AT&T Turfing ContractorsTo read the AT&T turfing commentary, click here 

March 27, 2011
Do workers' rights only apply to AT&T workers?
The Communications Workers of America came out and supported the AT&T and T-AT&T ContractorsMobile deal.

No surprise there. AT&T is union and T-Mobile is not and you can rest assured that most of T-Mobile's employees will be let go.

Your article says that the head of the FCC says that the 4G buildout is going to create 53,000 new jobs. He'll have to revise those numbers when AT&T gets rid of almost 30,000 T-Mobile workers.

What I really find interesting is that AT&T is building their wireless network with almost 98% or more non-union workers that are barely earning a living wage.

The CWA ignores that as long as they cater to the nation's largest telecom company that is union.

An almost broke non-union project manager in Cleveland, OH.

March 25, 2011
From your mouth (or computer) to the DOJ's and FCC's ears
The Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission are going to review whether or not it's okay for AT&T to buy T-Mobile.

I believe it's important that we find a way to let them know how AT&T is handling their contractors.

If they're allowed to buy T-Mobile it will be even worse. It's just not the consumers that the DOJ should be concerned about.

Against the deal in Mississippi

March 21, 2011
Tell them you're only taking AT&T's advice
In the fast-paced AT&T network buildout contractors are asked to provide materials and services that are not in the SOW.

That's to be expected, because a lot of turfing project managers are not knowledgeable enough to provide an accurate list. Or they didn't even visit the site.

It's typically a phone call request and when it comes time for the change order, amnesia sets in quicker than concrete.

Whenever you receive a request, tell them you are only following AT&T's advice and ask them to put it in writing.

Also, provide them with this link for an AT&T commercial from 1990.

Ironically, after purchasing McCaw Cellular in 1994, AT&T Wireless witnessed some of its quickest and most successful growth.

It was accomplished by working directly with installation contractors and suppliers.

Who'd have thunk that a quality network could have been built with safe and competitive contractors without a stumbling turfing vendor taking 45% or more off the top.

A valuable history lesson from Haverstraw, NY

March 19, 2011
It's not just installation contractors being taken
There appears to be a lot of discussion here about the installation contractors. Granted, you folks do the lion's share of the work and probably have the most exposure to something going wrong because of the pitfalls in construction, but there are many other professions in the infrastructure buildout that suffer the same ills of unacceptable and unprofitable pricing.

But they too keep taking the work to stay alive.

Hopefully it's not in a discipline that could affect workers staying alive.

Worried in Wyoming

March 16, 2011
Perhaps AT&T should read Consumer Reports
For years now AT&T has run dead last in customer satisfaction in nearly all credible surveys.

Their network is suffering from huge problems. AT&T blames the iPhone, but perhaps they should look beyond that excuse to how they deploy and maintain their network.

Since 2001, AT&T has tried to separate themselves from the vendors who do the work on the sites. First it was hiring Bechtel to be their Program Manager. It was a failure.

Then they allowed a handful of national vendors to run their build plans.  It was a failure.

Now they decide on the turfing structure.

All the while, AT&T’s network has gotten worse and worse. The answer to building a high quality network is not to disengage yourself from the process but to eliminate the barriers.

Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless and US Cellular, who manage their vendors directly, have the highest rated networks in the US.

Coincidence?  I think not.

Overly concerned in California

March 15, 2011
Says he's financially bled dry and can't work
after 11 years of success
I don’t know how much more I can give. We have been a small company for the past 11 years, surviving by keeping overhead low and working hard.

We strive to provide quality work; it’s just what I believe in. I take pride in my work. Something I think many do not. I really like what I do for living, but it gets harder every year to survive with the price cuts.

Every day the price of materials goes up. Copper used in the power services is well over 3 dollars a foot.

It cost $115 to fill up the work truck and with the miles we drive that’s 3 times a week most weeks some times more.

Then the contractor I primarily work for says they have to cut the price of the jobs I have been doing $1,500 even though the scope of work is the same.

They said the cuts are due to the turfing contractors price cuts. After everybody takes a chunk there is no pie left for the people that physically build the sites.

All of the money AT&T pays to have a site built is eaten up in management fees. Very little of it makes it to the site. So the quality of their sites suffer because of this.

