Year in Masonry: 2006
2006 was once again a very successful and memorable year for the masonry industry. The staff and board of the Mason Contractors Association of America have continued to provide strong leadership for the industry and have achieved many accomplishments in several key areas.
In 2006, the Marketing Committee continued to support and produce many of its most successful programs. The Excellence in Masonry contest at the Masonry Showcase in Las Vegas featured 40 projects from across the country competing for the awards. The MCAA also continued to work with the Execs Council on the MasonrySystems.org campaign to promote masonry systems to architects and specifiers. The MCAA fully supports the efforts of the Execs Council, often acts as a facilitator for meetings, and hosts the website. Masonry Magazine continues to thrive, and is now considered the premier publication of our industry. Our website is also an industry leader, with over 24 million hits each year from across the globe.
After several months of planning, designing and coding, a new design for the Association's website was launched August 15, 2006. Our new site is crisper, cleaner and more informative than ever before, acting as a strong method of communication between the Association and our customers, the masonry industry and our members. Several new features have been added to the website over the past six months including: the Premier Supplier's Program, which lists industry suppliers that consistently support and promote the efforts of MCAA; The Fact of the Matter, a blog updated twice per week by MCAA Executive Director, Michael Adelizzi, which allows website visitors to read and respond to his thoughts on the MCAA and the masonry industry; RSS feeds, which allow visitors to read and download news articles, updates and alerts direct to their desktop; and the expansion of member profiles to include where work is performed and short mission statements on each company.
We are continuing our Premier Suppliers Program to recognize our industry’s best suppliers. This program is now in its second year, and industry suppliers have responded very well to it. In this program, we reward suppliers for advertising, sponsoring, exhibiting and being members of the MCAA. At convention in March, we presented our first Supplier of the Year award to the Quikrete Companies, for their contribution of the most funds to the MCAA. Many companies are in the running for the award this year, so be sure to find out who it is in February.
Every quarter, over 1,200 high school guidance counselors and educators receive the “Masonry Careers” newsletter. This four-time-a-year communication serves to keep our industry in their minds as an option for their students’ career paths. The newsletters often address the opportunities for the schools to participate in career days and establishing vo-tech programs locally. They also remind the educators to replenish their career kits if they have run out of brochures. Most importantly, they further inform the educators about the benefits of masonry careers, and suggest that they and their students visit our website for more information. The career day effort of the Workforce Development committee is one of our best successes. So far this year, MCAA has received over 90 requests for career days.
The Masonry Skills Challenge and the Fastest Trowel on the Block contest are the highlighted competitions at the Masonry Showcase, and these contests work to encourage contractors to hire and train quality masons. The 2006 events were as exciting as ever, as the contestant fields in both contests were the biggest yet. The industry also understands the effectiveness of these contests: Quikrete was the full sponsor of the Fastest Trowel for a second year in a row, and we had 10 co-sponsors for the Skills Challenge.
The MCAA’s three-year Masonry Training Series is consistently one of the association’s best-selling resources, and sales keep increasing year after year. This summer we introduced the second year volume of the series in Spanish, thanks to the translation provided by our affiliate groups in Arizona and California.
The Showcase in Las Vegas in March featured many popular educational sessions, and for 2007, we have tailored the schedule to include the most important topics for contractors today. Education is one of the cornerstones of the Masonry Showcase, and in 2007 we will offer nine education sessions. Most significantly, the MCAA has contracted acclaimed architect Chris Huckabee to present "Selling Masonry vs. Tilt-Up in the School Market." Mr. Huckabee's book about this subject is one of our best-sellers, and the battle against tilt-up is so challenging for many contractors. We believe that this session will also be one of our most talked about and attended. Orlando's convention will also launch the new Masonry Quality Institute (MQI). This session will focus on the basics of building a successful and profitable business while using the principles of the Quality Process and will benefit companies both large and small.
For the first time, the MCAA has launched a year-around educational line-up of our most successful seminars. Foreman Development, Basic Masonry Estimating, Wall Bracing Design, and Masonry Quality Institute seminars will be conducted throughout the country, from November 2006 to April 2007. Now, the annual convention will not be the only time contractors and employees can continue their education. We have arranged these seminars in various locations, so that contractors in every area of the country have easy access to attend at least one.
At Mid-Year, MCAA members discussed a proposed outline of the Masonry Industry National Contractor Certification Program. It is our goal to make this program the standard which all mason contractors strive to achieve and the measure that all customers apply. We believe that a strong certification program will help to ensure that construction customers do not select an unqualified mason contractor for their projects. The program will be formally introduced to the association's member at the 2007 Masonry Showcase.
