COVID-19 as it Affects Our Industry

Brothers and Sisters, currently our entire way of life has taken a severe jolt due to the COVID-19 pandemic blanketing our country. This report was going to be about the great job our team at 139 did rolling out the Destinations Career Academy in front of our industry leaders, employers and labor at the ConExpo in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. Given the most recent developments, I will talk about later in this article. Instead, I find it critical that I begin with the very fluid and ever-evolving crisis that we, as a nation are facing and how it will or may affect our industry. Other staff members did not address this pandemic in our newsletter because their articles were written and submitted prior to the onset of this most unfortunate and serious situation. I felt it was imperative to submit late in order to address some of the things that are occurring and what we are trying to do in order to look out for your best interest. The most important thing to our organization right now is the health and safety of our members and their families. The second most important issue is trying to get our members back to work amid this crisis while exercising proper hygiene and social distancing, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It has been a long winter for many of our 139ers and they are chomping at the bit to get back to work. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, decisions are being made by federal, state, and local governments that have adversely affected the construction industry in other states and we are trying desperately to keep those type of mandates from coming our way. At this point I want you to know how effective our Construction Business Group, more specifically the Executive Director Robb Kahl and General Counsel Cindy Buchko, have been in trying to keep our industry ahead of the curve. They brought together labor and management associations to establish safety guidelines in which we all agreed to in order to keep our construction workers in both vertical and horizontal construction projects healthy and safe. These guidelines were sent to the Governors desk and as a press release with the logos of all the contractor associations and our Wisconsin Building Trades logo. You will most likely see the release posted on your jobsite, or you may also view it on our website. These guidelines were quickly established and submitted to assure our Governor, that while some industries may be asked to shut down because certain safety precautions could not be met feasibly, the workers who build our state’s critical and essential infrastructure work under unique conditions which would allow us to continue to perform this vital service. That is, as long as we don’t just talk about safe hygiene, we do it! We have been made aware some contractors jumped the gun by adopting policies without conferring with labor. While some of the wording they used was not quite the way we would have wanted, we are currently trying to work through some of those issues. Also, at the time of this writing, there has not yet been an order to “shelter in place.” Construction Business Group has also been lobbying alongside the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association as well as various building groups to get our transportation program and some vertical projects recognized as “critical or essential infrastructure” which would exempt it from any declaration that would otherwise shut down all construction projects, which, as indicated above is something we are also trying to avoid.

In the meantime, I have asked the contractor associations to ask their members to make sure there is plenty of hand sanitizer on the jobsite and to spend the few extra bucks it would take to have the jobsite porta-johns serviced on a more regular, if not a daily basis. For you, as a member, I would urge you to use that hand sanitizer regularly on the site, especially after utilizing the facilities. Avoid carpooling for now, eat your lunch alone either in your machine or your vehicle and please remember the hand sanitizer before you eat, if you must discuss something about the job, do it at a safe distance, the CDC recommends six feet apart. Remember that people watch us a lot on our jobsites, some out of professional curiosity and some being just plain curious. If the wrong person observes any of us practicing improper hygiene protocol, someone is liable to report it, and it could very well shut us all down, and by “all down,” I mean our industry. And that’s not good after a long winter. As a couple of other health and welfare tips, try to keep a container of bleach sanitized wipes handy so that if you are getting into a machine that someone else has been running, you can properly sanitize the cab. If you do not have any, ask the supervisor for some sanitized wipes. Begin with the handrails and door handles, inside and out, the seat, the circuit boards, all control levers and handles, including seat levers and the glass. And most of all, if you are feeling ill or have a fever, stay home. If you are staying in a travel trailer or motel room, make sure that a co-worker, as well as somebody in supervision, knows where you are and that you are not feeling well.

I thought I’d share this part of my newsletter article, as it has important safety information for operating engineers. Please find the rest of my upcoming newsletter article when it arrives in your mailbox.


Terry McGowan

Terry McGowan
President/Business Manager