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Pay More, Attract More

I'd like to comment on Frank Blau's column ("Money Can't Buy Us Love," August 2000) regarding HR 1824, The Skilled Workforce Enhancement Act. The PHCC Legislative Committee has reviewed the proposed legislation, and a position paper has been developed and submitted to the PHCC Board for approval.

One of the areas of our concern was that the training programs qualifying for credit be legitimately run programs. Many states have nonunion training programs that are approved by the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training. We certainly have one here in Delaware, and my personal feeling is that the four-year program is as good as the union training program.

The only way this bill will help us attract more people into our industry is if it allows us to pay more to our apprentices. I agree with Frank that many small businesses in our industry do not pay enough in taxes to be able to use the credit. But in that event, the bill wouldn't necessarily cost the nation much in tax dollars. And the bill is not just for the PHC industry; it's for all skilled trades, and it does remind the legislators and the nation that we suffer severe shortages of skilled workers.

It's difficult for small companies to pay their apprentices any more than they'd get at a McDonald's or similar place of employment, at least in the beginning, since these apprentices will not make any money for the business for quite some time. Apprentices who are part of government-approved programs, however, are required to receive increases every 1,000 hours until they reach the predetermined, approved rate for journeymen. Thus, they are not only assured periodic raises, they can be assured of having a career that can last a lifetime, support them in a halfway decent manner and provide a great degree of self-satisfaction.

The proposed legislation is there. Better that we participate in planning with stipulations to ensure proper training than ignore it and allow it to be presented without regard to those qualifications.

This should not turn into a union vs. nonunion issue. It seems to me that union shops would be most likely to benefit since most of them are larger, with higher profits. But theirs are not the only programs that are legitimate or valuable.

The primary concern for all of us should be finding ways to attract qualified people into our trades, and although we certainly should be doing a better job of marketing ourselves, this legislation may prove helpful in doing so.

Gerry Calfo
Calfo & Haight Inc.
Wilmington, Del.

Water Treatment Sales,

But Not Service Jim Olsztynski's column hit home ("Where's An Expert When People Need One?" July 2000). The field of water treatment and purification is a market that my one-man company would like to capitalize on. I'm usually heavily engaged in new home construction (since my area is in a housing boom) and service work when time permits. But at 44, I don't know how many more crawl spaces are in my future, so water treatment/purification sounds appealing.

My problem is my area has three supply houses that I deal with. They all have the usual fixtures, faucets and repair parts that are common sellers. Some even stock filters, R.O. systems, etc., which I have even bought and installed. However, when I've been asked by customers to solve specific water quality problems, I, like most other contractors, lack the knowledge. The crew at the supply house also lacks the knowledge but is more than willing to sell me something else that might get the job done - and might not.

In a field I'm sure is chock full of liability, why don't water treatment manufacturers offer schools for installers/contractors to get knowledge of their products? I've asked for information on this from my suppliers but to no avail. I'm willing to make a time investment to attend, but again, these schools must not exist.

Unlike some people, I do not want to sell a bill of goods to the customer where you get paid and run, never to be seen again. My customers deserve better. Does any company offer education for its product?

Chris Clark
C.W. Clark Plumbing Inc.
Bourbonnais, Ill.

I'll Give You A Breakdown!

I just read Frank Blau's column in PM (" 'I Want A Breakdown' Revisited," July 2000). If they want a breakdown, give it to them - and then some. Not just the traditional hourly rate, materials and mark up - give them a complete breakdown, right from your P&L statement. Include cost per hour labor, office, telephone, rent, gasoline, utilities, insurance, etc.

If they only want to argue about your "hourly" rate, dump them! You and only you can decide what your services are worth.

I used to service a banking operation throughout New Jersey. When it changed hands, I got a similar request. At first I sent them a list of common services we provide them, with current prices. They still insisted on a per hour labor rate. I sent them a complete breakdown, as described above. They still wanted a per hour labor rate.

Now these were bankers, yet they couldn't figure out this stuff. So I finally told them no, we don't have an hourly rate; we charge a fee for service, just like they do. It was beyond their comprehension. They were so bogged down in the old T&M mindset that we lost the account, and not a small one at that. We're still in business though!

Richard E. Fertel
Bornstein Sons Inc.
Fairfield, N.J.

Explain Your Work

Dan Holohan's column about consumer complaints about boiler replacements was terrific ("Postcards From The Edge," June 2000). I was relieved to know that others have to constantly hear these complaints, too. Many complaints I encounter are related to improper installations. But oftentimes, the installation is correct, but the consumer doesn't understand it since the contractor didn't take the time to go over the job with the homeowner, before and after the boiler was replaced.

Many of us should be reminded to do the following:

  • Take the time to go over the owner's manual and installation instructions with the consumer.
  • Explain the virtues of a carbon monoxide detector, and supply one.
  • Tell the consumer in advance that the boiler and tank will be much smaller than the one you are replacing.
  • If you're using a sidewall vent, explain it. Make sure they know in advance that the unit will be venting out the wall and not into the chimney.
  • Explain why you are installing the circulator on the supply side and show them the illustration in the manual.
  • Check out the installation upon completion. Fill out the paper work, especially the startup checklist. It will make your customer know you care.
Donald Jones
A-Plus Plumbing Services
Vineland, N.J.

Water Stains Stymy Reader

I remember reading an article in PM a while back that said you should ask your plumber about any greenish-blue stains in your tub, shower and sinks. Well, I'm married to my plumber and I asked him, and he has no idea what it's from. I'm hoping maybe you can tell me. It started right after the village we live in added more chlorine to the water. Thank you for any help you can give me. We both enjoy your magazine very much.

Sharon Botteri
Hudson Valley Mechanical
Tappan, N.Y.

Julius Ballanco responds:Simply stated, the greenish-blue marks on a tub are from the copper tubing. I could give you all of the chemical analysis of the copper compounds, but that would probably bore you.

There are many reasons for this appearance. First off, realize that when the potable water runs through copper tubing, it picks up copper. If the water utility changes the characteristics of the water, it can change the amount of copper picked up in the water. Increasing the chlorine also will result in an increase of copper in the water.

Normally, the copper tubing develops a coating that minimizes the amount of copper migrating into the water. If the change in water chemistry impacts the coating, then the coating dissolves in the water and deposits greenish-blue marks on the fixtures.

Once the water normalizes the copper tubing again, there should be a reduction in the amount of greenish-blue stains that get deposited. (However, sometimes the reduction never occurs.) There are a number of commercial available cleaning chemicals available to your husband (at the supply house) that can remove the stains.