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Joe the plumber-meet Chris the carpenter

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Everyone talking about this Joe guy was making me sick so I wrote my own story, so Joe knows what he's in for.

Joe The Plumber--Meet Chris The Carpenter

My name is Chris. I am a carpenter. I live in Central Indiana. After two years of kicking around after high school at deadend jobs, my Dad convinced me to join a union construction apprenticeship program. I looked at a couple different ones before deciding to join the Carpenters Union. It was a four-year program and I was fortunate enough to secure work most of that time while going through the program to get "on the job training." I graduated from the apprenticeship in 1983 and began my career as a journeyman carpenter. I worked for 4 or 5 different contractors over the next several years and made a pretty decent living most of the time.

In 1996, two buddies and myself decided to start our own company. We were just ambitious enough to try and just ignorant enough to not understand how difficult it would be. We worked our regular jobs during the day and worked at "side jobs" in the evening and on weekends. All money that was made on the side jobs was put into an account that we set up with a goal of enough money to support our families for 3 months before we quit our regular jobs and went full time on our own. That plan ultimately took 8 months and only 2 of us went full time. The third held on to his job for two more months before he joined us. We still worked days, nights, weekends, whatever it took to get the job done and try to build a reputation in the market. We went without health insurance for a while and took minimal paychecks.

Slowly the company started to grow. It's been 12 years since we tried that and we now average 20-26 employees per year. We've had 42 at our peak and when work gets slow, we have gotten down to 8 employees. We employ union carpenters and drywall finishers. They receive healthcare benefits and enjoy a pension plan.

Now trust me when I say this. This ain't cheap! Our employees cost us approximately $44.00/hour package cost after you factor in health care, pension, workman's comp., liability insurance, unemployment, etc. I will ask you again to trust me when I say this as well. We don't make a quarter of a million dollars apiece either. The fact is, we don't make the $44.00/hour if you figure our hourly wage considering the fact that the 40-hour work week went away when we stepped into this whole thing. We don't get to just call it a day when 3:30 pm comes around like the guys do. But I'm not complaining. Just explaining.

Now the quarter of a million mark wouldn't really be that hard to meet. I can't speak with any first hand knowledge, but being on the inside looking out, I can say with much certainty that there are people in our line of work that do much better than we do. And I think $250,000.00 is quite obtainable. See, as a union contractor we are obligated to pay the union benefits and wages that our contract states but if we were a non-union contractor we could get by a lot cheaper. Now I know there are some standup non-union contractors that pay a good wage to their employees, offer health care and a 401k etc. But those guys know, as well as I do, that there are those out there that take advantage of people and don't do things on the up and up. I know because I see them on a regular basis on jobs throughout central Indiana.

I'm talking about the elephant in the room in the construction industry. It works like this. A guy secures a contract to do a job--say, roofing, masonry, ,landscaping, drywall, whatever. He then purchases the material and he finds a labor broker. This is usually a legal immigrant that can speak English and knows a lot of other immigrants who need jobs, are usually illegal and have little or no English skills. They will work very hard and they are very reliable. AND, they work very cheap. Now the contractor knows what the labor rate runs and he can charge just a little less than we do or what the legit non-union guy does. He then sub-contracts to the labor broker who then sub-contracts to the illegal immigrants. This is all done on a piece meal basis. In other words, a set amount is paid for the installation of the product, i.e.; 15 cent/square foot of drywall or 45 cents per concrete block. This way, the price is set and the contractor and the labor broker can't lose. It's up to the actual worker to bust his butt to make any money because he only gets paid for the set amount of material in the job. And it's pennies on the dollar compared to the wages my guys get or the good non-union contractor employees get. The contractor then gives the illegals a 1099 form instead of paying the taxes, workman's comp., insurance, not to mention providing a safe environment--and the workers don't worry about it because they won't file taxes anyway. They work very, very cheap because the broker knows they won't say anything if they want to keep their job because there is a whole line of people ready to take their place.

Just recently, a small hotel was being built just West of Indianapolis and the floor covering was contracted this way or something similar. On a Saturday, workers were stocking material using a forklift that was supplied by the General Contractor. The workers tied a box to the forks and was using it as a man lift to get material to the second floor. (Totally against OSHA regulations) The box broke loose and two workers in the box fell to the ground. It was a father and son. Illegal immigrants from Mexico. The boy was 14 years old. Both died. This is not an isolated incident. If these workers were fortunate enough to live and only receive serious injuries, this story would never be told because they would be whisked away and 2 more put in their place. There has been no followup story to the contractors on this project, and I'm sure that somebody got in trouble. But those lives are lost forever. And the work will be done in this manner over and over again because nothing is being done about it.

I hope you all understand that I'm not putting the blame on the illegal immigrants. I understand their plight. If I had to feed my family and I could make money to do that in Mexico, I would be there in a heartbeat. The blame is to be placed on the employers that take advantage of these people so they can line their own pockets. I'm not trying to solve the immigration problem right now.

I'm trying to show Joe the Plumber that it's not as glamorous as it looks. So go ahead Joe, buy that company. Run a legitimate business. Put in the hours to make it work. Build yourself up to make that $250-300,00.00. Believe me, if I get to $300k, I'll pay the 4-5% extra taxes and never blink. But how much are you going to be paying the people that got you to that level? You gotta pay them a decent living wage too. You'll never do any of it without good employees. So you gotta spread the wealth with your employees first or you'll never make it as an employer.

So, go for it Joe!! See ya on the jobsite, huh?

Chris the carpenter
Central Indiana

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