By Michael Capelli, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters
As a 30 year union carpenter, I learned first-hand how important it was to have the right tools for the job. Now as the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the 30,000 men and women of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters I count on these tools being in place to protect my brothers, sisters and the public we serve. That is why I was disheartened to hear about the recent investigation of more than five dozen home improvement contractors who were recently cited for violations totaling more than $1.3 million against New Jersey homeowners. I applaud the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs for its aggressive and swift action.
These criminal acts and violations of the public trust tarnish our entire industry. This is why our organization has pushed the leadership in Trenton to enact a statewide standard to measure responsible contractors. Responsible contracting policies help governments reduce the risk of contract failure, by ensuring that contractors have a track record that demonstrates skillful productivity, financial wherewithal and the proper credentials and licensing to complete the task. By developing reasonable responsible contracting standards, government can usually see better quality of services and a reduction in the hidden costs that result when workers do not receive living wages and benefits.
Our Organization believes that responsible contracting laws should adhere to three fundamental principles:
1) The development of a sensible and fair contracting process
2) Clear and reasonable contracting standards
3) Increased public transparency and accountability
Governments have a duty to set reasonable standards regarding contractors' wages, benefits, and records of compliance with workplace, tax and other laws. While we all want the most efficient use of our tax dollars, simply using the bid price as the main selection criteria can make responsible companies look uncompetitive. Many of the violators cited by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs are contractors who misclassify their workers to avoid the appropriate federal, state and wage taxes and workman’s compensation insurance. These contractors are not conducting business fairly or legally. Their business practices undermine wages, steal from state and local budgets, and drive responsible law-biding business people out of business. Government entities should not "reward" companies for providing a lower price point at the expense of workplace responsibility. This will lead to an exorbitant amount of hidden costs on the back end.
The Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters invests heavily in craft training through our training centers in New Jersey and New York State. In New Jersey our members must undergo 1,000 hours of training and education, conducted over a five year period to become highly skilled craftspeople capable of keeping our employers competitive and our jobsites safe. For taxpayers, this means less work stoppages and the mitigation of costly change orders. Even our benefit structure provides a hidden savings for New Jersey citizens by providing health insurance, reducing the hidden subsidy of healthcare by providing access and decreasing the need for emergency room charity care.
As we continue to hear of stories about unscrupulous contractors who take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners, the time is now for New Jersey's elected leaders to act. Adopting a statewide standard of responsible contracting is not only consumer friendly, but the right tool for New Jersey taxpayers.