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.

 

Let’s Pause for Safety During May 7-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veterans – The Forgotten DBE

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

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

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

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

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

 

2018 PA Budget Hearings with DGS

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

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

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

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

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

Pennsylvania’s Top Construction Stories of 2017

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

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

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

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

Amazon H2 Fever

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

 

Silica Standard Arrives

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

 

Opioid Crisis Continues to Plague Construction

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

 

USGBC releases LEEDv4 and AIA Updates its Contracts

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

 

Philadelphia is Carrying Good Times into 2018!

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

 

Separations Act Gets Some Attention

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

 

Federal Tax Legislation Helps Construction Industry

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

 

Harrisburg has Big Plans in its Sights

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

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

Separations Act in 2017

During 2017, there were some memorable stories involving Pennsylvania’s  Separations Act. Today I’m going to touch on a few of the major stories.

But before jumping right into the fun, here’s a quick explanation of the Separations Act: this law requires public construction projects in Pennsylvania to build utilizing a multiple prime delivery system and hire at least four prime construction companies for one project. Our state is one of three states that require this handcuffing of public agencies to build in this cumbersome manner – don’t get me wrong the multiple prime delivery system can be a good option depending on numerous factors (owner’s expertise, complexity of project, budget, schedule, etc.), but multiple prime is one of many delivery options. The construction industry has evolved over the years and we now have more innovative and collaborative team approaches to consider, yet our state only allows one delivery option. Considering that the multiple prime delivery system is rarely used in the rest of the country, federal government, and private sector, it’s time for our state to amend our law and allow options in construction delivery systems.

Here we are in 2017 and PA is still mandating we follow this ancient law that impedes the construction industry from progressing. However, our current state is led by a self-proclaimed Harrisburg outsider, so maybe Governor Wolf will play a vital role in advancing the construction industry, and maybe, just maybe the Harrisburg outsider moniker played a role in kick-starting efforts in advancing the construction industry in 2017. Without further ado, here are my top Separations Act stories of 2017:

2017 Senate Appropriation Hearing

On Monday, February 27, 2017, the Separations Act got off to a good first step this year during the PA State Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. At this event, the Governor’s appointed Department of General Services Secretary Curt Topper said: “we face some significant constraints that the private sector does face when it comes to managing our money efficiently. So, for example the Commonwealth, when we go to market in order to contract to do construction, we are bound by the Separations Act of 1913. We are one of only three remaining states in the U.S. that has a Separations Act. That Separations Act requires that we do business less efficiently than we could otherwise do business.” Bravo to Governor Wolf for appointing a forwarding-thinking individual like Secretary Topper who sees an issue and wants it addressed to improve the Commonwealth. Plus, bravo to Secretary Topper for knowing that you were appointed to do a job and you didn’t let politics get in the way.

Click here to Secretary Topper’s hearing:  http://www.pasenategop.com/budget-hearings-summary/

Here is an OpEd on his testimony:  http://www.yorkdispatch.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/03/07/oped-s-time-repeal-separations-act-pa/98857412/

Here is commentary from Philly Inquirer’s John Baer: http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/john_baer/Another-old-PA-law-enters-the-states-fiscal-follies.html

 

Pennsylvania Organizations Want Change

What happened on that Monday in February of 2017 had tremendous reach beyond the room where the Senate Appropriations hearing was held. Organizations across the Commonwealth had a bounce in their step, as an executive in the governor’s cabinet publicly supported modernizing the Separations Act. This newly formed coalition mobilized in 2017 and even launched an online petition (located here:

https://www.change.org/p/time-to-modernize-the-pa-separations-act). More to come from this coalition in 2018.

 

A Union Uses Separations Act to Gain Marketshare Over Another Union

In a bizarre twist of fate, a school in the Pittsburgh area signed a project labor agreement (PLA) which pleased the union construction sector in that area. Promoted as a tool to assure labor harmony, West Jefferson Hills School District could not imagine their PLA project being shut down when one building trades union sued the school district, architect, construction manager, and others – but that’s exactly what happened. The plumbing contractor filed suit claiming that the site utility work outside the building footprint should have been assigned to them and not the general trades contractor. It is typical on a construction project (public and private) to have the plumbing contractor perform plumbing work from inside the structure to five feet outside the building. Yet, this plumber wanted work to exceed the ‘typical’ scope of work and this contractor wanted the site utility work assigned to them, which took work from the general contractor, site contractor and the Laborers Union. The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County sided with the plumbing contractor stating that the project ‘willfully’ violated the Separations Act. This ruling changes years of precedence that could have major consequences on construction in Pennsylvania – both public and private.

