Letter from the Executive Director

As we continue to deal with the health and financial impact of the pandemic on ourselves, family, and coworkers, we move forward with hope for the resurgence of our industry, and the overall economy. As the vaccination process continues to expand, we urge you to make the appropriate decision to keep safe from this disease and its variants.

There’s a lot to talk about, this month, so let’s get started.

Maryland General Assembly
Not to minimize the influence of the pandemic, but when we engaged The AnnDyl Policy Group to provide AACP with legislative efforts, we had no idea what this first year would bring. Now, as the Maryland General Assembly inches closer to Sine Die [Monday, April 12], we find ourselves far ahead of our expectations. In collaboration with HACC [Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors of Maryland], we pushed forth with two pieces of legislation. Namely, the Indoor Air Quality Rebate and the extension of the Scholarship Eligibility to first-year, self-pay apprentices. Both pieces of legislation were immediately supported and sponsored by state delegates and senators. Throughout this process, we continue to keep you informed of both bills.

On March 30, the Senate Scholarship Eligibility Bill was passed out of the House Appropriations Committee and is now expected to come up for a vote on the House floor as soon as this week. This bill has a real shot at passage!

The Indoor Air Quality Bill did not make the “crossover”, a key checkpoint for bills to move from one chamber to the other. The bills that have not made it out of committee are now subject to the Rules Committee, with the likelihood of seeing a vote substantially narrowed. We believe it will be very difficult for this bill to pass during this session. We knew that this bill always faced an uphill climb, not only because of fiscal concerns and the budget constraints the state faces this year, but also because we proposed a completely new tax credit that has never been done before. The case we made for the bill’s urgency did receive traction, but ultimately did not make it high enough on lawmakers’ list of priorities this year.

Still, we laid important groundwork this session – securing sponsorship in the House and Senate, meeting with nearly 60 different offices to discuss the bill, testifying before two committees, and earning the support of the Maryland Retailer’s Association as well. Through extensive engagement with key committee and subcommittee members, we also negotiated some of the key sticking points and drew on those conversations to draft our amendment which received sponsor and committee member support. And through these efforts we’ve made each office aware of AACP and HACC, their members, and the important work that we do.

Watch for your weekly updates. Members have access to the complete legislative report in the Members Section of our website.

Exelon Separation
In early March, Exelon Corporation, the parent company of Pepco announced plans to separate its utility business and power generation business into two publicly traded companies, with the resources necessary to best serve their customers and sustain long-term investment and operating excellence. Pepco will be a part of the utility business.

Exelon has decided to split its generation assets and its regulated utilities into two separate publicly traded companies beginning in 2022. The plan is for a parent company to oversee the six electric and gas utilities owned by Exelon (including Pepco, BGE and Delmarva), while Exelon’s generation assets (which include nuclear, natural gas, and renewables across the country) will be held by a separate company. Essentially the rationale is to separate their regulated businesses (utilities) from the non-regulated businesses (generation), allowing investors to buy into just the regulated side given the risks and volatility associated with the non-regulated. They’re calling it separating out the “distinct business investment profiles”. Other utility companies have made similar moves in recent years as the market favors companies whose earnings come primarily from regulated sources.
 
DC Legislative Advocacy
The AnnDyl Policy Group also monitors legislative efforts in the District. Monthly reports and updates are distributed to members, who also have continued access to each report in the Members Section of our website.

Employment Related Issues
Can you access your employee’s social media sites? Is there Freedom of Speech in the workplace? Which level of employee cannot talk about their wages? Can you make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory? Can you offer incentives to get the vaccination? How long is “lunch”? These and over a dozen other issues were discussed in the 45-minute session with our long-time legal advisor, Frank Kollman, JD. Register for our next quarterly update on June 17. Registration is free for members; there is a nominal fee for nonmembers.

Apprenticeship Program
After over 30 years, our HVAC Apprenticeship Program graduated hundreds upon hundreds of technicians. This year, the Class of 2021 will have 33 graduating apprentices. This reflects the importance you place on our program. That said, registration for the 2021-2022 Apprenticeship Program will open on May 1, 2021. We will continue with a virtual program open to apprentices in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. Start now to identify who from your company will be part of the Class of 2025.

