New MCAA President
Key Issues: Education, UA, Affiliates
BY BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff
SHREVEPORT, LA. — FitzGerald Contractors Inc. had been in business here for 60 years when it joined the Mechanical Contractors Association of America in 1974. Chairman and CEO Bob FitzGerald can recall his first MCAA encounter.
"We had heard about the MCAA educational offerings, and we attended a couple seminars," he told CONTRACTOR. "We were blown away by the quality of the education. Being from a small area with an under-funded association, we thought the educational offerings were the key."
As incoming president of MCAA, FitzGerald still believes that education is one of three fundamental issues that the national association must address to satisfy its members. The other two are maintaining a healthy relationship with the United Association and communicating effectively with MCAA’s local affiliates.
"If you understand what MCAA brings to the table, you realize that there’s no one who wouldn’t benefit from joining," FitzGerald said. "My job is to communicate that to our 2,065 members, regardless of their field: plumbing, service or mechanical work. I want to strengthen the programs we have rather than try to find 10 new ones."
In recent years, MCAA has introduced programs aimed at the industry’s educational and manpower needs. The Advanced Leadership Institute, the most recent, will conduct its first class March 10 at Babson College’s School of Executive Education in Wellesley, Mass. The two-week course is for company officers at the senior vice president level and above. Two classes of up to 35 people will be held this year.
"The institute is to educate future leaders on some of the soft issues — how to lead, how to motivate, strategic planning and other matters," FitzGerald said. "It’s an outstanding program."
Another educational offering from MCAA is the National Education Initiative, introduced two years ago. This program delivers the training of project managers and field supervisory personnel at the local level.
"That’s been an incredible success," FitzGerald said. "Instructor John Koontz is totally booked for 130 days of instruction in 2002 at locations around the country."
While the National Education Initiative is aimed at people already in the industry, MCAA’s Career Development Initiative is intended to bring new people into the industry from college campuses across the country. Three student chapters recently joined the program, bringing the number to 16. The new chapters are at the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Maryland - Eastern Shore and Central Washington University.
The need for qualified personnel to join the mechanical contracting industry has not gone away even as business has dropped off in some parts of the country, FitzGerald said.
"We have to keep that issue on the top of our list," he said. "Even if there is a drop in demand in jobs — and there is — we have to realize it is a drop in demand and not an increase in the supply of qualified people. We have to improve the pipeline of people coming into this industry."
The United Association has developed some innovative programs to attract workers to the union ranks, he said. One involves bringing in people who have retired from the military and giving them credit for comparable training so that they can achieve journeyman status in less time.
Maintaining a strong relationship with the UA is one of the most important tasks that the national MCAA can perform for its members, FitzGerald said. Under the leadership of General President Marty Maddaloni, the UA has worked with MCAA on a study of health-care needs of UA members and developed a joint substance abuse policy that can be used by MCAA’s local affiliates as well.
FitzGerald said he hopes to visit with many of the 80-plus affiliated associations during his year as president. His predecessor, Smitty Belcher, took more than 50 trips during his term in office. FitzGerald has counted 35 to 40 trips scheduled for the coming year to hear directly from members.
"MCAA is an association of service contractors, piping contractors, plumbing contractors and HVAC contractors," he said. "One of my jobs is to strengthen and to increase our offering across the spectrum of our members. I have to try to understand the needs of our locals to make the lives of our members better."
Despite MCAA’s reputation as an organization of big union contractors, only 87 members are at the maximum dues-paying level of $10,500 per year, FitzGerald said.
"That leaves an awful lot of minimum dues payers," he added.
The minimum dues level increased to $550 a year on Jan. 1. In a hike approved at the 2001 national convention, dues for all members were raised from 4 cents to 4.5 cents per UA man-hour worked. The increase in dues and the anticipated drop-off in man-hours worked should even out the revenue that MCAA can expect from dues this year, FitzGerald said.
FitzGerald Contractors is one of the MCAA members that foresee a flat year in 2002 with revenue between $25 million and $26 million. The company did $26 million in business in 2001 and $29 million in 2000.
On average, FitzGerald’s employs 150 people in its Shreveport headquarters and in an office in Monroe, La. The company does plumbing, HVAC and piping projects in northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas, eastern Texas and an occasional job in Mississippi.
"We’re also in the service business; about 20% of our volume is done in service," FitzGerald said. "We do a lot of plumbing service, from residential to industrial."
Work in the company’s territory dropped off well before Sept. 11, 2001. A substantial portion of the jobs postponed last year could come back in 2002, he said.
In 1969, FitzGerald joined the company that had been founded in 1914 by his grandfather William FitzGerald, who had been trained as a plumber in Dublin. After graduating from Louisiana Tech University with degrees in engineering and business, Bob FitzGerald attended apprenticeship school and became a licensed journeyman plumber. He also holds the company’s air-conditioning licenses.
On Sept. 1, 2001, Chris FitzGerald, Bob’s son, became president of the company.
"I know he’s up to the task," Bob FitzGerald said. "I hope it will be a good year for both FitzGerald’s and the MCAA."