They force you to take the price or you don’t work. Which leads to where I am stuck not working tomorrow, even though I have lots to do, because we are out of money.

I have to wait for a payment to come in from one of the past 5 jobs so I can get back to work. While I wait I think I'll look for some other work besides AT&T.

Frustrated in Tennessee

March 11, 2011
AT&T is getting exactly what they're paying for: inexperience
I am more than happy to see this issue being addressed by Wireless Estimator.

The question is: will the thirty-five responses made in regards to this article (so far) even begin to make a difference?

The fact of the matter is you get what you pay for! If these turfing vendors want to set prices so low, they will end up hurting and losing established contractors with a reputation for safety and job quality.

Contractors with experienced employees, who are well versed in all aspects of the industry, have to pay for that experience. How does a contractor employ individuals who have been in the industry for 15 plus years, pay them proper wages and provide the benefits they deserve for doing what they do best, without the ability to job cost and bid.

It is beginning to feel like a dictatorship where we are told how much a job pays and we have to walk away because NO ONE is in business to lose money.

If this continues I too believe the only contractors that will be left doing the work will be inexperienced, improperly trained individuals, and we will see low quality work and sadly more fatal incidents as a result.

Unfortunately the decision has been made to pay the lowest price possible. Has AT&T ever thought that lowest is not best?

The work will take twice as long, due to inexperience, and eventually a reputable company will have to be called in and paid PROPER pricing to fix all the botched work.

It's sad to see what is happening in our industry.

Fuming in Florida

March 9, 2011
America's great race to the bottom with spiked Koo-Aid
Corporations go through cycles; start-ups where the innovators lead the way; into maturity where managers maintain; into the death spiral where the MBA's transfer the wealth out that has been built up by others.

It's a natural life cycle.

Sprint may be the industry's best example; the carpetbaggers have done their job, leaving a shell.

Who could think AT&T's adoption of the Sprint model would end well. Do you need to see 500,000 subscriber defections per quarter to realize the Kool-Aid is spiked?
Stop blaming the Turf Partner, they serve at their master's pleasure. They move from market to market, spreadsheets in hand, margins guaranteed with the same promises to the contractors; what you lose in margins, you'll make up in standard pricing quantity.

When the game has been fully played out, and you owe everyone, then they send in their lawyers, for the kill.

Perform proper due-diligence on potential customers. When a carrier is in a race to the bottom, you do not want to get caught in the vortex.

Denver, CO

March 9, 2011
Questions AT&T jobsite safety record
I would like to state that the commentary was very well written and laid out just about every complaint we have as a GC working for turfing vendors in Michigan. I would like to point out a few other items.

1.  Out of all of the casualties throughout the country, since the turfing was established, off the top of my head I believe over 90% of them were all on AT&T jobsites. 

That is going from memory right now and I think from all of the times I have heard about them, they were mostly on AT&T jobsites. 

I think a HUGE factor in companies' safety shouldn’t, but it does come from the prices the jobs pay. If times are lean then employers/managers are letting climbers go in the field with less than adequate PPE. I would like to see you guys with the resources you have do some sort of graph or pie chart of the number of fatalities and which carrier they were working for and that will add a tremendous point to your article. 

I know for a fact that either the first or second year of the turfing agreement AT&T shut down nationwide because there were so many deaths on their jobs!

2. AT&T can leave it to the turf vendors to turnkey their projects, but it would give every contractor a light at the end of the tunnel if they could get their purchase orders and they payments directly from AT&T. 

This would allow the contractors to have a say in turf pricing to them as well as AT&T having a clear conscience when it comes to safety on their jobs sites. 

By this I mean, if contractors agree to prices with AT&T without delay on their PO’s or payments it will give every GC a good feeling that they won’t go out of business waiting on some CM or PM of a turfing vendor, who is more worried about their trackers, to forget about approving PO’s or getting them. 

This would really give AT&T a GOOD idea of who can manage a project and who can’t. 

3. As if turfing prices weren’t low enough the first go round, now we have been asked to yet again, come off of our contract price even more, while doing more work like scoping the site and completing bill of materials because turf vendors can’t hire competent managers to do this themselves. 

Like the article stated, MN workers comp is outrageous and if you go to NY and OH, your usual comp is no good there and you have to pay it through the state funded comp program!

