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  • Ted Uppole

Update 5/29/2020 - Convention, Summer Meeting, Unemployment, and Adapting to the "New Normal"

Good Afternoon!

I hope everyone is doing well, staying safe, and adjusting to circumstances as best we can.  First I have some news and updates for you and then… well, we will call it an opinion piece I put together in light of some calls I’ve been receiving. 

  • NECA National Convention is still on.  It’s going to happen in some form or fashion, but right now my money is on some manner of hybrid event which will combine in-person activity for those who choose to go to Chicago and a virtual offering for those who will participate remotely.  Although much is still uncertain, we are proceeding as if the convention will happen and we will all be attending.  Part of that involves planning for our Chapter activities.  We had planned on another multi-chapter dinner at Ditka’s.  Sadly, that Chicago institution is yet another casualty of this pandemic and appears to have closed its doors for good.  Thankfully, John was able to secure us  another opportunity that in some ways might be even better.  The Colts will be playing the Bears on Sunday October 4th at 1 PM.   We have reserved a suite for our attendees but we need your help right now.  In order to make sure we have the right size suite so that everyone can attend, we need to know whether or not you will be attending this event.  To this end, we have a quick little survey here for you to fill out.  It will take you less than a minute and will help us make sure everyone who wants to go can.  

  • Just as a reminder, our Chapter Summer Meeting will be a Zoom Meeting event on June 19th at 1PM.   The first part of the meeting will address Chapter Business as per usual and the second part will be a discussion on best practices related to Job Site Safety, Productivity, and Filing Claims for Delays due to COVID-19 for which we will have Tony Byler from Cohen-Seglias on hand to answer questions and give guidance.  

  • You may have recently received communications from DWD soliciting information on your employees filing for unemployment.  This communication on the 26th went out to just about every employer in their system and isn’t considered mandatory.  Although NDERA in no way asks you to withhold information and certainly not to provide false information to the state, NECA National has determined that it would be contrary to the intent of NDERA to volunteer information to the state which might jeopardize someone’s unemployment benefits.  That being said, it does not mean that you cannot comply with direct requests for information from the state if you are contacted for such.

  • Effective May 26th, OSHA has released guidance that COVID-19 cases can be considered OSHA Recordable events.  The criteria for determining whether it is reportable is based upon a rather undefined investigative process conducted by the employer.  To assist you with this process and provide you a defensible position for whatever your determination might be on each case, Tavia has put together a document to help you conduct your investigation.  We’ve got a draft version of this document on our site now, but we have actually sent this up to NECA National for NECA’s Legal and Labor Relations department to review.  When we get it back, we will distribute that revised document for you to review.  If you DO have a positive case prior to this getting distributed, just give us a call for assistance.

  • June 1 is coming up and new increments are happening in some of our agreements.  All current wage sheets are available on the Labor Relations section of our website.  If you need wage sheets for agreements outside of our jurisdiction, they are available on National’s website here although you will need to sign in to gain access to them.

And now for the preachy bit. 

More and more as we navigate this ordeal, I am convinced that the single greatest asset any contractor can have is adaptability.   Simply put, I just don’t foresee a world where sudden and unavoidable change isn’t a frequent part of our lives. 

This isn’t a foretelling of doom and gloom, but rather an observation of our recent history and the number of events for both good and bad which seem to be picking up in intensity or impact on the way we do business.   The types of projects will change to meet the needs of a changing society.  The conditions in which we operate will change due to climate, health, or regulations.   The way in which we train our people will change as the timeframe for mobilization or drawdown of our industry is condensed.  The labor market and our negotiations will change as our documents, slow to adapt by design, struggle to keep up with the needs of our employers, our employees and our customers.   The technology with which we install our work will be adopted at a greater or lesser rate depending upon the capitalization of the employer and the acceptance of employees.  

Consistently through it all, though, your best asset which will determine your success will be your company’s ability to endure and adapt to each of these challenges and opportunities.  Adapting to change while keeping true to your values and your people is hard.  It not only requires a clear decision at the executive level, it requires the buy-in from all levels of your company and that is something that can only be achieved through dialogue, free exchange of ideas and information, and consistency of application where those who are being called upon to implement the change see that those who decided for it are also abiding by these provisions.

Although we don’t have fully accurate numbers on this right now, nearly 40 IBEW members have died of COVID-19.  Hundreds have required medical intervention, and far, far more than that have been quarantined.   While we may all want to get back to normal, I think it’s important to realize that “normal” may have changed on us.   We are hearing some troubling reports from the field (sometimes by way of the Business Managers, sometimes from guys calling me directly), of a lack of consistency in how safety measures are being implemented on job sites.  There have even been complaints of people being mocked for wearing masks… in some cases, even by management. 

Folks, I know this has been incredibly difficult for all of you and the pressure you are under to complete projects which have been delayed due to labor being unwilling to work must be staggering. I also know that somehow this disease has become political and some of you have strong opinions on it.  Despite this, the long-term viability of our industry and more importantly, the safety of your own people, depend upon all of us taking COVID-19 at least as seriously as we have taken other safety concerns we have addressed in the past.  In fact, our past challenges and victories established a blueprint for success which we can apply now… we can do this only if we have a complete and total buy-in of new safety protocols resulting in a behavior and cultural shift over time.  

Yes, I am well aware that this isn’t an easy thing to do and I’m also aware that implementing any systemic changes to operations is costly.  However, given our current workload, it is even more costly to continually have jobs hampered by track and trace quarantines for each person exposed to positive individuals in environments where safety precautions aren’t followed.  Simply put, change has come whether we wanted it to or not and we have a choice to make.  We can fight it and suffer the consequences… or we can accept it and act in a way most likely to result in your long term success.  I’m hopeful we all choose the latter.

We can do this.  Our staff will work with the Local Unions to ensure that your workforce is accepting and even supportive of the measures you are taking to keep them safe.   If you have resistance, please let us know and we will intervene.  We are all committed to doing everything we can to help you succeed in this or any environment.   Together we can adapt.  Together we can overcome.

As always, stay safe and call if you have any questions.


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