Paul Oldham, MCAA Chairman
Let me start this message by saying I hope everyone’s family is doing well. At the end of the day, family is what is most important. What a change in events in a short period of time! It doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you live, I believe this has affected everyone in a way nothing else has. As Americans, I don’t believe we have been affected like this since the Civil War because this too is at our front doors.
It’s interesting being caught in the middle of a societal debate of, “What is Essential?” Going into the possibility of the government forcing businesses to shut down, I was really on the side of how could we survive being shut down? If it lasted for an extended period of time, would employees still be available to come back? If not, how would we complete our contracts? Then, the mandate for businesses to shut down happened, but construction, in general, is deemed “essential” and we are to continue on.
We were a week into our “Stay at Home” orders and I was wishing we weren’t essential. Employees were scared, morale was down, everyone was asking why are we going to work and mostly everyone around us were staying home. Then employees with symptoms were staying home. On the other hand, I was making trips to jobsites to make sure employees were leaving because they showed up with COVID-19 symptoms. As a business owner I was asking, “Is it safe to go? Are we doing the responsible thing?”
But at the same time, I was thinking about the business itself and how to protect it. As our office debated what we really should be doing, we were getting the notices from clients reminding us of our contractual commitments (Just what we needed to weigh on our shoulders). We informed our clients that we would do what we could during this pandemic, but pointed out that at we were missing 27% to 35% of our workforce. Then they were asking for us to work Saturdays. Our company has taken the stance we will work 5 days a week, 9-hour days during this pandemic.
It’s hard enough to get crews to work 6 days a week during normal times. Most of society isn’t going to work 5 days a week currently, so we don’t believe its socially responsible to travel 6 days a week right now. As I write this article, roughly 4 weeks into our “Stay at Home” order, we have seen our attendance percentage stay consistently down 30%, and predict that to get better over the next couple weeks, and our client base isn’t challenging us on the Saturday work.
Many in society question us going to work right now, so if it actually got out that we were being pushed into working even more overtime, I don’t think that would be taken well with the number of people who are at home with forced unemployment. I am thankful that all of our current work is outside veneer work in the fresh air. I feel for the trades cooped up inside new construction with no turnover of air.
I will say we have had a flurry of job applications the last few weeks, most without construction experience but interested in learning. So, if there is a silver lining in all of this, the workforce is looking at what we have to offer and give us a try. We need to embrace this opportunity and help foster a better-than-ever work environment on site.
The “new” normal and what that looks like is hard to wrap our heads around. Our personal lives and work probably won’t ever be exactly the same. I asked our project manager this morning, “When will we have a regular job site meeting again?” He wasn’t sure nor am I, but I believe neither of us would lose any sleep over them never happening again. These meetings have become everyone reading off their Weekly Work Plan but not bringing up the real issues that need addressed.
Therefore, they are not very effective. Will we be required from now on to screen all employees for signs of sickness? Maybe. Will we be required to quarantine employees based on their symptoms from now on? Maybe. Will we have to continue to develop work means to keep a 6’ distance between ourselves? Maybe. It’s unsettling not having a real feeling of what things look like on the other side of this.
As far as upcoming MCAA events, more to come on that. Luckily, this came after the World of Concrete Convention and we are still a good way off from our Midyear meetings to have time for this to settle down.
Be safe and keep this as a reminder that tomorrow isn’t promised to us. Live life now, but within reason.