We're Only Scamming
I found the article "Speaking Spanish to Stay Afloat"
(Viewpoint, 9/04) not only true to my experience but also
deeply disturbing. Our nation is being overrun (4,000 per day
into Arizona alone) and our particular industry is being taken
from us. What's more, we have only ourselves to blame.
The employment of illegals presents benefits to the GC that go
beyond low pay. Avoiding payroll taxes, workers' comp premiums,
and bookkeeping fees adds appeal. In addition, the intimidation
inherent in working illegally can deter laborers from
addressing workplace disputes, injustices, or even injuries.
Combined, these factors present a very seductive cost-saving
package to the contractor.
In the past, occasionally using cheap labor meant increased
profits to those contractors choosing to engage in shady hiring
practices. But now, with essentially everyone engaged in the
activity, it has become a necessity. Because it costs more,
legal above-board employment is in some areas more of a threat
to business survival.
Believing that all illegal workers are hardworking, honest,
and reliable while their American counterparts are all lazy,
incompetent, and disinterested in their particular kind of work
is preposterous. Such rumor-mongering as a way of excusing an
untenable situation is nothing more than a way to assuage our
guilt and rationalize our illegal practices. Some illegals may
be hardworking at times (like the rest of us), but since they
are here illegally, accepting pay illegally, using fake IDs,
and so forth, they can hardly be generalized as "honest." In
addition, willing American workers cannot realistically enter
such a workplace due to the low pay and poverty-level
As this problem develops, the losers will be the American
workers, of course, but also the general contractors, as well
as the perpetually underpaid illegal worker. The beneficiary
will be the property owner, who, because of construction cost
savings on the one hand and inflationary increases in property
value on the other, will become wealthier than ever.
The solution is not difficult, at least in concept. Simply not
hiring illegals may be the most obvious first response, but for
now, this would probably have negative effects. None of us,
taken singly, can realistically be expected to change our own
habits without the risk of being quickly underpriced by our
What we all can do, however, is exert pressure on our
government representatives to enforce laws that already exist:
those that control immigration, contractor licensing,
employment practices, liability and workers' compensation
insurance, and taxation itself. We must insist that our
government stop all of us from engaging in this activity.
The choice is ours. We can each continue as we have, reaping
the short-term benefits of a scam that will eventually erode
the ground from under us. Or, we can start now, each doing what
we can, to level the field and return to a system that is fair
Nobody But Us, Jack
Regarding the piece on immigrant labor (Viewpoint, 9/04),
there are a couple of things that always seem to get left out
of the discussion.
First, just as there is no way a legitimate contractor can
compete pricewise with somebody working out of his truck or on
the side for cash, how many business owners can compete with
someone using the casual labor-for-cash guys down at the
7-Eleven if they are going to file an income tax and play by
The legal temp-labor outfits that the contractor in the
article had tried take a pretty big bite out of a check. It
used to be, here in Washington state, that the employment
office ran a casual labor pool down at the local branch office.
You got down there at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and signed up. People
called in and you got sent out on anything from lawn jobs to
factory work to construction sites. You were paid in cash and,
if things worked out, you might even get a full-time job out of
the deal, which is how I got started in the game. In other
words, back then it wasn't always illegal to pay cash for
labor. Not anymore. We license, bond, insure, approve, inspect,
tax, and regulate anything that shows a sign of life or
Second, this country is full of immigrants; in fact, there
ain't nobody here but us immigrants, Jack. And that includes
Native Americans, who most likely displaced somebody else
previously. But, for starters, the distinction is "illegal."
When my grandpa got here, getting sent home for being here
illegally was not an empty threat.
While political opportunists on both sides of the aisle may
use the issue to their benefit, the costs of illegal
immigration over the long run considerably outweigh any
short-term savings gained from the get-it-built-cheap-today
Sealed Crawlspace Follow-Up
As a certified mold inspector and remediator, I'd like to
comment on "Fixing a Wet Crawlspace" (8/04).
First, the photo on page 1 shows the workers without any
personal protective equipment, which the EPA recommends for all
Second, the author mentions high humidity and preliminary
dehumidification before sealing the area. I don't think it
likely that the crawlspace will remain permanently dehumidified
under the ambient conditions. A dehumidifier should have been
permanently installed. Nothing in a crawlspace will ever be
airtight. The wall plates that were shown to be in direct
contact with the saturated earth will continue to degrade and
wick moisture into the wall framing above them, even though
covered at the inner surfaces with 6-mil poly. The moisture
will then humidify the crawlspace. The carpeting near the entry
might create a nice perception, but it is a haven for mold
growth when exposed to high humidity and moisture.
The client should be advised that this project is a short-term
Band-Aid approach to the problem.
Author Jeff Tooley responds: I agree with much of what you
say. Our workers do in fact wear full-face organic vapor
respirators when treating the mold. We use nontoxic chemicals,
so we don't need pressure-assisted masks. In that photo, we've
already treated the mold and the workers are raking out the
soil in preparation for laying the poly.
As the article pointed out, I advised the homeowner to replace
the wood cripple walls with something more durable. Her plan,
as soon as the budget allows, is to build a structural brick
perimeter wall beneath the house.
The carpet is actually there precisely for the reason you
state — because it is an excellent medium for mold
growth. If the homeowner — or a mold inspector, for
that matter — sees mold on that carpet, she'll know
that there's a problem and she can call me back to check things
out. It's also the reason we install humidity alarms, which let
the homeowner know if the crawlspace RH exceeds 70 percent. I
have successfully sealed more than 2,000 crawlspaces over the
last eight years, and these techniques continue to
Another Remodeler Risk
The article on arsenic in old plaster (In the News, 7/04)
brought to mind another legacy remodelers need to consider
— lead in old ceramic-tile glaze. This lead presents
virtually no problem as long as it is not mechanically or
chemically disturbed. If the glaze is disturbed as part of a
demolition project, it can contaminate the ambient air and
surrounding area. This problem is easily managed using
personal-protection safety methods and containment barriers,
followed by thorough cleaning.
The critical element is to know, in advance, that the tile
glaze contains lead.
Shear Wall Guide
The shear-wall book (Resources, 9/04) looks like a super
resource. I didn't find it through www.iccsafe.org (they knew
nothing about it), but at www. bookmarki.com, for less than
Santa Barbara, Calif.