Builders offer Inslee recommendations to safely restart construction
Tens of thousands of construction workers in Washington state have been sidelined. Industry and labor leaders this week recommended ways they say Gov. Jay Inslee could safely restart construction in phases as the coronavirus pandemic plays out.
Washington is one of a handful of states where most construction has been halted to stop the spread of COVID-19, but work would restart under recommendations the industry sent to Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday.
“We did our level best to be deliberate and thoughtful in developing recommendations for your consideration that we believe are consistent with the mission of combating the COVID-19 virus while allowing construction work to be safely phased back into operation,” members of the Construction Roundtable wrote in a letter to the governor, who appointed the group.
“We’re hopeful the governor will adopt that and restart work soon,” Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) Executive Vice President Greg Lane said Thursday.
The shutdown of construction has been harsh. During the three weeks ending April 11, people in construction filed 69,700 initial claims for unemployment benefits, according to the state Employment Security Department.
“These are challenging times and I think the governor is doing his best to make some very tough decisions, but the longer this drags on the more catastrophic it is for the economy overall and for home builders in particular,” said Kat Sims, executive director of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.
The mood among the 900 homebuilders in the 2,700-member association is “increasingly dire,” she said.
It was unclear exactly how many homes and apartments aren’t getting built, but the association estimates it’s about 6,300 single-family houses and 16,850 multifamily units in King and Snohomish counties. Some portion of these are affordable units, which are still allowed to continue construction.
The association has been lobbying Inslee to reconsider the ban, saying builders can work safely.
“Our builders are prepared to adopt very rigorous guidelines. They’d be willing to take employees’ temperatures and make sure that people are well when they come on site and provide additional hand washing stations and make sure the tools that are shared are wiped down,” Sims said.
The Construction Roundtable proposes reopening construction in phases, starting with only work that can be done meeting social distancing requirements. Protocols would be posted at job sites.
Roundtable members said some projects like residences that were well underway when the stay-home order was made could achieve the safety conditions. They added the state Department of Transportation and some other public agencies are systematically prioritizing projects by risk level.
“These deliberations would work in concert for identifying projects that appropriately fit into Phase 1,” roundtable members wrote, adding they are working on a Phase 2 document.
“We believe that a Phase 3 document will also be necessary but, in the spirit of getting you these recommendations expeditiously, we limited our current recommendations to the lower risk construction activities,” the group wrote.
Inslee said Wednesday the economy will likely reopen in phases, and on Thursday he outlined what has to happen first: much more testing and commencement of a contact tracing program. He offered little detail but suggested the most needed sectors of the economy and society would be reopened first, with others to follow.
Other organizations represented in the roundtable are the state Building and Construction Trades Council, Operating Engineers Local 302, the regional Council of Carpenters, the Associated General Contractors and the Association of Washington Business.