As always, be safe!

Peter Constantinou
Executive Director

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New Research Shows COVID-19 Driving Surge In Home Improvement Projects

Majority of respondents willing to spend up to $2,000 on cleaner, healthier air

Contributed by the ACHR News

DAYTON, Ohio — A study released by Aeroseal LLC found the pandemic has made indoor air quality (IAQ) an increasing focus of home improvement projects.

The study includes insights from 309 respondents, half of which are worried about IAQ during COVID-19.  Of those respondents, 67% are willing to pay for cleaner, healthier air – suggesting up to $2,000 is on budget for this HVAC-focused project.

Contractors Helping Create New Normal

It’s predicted that post-pandemic life will see a permanent increase in people working from home – full- and part-time. Spending more time at home is making homeowners more aware of their environment and more likely to make home improvements as a result.

Who makes these improvements is evenly split between the do-it-yourself route and hiring professional contractors. Regardless of this, 80% of homeowners are comfortable with contractors entering their homes during the pandemic. But they cite mask-wearing as being a critical measure to have in place. It reinforces the contractor is following COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing gloves, social distancing, and clearly outlining the safety measures they have in place.

Awareness of IAQ Importance is Increasing

The study is the latest in a series commissioned by Aeroseal showing a greater awareness of IAQ. The company’s last study focused on people’s attitudes about returning to work during the pandemic. As more people return to work in a range of environments – including large and small offices, hospitals, schools, retail, and other small business spaces – they believe their workplace’s IAQ is the single most important factor in protecting their health and safety.

Remodeling Project

# of Projects

Bathroom Remodel/ Upgrade

17%

Kitchen Remodel/ Upgrade

13%

HVAC System Repair/ Upgrade

  9%

Painting

  8%

Floor

  8%

Roof

  5%

Basement

  4%

Deck

  3%

Appliances

  3%

Windows

  3%

Misc/Other

  28%



“Air is not something we can see or easily clean, like your hands, a doorknob, or a table,” said Dr. Mark P. Modera, director of the UC-Davis Western Cooling Efficiency Center, and advisor to Aeroseal. “Considering we already spent 90% of our time indoors before COVID-19 hit, it’s understandable more Americans are worried about indoor air quality.”

And while concern about IAQ has increased, it’s not clear if homeowners know how to address the issue. Of those respondents who are upgrading their home, or planning to do so, only 9% noted some kind of repair or upgrade to their HVAC system was being made.

Proper Ventilation is Key to Clean, Healthy Air

As these homeowner preferences come to light, scientists are stressing the importance of proper ventilation in preventing the spread of COVID-19. It’s being cited as being as important as social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands regularly. A home’s HVAC system – the air conditioner, furnace, and ducts – must be working properly.

But the HVAC system cannot establish proper airflow and ventilation with leaky ducts. According to the Department of Energy, most homes have ductwork leaks. Leaky ducts take longer to remove contaminated air from a room. And by staying in the room longer, contaminated air increases the risk of infections spreading.



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Interested in Becoming a Member of AACP?

We have three categories of membership. They are:

Contractor membership is open to any company engaged principally in the heating, ventilation, and/or air conditioning business as a contractor, who becomes a contractor member of the national association, and who is not a subsidiary, affiliate, division, or related entity of a public utility.

Associate membership is open to companies engaged in (a) manufacturing, (b) wholesaling, jobbing, and selling allied products or equipment principally to contractors and/or (c) supplying fuels, energies, or other services beneficial to the industry.  Associate membership is not open to retailers or other suppliers who sell principally to the general public.  Associate members have voting rights and can hold an elected office. Subsidiaries, affiliates, related entities, and divisions of associate members are not eligible for membership in the association.

Vocational membership
shall be available to teachers, students, heating inspectors, and other such individuals having interest in the environmental systems industry.  Vocational members shall not have the right to vote and hold an elected office.

GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR MEMBERSHIP


  • Local, State and National Legislative & Advocacy efforts
  • Participation in the nationally recognized Apprenticeship Program
  • Education opportunities for your technicians and staff - (NATE, CFC, Business management, Legal and Legislative)
  • Industry Resources - (IRS documents, Risk Management documents, white papers, Code Compliance, six e-Newsletters)
  • Member pricing for events and training sessions
  • A discounted rate on insurance for member companies


Wage and Hour Laws

By: Frank Kollman, Management Labor Law, Kollman & Saucier, P.A.

In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, establishing a minimum wage and a forty-hour workweek as the legal basis for overtime.  While the concepts of overtime and minimum wage seem simple, the FLSA is perhaps the most complex labor law in the land.  I guarantee that your Company, no matter how sophisticated and careful, is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act in some way.

Several years ago, a large securities firm agreed to pay more than three million dollars to its discount brokers (including former employees) who regularly worked through their lunch hours.  Certainly a large company such as this should have known that nonexempt employees must be given at least a 30 minute non-interrupted lunch hour if the company does not want to pay them for the time.  

Many years ago, a client called me to discuss the wage and hour implications of Maryland’s regulation effectively prohibiting smoking indoors.  This client was allowing employees who needed a nicotine fix to take 10 minute smoke breaks, outside, two times a day.  He wanted to know if he should have them punch out so he would not have to pay them.  He was absolutely flabbergasted when I told him that because the breaks were less than 30 minutes, he had to pay the employees whether they punched out or not.  Then again, he did not have to give them breaks at all.  I never found out if he discontinued the smoke breaks or decided to dock the employees despite my legally-sound advice.

The two biggest areas of contention in the wage and hour arena involve (1) hours worked and (2) exemptions.  With respect to the hours-worked issue, employees must be paid for such things as:

  1. Interrupted lunch hours.
  2. Time worked both before and after a shift.
  3. Time worked at home.
  4. Time spent laundering uniforms.
  5. Travel (though not usually commuting time).
  6. Training.
  7. On-call time, except under certain circumstances.

Ironically, an employer can fire an employee for punching in early or punching out late, but he cannot refuse to pay the employee if work was performed.

As to the exemptions from overtime and minimum wage, there are regulations of the Department of Labor that are just as complex as the Internal Revenue Code.  First, the exemptions vary as to their coverage: some employees are exempt from minimum wage and overtime, some only overtime.  Second, there are various tests that employees have to meet to be exempt.  Third, exempt employees can lose the exemption, either temporarily or permanently, depending how they are actually compensated.  Fourth, the exemptions are based on what the employee does, not how much he or she is paid, or how he or she is paid.  

One thing about exemptions is relatively clear: hourly employees are rarely, if ever, exempt, unless they are computer programmers making nearly 30 bucks an hour.  Exemptions are for salaried employees.  As one might imagine, salary issues arise all the time:

  1. Can I dock a salaried employee without losing the exemption?
  2. Where do commissions come in?
  3. How much must the salary be?

Hourly employees making 200 thousand dollars a year may be entitled to overtime while salaried employees making 50 thousand may not.  

I actually had a federal trial for an AACP member several years back because even though the company did everything right after it promoted an employee to a management position, the employee was a dud.  Instead of putting him back in the field or firing him quickly, the company put up with the new supervisor by having other managers cover for him for nearly a year.  When he was finally fired, he sued for “overtime” and claimed that he did not actually do any supervising, and was therefore non-exempt.  We won the trial, but the cost of defense was about the same as the overtime money he wanted.

Employers are well advised to stay on top of the wage and hour laws for a variety of reasons.  Employees and former employees can sue for back pay up to three years, an equal amount in liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees.  Further, employees cannot agree to accept less than the amount to which they are entitled under the Fair Labor Standards Act, even if the wage arrangement was the employee’s idea.  And employees cannot settle wage and hour claims for less than the amount they are entitled to receive, even if they settled with the advice of an attorney.  In other words, an employer can settle a wage and hour case, then be sued again because the settlement amount was insufficient.

