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Monday, Mar. 21, 2005
Boy, Andrew had a serious meltdown on old D-Land over the weekend, huh?

Have to appreciate the guy. He seemed pretty frustrated about the whole thing. And if he gets my images back up, Iíll keep feeling good about him.

If not, well. I wonít have images, I reckon.

Speaking of frustration. Stu and I went to look at a house in need of the whole carpenter package last Friday. Big house, lotsa stuff to install, long term (letís just say 5 to 6 weeks is long term in our world) project. I take the plans and delve into my little world of spreadsheets and estimates and labor hours to come up with a price for all this.

Some people call it a bid, some call it a price, some people refer to it as ďThat wild-ass guessing processĒ. I donít like to guess, I like to have at least a modicum of justification for the work we do. Iím not nearly as precise as some of my colleagues but I can tell you this - I can show my work as well as any second year algebra student and back up what I estimate with years worth of dull accounting columns.

So I bid the job. Comes in at 24k. Sounds about right.

Want to know what the low bid (and trust me children, the low bid is always the right bid in this day and age) was?

How about 15. And the gentleman we bid the job to wanted to know if we could get under that, since he knew us and trusted our work.

Uh huh. Sure, I can chop 9 grand off a bid and feel comfortable that thereís money aplenty. And knowing, since he was gracious enough to tell me, that there was a third bid at 20k, there surely shouldnít be any reason not to just dump our price. 20 was a competitive price. A price I could at least have a little respect for.

Sweet mercy. This has started to become a recurring theme. Carpenters screaming about how they canít make any money on a job and then they put out a price like that. It is, pardon the phrase, a wholesale whoring of the market. This guy will get a job for 15 and stymie the rest of us whether he makes a dime off it of not.

Frustrating indeed. Iíd have to take a sleeping bag to the project and sleep on the floor, eat Ramen and steal all the nails from other sites to make 15k work on a job such as this.

On a related note, I read a blog over the weekend that noted the growth of the, ahem, Latino population in his area. How they worked hard. Saved their money. Started little businesses in the area. Grew their own community as it were. And weíre not talking about California here. This was remarkably close by, insofar as being on the East Coast goes.

Iíve seen it too. A lot of Mexican workers come here. Over the past ten years there has been a huge increase locally. For ten years, I sang the same song as my blog friend did. Happy to see hard working people making their way.

But now Iím frustrated, and Iím afraid this songís gonna have to change.

My local (and from what I see, everybodyís local) construction market has been hiring the immigrants on a wholesale basis, legally or not. Some of them are certainly skilled, but a great deal of what I see is the whole ďPut íem out there with a par time lead carpenter and make íem work 12 hours a day for minimum wageď line of thinking. When you put 4 people on a job, chances are good that by force of sheer numbers, theyíll accomplish what I can do in a day, even if their quality level might be questionable. But the big gain is that you donít pay all the residual things that Stu and I have to charge for. Insurance, travel, tooling, vehicles, taxes, licenses, knowledge and the big one - profit. Thatís about a third of our business bottom line, and thatís just about what we got underbid by in the larger scheme of things.

Also, thereís a reason that the Mexican community is able to save their money. They donít have anything much to spend it on! Put in my shoes, with the aforementioned fleet of 5 vehicles to captain, or a large villa in the suburbs with corresponding utility bills and cable internet and my contemporary from Monterrey would collapse like a bag of nachos in a printing press. They donít have the load, and the load is what makes the difference. Iím willing to bear that load. They donít even have a concept of it.

You know, I still donít mind that theyíre looking to improve their lot. Iíve seen affidavits of life in Mexico. I know itís miserably hard. But I also hear the long time carpenters wailing daily about how they ďCanít make any moneyĒ. Well, guess what? At 15k, you wonít. I canít compete with that level of thinking, the one that says ďWell hell, you gotta adapt. Hire a bunch of unskilled immigrants and ride herd on Ďem, toss quality aside and just take all you can out of the job for yourself. Thatís the new way to do itĒ.

Read all you want about the land of opportunity, but Iím seeing it go in a direction that disturbs and frustrates me beyond all reason.

And trust me, my children. When the day comes that this happens to you, when your typing or development or mechanical or teaching skills become devalued in the interest of saving someoneís bottom line, youíll be upset. I donít see this as strictly a construction problem by any means. Itís a standard of living problem. I can deal with the very real tax and insurance brouhaha to a degree (if I lay aside the issues of unconstitutional ethics and general unfairness, that is) but having to work for a third less?

I know a lot of you have relatively stable positions and jobs, working for someone or something. Perhaps you havenít had the need or desire to start a company of your own, and thatís all fine. But think about it. If the Man came to your desk tomorrow and said, ďStarting now, youíll be working for two thirds of your wage. Just canít afford to pay more, donít you know.Ē Thatís about where me and a whole lot of the brethren are right now.

Ten years ago I would have never believed it possible in this industry that demands a lot in an equation of skill, investment and plain hard-assed work. In 2005, the multiplier of hard-assed work has been captured by people who have no means to supply the other two thirds.

Wait for it. Because itís coming to a theater near you.

This concludes your rant of conspiracy for today. Back to work, all of you.

(Update: Pardon my sources. But when a U.S. carpenter is averaging $36.65 an hour, and a carpenter in Mexico averages $3.91 per day someone in Guadalajara is going to rub his chin and say, "Hmmmm. . . " United States of America Labor rates Skilled Labor Wage: 38.36 Common Labor Wage: 29.04 Rates in US$. Source: Engineering News Record, January 2005 Labor rates including fringe benefits* US$/hour Bricklayer 36.93 Carpenter 36.65 Structural iron worker 40.45 Rates reported in US$. Sources: Engineering News-Record, September 2004 *20-city average. Hourly union pay scales Mexico MEX pesos per day US$ per day Carpenter 360.01 3.91 Painter - general 309.19 3.36 Mexican Construction Costs, Market Labor Cost with Burden Fringes Source, November 2004 INTERCOST

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