for the selection process to get into the apprenticeship. But there’s also a limited apprenticeship that you can apply for. Whereas you’re waiting to become a first year apprentice and to get into the program, you can work as a limited apprentice. What that means is you’re limited to a little bit of what you’re able to do. So you’re assigned to a shop. You won’t be out on job sites mainly because you haven’t received the proper OSHA training that you need to be on those job sites. So to keep you safe, they keep you in the shop. And that’s something that can help you out when you do go to your interview for your apprenticeship is that you’re already in with local 12, you’re working towards your apprenticeship and you’re familiar with what we do. It’s a little different, huh? Yeah, it’s it is. But it definitely helps. That’s someone that you’re probably going to retain as someone that has done a limited apprenticeship. They’ve kind of already know what they’re getting into when they get into the apprenticeship.

Chris Martin (05:52):

I like the approach that you’re taking, where you’re putting them in the shop before they’re actually out on the job. That actually gives people a good understanding. One other question for you, and then Jon, I’ll hand it back over to you, cause I know you have some questions for those listeners that don’t know anything at all about what a sheet metal does. Can you give a quick overview of what you guys work in HVHC commercial, residential, those types of things.

Joshua Moore:

Most of our contractors are commercial installers. They do commercial installations of duct work. We do things like a hospital work buildings downtown. We have a lot of work, fire, damper inspections things like that. And then on the shop, we have guys that actually make the duct they ticket it, they run it through, they make it, or the last tray that actually takes a flat piece of metal makes our own product and installs it yourself. We take it from the drawing board all the way to the job site and we do it from flat to finish. So as you can imagine, that opens up all kinds of different career paths within sheet metal.

Jon O’Brien (07:14):

We all know this and we hear it all the time, but every time I talk to schools and especially the students, they get amazed when the first question is, okay, how much is it going to cost me for this program? How much is it going to cost them?

Joshua Moore:

Free. Yes. Earn while you learn,

Jon O’Brien (07:30):

You gotta love that earn while you learn.

Joshua Moore:

And this is the one thing that we do ask is that you give us a little bit of time. You don’t compete against us with the training that you received. I think that’s a pretty fair deal. We ask that you work with us and, you stay with us and why wouldn’t you, the benefits are phenomenal. The opportunities are phenomenal. I, myself as a sheet metal has been wonderful to me and my family. And it’s been even better since it’s with a union contractor.

Jon O’Brien (08:09):

Absolutely. And since you mentioned benefits, could you touch on that kind of briefly?

Joshua Moore (08:13):

Absolutely. A first year apprentice starts out at $20.84. When a sheet metal worker gets out of his or her apprenticeship right now, they’re making $36.21, that’s with full benefits, that’s medical, dental, vision, annuity, pension. We have a benefit which is known as (?sp?) sashimi that you put into every hour. And what that is, is if you were to ever get laid off, you would be able to draw from that fund either monetarily for bills or for medical benefits. If you ran out of hours and you needed to supplement those hours to continue to keep your medical benefits, you’re able to do so. And if you don’t use that money, we are one of the last to have 30, 55. So if you have 30 years of service and you’re age 55, you can retire, you can then take that sashimi to supplement your healthcare and pay for that healthcare while you’re retired until you’re eligible for social security. So that’s a wonderful benefit that a lot of people don’t think about as they’re younger, because they’re not looking at that, but that’s something that is great for a sheet metal worker.

Jon O’Brien (09:33):

That is awesome. Wow, that’s fantastic.

Chris Martin (09:37):

We just you know, why anyone would want to go any other direction it blows my mind. So Josh, can you repeat that?

Jon O’Brien (09:48):

The wages again for a starting apprentice it’s????

Joshua Moore (09:52):

Right now starting apprentice first year apprentices at $20.84. And when they get out of their apprenticeship, they’re at $36.21, that’s a negotiated wage that will change yearly under this four year contract. So next year they’ll get a raise the following year, they’ll get another raise. So we try to stay in line with kind of what the cost of living, because that’s what we do. We work and live here in the community.

