Volume 43, Issue 12 - December 2008
Finishing Industries Gather in Las Vegas
Members of the Painters and Allied Trades Labor Management Cooperation Initiative (LMCI), the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) and the Finishing Contractors Association (FCA) came in force to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for the Fourth Annual Finishing Industries Forum (FIF) held November 10-13. More than 500 subcontractors arrived looking for information on dealing with such challenges as retaining employees and finding work during a time when commercial construction jobs are slow.
As Ed Zaucha, chief executive officer of APG International and co-chair of LMCI, commented during the opening session, “2008, as we all know, has been a remarkable year [but] we are facing dramatic changes.”
Although Zaucha noted that APG is but one of many companies seeing work slow or cease on commercial construction projects around the country, he focused on an even bigger concern related to the current economy. Going forward, he said, “My big concern for our organization and our industry ... is how we are going to retain the workers we’ve spent millions of dollars training.”
Finding and keeping qualified labor has long been a problem in the glazing industry and, as Zaucha pointed out, the level of unemployment this year for the construction industry is 10.7 percent, “far in excess of our national unemployment rate ... [and] anticipated to increase more than 20 percent next year.”
These issues, of course, are not unique to the glazing or construction industries, as was noted by keynote speaker Richard Teerlink, the retired chairman of Harley-Davidson who was responsible for turning the failing company around in the 1980s. His talk, titled “Change Spurs Reinvention,” demonstrated that these problems can happen in any industry and in any economy and can be overcome by knowing one’s business and one’s customers—and counting on the value of one’s employees. As Teerlink commented, a company’s only “sustainable competitive advantage is the people who walk through the door.”
Employment topics were visited in a different way during a session on immigration and access control and the building trades. Andrew Siff, managing partner of Siff & Lake, talked about some of the recent developments in immigration law and regulation. In particular, he explained the background of the E-Verify and No-Match programs, tools used by employers and by the government respectively to ensure the legality of employees, and how they are becoming mandatory for contractors doing federal work or, as in the extreme case of a recent ruling by Arizona courts, just holding a business license.
“The biggest point I want you to remember is this thing is becoming mandatory,” Siff said.
Also during the conference, the Finishing Contractors Association (FCA) held its first Glazing Advisory Committee meeting. Approximately 30 glaziers and union members settled in for an intimate discussion on challenges ahead for the industry.
First Zaucha, who served as committee chair, outlined some basic goals for the new committee. These include communicating the glazing industry’s specific needs to the Finishing Trades Institute and IUPAT; putting together information on what’s working for union councils with large glazier participation; and trying to prepare the glazing workforce for what’s ahead in areas such as technology and training.
To open the discussion, Zaucha first asked the individuals at the table what types of new technology they were seeing.
“Walls are getting fancier and more unique; nearly every job is custom,” said Jerry Haber of W&W Glass. He also noted a trend that is beginning to make its way to the United States from Europe. “We’re seeing cable tension systems, double-skin systems.”
With agreement being heard around the table, Haber added, “They’re unique; every job should be tested.”
Another trend being felt already on this level of the glass industry is the need to know how to install photovoltaic panels. As one union participant commented, “It’s something that we have to look at as an industry because it’s glass.”
Another individual added, “I see photovoltaics becoming a phenomenal opportunity—and we’re behind the curve.” Electrical contractors are “ahead of the curve,” they’re finding, when it comes to installing photovoltaics.
Discussion of both of these new technical issues—double-skinned glazing and photovoltaic installation—brought up an underlying concern for these participating glaziers: jurisdiction. For instance, with double-skinned glazing, glazing contractors suddenly are working with other trades to circulate air or even install sprinklers in the air plenum. And as these concerns began to emerge, others spoke up to say that ironworkers and metal panel installers are doing more railing installations because they may have a metal trim, or shower doors that perhaps have a shoe on the top and bottom—even unitized glazing in some instances is being installed by carpenters, these glaziers said.
As competition becomes tight during this slowing of commercial construction that looms ahead, these glaziers agree that finding ways to retain this glass-related work—and building awareness of their specialties among general contractors—is a priority.