Category Archives: Labor

Ah, the smell of concrete in the morning

Westlake wrkrs with blurred rebarI was out recently on a construction site, doing a little photographic work, when I had another one of those blast-from-the-past moments in which we all, I assume, occasionally find ourselves suddenly immersed. In this case, as best as I could determine, it was instantly sparked by the smell of dust and concrete, with notes (I borrowed that term from a wine label) of something metallic. That had to be it — the unique blend of those elements, in just the right blend, that we apparently only take in on an active construction site.

As it has many times, that scent alone instantly took me back to when I was a little guy, fifty years ago (good lord, did I just say that?), occasionally visiting jobsites with my dad, who ran the Richland, Washington branch of Lord Electric (does anyone remember them?). He was The Boss, of course, which was quite cool, but I also really enjoyed those visits because I got to wear the hardhat and see stuff I sure didn’t see elsewhere: big pieces of construction equipment; the bone structure of halfway-built buildings; lots of different tools, fixtures and materials, and lots of people bustling around. Lots of pickup trucks, conduit, extension cords and cool lunch boxes too, as I recall.

This all made me think about what has, and what has not, changed on a construction site in half a century. For the most part, they still look very similar, but of course the materials, tools, techniques and practices – and certainly the pickup trucks and lunch boxes – have evolved quite a bit. In some ways, the people have changed, too, but in others, they have not; people have always, and will always, simply love to build things. That has to bring about a kind of satisfaction and pride that you don’t often find elsewhere.

And all those thoughts went through my head in a matter of moments.

Somewhere out there today, I’m sure there’s a superintendent or foreman or project manager on a jobsite with a son or daughter tagging along, taking in the sights and smells of all that’s going on around them. And likely creating little snippets of memories that will last — well, as we know now — at least half a century.

        – Sean Lewis

Workforce Training Pays Big Dividends

With more than 17 percent of the craft workers retiring in the next five years it is more important than ever to train tomorrow’s construction workers. The construction industry is falling short of its workforce demand by almost 1.6 million positions by 2022, based on the latest estimates by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

In December 2004, economic think tank The Brookings Institute released a study titled Toward a New Metropolis: The Opportunity to Rebuild America. The study noted that “Residential and commercial development in the next 25 years will eclipse anything seen in previous generations,” and that “Nearly half of what will be the built environment in 2030 doesn’t exist yet.”

Still the lack of a skilled workforce continues to be a challenge for contractors and owners alike. The 2016 Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) chairman and president of Willmar Electric Service, David Chapin, said that, “ABC members report that they could do more work if they had the skilled workers to do the jobs.”

The problem is multifaceted. Despite much evidence to contradict the outcome, our education system still prepares the vast majority of students for a college education while little is being done to either promote or prepare young people for careers in the construction trades. Simultaneously, for years the industry thought the only valid way to learn was working from the bottom up with training happening only on the job.

However, construction, like most other careers, has become increasingly technical and specialized and training is essential to ensure that we have a highly-skilled workforce for the future.

For employers, investing just one percent in training can deliver double-digit returns.

A recent study by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) found that investing just 1 percent of a project’s labor budget in training could have double-digit returns. The study showed that 1 percent yielded: 11% improved productivity; 14% decrease in turnover; 15% decrease in absenteeism; 26% decrease in injuries; and 23% decrease in rework. These are savings that far exceed the investment in training.

For those interested in joining the trades.

The average 2015 college graduate owes about $35,000 in student loan debt—the highest level in history, according to government data. Despite lower national unemployment figures, many of these four-year graduates have little guarantee of job placement, making for an unstable future.

The average construction industry graduate who completes an associate’s degree or a state-funded, certified two- three- or four-year apprenticeship program, (the average electrician, welder or plumber) stands to earn more than $50,000 a year right out of the gate. He or she has little to no student loan debt, and already holds a high-paying job—plus career skills that are in top demand as the baby boomer generation retires.

