WASHINGTON, D.C. — When roofing industry professionals converged on Washington, D.C. in early April for Roofing Day in D.C., Reid Ribble, CEO, National Roofing Contractors Association, led the charge.

During a welcome event and reception on the eve of the event, Ribble aimed to help the more than 400 in attendance understand how to convey the roofing industry’s biggest concerns.

He also worked to rally the troops by revealing their efforts had effectively paved the way for him and others to meet with President Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff in the White House.

At the very end of Roofing Day, Ribble showed that — when it comes to advocating for the roofing industry — he practices what he preaches.

Roofing Contractor sat in on a meeting between Ribble and Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn.

Like many of the nearly 300 meetings set up between members of congress or congressional aides and Roofing Day in D.C. participants, Ribble had about 30 minutes to convey the industry’s biggest concerns.

Ribble — who served for six years in congress as a representative for Wisconsin and now lives in Tennessee — and Rose briefly chatted about Tennessee and Ribble’s time in congress.

But then it was time to get down to business.

Ribble introduced position papers prepared by NRCA for Roofing Day seeking support of two proposed bills: the College Transparency Act (a bill that calls for more access to post-secondary educational and workforce data) and the Public Buildings Renewal Act — a bill that would spur private investment in public building infrastructure, which is currently limited because, unlike the transportation sector, buildings are not eligible for tax-exempt facility bonds. 

But Ribble spent most of his meeting with Rose seeking support for bills that seek to address the workforce shortage.

Ribble explained that NRCA has 4,000 members employing about 500,000 people - and that there is a lot more room for hiring.

“The industry right now has anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 job openings,” Ribble told Rose. “Our members cannot find labor at any price.”

Ribble told Rose that throughout Roofing Day, others had asked why the industry just doesn’t pay better to be more attractive.

“I said I wished that was all it took,” Ribble said. “If it was just raising wages we could solve the problem…but we have to have people coming to the door. We have to have people applying for work.”

The average starting wage for roofers across the country is $18.70 an hour, Ribble explained.

“That’s a person with a high school diploma, that’s a person who has a valid driver’s license, that’s a person who can pass e-verify, and that’s a person who can fog over a mirror,” Ribble said. “If you have any type of discernible pulse you will get hired and you’re going to be making somewhere around $40,000 to $45,000 with no skill at all, and the industry will train you to do the work.”

Ribble explained the roofing not only allows that income to increase relatively rapidly, but also often opens the door for workers to eventually go out and start their own companies.

“But the worker shortage is at near crisis levels right now,” Ribble said. “And I hate to use the word crisis because that word gets thrown around, but we don’t know what the solutions is, we don’t have a solution.”

Ribble then talked with Rose about the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act, subject of one of the NRCA position papers.

In short, it aims to establish a visa system that is governed by market forces. It calls for the allowance of more visas in times of robust economic activity. Participating employers would need to use E-Verify, be located in an area with unemployment of less than 5 percent, and “test the market and attest the position cannot otherwise be filled.” 

Ribble called it a kind of “swinging gate approach.”

He stressed that NRCA is particularly supportive of the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act because of the E-Verify component.

E-Verify can only be used once a person is hired, he explained. If the E-Verify determines a miss, the person can’t be hired. However, there is nothing that ensures the person will return to their country.

“They can just go work for somebody who doesn’t use E-Verify,” Ribble said.

“We would obviously like to see mandatory E-Verifying in in conjunction with some type of fix for the immigration problem so that we know who’s working in the country, so that it’s a legal workforce in the country, and that it’s got enough visas for construction,” Ribble told Rose.

Ribble said that he appreciated the challenge members of congress face in working toward any possible solution.

“Because at the end of the day, you’ve got to figure out how to cut a deal with Democrats and with the White House,” he said.

“If I had a solution for that, I would’ve solved it in the six years I was here,” Ribble added.

With regard to demographics, Ribble noted the importance of recognizing both the aging workforce and the number of people in the U.S. from other countries.

“So you’ve been here long enough to know that most members of congress are unwilling to confront reality,” Ribble said. “What I’m saying is, at some point this body has to confront the realities of the national demographics and recognize it for what it is.”

Rose said that he understood where Ribble was coming from

“It’s unfortunate that it’s been politicized so that people won’t actually work toward a solution,” Rose said.

Rose, whose background is in information technology, pointed to Cisco’s opening of a second headquarters in India because of the larger workforce offered in that country.

He admitted that the stumbling block to for him was “birthright citizenship.” Rose said that also makes it a tough sell to the right.

“Everything you’re saying makes sense to me except you’re creating anchors to keep those people here because they come here and they have children. I think we just have to solve that problem because I think it stands in the way.”