Pennsylvania’s Rising College Tuition Isn’t Helped by Outdated Construction Law

Recently Penn State University announced they approved a tuition increase for incoming students, joining Temple University and University of Pittsburgh. As families continue moving from a pandemic towards normalcy, I am sure the last thing they wanted, or expected, was to see the price tag of education to increase for their students.

A lot of costs go into the background of the high costs of college. Facilities management and maintenance are one important component. If construction procurement reform had been put in place, to put us in line with the rest of the country, I wonder if this tuition increase could have been avoided. As one of the last few states requiring the use of multiple prime contractors on each public construction project, and enforcing it more strictly than other states, Pennsylvania is stuck with an archaic business practice. Referred to in Pennsylvania as the Separations Act, this requirement was enacted in 1913.

So, what exactly is the Separations Act? And why should students at state-related universities care?

In essence, the Separations Act forces the public owner, like the state-related universities, to serve as the general contractor for a project and each of the multiple primes contracts directly to the public owner. Without a single entity directing the project and with plenty of finger-pointing, this is an inefficient contract delivery method fraught with problems such as delays and claims, which are the norms and culprits leading to public projects being over-budget.

This multiple prime delivery system is virtually nonexistence in the federal, private, residential, and commercial markets – and in fact when the state-related universities spend their own money for construction projects, they very rarely use multiple prime delivery because they want their money spent efficiently. Yet the state-related universities are forced by state law to use the multiple prime delivery system when it is building projects funded by the state.

On average, a multiple prime delivered project costs 10% more. For that reason it makes sense for these schools to avoid this process when spending money from alums and other contributors. One would think our legislature would have that same sentiment about taxpayers that these colleges have for their donors.  

It’s time to modernize the Separations Act by affording our public sector a list of proven delivery methods to select from. Construction is not a one-size fits all industry and there is no perfect delivery method. A construction client’s priorities (i.e., cost, quality, time, safety, etc.) vary from project to project and the customer should be allowed the opportunity to select the most appropriate delivery method for a particular project on a case-by-case basis. Senate Bill 823 of 2020 provided those options.

By no means am I saying that modernizing the Separations Act is the be-all end-all solution to stop tuition inflation, but when Pennsylvania knowingly operates inefficiently while my neighbors see a tuition increase at our fine state-related institutions, I feel inclined to speak up. Now is the ideal time to address inefficiencies in our procurement process on behalf of current and future college students.

It’s OK to Ask For Help: Addiction Stories from the Construction Industry

NOTE: The following article was featured in the recent National Safety Council’s Family Safety & Health. It was written in the Fall of 2020 collaboratively between Jon O’Brien, Executive Director of the KCA, and Howard Bernstein, President of Penn Installations.

In October of 2016, Jon O’Brien started at the Keystone Contractors Association, which is based in Harrisburg, PA and has member companies spread around the state. After this relocation, the first thing he did was to schedule a tour of the state, visiting current members to learn more about them – their history, strengths, weaknesses, challenges, etc. The same issue kept popping up in conversations: opioid abuse is hurting the industry and communities.

After reporting the results of the statewide tour to the KCA Board, KCA leadership knew they had to do something. Mr. O’Brien did some research to see if concentrated efforts were underway in construction to tackle this opioid epidemic. Sure, there were ads to warn against opioid abuse from the government and healthcare systems, but he did not find channels that spoke directly to construction workers. Since he did not have much luck, in the summer of 2017 the KCA worked with industry allies in state to create the Construction Opioids Awareness Week.

This recognition week is the last full week of July and for it we arm construction employers with lots of resources to discuss pain medication use/abuse with their employees. It’s hard to gauge the success of a movement like this, but one indicator that the KCA believes is crucial for success is if we get the construction industry talking about the issue. Conversation is key to building a construction industry in Pennsylvania where people feel comfortable enough to seek help, with that in mind here are some perspectives from labor and management:  

Labor: Meeting-Makers Make It, Mark’s Story

Mark St Cyr’s story: His sobriety date was December 28, 2007. But his story began way before then and it’s all part of the plan per Mark: “God puts the toughest people through the toughest situations to help others.” As a young boy, he was molested by his uncle after his uncle returned from the Vietnam War; in high school Mark smoked weed and drank alcohol too; as a young man he became addicted to opioids; in 1986 he had a fire in his home that severely burned his wife and over 30% of his one daughter’s body.  Mark’s a tough person, but that’s only half of it – helping others is the other half.

On that December day back in 2007, Mark’s world changed and because of his life’s experiences up until that date, he is now able to change the lives of others too. “Because I drank alcohol so much at a young age, I was emotionally immature, and I was unable to talk and connect with others. Being sober changed all that and at meetings I’m able to tell my story. By sharing, others are able to relate as they have been through similar situations.” Some examples: Diane had a burnt child and listening to Mark was inspirational; Sean and Jesse shared similar experiences as Mark growing up and Mark’s story is able to help them. Jesse has relapsed twice over the past 12 years but has been clean for the past two years with the help of the sharing sessions. As Mark says: “Meeting makers, make it!”

Over the past few years, Mark and his team of supporters started a non-profit organization in Washington County, PA called Club Serenity, Inc. This organization currently operates a recovery home for women and a second home for men is coming soon. “We’re able to remove people from their environment and place them in a home with like-minded people. It’s working,” said Mark.  

Management: ‘We’re There to Assist’: Howard Bernstein Shares What He’s Learned

Having grown up working summers in construction, Howard Bernstein saw his share of drug and alcohol issues as a young man but now as a husband, father and employer, he looks through a far different lens and he feels powerless over the growing problems we face with addiction. In trying to assist people in both the field and office, he has learned the cliché often about not being able to help addicts until they seek help themselves. Although self-awareness or interventions may occasionally lead someone towards recovery, it is sadly more often that legal troubles, divorce and/or job loss lead to the “Rock bottom” needed to seek help.

