Don't Use Scabs - Support Local Contractors

Several weeks ago I met up with a group of real estate agents and mortgage brokers at a conference in Phoenix, AZ. Listening to the conversations they were having about their market I felt that we were a little ahead of them in the market recovery. Florida quit building homes, which it had to do, so the inventory could get absorbed.

Unfortunately, the main product that Southwest Florida produces in is tourism, retirement and sunburns. We aren’t exactly bursting with industry. We’re a series of villages built upon the business of manufacturing homes, golf courses, malls and restaurants. When construction and real estate fizzled out we were hit hard.

Out of curiosity I pulled up the Lee and Collier County building permit filings just to see what was going on. In January there were 13 residential building permits issued in Lee County, Collier County didn’t exactly have a bumper crop either. That number 13 is a record low for Lee County, by the way.

It’s a catch twenty two situation. We need the number of new construction permits to be low to heal the market but there are so many families and businesses that depend on construction as their means of income. It’s harsh out there for a lot of people right now.

I’d Googled for news on building permits and found several interesting articles. In particular there is a story about Lee County laying off 20 employees in the building department. This is the dawn of a new age of fiscal conservation so we all probably understand the layoffs. It occurred to me that some of those employees could have been repurposed.

Maybe they could have been trained to keep watch over what little bit of construction is going on and make sure the money is kept local by enforcing licensing and insurance of those in the trades. Surely, you can’t be shocked that there is construction happening that isn’t done on the up and up.

What the average person needs to know is that there are some people that don’t have their paperwork in order. By paperwork in order I mean carrying the proper insurance and workman’s compensation. By people I mean employees and the company that they work for.

There are also contractors that pay their employees cash because their employees aren’t documented. It’s not fair. They’re cheating the system. They’re destroying the local trades that are doing it legal and above board. They’re also cheating our local economy.

I’ve spoken with several contractors that have told me that they lose during the bidding process by huge sums. Sums so large it doesn’t make sense unless the labor is paid cash and the company isn’t properly insured. What’s even more slippery is the company that carries workman’s comp on five of their employees while dozens of their other employees go uninsured and unprotected.

Should those employees that are not covered have an accident and get hurt on the job, they’re fired on the spot. They then have to figure out how they’ll get the medical care they need to heal their broken body.

Follow me on this stimulus package. Why doesn’t the building department of either of the counties we’re living and working in take control of the construction industry back? It’s finally shrunken to a manageable size. I say 13 permits in one month could be considered manageable to police and enforce the laws effectively.

Everyone was overwhelmed during the building boom. Maybe it is now time to start holding the contractors that employ uninsured subcontractors or undocumented labor accountable. Accountability should move up the food chain to the top. Those who are licensed should pay the piper for not checking the paperwork of those working for or under them.

How about just random checks of permits, licenses and workman’s comp? It doesn’t sound too very difficult, does it? How about something as simple as a decoy laborer looking for work but they don’t have a work permit or social security number? It’s not that hard, ask anyone in the trades. Before anyone gets on the high horse named Bigot, not every person that gets paid under the table is an immigrant or a foreign national.

This isn’t some sort of hidden secret. It happens more than you’ll ever know. These violations happen at shopping centers under construction and the most exclusive country club homes sporting decimal points in their ticket price.

When unlicensed companies and undocumented workers take jobs from local contractors and laborers the money leaves when the job is done. The scab workers, under the table company or under insured firm gets paid their wage, they pack up, hit the bricks and pump their paychecks into grocery stores, movie theaters and restaurants in whatever county or state they slinked back to.

The money they earn on our soil won’t be spent in Lee or Collier County. It’s more than just our local construction that gets hurt, it’s also every other local business that could have reaped the benefit of those paychecks.

Maybe it is time that the members and officers of the local building associations taking some action to protect those left in the industry. The building industry groups were created to represent the interest of those in construction and keep people informed. Nothing says support like, “We’re lobbying to keep the industry clean on your behalf so that you can put food on your family’s table.”


Real Life in Bonita Springs is a project by Chris Griffith dedicated to writing useful blog posts for consumers about the Bonita Springs, Florida area.  Find out what it is really like to live in Bonita Springs, Florida by reading about our fair city. You’ll get the latest in local real estate information, Bonita Springs real estate market reports and a little bit of humor.  If you have topic ideas, feel free to request a story about the idea, after all, this site is just for you.

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