I could go on and on about complaints and things that should be changed, but in the end nothing will happen unless everyone stops working for them and they can’t meet any of their launch dates! 

But our company like others, is not agreeing to our newly lowered driver pricing or doing the additional work of Scoping & BOM’ing sites!  This is still one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and yet you can take your truck to the dealership and pay $95.00/hr to get it fixed or take your trailer into a welding shop and pay $75.00/hr for relatively unskilled labor and these guys never have to climb a ladder above 6 feet, what is wrong with this picture? 

If you tried to get any more than $55.00/hour they act like you are robbing them blind!  After it is all done and said the cost of living has gone up, fuel has gone wild and insurance and benefits have gone up but nothing in our industry has gone up but the carrier and turf vendor's profits!

Mortified in Michigan

March 7, 2011
Penniless contractor weighs in
Once again we are a small company trying to keep our doors open and maintain positive cash flow.  Our latest experience with a turf vendor was to provide resources on a daily rate to turfing vendor in the Southeast and this was accepted. 

After working in market and spending money on 5-7 crews we built 10 sites because of the following reasons:

1. Warehouse to the closest site build was a three hour drive-plus to deliver materials. 
2. BOM’s were short of necessary materials and improperly scoped, yet turfer insisted we start, then fights over downtime caused by improper scoping and material shortages. 
3. Overtime was authorized to complete sites ASAP and once complete, customer wants to renegotiate pricing after premium service provided.
4. Little or no response for escalations of the above mentioned matters. 
5. Documentation demands justifying our invoicing gets submitted and ignored, further delaying payment.
6. Turfer management repeatedly ignores phone calls and emails from us and then accuses contractor of lack of communication.

REMEDY: File criminal and civil RICO complaint against AT&T Mobility and all turf vendors.  I propose Wireless Estimator take the lead in organizing all contractors to reach out to Federal and state authorities to hear our cause where it will not fall on deaf ears.If we do not, our fate will remain uncertain and inevitably perilous. This situation reminds me of a quote from Benjamin Franklin.

"We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Penniless contractor from New York

March 6, 2011
Champions getting 30% up front
I have experienced the hardships discussed on this forum. It is a shame, but it happens because we let it happen.

If every tower company, or just most of us, would stand together we can rewrite our terms of a contract. We can let these people know we will not work under any other condition.

I'm betting they will change their actions if no one will work for them. In all other construction industries companies get a percentage down then the rest upon completion and inspection by the customer, and they don't wait 30 days to get it.

So there is no reason this industry couldn't do the same if the companies demand better and we refuse to work for their status quo, then they would be forced to meet our contractual demands.

We should be getting at least 30% up front, then upon completing the site it shouldn't take more then 7 days for them to produce a punch list or an approval and a check.

I for one am sick of completing a job, doing a punch, then 30 days later when trying to get paid hearing them talk about things wrong on the site.

These, I have come to learn, are just stall tactics, from now on day 31 and no check means a notice of intent to lean is being mailed.

I might end up not being able to get any more work by doing this, but I'd rather have my money and be jobless than working and broke. If things keep going like this you will find more and more unskilled workers that will eventually bring more attention to the industry. These are the reasons why you see so many deaths in the US, it's hard to properly educate someone in this industry for the smaller companies, it's just not in the budget.

These practices and many others across this great nation is what kills the middle class, yet these turfing companies feel no shame.

Losing it in Lakeland, Florida

March 6, 2011
Out of work and out of patience with process
I currently work for a third tier contractor and the man who runs this company is a good and very fair man. He spares no expense on training, safety and safety equipment.

Due to turfing I am currently looking for another job.

So the story goes after the Clear build out came to sudden halt. Much to their own fault using a turf contractor like Bechtel. I personally have seen how things were handled and money tossed out the window, for another story.

We began work for Ericsson a turf contractor and supplier to T-Mobile and are losing money hand over fist to build out T-Mobile's 3G upgrade that doubles as a false 4G network.

By the time the job gets to us it's for a mere average eight thousand bucks. This includes 6 new lines a BTS a telco run and 4 men 3 days.

Well, as many contractors know, the average cost for a crew is around 3 grand a day (you do the math 3 x 3 = 9) we lost money the moment we took the job.