What he has learned is that “Getting help” can mean many things, from counseling, to outpatient rehab, to intensive inpatient rehab. Out of pocket expense, income lost, and embarrassment have all been barriers to taking these steps and there can be a wide difference in the experience and success rate of various professional programs. Even the best programs have success rates that can seem defeating, but relapse need not be seen as a failure and is more often than naught part of most people’s recovery. There is no one size fits all but just as with our carpenters, the more tools that one has in their tool bag, the better prepared they can be to meet each day’s challenges. Additional tools for recovery include the support of friends, family and co-workers (many of whom may have been hurt by the addict and may be wary of helping), support groups, an experienced sponsor, recurring counseling and finding positive outlets for the time that was spent previously using. Vivitrol is an injectable form of Naltrexone which lasts for a month and has been a game changer for many addicts and alcoholics who say that it reduces their cravings and can be one more tool.

Hopefully, employers can create an environment where those needing help know that we are there to assist them as the cost of not doing so could never be measured in dollars alone.

Helpful Resources:

Construction Opioids Awareness Week: https://keystonecontractors.com/Opioid-Awareness/

Club Serenity Inc.: https://www.clubserenityinc.com/

Happy Anniversary!?!? Pennsylvania Begins Its 108th Year Overspending on Public Construction

Next time you drive by a public-school building under construction, know that our state is intentionally spending 10% more on that project because of an archaic law that only exists in Pennsylvania.

On May 1, 1913, Governor John Tener put his signature on legislation to enact the Pennsylvania Separations Act.  Tener assumed our state’s top office as we were coming off of a construction scandal involving the Pennsylvania State Capitol.  State Treasurer William Berry had found that there had been an unappropriated cost for our state capitol’s construction of over $7.7 million ($211,282,599 today).  Mr. Berry found many questionable charges, which led to the conviction of the building architect and the former State Treasurer.  Due to today’s technology, every cent that is spent is easily tracked.

At the time, in 1913, a Separations Act-type law was the norm in America.  However, it is not the norm today as every other state, the federal government and the private sector enjoy options in construction delivery.  Yet Pennsylvania remains the lone holdout that mandates the Separations Act which requires the use of multiple prime delivery.

Supporters of the Separations Act like to debate the statement that Pennsylvania is the only state left with this cumbersome contracting requirement and they believe there are two other states joining us.  They feel that North Dakota and New York join us.  These two states have chipped away at their multiple prime mandate, allowing flexibility in public contracting methods depending on the type of project.  But regardless of whether Pennsylvania is the only state or one of three states, it’s a pretty weak defense to keep a law on the books that wastes tax dollars.

So, what is the Separations Act and multiple prime delivery? And why should taxpayers care?

The Separations Act requires that public entities, like a school district, solicit and receive at least four separate bids for one construction project.  This is referred to as the multiple prime delivery method.  Let that sink in – four separate companies tasked with building one project.  This multiple prime delivery method requires the public entity to hold and manage the multiple contracts, making the public entity responsible for coordination of contracts.  Consequently, the public entity increases its contractual liability exposure and is forced to be involved in contractual disputes among the primes.

Without one company in charge of the construction project, the multiple prime requirement is cumbersome and sets the stage for adversarial relationships amongst the prime contractors, resulting in a drastic rise in change orders and claims on multiple prime delivered projects.  Additionally, without one contractor guiding the project, there are multiple project schedules, and this lack of collaboration eliminates the prospect of early completion.  In the private sector, like the healthcare industry, it’s typical to read in the newspaper that the new hospital was built under budget and ahead of schedule – wouldn’t it be nice to afford the public sector similar contracting options that others benefit from?

There is draft legislation that would bring Pennsylvania inline with the rest of the country when it comes to project delivery for public construction, but most importantly it would save tax dollars.  This legislation would allow the public entity to choose between four different delivery systems: Design-Bid-Build Multiple Prime (current mandate), Design-Bid-Build Single Prime, Construction Management At Risk, and Design Build.  To the non-construction professional these terms might be foreign to you.  While there are thousands of resources that explain the various delivery systems (and I don’t mind pointing people in the right direction if requested), I’ll try to keep the explanation simple: each of the listed delivery systems have a different entry point to have the construction team join the design team.  Due to design and construction teams joining forces at different times, depending on the selected delivery system, the systems vary in collaboration as illustrated here:

Now I’ve been told that the Separations Act is a tough issue for the general public to understand.  Personally, I thought an issue that saves tax dollars is something the masses can get behind.  But perhaps I can use an analogy that may help:

  • Can you imagine if the Philadelphia Eagles had four head coaches?  This lack of leadership would result in chaos on the field with players unsure who to listen to.
  • Or what if the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra had four principal conductors?  The crowd would need aspirin and earplugs if the orchestra were to receive four different directions.

On Pennsylvania public construction projects, we have four head coaches and four conductors all giving different orders.  There is no perfect construction delivery method, and our industry has evolved since the days of Governor Tener.  We have adapted delivery methods in response to the customer’s changing circumstances.

The customer should be afforded the opportunity to select the most appropriate delivery method for a particular project on a case-by-case basis as cost, quality, and time vary from project to project.  Flexibility to choose the most effective and efficient project contracting method will enable local public entities to control costs on building projects, which ultimately saves tax dollars.    

The Pennsylvania Races I’ll Be Tracking Election Day

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

Here are the races that I find intriguing:

The Home Game

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

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

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

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

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

Will Flippers Get Flopped Out of Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Targeting Some Senate Seats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Important Senate Races

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

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

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

The Metcalfe Watch

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

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

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

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 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.

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.

 

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!