In addition to the issues above being considered by Congress, we have been instrumental in legislative victories over the past year as well. On May 17th 2006 MCAA attended a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House at which President Bush signed into law the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (H.R. 4297), which extends the tax cut package and provides tax relief for Small Businesses. Furthermore, in 2006 Congress passed Pension Reform legislation which was considered one of the most critical pieces of legislation to be considered by this Congress. MCAA President Frank Campitelli and MCAA’s Director of Government Affairs, Jessica Johnson Bennett were in attendance as the President signed this landmark legislation into law.
Also in 2006, MCAA co-hosted the second Masonry Industry Legislative Conference in Washington DC, together with the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA), the Brick Industry Association (BIA), and the Building Stone Institute (BSI). The 2006 conference was extremely successful in that members met with both the Chairmen of the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. Members also met with their individual members of Congress to educate them on issues currently facing the masonry industry. Finally, during 2006 MCAA enjoyed several legislative victories. As mentioned President Bush signed the Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2005 in addition to the Pension Reform Act, which was the largest overhaul since the passage of ERISA in the early 1970’s.
Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2005
As previously mentioned on May 17th the President signed H.R. 4297 into law. This legislation which was strongly supported by MCAA, is meant to put money back into the pockets of individual taxpayers, investors and small business owners. The legislation includes key provisions that encourage small-business owners, such as Mason Contractors, to continue to grow and expand their businesses and move the American economy forward.
Pension Reform Act
The law takes aim at companies that have chronically under funded their plans and will prevent companies with plans that are less than 80 percent funded from promising additional benefits unless they could immediately pay for them. The measure also clarifies the legal status of “hybrid” plans that incorporate elements of defined benefit and defined-contribution pensions, such as 401(k) plans. Hybrids have been in legal limbo since a 2003 court decision found they discriminate against older workers. The bill also imposes non-discrimination rules on those plans and allow financial advisers to offer investment guidance to plan participants without running afoul of conflict-of-interest provisions.
As passed the Pension Reform legislation will apply to all local pension funds. An important aspect for some Mason Contractors, as written, the bill will raise the maximum deductibility level for multiemployer plans and will change funding rules to enhance plan viability. The bill will require annual actuarial certification for plans and will establish additional notification and disclosure procedures. "Endangered" and "Critical" funding status would be determined by a number of tests and would require a Funding Improvement Plan (FIP) for "Endangered" plans and a Rehabilitation Plan for plans in "Critical" status. The FIP's and Rehabilitation Plans have statutory funding benchmarks which will have to be met.
During 2006, MCAA worked on a number of regulatory issues facing the masonry industry. Issues such as Silica, DHS No Match Letters, and the Associations relationship with OSHA were all important during the past year.
MCAA continued to work with OSHA and the Department of Labor to undertake greater efforts to enforce the existing exposure standard through outreach, research, education and compliance assistance. In the spring of 2006 MCAA met with officials at OSHA to deliver the Silica Best Practices Document for review. We received positive feedback from OSHA and will continue to work with OSHA staff to insure that the best interests of our contractors are protected by using sound science and a transparent process.
DHS No Match Letters
In June 2006 the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") announced the proposal of two federal regulations aimed at: 1. improving worksite enforcement; 2. preventing the use of fraudulent Social Security numbers by illegal aliens; and 3. assisting employers in verifying the employment eligibility of workers.
As characterized by DHS, a brief explanation of the regulations are as follows:
1. Improving Employment Verification: The first proposal would permit U.S. businesses to digitize their I-9 employment forms, which are used to verify eligibility to work in the United States. Employers have expressed their frustration with being required to keep paper forms, while electronic forms can be more easily searched for quality and inspection purposes.
2. Providing Guidance to Employers: The second proposal would improve the ability of employers to ensure that they are not employing aliens who are not authorized to work in the U.S. The rule would set forth guidance for U.S. businesses when handling "No-Match" letters from the Social Security Administration concerning submitted employee Social Security numbers or from DHS concerning documents submitted by employees during the I-9 process. It would also provide safe-harbor procedures for employers who perform due-diligence, to ensure that they are not found in violation of their legal obligation.
These proposed regulations are part of a larger DHS initiative intended to strengthen the border and enhance interior enforcement. These regulations are only a first step in what will likely prove to be a series of changes proposed by the Department.
MCAA together with the Associated General Contractors, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Roofing Contractors Association and the Plumbing Heating and Cooling Contractors Association, submitted comments for the record stating our concerns with the current proposed rule. In addition, we will be meeting with Administration officials on November 13th 2006 to further discuss the impact of this regulation and the effects on the masonry and construction industries.
On August 21st 2006 MCAA President Frank Campitelli and Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Assistant Secretary Edwin Foulke Jr. extended the OSHA Alliance between the our organizations for another two years. The Alliance continues to play an integral role in strengthening the image of the masonry industry in the eyes of OSHA staff and personnel.
