It’s moments like these that Bruce Kershner remembers why he works so hard for the members of the Underground Utility Contractors of Florida (UUCF).
With the spin of a pen, Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law a piece of legislation that sets a 10-percent cap for retainage — money that is held as an assurance a subcontractor will be paid and that the job will be completed.
This is the first time Florida has set a retainage cap for public projects, with the exception of Florida Department of Transportation contracts.
“Retainage is an issue that a lot of other states have addressed over the years,” said Kershner, the executive vice president of UUCF, said.
While he said Florida’s utility contractors have not been faced with a retainage problem prior to the legislation, UUCF has worked for six years to make the law a reality.
The law also requires half of the retainage be released when the job is halfway complete.
“We’ve been fighting an uphill battle not only with the Florida legislature, but with the local governments and the general contractors,” he said.
The organization started by pushing a “pretty aggressive” bill six years ago, but has had to back off on some of its stronger demands in order to achieve success. Kershner even paused his lobbying efforts for the bill for a year after a less-than-favorable legislative report.
He said the resistance came from local governments because they see retainers as “the hammer that they can use to hold over the head of subcontractors to get the work done.”
Legislative victories such as these are a big reason Kershner said underground utility contractors should join the ranks of UUCF, which he calls “the watchdog in Tallahassee.”
“The government relations part of what UUCF does benefits them the most,” he said.
With seven chapters and 600 members — 250 of which are contractors — the organization, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, continues to grow.
And as Florida’s population boom continues, with hundreds of people moving into the state each day, there’s more work than underground utility contractors can keep up with.
“For the foreseeable future, the work is there. Everybody is struggling to keep up with the work they’ve got,” he said.
Yet now is not the time for a contractor to start up his own utility contracting company.
“You’re going to have trouble finding a reliable workforce,” Kershner said.
Companies who have been around for years are being forced to increase wages and provide better benefits and incentives for their employees. Good workers are being lured to new companies that offer a few more dollars a week in their paycheck.
“You just try to treat employees the best you can,” Kershner said. “The good ones know how to keep and maintain their employees.”
UUCF was founded in 1980, when the four Florida chapters of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) — Central Florida Utility Contractors Association, Mid Florida Utility Contractors Association, Suncoast Utility Contractors Association and the Underground Contractors Association of South Florida — formed a state organization to keep its eye on Tallahassee and increase the influence of the local chapters.
For the first four years, each local chapter took a turn managing statewide operations until Bill Carson was hired as the first executive director of UUCF.
Kershner replaced Carson in 1988.
Since then, UUCF has added three chapters — Utility Contractors Association of North Florida, Southwest Florida Utility Contractors Association and Northwest Florida Utility Contractors Association.
The statewide organization grew again when the Mid Florida UCA merged with the Central Florida Road Builders Association to form the Mid Florida Utilities and Transportation Contractors Association.
Victories in Tallahassee
The recent passage of the retainage legislation isn’t the only feather in the UUCF’s cap. One of its proudest moments came with the launching of the Sunshine State One Call of Florida. The Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act founded the not-for-profit corporation.
As a contractor prepares to dig, they are required to call 800/432-4700 two full business days beforehand. Once the call has been made, the utility companies are required to mark the job site with color-coded stakes, flags or paint to mark the location of the utility lines.
Failure to call is punishable by a minimum fine of $250.
UUCF faced its fair share of challenges in the fight to get this legislation passed, especially from the utility companies, which complained about the costs they would incur. The legislation made it through the state legislature in 1990, but was vetoed by the governor.
It took another three years to create the call center and it wasn’t until 1997 that the law required all utility companies to become a member of Sunshine State One Call of Florida.
UUCF also played a major role in the passage of OSHA’s excavation safety standards as state law under the Trench Safety Act and the creation of the Florida Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
UUCF officials can’t ignore the fact that its members are involved in one of the more dangerous construction sectors. It has partnered with NUCA to offer an extensive training program that has covered such topics as trenching and excavation safety, entering confined spaces and the requirements of underground fire mains.
Benefits of Membership
UUCF’s Executive Committee is working on establishing a new benefit for its members — literally benefits.
The final details were still being ironed out at press time, but, in response to its members lamentations about the affordability and accessibility of group insurance plans, UUCF will soon offer benefits.
Kershner said it will offer favorable long-term pricing, design flexibility and personalized service.
The Executive Committee will present the plan to the board of directors in July. Once adopted by the board, UUCF will make an official announcement.
Planning for the Future
UUCF, along with the Florida Transportation Builders Association and the Florida Department of Transportation, plays a big part each year in organizing Construction Career Days, a series of events held throughout the state to excite Floridian high school students about jobs in the construction industry.
There are now three events each year in Orlando, Tampa and Southern Florida.
In a further effort to promote construction to teenagers, UUCF assisted in the passage of an amendment to the state’s child labor law that now allows young people 16 and older to work in industries like construction under the supervision of an adult. The teenager must be enrolled in a vocational training program.
For more information, call 407/830-1880 or visit www.uucf.com.CEG