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.

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

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

Chris Martin (00:01):

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

Jon O’Brien:

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

Chris Martin:

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

Jon O’Brien (01:50):

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

Chris Martin (03:19):

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

Jon O’Brien (03:24):

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

Chris Martin (03:40):

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

Jon O’Brien (04:04):

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

Jon O’Brien (05:12):

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

Jon O’Brien (06:48):

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

Jon O’Brien (07:47):

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

Jon O’Brien (08:54):

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

Jon O’Brien (09:59):

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

Chris Martin (11:19):

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

Jon O’Brien (11:49):

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

Chris Martin (12:49):

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

Jon O’Brien (12:58):

Yeah.

Chris Martin (12:58):

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

Jon O’Brien (13:32):

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

Jon O’Brien (14:21):

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

Jon O’Brien (15:12):

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

Chris Martin (15:50):

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

Jon O’Brien (16:40):

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

Jon O’Brien (17:21):

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

Chris Martin (18:39):

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

Jon O’Brien (19:35):

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

Chris Martin (20:59):

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

Jon O’Brien (22:02):

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

Jon O’Brien (23:03):

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

Chris Martin (23:54):

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

Chris Martin (24:50):

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

Jon O’Brien (25:26):

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

Jon O’Brien (26:44):

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

Chris Martin (27:05):

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

Jon O’Brien (27:12):

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

Chris Martin (27:31):

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

Jon O’Brien (28:18):

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

Chris Martin (28:33):

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

Chris Martin (28:54):

Private Sector Can Help Our Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Labor & Management – We’re Friends

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AMB Incorporated: Say Hello to Heaven Brian

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 PA Budget Hearings with DGS

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

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

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

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

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

Pennsylvania’s Top Construction Stories of 2017

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

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

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

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

Amazon H2 Fever

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

 

Silica Standard Arrives

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

 

Opioid Crisis Continues to Plague Construction

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

 

USGBC releases LEEDv4 and AIA Updates its Contracts

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

 

Philadelphia is Carrying Good Times into 2018!

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

 

Separations Act Gets Some Attention

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

 

Federal Tax Legislation Helps Construction Industry

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

 

Harrisburg has Big Plans in its Sights

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

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