Jon O’Brien (10:18):

So you’re probably seeing all sorts of students. You’ve touched a bunch, you know, others, are there any sort of traits that you see that make one more successful than others.

Joshua Moore (10:30):

Self-motivators, someone that knows what it takes to be successful with someone that is able to motivate themselves to get up and come to work every day. These are adult jobs that require you to be here every day because they’re multimillion dollar projects. They’re very important in the contractors within this local depend on you to be at work. That’s it, you know, the skills will come with the training and the experience. But some things like that are very important for someone to be involved in the construction and building traides.

Jon O’Brien (11:10):

Okay. So picture this, you know, high school student, little Johnny listened to this podcast, he’s like, wow, the benefits are awesome. There’s pay, earn while you learn this all sounds amazing. How do I get in, you know, can I get in, hopefully I get in, in the future, but is there anything now, while I’m in high school, I could do to better position myself and better improve my chances of getting in with the sheet metal workers

Joshua Moore (11:36):

Being proficient in math obviously is very important in any building trade. But some HVHC experience, you know some welding shop experience things like that can really help out when you come to apply for your apprenticeship.

Jon O’Brien (11:56):

Okay. And is there a a good website or contact information for more information?

Joshua Moore (12:02):

You could go to www.SMlocal12.org or you could call my office at 412-828-1386.

Jon O’Brien (12:11):

And you said there’s 23 counties. So are there other locals in Pennsylvania?

Joshua Moore (12:16):

Yes, there are. There’s a Local 19 over in Philadelphia and there’s Local 44, which runs the central part of Pennsylvania.

Jon O’Brien (12:24):

Any other closing statements you have concerning workforce development or anything in general?

Joshua Moore (12:30):

No, just that right now is a great time to be in the building trades. We’re growing and we’re doing big things and doing great things here at Local 12. We got a new training center that’s getting ready to open up. We have some big opportunities here at Local 12, and we appreciate you guys for including us today.

Jon O’Brien (12:53):

Absolutely. We’ll have to check back with you every so often to see how it’s going.

Joshua Moore:

Absolutely. Yeah, definitely.

Chris Martin (13:02):

Definitely. Hey, Josh, thank you so much. I’m sure that you literally have almost eliminated the barriers or obstacles I should say to joining a union opportunity there is fantastic. So thanks to you and your and your brothers. And so thank you.

Joshua Moore:

Thank you. Yeah, we’re going strong and we look forward to seeing the new candidates coming to join the apprenticeship.

Jon O’Brien (13:31):

Take care. We’ll talk later then. Bye. Bye.

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

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

Jon O’Brien (00:01):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Chris Martin:

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

Chris Martiin (01:04):

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

Darren Rech:

Sure. Yeah.

Jon O’Brien:

Do you have any comments for our crowd or audience?

Darren Rech:

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

Jon O’Brien:

And how long have you been at Alexander?

Darren Rech:

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

Jon O’Brien (02:22):

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

Darren Rech:

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech (03:24):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech (04:27):

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

Chris Martin (05:05):

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

Darren Rech (05:36):

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

Darren Rech (06:41):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Darren Rech:

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

Darren Rech (07:44):

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

Darren Rech (08:39):

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

Darren Rech (09:47):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech:

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech (11:10):

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

Darren Rech (12:14):

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

Jon O’Brien (13:13):

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

Darren Rech:

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

Darren Rech (14:13):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech (15:16):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech (16:17):

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

Darren Rech (17:21):

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

Jon O’Brien:

So it varies depending on who the owner is?

Darren Rech (18:34):

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

Chris Martin (19:44):

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

Darren Rech (20:27):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Darren Rech (21:35):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Darren Rech (22:33):

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

Chris Martin:

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

Darren Rech (23:31):

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

Chris Martin (24:24):

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

Jon O’Brien (24:53):

Yeah. Thanks, Darren.

Darren Rech:

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