Contractors give back in the face of disaster

Dec. 15, 2017
All through 2017 contractors have been giving back to their communities, from large companies to mom-and-pop operations, in ways both big and small.

All through 2017 contractors have been giving back to their communities, from large companies to mom-and-pop operations, in ways both big and small.

EMCOR companies, as in years past, have worked to promote breast cancer awareness through their Pink Hard Hat program [October issue,]. Comprehensive Energy Services recently gave a check for $25,000 to the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute Altamonte [November issue,]. The list goes on and on.

In fact, if we tried to do a comprehensive list of every contractor who donated their time, money and expertise to worthy causes we’d quickly run out of space. So instead we decided to focus on an area of public service that has been very much in demand this year, disaster relief, and focus on work being done by associations, where many contractors come together to offer aid under a single administrative umbrella, sometimes even to benefit their fellow contractors.

Texas mechanicals

The Mechanical Contractors Association of America ( ) is a management trade association comprised of over 2,600 member companies involved in plumbing, HVAC, piping and mechanical service.

“We have a lot of contractors in south Texas,” John Gentille, CEO of the MCAA said. “Many of their employees were devastated by Hurricane Harvey.” On August 25th Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas, as a Category 4 storm. Before it finally dissipated on September 3rd it would have 77 confirmed deaths with property damage estimates climbing past $190 billion, making it the costliest hurricane on record.

In response, the MCAA partnered with the United Association, the union all their members employ for their skilled tradespeople. The UA has a charity called the UA Charitable Trust. The MCAA reconstituted its Disaster Relief Fund — first formed in response to Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 — and asked its members if they would provide financial assistance to employees of south Texas member firms. (Both the Charitable Trust and the Disaster Relief Fund are 501(c)3 charities, making contributions tax-deductible, and the assistance they provide tax-free.)

“It’s like we shook hands a long time ago. This was just a natural thing for us to do together. And I submit you won’t find anything else like it anywhere in the building trades, and we’re quite proud of it.”

“We had such a tremendous, rapid response,” Gentille said. “We had many of our local associations immediately send me $25,000 checks… almost all of them, in fact.”

Gentille contacted the Houston chapter manager and got the names of 360 individual employees. This list included not only union members — plumbers, pipefitters, service techs — but also non-union office workers.

“Through a combination of funds provided by us and the UA,” Gentille said, “we were able to provide $1,500 to each of those people. We sent, I think it was around $550,000 in checks. We sent them to our chapter manager and he gave them to the contractors to give to their individual employees, which was a nice way to do it.”

An important factor was how quickly the checks went out. Donations were collected within two weeks and funds distributed within three. “They were all in a cash-flow situation,” Gentille explained. “There were other places and other charities that were dispensing material goods, but I very much suspect that the biggest problem for these people, at least initially, was a cash-flow problem.”

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the program is the cooperation between a labor union and a management trade association. Money from the MCAA went to help union members (plumbers, pipefitters, service techs, etc.) while money from the UA went to help non-union employees (administrative workers, customer service representatives, etc.).

“It’s like we didn’t even have to shake hands to do it,” Gentille said. “It’s like we shook hands a long time ago. This was just a natural thing for us to do together. And I submit you won’t find anything else like it anywhere in the building trades, and we’re quite proud of it.”

Gentille points out that many MCAA members, in particular the small, family-owned businesses, started their careers in the trades as apprentices with the union. “They have very strong feelings for the union and what it does.”

MSCA aids Florida

With the nation still reeling from Harvey, Hurricane Irma made landfall on August 30th at Cudjoe Key, Florida. When the final tally was done the storm killed 134 people and caused more than $66 Billion in property damage.

While luckily no MCAA member companies had employees directly affected by Irma, the Mechanical Service Contractors of America ( — a division of the MCAA — decided to step up to aid recovery efforts.

The MSCA provides education, marketing, labor management services and more to their nearly 1,400 member companies. Every year for the past eight years they have performed community service projects in conjunction with Convoy of Hope, a faith-based nonprofit.

“We are very proud of the work we have done in the communities where we have held our annual educational conferences,” Barbara Dolim, Executive Director, MSCA, said. “To date we have raised over $350,000 which translates to over $1 million in food and supplies delivered to a needy organization in our conference city.”

Past projects have aided the Share Our Selves health center in Huntington Beach, California (2014), The Springs Rescue Mission in Colorado Springs, Colorado (2015) and Crysalis, a shelter for domestic abuse victims in Scottsdale, Arizona (2016).

The 2017 educational conferences were held in Boca Raton, Florida, and the MSCA made the Palm Beach Food Bank the focus of their annual project. A tractor trailer of needed supplies was delivered to restock the Food Bank’s depleted shelves. Board members and other volunteers helped unload the trailer and spent the afternoon sorting and repacking other donations the food bank had received into smaller boxes to be delivered to the community.

Over $62,000 was donated by MSCA members and local MCA affiliated associations to assist with the efforts. At the annual Packing Party, over 52,000 meals of rice were packed for Convoy of Hope’s Children Feeding Initiative.

Nevada tragedy

Sadly, not all the disasters to strike the country this year were natural. On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured.

One of those killed was Austin Davis of Riverside, California. Only 29 years old, Davis had worked as a pipefitter for UA Local 364.

“When I incorporated the disaster relief fund this time,” Gentille said, “we included not only natural disasters but civil disasters. For example, if there was a riot somewhere and one of our member’s firms was affected.”

The UA provided $10,000, and the MCAA’s Disaster Relief Fund provided a matching $10,000 to Davis’ mother which was presented by General President and General Secretary of the Union on behalf of the union and the MCAA. “It isn’t exactly disaster relief,” Gentille said, “but it is taking care of our own family.”

Puerto Rico hit twice

In September, Puerto Rico was dealt a devastating one-two punch, first by Hurricane Irma, then Hurricane Maria. Total damage on the island was estimated at up to $95 billion, with pre-hurricane infrastructure problems only exacerbating the difficulty of rebuilding.

The Unified Group ( ), an organization of leading independent mechanical contractors had scheduled their business meeting for early November in Puerto Rico. While the meeting was canceled, the association still wanted to lend a hand to help the rebuilding process.

When Janet Kelleher, the group’s Executive Director, was told that due to lack of water, food and shelter, travel by a Unified Group team would not be possible, she reached out for a partner with experience in disaster relief and found Convoy of Hope – the same organization that has been a years-long partner with the MSCA.

By mid-November the group had raised more than $7,000 to help Puerto Rico. “It’s amazing to me how quickly and enthusiastically our contractors responded,” Kelleher said. “They were pushing me to find out more about how they could help. They really wanted to get over there and get their hands dirty, but even if we could have arranged flights, they were urged not to come.” The Unified Group is continuing with its fundraising efforts.

California and beyond

Yet another time this year the UA and MCAA partnered to deliver assistance was following the wildfires in Sonoma and other parts of northern California. Again, leveraging the reach of his association, John Gentille was able to contact people at the site of the calamity.

“I was able to contact our chapter manager in the Bay Area,” Gentille said, “who was able to talk to all of his members. They identified 21 of the contractors’ employees there whose homes were destroyed by those devastating wildfires. So, we were able to provide each of those individuals with a $1,500 check also, just to help out with cash flow. Many of them, if they had a checkbook it was destroyed in the fire.”

If there is a silver lining to the difficult times of 2017, it’s that is has inspired an outpouring of generosity from many different quarters. The MCAA’s Disaster Relief Fund is now well supplied. “We’ve got enough money in there now in case something else happens,” Gentille said. “This is not a one-time thing.”

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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