The 2014 Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association’s Legislative Conference was my first out-of-state conference and now I have come full circle. This year’s conference was just as memorable as last year’s. The 2015 conference began with a welcome to Washington address from Kevin Tindall, PHCC president. It was then turned over to keynote speaker Stephen Hayes, FOX News contributor and senior writer for “The Weekly Standard.”

Hayes talked about President Obama’s administration, the dissatisfaction with government, the upcoming presidential race — of which he favors Marco Rubio as the Republican contender — and the role of millennials in the future of politics. “Rubio is a contender for the race because he is the best communicator in American politics, has a likeability to him and a cross-generational appeal,” he explained.

Afterward Mark Riso, PHCC director of government relations, spoke about the roles that PHCC members have as educators and the regulations that will affect the PHCC industry: the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposed furnace rule, the “waters of the United States” proposed regulation and the skilled worker shortage.

  • The DOE recently issued proposed changes to efficiency ratings in multiple classes of HVAC products. PHCC has concerns about the proposal process and the consumer impact of a proposed new efficiency standard for residential nonweatherized gas furnace products. This proposal would establish a single national standard efficiency level of 92% and eliminate gas furnaces that meet the current 80% efficiency standard by 2021.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a new rulemaking to dramatically expand the definition of “waters of the United States.” The EPA intends to increase federal authority under the Clean Waters Act so it can regulate ditches as tributaries, snow and rain runoff from equipment and storage areas, ponds and impoundments, and any area in which any water may drain into any other water.
  • For every four skilled workers that leave the construction industry, only one is entering the field. Between 2010 and 2025, 95 million Baby Boomers will leave the workforce; only 40 million Gen X’ers and Y’ers will be available to replace them. Given the integral role manufacturing, energy, construction and other industries that use skilled labor play in our economy, this mismatch of skills to employment is a vital concern.

The goal for each meeting was to educate the senators and representatives — to have each person tell their story. “You resonate on Capitol Hill,” Riso encouraged. “Your message will resonate, but you will resonate more. Tell people your story. Own what you say and say it with pride. Win them over.”

After orientation, busses departed for Capitol Hill for a congressional reception. There contactors were able to network with one another. During the reception many congressmen stopped in and said a few words of encouragement. Among the legislators were: Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga.; Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.; Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.; Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.; Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz.; Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.; Rep. Garret Graves, R-La.; and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.

Some memorable comments were:

  • “If someone isn’t telling our story, no one is,” Mullin said, who also is the owner of Okla.-based Mullin Plumbing. “The story will go silent. So stay in the fight.”
  • “Your perspective is important,” Graves said. “We don’t know much; you are the experts. Talk to us.”
  • “The skills gap is a national issue,” Langevin agreed. “I appreciate your advocacy for this. Too often people underestimate the value of lobbying here, but it helps to be better educated. So, thank you and I hope you keep coming.”
  • “You have the solutions and I like to be taught,” Gossar said. “Don’t be afraid to speak up.”

Day 2 – Up on the Hill

The next day began with the congressional breakfast at Charlie Palmer’s restaurant on Capitol Hill. There Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told PHCC members that despite how the small business issues look now, “there are hopeful signs that things will get better.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., also spoke at the breakfast and told PHCC members, “If you can come to Washington and tell Congress your story, then you’re an effective lobbyist.” As chair of the House subcommittee that has jurisdiction over education and training beyond the high school level, she provided insight into how to help close the skills gap for the trades in America. 

To set the stage, she explained that while statistics indicate U.S. unemployment is still slightly up, vacancies in the PHC trade continue to rise.
“We haven’t done enough in our culture to honor people with practical skills,” she offered as part of the problem. She explained that Workforce Development Investment Boards now exist throughout the country, and she encouraged PHCC members to get involved and serve on them to influence how the $15 million in federal grants is being awarded.

Afterward, PHCC members gathered on the steps of Capitol Hill for a group photo and promptly dispersed for their congressional meetings.

I shadowed the California delegation, whose members met with Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.; Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif.; and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif. All listened to what the PHCC members had to say and promised they would try and keep them in the loop.

The California group was represented by: Mike Barker, PHCC of California president and owner of Orange County-based Barker & Sons Plumbing, and his wife Brenda Barker; Patrick Wallner, vice president of PHCC — National and president of Redding-based Wallner Plumbing, Heating and Air; Steve Rivers, former PHCC — National president and owner of Pleasanton-based Rivers Plumbing, Heating and Air; Guy Tankersley, president of Sacramento-based Cal Delta Plumbing; and Tracy Threlfall, PHCC of California executive vice president.

“Whether fighting against draconian regulations or informing our elected officials about workforce development initiatives planned by our respective PHCC organizations, we are proud to represent the plumbing-heating-cooling industry professional membership,” Threlfall said. “PHCC of California had their most successful experience to date, meeting directly with three of our elected representatives. They were thoughtful, respectful and listened carefully as we discussed regulation without representation and workforce development issues.”

That evening, members gathered back at the Marriot for an awards reception. Here many members shared their stories of what happened on Capitol Hill and thanked the organizers of the event. All in all, most enjoyed their time on the Hill and are looking forward to seeing how these new connections with their representatives will progress.

I enjoyed this visit as much as I did the first time at the 2014 PHCC Legislative Conference — if not more so. Last year I didn’t know anyone there and felt like a deer in headlights most of the time. However, everyone was really nice, introduced themselves and told me that if I had any questions they were happy to help. This year, I recognized many of the people I met the first time around and had much of the industry jargon down pat. 

It still shocks and awes me every time I hear about the different regulations being made without the consultation of professionals. The foundation of any good society is built upon teamwork and knowledge. No one person or organization has all the answers and no one stops learning. I know I still have a lot to learn.