In Washington we have a myriad of training programs that support the industry. ABC offers a wide variety of training classes including safety, project management and in conjunction with Toastmasters, public speaking and presentation. For training in the trades, ABC’s partner, the Construction Industry Training Council of Washington (CITC), offers state-approved apprenticeship and craft training in the carpentry, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, heavy equipment operator, painting, plumbing, laborers, residential electrical, low energy and sheet metal trades. For more information go to:

Nationally there are a number of resources as well:

The first National Craft Championships was held in 1987 with only a handful of participants competing in four craft competitions. Some 25 years later, more than 2,000 men and women have competed in what has grown to become one of the construction industry’s most recognized and revered craft skills events, thanks to the dedication and hard work of our member firms and ABC chapters. The ABC Workforce Conference site is

For those considering construction careers: ABC’s Careers in Construction –





Are prevailing wages burdening taxpayers?

Prevailing wage law is of monumental importance to the construction industry and to all taxpayers.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington has worked for years to educate legislators on the importance of prevailing wage law. Now there are some legislators who are concerned about how the prevailing wage is determined, how the act is being further expanded offsite and how an artificially high wage puts a burden on already strained public works’ budgets.

Even though most ABC contractors are largely private-sector contractors, every one of them and their employees are taxpayers who bear the inflated costs due to the ever-expanding scope of the prevailing wage law.

Several prevailing wage reform bills were introduced in the 2015 legislative session. Although none passed, they provided the opportunity for more education and discussion about the issue.

Organized labor put forth some bills that would have increased the cost to public agencies, and ultimately the taxpayers, by making the collectively bargained union wage the prevailing wage. Fortunately there were enough free enterprise advocates in the state Senate who questioned the wisdom of expanding the Prevailing Wage Act to stop those bills.

As ABC of Western Washington president, I lead our government affairs efforts. Representing merit shop employers’ and employees’ interests to government at all levels is our primary function, and I am happy to have that as one of my most important responsibilities.

I represent contractors on the state’s Prevailing Wage Advisory Committee and serve on the executive committee of the Washington Construction Industry Council, an organization that coordinates representation of the real estate, design and construction communities in Olympia and leverages ABC’s ability to represent our members’ interests.

On the ground in Olympia is long-time ABC lobbyist Cliff Webster of the Carney Badley Spellman law firm. Cliff has served ABC for 25 years and is widely regarded as one of the most effective lobbyists in state government. Working with Cliff is Nathan Fitzgerald, the other half of our Olympia team.

Industry involvement is key to ABC’s advocacy efforts to represent industry’s interests in Olympia and Washington, D.C. The ABC Government and Labor Affairs Council (GLA) raises money to help elect pro-business candidates. GLA also sponsors events throughout the year to get members and legislators together to improve our ability to meet with elected officials and tell them how legislation and regulation affects not only the industry’s ability to provide employment to Washington’s citizens but also how to save citizens tax money on public construction projects.

No filing fee for contractors with no employee hours to report

In case you missed it:  Starting June 12, 2014, if a contractor files an Affidavit of Wages Paid and they are exempt from having to pay prevailing wages, they do not have to pay the filing fee. The fee exemption applies to both online filing and paper forms.

All contractors and all subcontractors on public works (construction, reconstruction, maintenance, replacement or repair performed at a cost to state or local government agencies) must file Intent and Affidavit forms that normally require a $40 filing fee each. A new Affidavit filing fee exemption applies to contractors performing public works contracts without any prevailing wage eligible employees:

a. Sole owners and their spouses (i.e. owner operators);

b. Any partner who owns 30% or more of a partnership;

c. The President, V.P. and Treasurer of a corporation if each one owns 30% or more;

d. Contractors and subcontractors working under the federal Housing Act of 1937 exemption;

e. Contractors who have no eligible employees (usually because all contract work was subcontracted.)

Check out L&I’s Filing Fee FAQ for more info.

It’s going to get hot — be prepared!

With temperatures expected to hit the 90s next week, workers should prepare for the heat.

The state Department of Labor & Industries says working outdoors in hot weather can put you at risk of heat-related illness and offers these tips:

1. Start work well hydrated and drink as much as a cup of water every 15 minutes.
2. Watch co-workers for signs of heat-related illness, such as headaches, dizziness or nausea.
3. Pace your work and take scheduled breaks.
4. Wear lightweight clothing and remove protective gear when it’s safe to do so.
5. Avoid drinking caffeine or eating a heavy meal.

