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AWCI’s New President: Comes Out Fighting

Bruce Miller took over from 2003–2004 AWCI President Ken Navratil (who is heartily thanked for his stellar leadership) on July 1. Bruce is well known to many members of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industries—International because he has participated on numerous AWCI committees, the board of directors of AWCI and as president of the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry over the last three decades.

Others may be familiar with his business, his wife (Terrie), son (Gregg) and a son-in-law (Tod) who have helped build the company into the largest in the Denver area. Bruce’s daughter (Sudee) and daughter-in-law (Daphanie) are not in the business. With 40 years in the industry himself, working from the bottom up (at 6’4” and 240 pounds, he was a natural choice for carrying 4-by-12s around), Bruce has already given much. But he has a lot more to say about where the industry needs to go. He is a fighter who is determined to create a level playing field for subcontractors. As for his motivation, he says, “The industry has been very good to me, and it’s time for me to give back.”

This interview shows what we can expect to see during the next year of his leadership.

ACD: How would you describe the state of the industry at present?

BLM: The construction industry does not have a good image. We are in bad need of a written code of ethics mandated and enforced by the entire construction industry, and that would rebuild confidence in the industry itself. When school children are given a list of 250 possible occupations, construction and agriculture share the bottom of the list. For the largest industry in the world, this is sad.
Subcontractors’ cost of doing business is increasing, due to the increased costs of health care, workman’s comp, general liability insurance and additional insured requirements. Owners, general contractors and home builders have done an excellent job of transferring their risks to the subcontractor, which drives up the costs for the subcontractor. Other issues causing increases in costs for the subs are the lack of skilled tradesmen, fuel costs, steel costs, as well as construction defects claims and asbestos and mold litigation.

ACD: What may have been driving these costs?

BLM: Some over-aggressive owners, general contractors and home builders are making subs responsible for their negligence through proprietary subcontract agreements. There is no reason that we as subcontractors should be responsible for someone else’s negligence.

Subcontractors have not been proactive enough. They have taken the easiest path and have trusted the GCs to deal with them fairly. Some of the owners, generals, home builders and insurance companies have taken advantage of our lack of response to their contracts, which are proprietary, one-sided and risk transferring. We subcontractors are forced to sign these agreements in order to keep our labor force busy. Without signed contracts, we have no work. Subs should not have to put their companies at risk for things for which we cannot obtain insurance coverage , at any price.

ACD: Looking ahead, what achievement would make you feel you had left your mark on the industry?

BLM: Taking initiatives on important issues that help our members become more successful. Picking the right initiatives is an important role of the AWCI president and board of directors.

One issue we plan to address deals with labor brokers. Labor brokers have become a vehicle for some contractors to avoid paying the payroll taxes, insurance and workman’s compensation.

In Colorado and many other states, worker’s comp is a very large cost issue. Some subs hire these “so called” independent contractors who have opted out of carrying workman’s comp coverage. These individuals are really employees disguised as an independent contractor (receiving a payable check in lieu of a payroll check). If this person gets hurt, your company is held liable. If this type person is hired, they must be able to produce a certificate of insurance.

In some states, the worker’s comp statute and the contracts we sign indemnify the owner and the general contractor, which leaves no incentive for the GC or the owner to make sure all workers are covered. This impacts the immigrant workers, some of whom are exploited by labor brokers.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the legal entry of Latino immigrants. Most of us know that our work force is coming from Mexico, Central and South America. Without them, this country could not support its own labor force. Most of these workers are honest, hard-working people, trying to make a better standard of living for themselves. What is wrong with that? If we, the employers, make sure the payroll taxes and insurance are being paid, then it is a win/win situation.

I would like to see AWCI form a committee that would meet with the INS, legislators and other appropriate government agencies to create a fair and equitable system for legal immigration, not one that takes years and is bound up by so much red tape. We need them, they need us—let us find resolve.

I also would like the members of AWCI to help develop a fair and equitable contract language agreement. Most of the present day agreements make the subcontractor responsible for someone else’s negligence, most for which we probably do not have insurance coverage.

There are a few other issues that I would like to find resolve for:

  • OCIP and CCIP should be prohibited if the warranty period is not the same as the state statute for the subcontractor (the statute is Colorado is eight to 10 years).

  • Education and training of our tradesmen. AWCI has been doing a lot to educate the work force. We have produced an educational program in both English and Spanish for exterior insulation and finish system applications and inspectionss. We are now starting to put together an educational program for steel construction.
  • Additional insured clauses. Why should we additionally insure the owner, general contractor, architect or engineer? We are not the designer or engineer—we are the installer of the products per plans, specifications and manufacturer’s recommendations. This is another good example of the “risk transfer” from the haves to the have-nots. It is called greed.

  • Expand our existing AWCI Insurance Company coverage for our members and their needs.

  • Affordable health care insurance.

  • Affordable commercial liability insurance and coverage.

  • Eliminate frivolous lawsuits.

  • Change orders in writing. We are often given verbal directives to proceed with the work immediately. Sometimes the work is done on a time-and-material basis, or on a lump sum amount covering all the extras. Often we will not receive a written change order for two to six months, sometimes never. If the GC is given a deduct, you will have a change order in less than 30 days. This is unacceptable. If the GC does not pay for their directives, the subcontractor should have every right to stop work, without breach of contract. (Most contracts read that work cannot be stopped for any reason).

  • The elimination of retainage. Why should someone hold your money, interest free, when the project is bonded? Ask yourself what is wrong with this picture. We may be the only industry in the world that holds retainage on completed work.

  • Contract language issues such as termination for convenience, broad form and intermediate form indemnity clauses, no damage for delay, “pay when paid” vs. “pay if paid,” timing of performance and waiver of lien rights.

As president of AWCI, I feel I would have left my mark on the industry if I could help level the playing field on the issues we have talked about.

ACD: Is there any legislation coming down the pike that will impact contractors?

BLM: Yes, many states, through their government relation committees, will take these same issues to their legislators.

At the federal level, H.R. 1348 (Construction Quality Assurance Act of 2003) prohibits the practice of bid shopping and prohibits the use of electronic reverse auctions for federal construction contract bids, and also includes penalties for violation, including suspension and disbarment from federal contracting.

ACD: What do you think the members of AWCI should do with reference to these issues you have covered?

BLM: Members really need to become involved in two or three committees of their choice. A good exchange of ideas is always a plus. Their involvement is appreciated, and their shared experiences help make all of us better contractors.

ACD: Why are you still in a business that many wonder how they ever got into?

BLM: Ninety-five percent of the time I have learned to enjoy this business and looked at the problems as challenges.

The industry has been very good to me, my family and most of our employees. I believe the time has come to give back to the association for all that I have received.

The networking advantages of AWCI alone are phenomenal. I have always found it interesting and rewarding to talk to a person who makes his living the same way I do. The sharing of your talents, time, knowledge and financial rewards is what it is all about.

ACD: It seems to come back to being ethical.

BLM: Yes, that’s right, and there is no substitution for ethics. There should be no transferring of one’s own negligence to another party. That has not been the American way, nor is it ethical. I do not wish to imply that all owners, general contractors and home builders are bad—there are many who are honest and ethical, just not enough of them!

About the Author

Steven Ferry is a free-lance writer based in Clearwater, Fla.

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