Add in hotels and now the cost is really busted. Try sticking to T-Mobile's sweep specs where they require a -34 db pass fail on a DTF that is by no means a pass fail test. You have a fourth day dealing with inferior products purchased by the carrier and required to stick to a line item price with no chance of a change order.

When the turf contractor says, yes we know there is a problem, tweak it the best you can and give me passing sweeps.

So now in our scenario we are up to five days. Now it’s time to do the close-out package.

Here goes another half day to a day processing sweeps with specific labeling and PDF converting, then the photos resizing re labeling file names, then add them into a little box on a spread sheet.

So now our scenario has us at yet another day (up to 6 now ). Now here comes the call: We have an issue with a few photos here go get new ones; don’t like the angle of this one; this one has to much sun glare and so on. Well here goes a 2 man crew out for another day (7 now).

Needless to say, we had to drop the project. Now in turn there is no work for the employees.

So really who profits from this way of business?

Maybe a two to three man Ma and Pa crew out of a 1980 Toyota pickup with no safety program and extremely dated safety equipment.

Walla! You have deaths and injuries!

You, as a carrier think it’s not happening? Well it is, and human life is paying the price just to put a roof over their family's heads and food in their babies' stomachs.

When will it stop?

Not employed in MD, PA, VA, FL, NY and NJ where I used to be.

March 2, 2011
Open Letter to Mr. Ernie Carey
Senior Vice President - Engineering & Construction at AT&T
I think you would be shocked to see how poorly your network has been built out over the last 10 years. Just when I think I have seen it all, someone sends me horrifying photos of RF cables flapping in the breeze and RET / AISG cables disconnected and just dangling from the towers. 

Then there are the grounding cables that are either non existent or so poorly installed that they will do nothing in the event of a lighting strike, and antennas and amplifiers ready to fall off towers because someone did not tighten them up or lack the knowledge to do it correctly.

I understand that as a senior executive you probably have a number of mid managers telling you how much money they are saving you with turf vendors and what a good job they are doing.

I can only envision your key team members sitting around the conference room patting each other on the back on the good job being done by the turf vendors as many of them prepare to go out and play golf with them at some fancy county club.  

I can assure you that you would be horrified at the quality of work being done by these turf vendors and some of the poor unqualified subcontractors they are hiring.

Listed below are a few reasons why turf is hurting AT&T. 

  1. Staffing by the turf contractors is full of unqualified project managers; construction managers and field staff that just don’t understand their job and have little or no technical knowledge.  Most turf vendors just hire any warm body they can get their hands on.  There are some pockets of good people with the turfing vendors but it seems like the farther away they get from their home office things start falling apart.  It appears that most turf vendors have just over sold their capabilities and are stretched way too thin from a management and financial standpoint.
  2. Good contractors don’t want to work for turf vendors because they don’t pay on time, don’t cut purchase orders in a timely manner and find every reason possible to hold up payment.
  3. Third party audit teams that are hired to inspect the work are even less qualified.  Many times the only qualification they have is they have people to climb a tower.  These teams sound like a great check and balance but I can assure you the reports are not worth the paper they are printed on.
  4. The money the turf vendors are taking off the top of the driver prices is just not realistic.  A quality contractor just cannot work long term for the money being offered by the turf vendors.  The turf vendors are so inefficient and their overheads so high they are skimming to much money from the site construction drivers to pay their team of unqualified construction managers and project managers.
  5. 60, 90 and 120 day payment terms?  When did we get stuck with being the bank for AT&T and your under capitalized turf vendors?  Last I looked my AT&T cell phone bill it does not allow me to have extended payment terms.
  6. Senior executives at these turf companies tell us not to start work without a purchase order.  The project managers at the same companies demand that we start work without purchase orders or we will get blackballed.  We are told AT&T has not given the approval/ purchase order to the turf vendor and we cannot get our PO until the turf vendor gets theirs.  Who’s telling the truth?  This just adds to our delay in payment, since we cannot invoice without a purchase order.
  7. Quality is suffering because the scoping engineers don’t fully understand all of the correct material that should be purchased.  Why in the world would you have contractors make 70 to 100 RF jumpers on site when you can purchase correct lengths from the vendors that are made and tested at the factory?  We have heard all of the reasons and they just don’t make sense.