Be safe!

Public Works Trust Fund Under Attack in Olympia

It’s crunch time in Olympia as the Legislature is taking action on many fronts that will impact funding for all types of construction. Today’s focus is the Public Works Trust Fund.

A proposal in the State Senate would PERMANENTLY redirect existing funding sources out of the PWTF — endangering dozens of infrastructure projects such as water, sewer, stormwater and some local roads and bridges.

The PWTF provides grants and low-interest loans to local governments for public works projects – many that could not otherwise be financed and built by small communities themselves. Dozens of proposed construction projects — such as the City of Port Orchard Marina Pump Station, City of Omak Sewer System Improvements, and the City of Washougal Stormwater Decant Facility — are in danger should the Legislature adopt a proposal that would gut the Public Works Trust Fund.

In addition to loan repayments—at interest rates ranging from 0.25 to 2 percent per year—the PWTF receives revenue from four state tax sources related to the types of infrastructure aided by the fund: 6.1 percent of the revenue from the real estate excise tax, 20 percent of the revenue from the water utility excise tax, 60 percent of sewerage collection tax revenues, and all the revenue from the state tax on solid waste service.

The State Senate’s budget plan would redirect all of the tax streams — except for two percent of the real estate excise tax — away from the public works trust fund and into other government accounts.

PWTF projects facilitate private economic growth and provide jobs for the hard-hit construction industry which, in turn, supports jobs in industries from material supply to food service and a variety of small businesses. Plus, many of the projects funded by the PWTF protect the environment and improve the quality of life in the state.

Urge your Senator NOT to redirect funding out of the Public Works Trust Fund!

L&I drops proposed change to fringe calculation

In response to concerns raised by AGC and ABC, L&I will not be proceeding with a proposed change to how it calculates employer fringe benefit contributions on prevailing wage jobs.  The proposal, had it taken effect, would have increased payroll costs and taxes for many contractors and, potentially, would have exposed some contractors to retroactive payments.

The technicalities of L&I’s proposal involved the calculation of the value of the employer contributions to bona fide fringe benefits on public works projects, in particular defined contribution pension plans. Washington contractors with a defined contribution retirement plan calling for immediate employee vesting have long been able to take dollar for dollar credit for such contributions since the employees’ right to those dollars immediately vests based on their public work hours. This conforms to federal Davis Bacon regulations as well as the state prevailing wage laws and practices of most states. However, L&I was proposing that the value of the employer contribution to defined contribution pension plans with immediate vesting be divided by the total employee hours on both private and public works, typically 2080 hours, in order to arrive at the “true value” of the contribution which will count toward satisfying the prevailing wage rate.

L&I has long practiced this so-called “annualization” policy for employer contributions to health and welfare plans, vacations, and holidays, and AGC has no quarrel with this annualization since the employer contributions are “earned” by employees on all work; in other words, the employer monthly premiums are for all hours worked, not just public work. However, L&I’s proposed application of the annualization policy to contributions to defined benefit plans missed the fact that contributions into these plans are triggered only by work time on public works so that annualization is unwarranted. The upshot is that contractors participating in such plans would have their hourly contribution watered down and would have to make up the difference with higher wages with resulting increased labor burden.

The good news, though, is that L&I dropped the proposed annualization policy.  In its policy letter on the matter, L&I said, in part:

“Usual benefits are credited on an hourly basis and are expected to accrue at a regular rate.  Employers many not count benefits associated with public and private work as if they were only associated with public works projects.  L&I will generally apportion or annualize benefit contribution or costs to all hours worked over the course of a year unless an employer provides an alternate schedule and can document hours worked.  Certain defined contribution pension plans (DOL exception) do not need to meet this annualization requirement.”

Click here to see the complete five-page, L&I policy letter.

Workers’ Comp Reform Bills Pass Senate

A trio of workers’ comp reform bills were passed by the State Senate last week. Three others may be voted on soon.