Employers would be prudent to have their wage payment practices reviewed periodically to insure compliance with the FLSA.  The cost to the company of a Department of Labor audit or an FLSA lawsuit can be devastating.

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About the Author

Frank Kollman

I am a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University (1974) and the Syracuse University College of Law (cum laude, 1977), where I was an editor of the law review and the Survey of New York Law. I have practiced law in Maryland since 1977 and established the Firm in 1988. I was raised in South Jersey, five miles from Atlantic City, which in those days had no casinos. I could see Convention Hall from my backyard across the tidal marshlands.

Upon graduation, I spent my first five years practicing labor and employment law with two of the largest law firms in Maryland. In 1982, I joined a firm that had concentrated in labor and employment law for over forty years, where I became a partner in 1984. While at that firm, I created and edited an employment law newsletter, Employment Issues. In addition, I produced an educational film for hospital management concerning unions.

By 1988, I knew that I had to work in a firm that reflected my character, and the only way to do that was to start my own place.  This firm, the people in it, and the work we do is my biography.  Anything else is a footnote. I have practiced management labor law for over 40 years. To me, telling a client what is legal can be markedly different from telling him what the best business decision is. The best business decision is the better choice. There are other lawyers with impressive credentials, but there are few with the devotion I have for my client’s cause. I lecture, I publish, and I have done public service. I am a monthly columnist on labor and legal issues for the National Clothesline, the newspaper for the dry cleaning industry. I represent a wide variety of businesses, construction companies, health care institutions, and trade associations, both union and nonunion.

Join Frank at his Quarterly Legal Update Sessions to ask any questions you may have regarding HR, Employment, and Labor Law, complimentary!

Register Here for the June 17th Event

If there is something specific you would like Frank to discuss, email us with topics at info@aacpnet.org.

What is the Best Heat Pump Brand?

By: Andrew Knicly, President, All-Air Systems

I was taking a walk with my daughters the other day. When we passed through a section of townhouses, I could not help but start pointing out the heat pumps to them. Some were old and some were new. I showed them how they could tell by how faded the paint was on some and how others had that new shinny look.

I then started pointing out the different name tags on the units. There were Trane, Carrier, Goodman, Amana, Bryant, Rheem, Ruud, Lennox, Payne, and more. Although my daughters do not usually get as exited as me about HVAC, they did have fun finding heat pumps with new names. They even would comment on how some were tall and how some were short and wide.

I explained that there are different companies who make heat pumps and that the name on the tag is the company that makes the unit in a factory. I also explained that although some of the units have different names, they are actually within the same family. The perfect example of this was with Carrier, Bryant, and Payne, all of which were in this farm of heat pumps. I even touched on the chain of commerce for the equipment explaining that the heat pump is most often purchased by the contractor who then installs it for the homeowner.

It did not take them long to get right to an important question - “which one is the best heat pump?” Coming from my young daughters, the question kind of caught me off guard and I did not have a quick, definitive answer for them. It is an important question. After all, you want to make sure the equipment you are buying is good, dependable and long lasting. You want a good ROI (return on investment) with minimal repairs. And we all know how important good installation practices are as well.

I found myself quickly considering the same factors I discuss with customers when they ask me this same question. Relevant are considerations like budget, specifications, the level of energy efficiency sought, empirical evidence, and having a preference for a certain brand?

Despite these relevant considerations, I could not help but think about the main reason why a homeowner ends up getting a particular brand heat pump. Usually, it comes down to who the homeowner hires.

Typically, the contractor aligns with one brand. There are several reasons for this, such as discounted equipment pricing, rebate programs, advertising and branding assistance, as well as simplicity and efficiency in sales, installations, service, and maintenance. In most cases, these benefits to the contractor are passed along to the homeowner.

