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Legislation May Ease
Labor Shortage

I would like to take issue with columnist Frank Blau's August PM article on HR 1824, the Skilled Workforce Enhancement Act (SWEA). The article's negative portrayal of the need and the value of this bill is far off the mark.

PHCC is a member-driven organization. We have heard for years how hard it is to find, train and keep skilled workers. Although PHCC has been confronting this perennial problem from many different angles, we believe that SWEA provides a sound legislative solution to help ease this critical labor shortage.

SWEA encourages small businesses to train additional apprentices by helping to offset the cost of training. HR 1824, and its Senate companion, S 1291, would provide a $15,000 tax credit per apprentice per year to qualified small businesses of 250 employees or less. The article claims that many businesses don't even pay $15,000 in taxes each year. Wouldn't you want your tax bill to be $10,000, even $5,000 less? Where is the problem?

And this tax credit will directly help the skilled worker shortage. In 1999, PHCC surveyed a group of its members on training needs and expenses. Almost all of the respondents said they would be more likely to train an apprentice if the tax credit were available. Respondents also reported that they would, on average, take on two additional apprentices. Some may believe contractors will take the money and run, but our members have told us differently, and I believe them.

Contractors should look to the federal government for a solution to the current skilled worker shortage because the government is partly to blame for the shortage. It started with the G.I. Bill, which helped veterans pay for their college education. Although the G.I. Bill was successful and our veterans certainly deserve such benefits, that was the beginning of an unfortunate trend where our country's school systems and tax code began to favor college education over other career paths. Today, many high schools lead our children to believe that the only path to success is through a university or college degree, and not by learning and working in the skilled trades. We heard plenty from presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush about tax credits for college education, but we heard nothing from them when it comes to paying for the cost of educating the plumbers, pipe fitters and HVAC mechanics we need so desperately in this country.

By not helping with the education of skilled construction workers, the federal government has dug itself into a deep financial hole. Because construction is one of the government's largest expenses, the federal government now has a great incentive to see SWEA enacted.

In addition to aiding federal procurement needs, SWEA's tax credit provides small business owners the incentive they need to assume the risks and burdens of training our nation's workforce. The construction industry is predominantly made up of small, family-owned businesses. It can cost an employer up to $38,000 a year to train a plumbing apprentice. This does not include overhead, other employees' training and mentoring time, and the licensing and exam fees most employers will also pay for the apprentice. The SWEA tax credit will enable PHC contractors to train and employ more workers and to perform more work.

For years we have heard about tax breaks for those who go to college, and now the high-tech industry is lobbying hard for tax breaks for their computer programmers and Web designers. Why should the construction trades be left out? Many in Congress understand how important SWEA is to creating new construction jobs and training skilled workers. That is why this bill has received such strong, bipartisan support. Over one-third of the 87 House co-sponsors are Democrats.

As an industry leader, it is PHCC's responsibility to support legislation that is beneficial to all plumbing-heating-cooling contractors, both signatory and open shop. As such, PHCC will continue to work toward crafting the best legislation possible for our members and garnering strong Congressional support for SWEA.

Michael J. Kastner
President, PHCC - NA
Kastner Plumbing & Heating
West Friendship, Md.

Truck's Image Caters
To Industry's Stereotype

We are a second-generation plumbing and heating business operating for more than 30 years. Every month we look forward to the arrival of PM in part because it validates our efforts to raise our profession to a level of respect that has not existed since the Ancient Roman Empire.

Over 2,000 years ago, plumbers throughout Rome were more revered than any other profession. This was due to the role they played in improving the quality of life and saving lives by delivering potable water to the city while removing disease-breeding wastes. Unfortunately, throughout the centuries plumbers earned a very different reputation. I'm sure we are all-too familiar with the image of the barely literate, foul-mouthed, unscrupulous man complete with vertical crack.

Over time, through dogged professionalism and determination, we are proud to say that image is slowly being eradicated. When we first went into business, it was husbands who called with questions about the character of the men who were going to be in their home, with their wives and their children. Today, more and more women are calling concerned with the trustworthiness of our technicians because it will be their children or housekeepers who will be dealing with our technicians while they, too, are at work. We assure them that at our company, we are all family and can be relied on for nothing less than professional service matched with ethical and exemplary social skills.

With this in mind, you cannot imagine our disappointment when seeing your choice for September's "Truck Of The Month," which included an all-too "revealing" (to use your own word) graphic of a bathing woman.

The comments around our office by the end of the day included, no class É objectifying women É I see the provocation, but where's the propriety? We tried to imagine just what sort of message that truck sends to customers. We wondered how each of us would feel to pull into our driveways and see that truck, knowing that it is our wife or our children alone in the house with a person from a company that feels there is nothing wrong with the explicit nature of how it projects its image.

Shame on you for helping to send the image of plumbers back to the stereotypical days when our back offices were littered with demeaning posters and calendars of women. We were shocked that you would not only recognize this truck as one that the industry should be proud of, but that you went on to add, "He pulled up every indecent site the Internet had to offer" and "From there, Cook had the task of any man's envy: combing through pictures of women in bathtubs É "

This may have been the task of Mr. Cook's envy and that of your own, but please do not place us all in such a category of unprofessional and tasteless characters that are deserving of the low regards that so many people hold us in, and that we are working so hard to break out of.

William Archer Sr.
Wm. Archer & Sons Inc.
Old Bridge, N.J.

Family Businesses Must Be
Profitable Businesses

I read Frank Blau's column, "Thanks, But No Thanks," in the October 2000 issue. The theme of the column is very true - it boils down to profit and its distribution.

H.C. Blake Co. Inc. was founded in 1884 by my great-grandfather. He immigrated from Ireland in the 1840s and settled in Alabama in 1850.

The family has had control of the business since its first day. I have two sons - both worked in the trades each summer during high school and college. One became a doctor and the other a lawyer. I was lucky to have a nephew who also worked as my sons did. After my nephew graduated from college, he urged me to employ him. The prime motive was providing service and making a profit that we could share.

Four years later, he was made a part-owner and his ownership increases each year. H.C. Blake Co. Inc. has always remained tight and organized. We watch payables and receivables more than the next job that we might bid. I'm sure that he will provide the next generation of H.C. Blake, and it will be a family member.

I do not operate my business, nor will I, for the purpose of providing family members' income. I operate it for a profit.

Thank you for such a fine trade publication. It tells the truth. Contractors can profit by reading each and every article.

Hall B. Bryant Jr.
H.C. Blake Co. Inc.
Huntsville, Ala.