As projects reopen, contractors face new challenges

Panelists at a recent Associated General Contractors of America webinar said despite the high U.S. unemployment rate, construction contractors are struggling to fill jobs as projects reopen, according to

Panelist Bob Majerus, vice president and general counsel for Hensel Phelps, said various factors are causing issues, including enhanced unemployment benefits and fear of contracting COVID-19.

The federal CARES Act, which passed in March, supplements state coverage with an additional $600 a week—more than double the weekly maximum unemployment benefits in most states.

“We’re hearing from some workers ‘When my unemployment money runs out, I’ll be happy to come back to work, but not until then,’” Majerus said. “They’re getting extra money every month, so they prefer to stay at home.”

Majerus said he mostly is seeing workers’ fear of contracting the virus affecting subcontractors’ workforces. He said the best thing construction firms can do to employ a steady flow of workers and subcontractors is to communicate their safety precautions and take immediate action when a COVID-19 case—or even a rumor of one—occurs.

Construction leaders also can expect project delays as they get back to work.

“If you get the order to go back to work right now, and even if you have the manpower and material to do that, you are not going to start at 100% on day one—there will be a ramp up,” Majerus said. “Plus, there are new safety regulations, new PPE and new safety orientations, so conditions will be different.”

Construction managers also are facing more Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance complaints and an uptick in internal human resources disputes, which Majerus attributed to the fact that “there is tension everywhere these days, in our workforce, with our crafts and with our subcontractors.”