Construction trades consider their 'essentialness'

Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 3:59 PM EDT
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Vermont's stay-at-home order is causing some confusion over just which workers are considered "essential." When it comes to construction work, it depends what you're working on.

Housing construction across much of the state has come to a halt, but questions remain about other trades.

Benoure Plumbing and Heating in South Burlington normally has a warehouse full of employees, but the company's Brad Benoure says that when the governor issued a stay-at-home order he had to lay off 65 of his 79 employees,

"We had 43 trucks actively going out to job sites. Today, we have five trucks out doing essential services," Benoure said.

That means with his skeleton crew, he can still answer calls for heating and plumbing emergencies, but construction contracts, which make up most of the business, are off-limits.

"Right now, we can't go out to any new commercial or residential job sites -- shutting down, essential shutdown of our business," Benoure said.

"We are having to discuss those differences between critical and noncritical issues," said Matt Musgrave with the Associated General Contractors of Vermont, which has more than 200 members with thousands of employees across a range of construction trades.

"On a personal note, dealing with our members, there is a lot of confusion," Musgrave said.

The confusion comes from what work they can and can not do. Like Benoure, Musgrave says it's only work that is critical.

"They can't necessarily go and replace your kitchen set with a nice new shiny faucet, but they can go out and replace furnaces," he said.

So, as job sites sit empty and layoffs are expected all across the state, Musgrave suggests that there are opportunities for construction work to resume in buildings now emptied of nonessential workers.

"These are opportunities where they can get in and do projects that in the past have been met with significantly higher costs because of people being in the buildings," he said.

"We are really hoping that someone in the Statehouse makes some addendums to allow contractors to go back to work in shifts to job sites," Benoure said. "There could have been some type of plan to have each type of sub go into the job site."

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