Mr. Carey, all is not lost. There are many of us waiting in the wings to step in and help you get this train back on the tracks, but you need to be willing to send more of these turf vendors packing because they are not giving you what you paid for.

Disillusioned in Illinois

March 1, 2011
Pee-ohed about POs not being issued, but PMs pushing to start
It has been made clear to all working in the wireless business that corporate profits are the only important consideration to the carriers, and most of corporate America

in general. One carrier employee's comment made it clear that someone getting hurt on the job was only a problem if it was the carrier’s employee, if it was a contractor’s employee they could care less.

AT&T’s turfing contractor sends a clear message to their ASP’s; if you do not like it (pricing and terms) they will get someone else to do it. Complaints from landlords are numerous of construction being done without notice as required in the lease.

Jurisdictions find un-permitted work being done all the time (Turfing Company’s PMs pushing for the work to be completed without or prior to issuance of proper zoning or building permits).  Although against policy, the GC’s are being asked to perform work without POs in place. Other times the PO is generated, work performed or being performed and the PO canceled in midstream, then having to fight for the reissuance of the PO for months (and yes then waiting for 90 days to get paid after the PO is reissued).

Sprint sent a clear message to the industry when they got rid of (transferred) their employees to a Turfing contractor. Who in turn took over the responsibility of network operation, maintenance, and the new build-out. Most of those 8000 employees (RF engineers, site techs, leasing, zoning, and construction managers) have been let go since the take-over.

Last summer 8 out of 10 techs were let go, the 2 that were kept were the rookie techs (least paid, least knowledge). For real problems there is one manager (senior tech) is expected to solve all of the hard problems. They are not keeping up!

T-Mobile has been turning and burning their contractors for years, making them bid on incomplete site designs (no power or telco designs), starting and stopping jobs. Demanding driver based pay or fixed price bidding (always to be negotiated lower), then changing the rules in the middle of the build.

Example, contractor bids to add a breaker and extend power to the site. Then stopped to await power design form the power company, only to find out that the 10’ run bid on  is now a new 100’ run with own power meter. During this time (sometimes over a year) the contractor is missing the final payment of 20% due to incomplete paperwork (perm power and permit closeout), then told that the new design warrants no change order!?!?! need to talk about it; they are as bad or worse then a turfing company. Many GCs will regret doing work for them and ultimately go out of business due to none payment. Landlords and jurisdictions are frustrated by incomplete projects (permit inspections and finals, stealth installs, patching, painting, etc…).  Not likely to be resolved anytime soon since they have no money.

The downward pressure on pricing, extended payment terms, and the middle man (turfing contractor) taking the profits for little or no contribution, are the wireless industry’s problems. Until the ASP’s and GC's get smart and start refusing work on contracts that are unprofitable, things will not change!!!

Disgusted ASP, from Walnut Creek, CA.

February 28, 2011
From the great white profitable north
Thank god we don’t operate like this in Canada.

It’s pretty simple here.

Carrier bid walks a site with 4 – 6 contractors.

Site is awarded based on low bid, and sometimes delivery may also sway award.

Contractor gets PO from carrier, contractor invoices carrier when complete, contractor gets paid 30-45 days, depending on carrier.

Content in Canada

February 28, 2011
What's an ex wife and others to do?
I'm one of those contractors, with quality work already done and invoices dating back to September 09 (unpaid) and all my paperwork being stalled and changed, and re-changed or lost and not approved with no answer to why? 

We're not a big company so we can make money on these jobs, but since we're a family company we lack the cash, to sit for 120+ to 200 days for partial payments, when I've had to pay for my guys and cranes etc. upon job completion.  

We can talk all we want and complain about it, but the question is what can we actually do? Until somebody tells me what we can do or a solution, then 15 guys will lose their jobs, 15 wives will lose their means; 10 ex-wives will lose support and 33 children will be put in jeopardy, and last, I will go under; that's 75+ people and families affected.

So what's the solution? What can the little guy do? 

The real results of turfing in Michigan

February 27, 2011
Concerted effort could change carriers' contempt of contractors
We bailed out on the turfing BS almost 7 or 8 years ago. I could see the writing on the wall. We have always been a maintenance and broadcast-based tower erector. When the wireless industry started hiring  the “2 guys and rope” contractors I continued to bid items as I always did with a fair profit for the quality work provided. We haven’t done a collocate or tower amp install in years but we’re still here and profitable.