 

 

Separations Act Project a Mess on a Grand Stage

The saying goes, that nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. Well, in construction, nothing attracts the masses like a massive project. Originally set to open during November of 2015, the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County, PA, which is the largest public building project in our state’s history, is way over-budget and years past schedule. Since this project is so mammoth and expensive, it has the attention of many people statewide, from construction professionals who want to see how it’s built to concerned tax payers who want tax dollars spent efficiently. But a disastrous, multiple prime construction project should have been foreseen since it took years to bid the project, bidding three times over the timeframe of two Governors – Ed Rendell and Tom Corbett. I could go on and on about the mess that is the SCI Phoenix, but I think the PA Corrections Commissioner John Wetzel summed it up best in a Senate Budget hearing when he said: “It’s been a terrible construction project.”  For more information on this developing, and apparently never-ending story, click here to read one of the many articles on it:   http://www.philly.com/philly/news/crime/prison-graterford-phoenix-phila-convention-center-20170901.html

 

Well those are my top Separations Act stories of 2017. They were each briefly presented but if you would like additional information on any item listed please do not hesitate to contact me. Also, if you have an opinion on these stories or think I’m missing an item, I’d like to hear from you.

Open Door Policy

In life I’ve heard this line many times: “I have an open-door policy.” Teachers, coaches, employers, politicians, etc.  Many like to throw this line around, but do they mean it? Here’s an example of one individual who meant it, and as a result the rest of us (at least those in Pennsylvania) are better off because of it. Thanks Mike Turzai. Here’s the story:

During the summer of 2016, while living with my family in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, in the McCandless area, I was offered a job in the central PA area. After much thought and discussion with my wife and daughters, we decided to accept the position and move away from an area that has treated us great. We listed our Pittsburgh home for sale and began looking for a home in central PA.

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It’s signed! During the summer of 2016, we accepted the position of Executive Director for the Keystone Contractors Association. From this moment on, it was time to start the relocation process. 

We had three offers the first day our home was on the market (McCandless is an awesome place to raise a family and Michelle Petty is a great realtor). We accepted an offer that was best for us, but the buyers could not close on the purchase for at least two months, which turned out to be good for us in that we could live in the home for longer than we expected to, and it gave us time to find the perfect place to live in central PA.

While we were living in the McCandless home, the buyers continued to prepare to buy it and an inspection was part of this process. More than a week after the home inspection was conducted, we received an email from the buyer’s real estate agent that contained the results of the inspection. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday evening when the email arrived; it was a lengthy, 50-plus page report with bold, red-highlighted items that the inspector deemed as important; and a few pages into the report I saw a line that made my heart sink: “GAS LEAK detected not safe to live in.” Since I was living in the home, with the four people who are my world, I was speechless…wait WTF did I just read?!?!?! We left right away and spent the night at my aunt’s home, a few miles down the road.

The next morning, I was busy on the phone. I called the gas company first (Peoples Natural Gas was amazing as they arrived right away, and they had the gas leak issue resolved within the hour). Then I proceeded to speak to my realtor and an attorney friend of mine. I wanted to know why, if my family was in harm’s danger, did the home inspector not alert us. The response I received was that home inspectors are not legally obligated to notify anyone of unsafe conditions, like gas leaks. My first thought was that you would think a member of a society/country would feel morally obligated to let someone know about this, but unfortunately this was not the case. Then I called my Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Turzai.

Turzai is a friendly guy who you speak with at the North Allegheny High School Football games or you see walking down the streets in your neighborhood. He told me a few times over the years, while living in the district he represents, to not hesitate to contact him if I encounter any issues: “my door is open let me know if I can help.” So, I thought I’d take him up on the offer to see if he could help. Yes, my issue was resolved when I called him, and my family moved back in our home after the gas leak was fixed, but I do not want any other family to have to go through what I went through and fortunately for the rest of Pennsylvania, Turzai agreed and did not want anyone else to go through this serious issue either.

After thoroughly understanding the issue, Turzai and his staff were able to assist in modifying a home inspection piece of legislation that at the time was moving through the 2015/2016 Pennsylvania legislative session. Time ran out on this piece of legislation and when the session ended on December 31, 2016, the home inspection legislation died.

When the new year arrived, the Pennsylvania legislature introduced a new home inspection bill for the 2017/2018 session and the provision that we inserted requiring home inspectors to notify residents immediately if they are living in unsafe conditions carried forward to the next session as well. House Bill 1001 recently passed in the House of Representatives and it is now in the State Senate. While it’s a comprehensive bill that affects many aspects of the home inspection process, I for one am glad that it spells out how home inspectors are to act when encountering threats to health and safety.

One would think that a home inspector would notify a homeowner if they were living in an unsafe condition, but I found out that is not the case. It’s a good thing Mike Turzai has an open door policy and listens to the people he represents.