Like many other businesses throughout the world, our Chapter had no idea of the turbulence 2020 was going to cause to our operations. The Board of Directors and staff spent untold hours developing, writing, and implementing strategies to keep the Chapter viable.
At the close of 2019, the Chapter was deep into preparations to comply with AB-5, more commonly known as the “Gig Worker Law” that would be going into effect on January 1st. This meant that all of the Certification Program staff must be transitioned to employees. The new law triggered the need for an employee handbook, HR policies, creating personnel forms, hiring a third-party payroll firm, and on-boarding more than 50 part-time employees. Due to the geographic distance of our host venues, detailed instructions and checklists were created to assist the Certification Program Instructors in completing the many forms needed to comply with government regulations for new hires. The Board evaluated the cost impact of payroll taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, and mandatory sick leave, and reluctantly increased the Chapter’s certification program fees. Even though there were two successful pieces of legislation to exclude certain industries from the requirements of AB 5 (Proposition 22 on California’s November ballot and Assembly Bill 2257 recently signed by the Governor), neither brought relief to our Chapter.
As the pandemic rolled across the U.S. in mid-March, the Chapter was forced to completely shutdown its Certification Program in compliance with State and local ordinances. Not surprisingly, the many host firms the Chapter had relied upon for decades were forced to withdraw access to their facilities. The Chapter’s primary income stream came to an abrupt halt. More than 400 certification applicants had to be notified their session was cancelled until further notice. Many requested refunds of their fees, further straining the Chapter’s cash flow.
Also impacted by the pandemic were the Chapter’s monthly events for its members. A particularly painful loss was the much-loved annual Golf Classic in May, as well as the Annual Meeting and Installation of Officers in June. Group meetings were prohibited throughout the State, meeting facilities in restaurants and other venues were closed, and many employers imposed business travel restrictions. Always lively and well attended, the Chapter’s Board meetings ground to a halt. Famous for its love of networking and socializing, the loss of these events was a crushing blow.
June brought cautious optimism to our operations when shutdown orders were lifted, and social distancing and face covering orders were put in place. Thanks to the efforts of several Chapter members, new host firms were identified, and a plan for resuming Certification Program operations was formulated. The Chapter is immensely grateful to Cemex, CTS, Knife River, Oldcastle, and CME NV for stepping up to the plate.
Like many businesses, reopening certifications entailed getting familiar with frequently changing State, County, and/or City health ordinances. For the Chapter, it meant doing that for every venue to be utilized (i.e., State of California, County of Alameda, County of San Joaquin, City of Pleasanton, City of Stockton, etc.). A policy for social distancing and safety protocols (including face masks) was drafted to satisfy the numerous requirements, and ease the concerns of the host firms. Plans were put in place to transmit the policy to certification applicants and staff. Everyone was prepared in advance, and the Chapter resumed sessions in the new locations in mid-June, but with reduced capacity, less frequency, and new PPE and safety requirements. Applicants whose original programs were cancelled were contacted individually and given priority seating in the available courses. Most of this backlog was cleared by the end of September, and the Chapter was finally once again generating income. The necessity of reduced frequency and capacity placed the Board in the unfortunate position of having to increase the certification fees in early August.
The Chapter hosted its first virtual program for members in October, presented by Katie Amelio, a Professional Development Program Engineer with ACI. The Tech Talk was entitled “Durability – How Do We Measure It?” and covered the topics of defining durability, where to find requirements and guidance, and commonly used tests for freeze-thaw and alkali-aggregate reactivity.
The Chapter’s 2020 Concrete Construction Awards was hosted virtually in November. The revamped program solicited projects from within the Chapter’s geographic area in six categories. This year’s volunteer panel of judges selected four entries for recognition. Members who were not able to attend are encouraged to watch a video presentation of the event when it becomes available on the Chapter’s website.
Late last month, the Chapter was notified by ACI that it had withdrawn from negotiations with ASTM to renew its licensing agreement to reprint the various ASTM standards applicable to many of the certification programs. Historically, these standards were included in ACI’s technician workbook distributed to each candidate seeking certification. The cost of the workbook is included in the Chapter’s certification fee. Beginning January 1, 2021, ACI will no longer include the ASTM standards in its workbooks, which are essential to passing the exams. The abandonment of this licensing agreement between ACI and ASTM was a blow to all Chapters with active Certification Programs. For example, the cost of purchasing the seven ASTM standards needed for the Field Testing Technician – Grade 1 is currently $352.00. This Chapter is currently in negotiations directly with ASTM, in hopes of continuing the practice of providing the necessary standards to its candidates. It is also pressuring ACI to significantly reduce the pricing of the stripped-down technician workbooks in order to avoid another fee increase in such a short period of time. The Chapter Board and staff hope to have the dilemma resolved before the end of the year.
So, it’s been a very busy year – filled with trials and tribulations, as well as some successes. The Chapter has worked hard to move forward, deal with the hurdles, and continue to provide for its members and the concrete industry. We thank all of you for your continuing support, and wish you Happy Holidays and a safe and healthy New Year!