Among all the reasons why a contractor aligns with a particular brand, where does the consideration of actual quality design, construction, and longevity rank? After all, a contractor is running a business and important to maintaining a profitable business are the immediate financial concerns involved with dealer programs and operating margins.
At some point, however, a wise contractor should also consider call backs, premature equipment failure, and the fear of inheriting a bad image for selling unreliable equipment to their customers. But then again, how many systems really fail during the first year due to the single fact of what brand it is? And is this failure due to the brand or more so because of the installation. After all, it is not uncommon to see less expensive, less mainstream brands lasting more than 15 years.

So what is the best way of answering the question of what brand makes the best heat pump? Perhaps its based on what consumers think. Perhaps its what contractors think. Perhaps its based on results derived from independent testing.  Or maybe, it just simply comes down to which brand you see more often during your walk. This is in most cases what homeowners rely on. When you see something over and over again, you tend to assume its better. When in actuality, it can be a result of more advertising dollars being spent to create more brand recognition.

Some might say there is no “best" heat pump and this question is ridiculous.  Others might stick to their guns and not waiver in their opinion on a best brand. But really with so many units out there is this question important anyway?  Perhaps this question only belongs in conversations during coffee breaks among HVAC professionals or only in initial conversations with potential customers.
But what about when a newer contractor finally decides to join a dealer program and makes the decision to partner with a brand? That is a big decision. And is it unheard of for an established contractor to at some point switch from one brand to another? In either case, how should the contractor go about this? What sort of due diligence should they do and what considerations should weigh heavier in making this decision?

Despite all the considerations behind the question and the realities behind offering one brand over another, I think we will at some point always be forced to circle back and answer the question of what brand makes the best heat pump.


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About the Author

Andrew Knicley

Grew up in Maryland
College – UMCP, BA degree
Local 602 Steamfitters Apprenticeship School
Union Steamfitter journeyman mechanic (commercial) MD, DC, VA
Service and Construction background
Sales, Estimation experience at Johnson Controls and Pride / AAS
Master HVAC license (MD, DC)
Master Gas Fitter License (MD)
Hold several manufacturer certifications
WaterFurnace residential geothermal dealer

Owner of (since 2017):
Pride Mechanical Services (commercial HVAC)
All-Air Systems (residential HVAC)
More information available upon request


Do You Know Who You're Hiring?

Presented by our sponsor - Federated Insurance

You’re looking to bring on a new employee, and your prime candidate looks great on paper — plenty of experience, consistent work history, and ideal professional credentials. But, how much do you really know about the applicant? Before making an offer, where appropriate, consider checking their background to help you understand who you’re adding to your team.

The cost of the wrong hire

What could go wrong if you don’t perform appropriate background checks on your potential employees? Best case scenario: nothing. Consider these other potential scenarios that could have more severe consequences for your business.
  • A driver with a history of serious traffic incidents causes a fatal crash and lands your business in a lawsuit.
  • A technician with a significant and serious criminal record stole from a customer’s home, which led to a negligent hiring lawsuit.
  • An office worker with poor credit history and access to company finances skimmed money without anyone realizing until months later.

It’s hard to put a dollar amount on hiring a candidate who’s not right for the job — or worse, a candidate who commits a crime against your business or your customers. But HR professionals have estimated costs can reach the hundreds of thousands1. And, on top of the financial costs, a bad hire wears on management, can hurt team morale, and generally be a drag on company resources.

Writing a policy that fits

A one-size-fits-all background check policy does not exist. If you’re interested in creating a new policy or revamping one you already have, first consider your business’s needs and discuss with your attorney any laws or regulations that may apply to your business in creating such a policy.

Will your employees be driving? If so, consider whether a motor vehicle record (MVR) check might be appropriate. Does drug use affect employees’ safety and performance on the job? Then, where appropriate, consider drug testing. Will your employees be working directly with customers or entering their homes? Where appropriate, a criminal background check could reveal a history of violent or property crimes. Do you need someone to help handle money or have access to customers’ private information? Where appropriate, a credit check could help you recognize an elevated risk of fraud, theft, or embezzlement. Whatever you decide to do, have your policy reviewed by an attorney to ensure it follows federal and state laws and regulations.

While there’s no guaranteed way to avoid making a bad hire, one thing is sure: it’s always better to appropriately screen job candidates before they join your team.



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