It will take a concerted effort on the part of all the existing companies currently working for carriers using middlemen. Raise your minimums across the board. Put penalties in for nonpayment or late payment and USE the lien process and small claims/civil courts. So what if they don’t use you again. They weren’t paying you fairly anyway. NET 15 days minimum. Discount only for PRE-payment. Demand 30% up front on any job where you are required  to provide materials.

These are just a few ideas. Use your heads. You survived this long, you’re not dumb. If just 2/3, or hell, even half of you stick to your guns you can change the game. I still remember the project managers we had at GTE and Cellular One. We built out one of the primary systems in the Midwest in 1985-1988. They asked a lot of us but weren’t afraid to go to bat for us when the bill was due. NOT LATE, DUE! Even though we’re not involved with the turfing process I’ll stick with ya and let ya know when they start calling new blood in. I will NOT cave in to their unethical practices.

Spencer, Ind.

February 27, 2011
Safety is a concern from one who may exit the industry
I thought it would be beneficial to write a response to the article in which AT&T is deploying a 4G market with no concern as to it working or safety.

My company is so understaffed to keep up with the demands put upon us that we are forced to hire green hands. Fine and dandy to put people to work, but I want to say that they should not only be thinking of work but their safety.

It's hard to pass up a paycheck, although at what cost? Many people do not think of the consequences only to repay debt or feed their families. The problem is they have no idea about safety,  proper climb gear, inspection of that and someone to hold their hand and take the time to train properly. I guarantee with this build out of AT&T's 4G network we will see more and more fatalities!

The company I work for has no rescue gear, no blocks, slings, straps, and simply no good rope to implement a rescue. I have had it up to my ears with cheap contractors working on towers, due to their lack of caring, safety procedures and equipment.

When are companies going to wake up and say NO to bully like standards impose by first tier contractors? Why not stand up to them and say we cannot afford to work at this rate, and if you would like the work done it will have to cover costs. Costs associated with proper training, materials, safety measure (or at least) a salaried safety employee, should be a standard to running a business.

When we lose sight of that the costs simply trickle down to the employee who cannot afford to replace 10 year old harnesses, caribeaners, and so on. With the competitive market out there no one can on a average salary of a first year or let's just say second and third year technician can afford.

I feel that if we don't do something about this, it will continue on as status quo. I guarantee my wife and family will never get a call from anyone telling them I could not be rescued, or had died tragically due to employers lack of safety equipment.

I just wish I could say that for all the employees around me. Fortunately , I own my own safety gear.  I was just hoping the company could provide the rope.

Sorry AT&T, your 4G network is not worth my life!

P.S. the network is going to fail! Especially when I am the one who is installing it and have first hand knowledge of your procedures.

Get it done is something that I don't like to hear when I know what it takes and 2 out of 10 needs are not met. How can you install fiber without cleaning it? Or even testing it? Who pays for the go back? Where is Bechtel? What happened to the safety? I am in a position for a career change due to this; wish me luck.
Mike from Schaumburg, IL

February 26, 2011
AT&T puts company on brink of closing its doors
This article really hit home for us. We are right now in the position of shutting our doors and losing everything due to non payment for last year's AT&T build. We are a small company and this project was planned to set us up for the possibility of expansion.

Now we are owed over 2/3 of our 2010 income. Some projects involved with this debt were completed back in the beginning of October of 2010. Our contractor, from Kansas, repeatedly promises to this date that checks will be coming in this week. This week turns into next week and the week after and so on.

Meanwhile we were pushed to keep going on the project. Completing site after site. Fully responsible for the construction, the complete closeout package, travel out of state to pick up materials and we even had to store the materials in our warehouse not only for ourselves but for their other sub-contractors on our dime.

All of this money going out to get this project done and now we haven't a foot to stand on in order to get paid for the work that we have done.

This project has bled us dry and we are going to lose everything that we have nearly killed ourselves to try to build. We are already having phones shut off, houses going into foreclosure, and trucks near repossession. We will have to shut our doors very soon.

AT&T and their first tier contractors are the only ones who benefit from their builds. How can what they are doing not be a criminal act? They are robbing us of the American dream.