The bills that passed are:

  • Senate Bill 5112 – Allows claims representatives for retro employers and groups to schedule independent medical examinations and vocational rehabilitation assessments, subject to certain conditions. Click here for vote tally.
  • Substitute Senate Bill 5127 – Addresses the arbitrary 55-year-old age limitation on structured settlement availability. Original bill would have removed the age restriction on voluntary claims settlements but an amendment lowered the age restriction to 40 rather than eliminating it. Click here for the vote tally.
  • Senate Bill 5128 – Also deals with structured settlements, the bill streamlines the program in keeping with the legislation that passed in 2011 with a strong bipartisan vote. Click here for the vote tally.

These bills must still be passed by the State House of Representatives. The three other workers’ comp bills are:

  • Senate Bill 5124 – Streamlines the way time-loss benefits are calculated for injured workers by replacing the current formula, which varies based on the worker’s marital status and number of children to a standard two-thirds percent.
  • Senate Bill 5126 – Addresses a recent Supreme Court ruling by reaffirming that the state and self-insured companies can reimburse their benefit costs when a third party outside of the employment relationship causes a workers’ injury on the job.
  • Senate Bill 5125 – Redefines “occupational diseases” to be a condition that must arise out of the course of employment and be proximately caused by the distinctive conditions of that employment. The increased frequency of occupational diseases for the natural aging process is one that has been seen on many cases. This legislation would put back in place the original intent of what the law was designed to cover for Industrially related Occupational Diseases.

These bills will help stem a looming $110 million a year surcharge on employers. The reforms passed in 2011 slowed big rises in premiums but didn’t solve all of the problems plaguing the system. Unless lawmakers take the next step, employers are facing a $110 million surcharge for each of the next 10 years as L&I attempts to rebuild its depleted reserve fund. Building reserves is a good thing, but doing it with large surcharges will hinder job creation.


Touching The Sky — How Long Did The Tallest Buildings In The World Take To Make?

The following post is from Jason Kane:

Following a task through to completion is the common denominator of all successful people. The effort required to construct some of the great buildings of the world is best described as excruciating. The following is a list of the five tallest buildings completed and currently under construction:

Shanghai World Financial Center
This award winning structure has a distinctive trapezoid aperture. Designed by the American architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, it is located in the Pudong district of Shanghai, China. Construction began August of 1997 and it reached is height of 1,614 feet on September 14, 2007. The office building has 101 floors and opened to the public August 28, 2008. The cost of construction was $1.20 billion.

Taipei 101
Located in Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan, this structure held the rank of world’s tallest from 2004 to 2010. It stands 1,670 feet tall and houses 101 floors. Construction began in January 1999. It reached its current height on October 17, 2003. It houses office space, restaurants, stores, a library, fitness center and meeting facilities. It opened to the public in December 2004 and cost $1.80 billion to build.

Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel
Like the name says, this combination hotel and residential building houses a four-faced clock atop the Faimont hotel. Located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, it stands 1,972 feet tall to the top of its spire. The highest of its 120 floors is 1,833 feet. Construction began in 2004 and it was completed in 2012.

Burj Khalifa
Located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this building holds 17 records. It has remained the world’s tallest structure at 2,722 feet since its completion in 2010. It also houses the world’s fastest elevators, highest nightclub, highest restaurant and the most floors of any other building with 163. Construction started in January 2004. Floor area is estimated at 3,331,100 sq ft and it cost $1.5 billion.

Sky City
Construction is underway on a 220 floor building in the city of Changsha, China. It will be about 30 feet taller than Burj Khalifa. The plan is to complete the 2749-foot tower in 90 days. If completed as planned by the the end of March 2013, it will be an engineering accomplishment beyond all others. That is a rise rate of thirty feet per day. Broad Group Construction Company says they will finish the project at a cost of $1,500 per square meter compared to the $15,000 per square meter cost of Burj Khalifa by using prefab technology. Broad Group has quieted skeptics before by constructing a 30 story hotel in 15 days.

Jason Kane writes about construction sites and construction safety equipment like lanyards and ladder safety systems.