The Mason Contractors Association Political Action Committee (MAC PAC) continues to work hard on behalf of MCAA members to support Members of Congress and candidates who have the best interests of our industry at heart. MAC PAC hosted a very successful fundraiser during the 2006 Annual Convention in Las Vegas and has continued its fundraising efforts. In late 2006 MAC PAC launched a direct mailing campaign to all MCAA members which has proven to be very successful. In December MAC PAC will unveil through mail to all members a new MAC PAC brochure. The new brochure is meant to educate members on the associations work in DC with the hope of gaining additional financial support for MAC PAC. MAC PAC will also host its first golf tournament in Orlando at Annual Convention in February 2007. We are soliciting sponsors for the tournament to help defray the costs to make the tournament more profitable for the PAC. MAC PAC will also host the annual MAC PAC reception at Annual Convention.
In addition in 2006 MAC PAC has become more involved with fundraising efforts by co-hosting several fundraisers for candidates from across the country.
This past year, the MCAA along with the Laborers-AGC Training Fund and the Laborers Health & Safety Fund of North America conducted two full day training seminars for OSHA compliance officers in Regions V and VII. The Region VII Seminar was held in January at the Laborers-AGC Training Center at High Hill Missouri. The Region V Seminar was held in October at the Chicago Laborers- Training Center in Carol Stream, IL. The morning portion of these sessions featured occupational safety presentations on topics such as Silica Protection, Ergonomics, Fall Protection, Wall Bracing and Overhand Bricklaying. The afternoon portion consisted of hands-on demonstrations at four stations. These stations included Masonry Basics, Rough Terrain Forklift Safety, Masonry Wall Bracing and Scaffold Safety. Assisting with the afternoon sessions were David Gillick, Executive Director of the MCA of St. Louis, Jim O’Connor, Executive Director of the MCA of Greater Chicago and Rolly Cox of Grout Hog. Over 60 OSHA field personnel from Regions V and VII which included the states of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin attended the training program.
One of the major benefits of the program was the elimination of the myriad of interpretations of OSHA Standards from different OSHA inspectors that mason contractors often deal with on their jobsites. Another benefit and outcome of the session was a stronger understanding by OSHA personnel of the steps that the masonry industry and the MCAA have taken to provide a safe work environment.
Feedback from the OSHA participants was extremely strong with many calling for a more extensive two day program, citing that more time was needed on the hand-on portion. As a result of this program, the MCAA will be working more closely with the Laborers Union to conduct training program in all 11 OSHA Regions over the next two years. Two regions are complete and we are currently planning a best practices seminar for OSHA Region I (New England area) for the early portion of 2007.
MCAA staff have also been meeting with officials of the Laborers AGC training facility in Connecticut to discuss the MCAA Rough Terrain Forklift Manual and Video and how the program can be improved. During the next six months to a year, we will work closely with the Laborers AGC to update the manuals, develop a train-the-trainer program, provide a stronger certification of the forklift operator and expand the education that will be offered. We were surprised to learn during our meeting how strong our brand name is in regards to the forklift training. We heard repeated stories about how our name and training materials have helped the laborers local training centers around the country (as well as the contractors who employed members of LIUNA) when OSHA inspectors reviewed their forklift training. OSHA has a strong awareness and acceptance of our program. We hope to strengthen that brand recognition in the coming year.
The 2001 Standard Practice for Bracing Masonry Walls under Construction is currently being updated. The Council for Masonry Wall Bracing is currently reviewing the document and will begin a series of meetings to complete the update by early 2007. This update must be done to ensure its adoption in many local and national Building Codes.
ASTM Committee E34 on Occupational Health and Safety standards address the identification, exposure, treatment, control and administrative aspects of diverse occupational safety and health issues such as silica, metalworking fluids and ergonomics. E34meets twice annually, in April and October, with two days of technical meetings. The Committee, with a current membership of approximately 235, has jurisdiction of 20 standards. Subcommittee E34.30 was formed this year and is the called Occupational Health and Safety in Construction. MCAA’s Rashod R. Johnson, P.E. is the Chairman of this subcommittee. ASTM realized that the construction industry has mobile work area and in many instances a transient workforce. This causes the construction industry to do things differently than manufacturers when protecting workers. The first item of business of this subcommittee is to develop a Silica Standard that is specific to the construction industry. The committee has already met this past October in Atlanta and will be balloting the first version of this standard soon.
In July of this year, the MCAA renewed our National Alliance with OSHA. This Alliance states that our members will work together with OSHA to ensure the safety of our workers. There are four areas of special interest outlined in the Alliance; silica, scaffold safety, rough terrain forklift safety and masonry wall bracing. The MCAA staff is working closely with OSHA to develop training and outreach materials to MCAA members on these topics.
Thanks to your support, we continue to grow and make important strides throughout the masonry industry.
About the Author
he Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) is the national trade association representing mason contractors. The MCAA is committed to preserving and promoting the masonry industry by providing continuing education, advocating fair codes and standards, fostering a safe work environment, recruiting future manpower, and marketing the benefits of masonry materials. Visit www.masoncontractors.org to learn more.