As this is being written, there is no consensus in Washington on the several proposals for immigration reform. It is, however, fairly certain that change is on the horizon relating to our immigrant workforce - a workforce estimated to include upwards of 30 percent to 40 percent of the people employed as roofers in this country.
I don't want to address the many social and political implications of these changes, but rather focus on the changes themselves. As the new rules of engagement kick into gear, whatever those changes are, you who are employers will be on the leading edge of the new bureaucracy expected to enforce the new model.
Therein lies the one of the problems for the new wave of immigration reform. The new bureaucracy will not just involve government employees; it will manifest itself in more work for the business owners who push the mountain of paper it takes to employ a person in our country. Now the task will be even more complicated, and I expect if the government does do anything to add to the effort, it will be primarily to add to the enforcement of the new regulations.
The next problem for roofing contractors is the same problem that has plagued parts of the roofing industry for decades. There are going to be contractors who run clean, professional businesses. They will seek to build their companies by employing great people, training them, managing them and helping them grow in their own careers. They will pay their taxes and cover their employees and customers with appropriate amounts of insurance against the risks encountered in the job of covering roofs every day. They will purchase and install quality materials, made to spec and right for the building code requirements. They will pull building permits as required. They will do the right thing, and it will cost them lots of time and money.
These contractors will be competing with "those other guys" in our business who do not follow the rules. They don't pay all their taxes, don't buy insurance, install whatever they can buy on the cheap, and can undersell the "good guys" all day long. What's a building permit?
Nothing new here, but more stringent rules for legitimate contractors equate to more opportunities and profitability for cheaters.
I don't know how this is all going to shake out, but will predict that it will be a long process. It will take time for any new regulations to take effect and even longer for any kind of meaningful enforcement. That makes this a great time to keep your ear to the ground to stay up with inevitable changes to your business.
This is also a great time to brush up on your story. This is a good time to refocus on the story that you have to tell to your employees, vendors and especially your clients. You operate a legitimate business. You strive to build up your people. You strive to build a quality roof, every time out. You pay your taxes and buy the appropriate insurance to protect your workers and your clients while conducting the risky business of roof contracting. You protect your clients by following the rules relating to employment practices. You do the right thing and it costs a lot of time and money.
The reality is, there is always a cheaper price than yours. Your story should demonstrate that while there may be a cheaper price, there is not necessarily a better value.
With these changing regulations, you may also need to point out to your clients that they will not be immune from problems associated with improper employment practices just because they think they are insulated by an unqualified individual acting as a "contractor." You may need to tell the story over and over, since the spread between you and "those other guys" is subject to becoming wider than it has ever been.
Editor's Note: The Gap Keeps Widening
May 1, 2006