Thank you.

Waiting to tell this Wisconsin story

February 26, 2011
The formula: Quit and they'll be forced to change
All, it's real simple. As soon as everyone quits working for a turfing vendor AT&T will have no choice but to abandon that business model.  I quit working for all Turfing companies 2 years ago and I’m doing just fine.

Ticked off in Tennessee

February 25, 2011
Turfing contractors take advantage of their CMs and PMs too
Not only are the ASPs being crippled, it is also the contractors hired to work for the turfing contractors.
As an example, there are many construction managers putting in 60 -70 hours per week and getting paid for no more than 45.

In many cases they are paying their own cell phone bills, gas and are using their own vehicles without compensation. 

They are to be paid hourly, but that is not allowed. On top of that the hourly rates have plummeted as the turfers see blood in the water due to economic conditions.

You complain and you may be gone; the turfing contractors think good CMs/PMs are a dime a dozen and any warm body can do the same job even if it's for 10-20 dollars less per hour less than what was being paid a couple years ago. 

In most cases, this is illegal and at the least a violation of the contract terms. The company that the CM is working through doesn't want to buck the turfing contractor and does not back its CM because to do so will result in problems for the contracting company with their client. 

They want more requisitions so they stay quiet.  And it is not just CMs that are not getting paid for their work; Site Acquisition managers and PMs are also facing the same issues. All are expected to be available at all hours of the day/night and are pushed to the breaking point but do not get paid for the actual hours they put in.

They in turn have to push the ASPs to the breaking point.

Name, city, state withheld to continue working

February 24, 2011
Unions might be the answer to curb crippling business ethics
Please allow me to elaborate on your AT&T article. It’s completely accurate. Our personnel have participated on every side of this issue over the last 10 years. We have concluded that the actions of AT&T (and other carriers’) practices violate basic ethical principles with its business models, that cripple safety, favor nepotism, and show no respect or appreciation to the industry’s foot soldiers.

To cover operating expenses, the lower tier vendors have indeed had to collateralize their homes and other assets for a line of credit, which have declined in value as much as 40 to 50% in the last 3 years.

Many of the banks have gone into bankruptcy, or are no longer letting the vendors keep their loan ceiling that could sustain their operating expenses the length of time necessary to receive payment from the contractor.

Usually, when their Home Equity Loan went up for renewal, the banks convert their balance into an amortized loan, wherein, the small vendor becomes dependent on cash flow from their receivables that trickle in 90 to 180 days - after the job is finished.

With inconsistent receivables, the contractor typically shuts down until he’s paid, or goes into bankruptcy, wherein, their employees will scatter like the wind. It’s those vendors who have funded their training and certifications such as climbing safety and Antrisu certifications, OSHA add First Aid education. Leaving the vendor with having to restart and retrain new recruits while waiting on the receivables from the same contractor that stole its employees.

AT&T has retained firms, mostly, in their home state of Texas, who had less than 30 employees when they contracted with them: or in other areas, the upper levels of management have hired firms who they have personal or a blood relationship with smaller firms that had previously specialized in only one facet of cellular construction.

Given large turfs, the new contractors need to hire hundreds of new employees within a short window. Whereupon, many management positions are held by people who have no experience with cellular tower infrastructure.

These inexperienced Construction and Property Managers have very limited knowledge of cellular terminology, of the materials necessary for sites (especially with the complexity of the sites), of knowing what or when certain special equipment is required, or of all the extra time and labor that has to be done to achieve the carriers specifications.

Every site has different issues that cannot be covered by reviewing an RFDS sheet. The BOM (materials) are short or wrong: the scope of work is inadequate, resulting in purchase orders that are inaccurate or delayed until the CM is up to speed. 

Vendors are given sites with only a verbal notice to proceed, (in violation of most contracts). The CM and the vendor usually agree to create change orders when the site is finished. Afterwards, the vendor is denied the change order since it was not in contractor’s agreement with the carrier. The small vendor’s agreement, who usually contracts with only one contractor, states that they cannot use their most powerful advantage of filing a lien or is threatened that if they protest, they will not be used again.

His choice is to drop his pursuit for a change order or seek another contactor.

We’ve had the privilege of working with companies’ leaders that Tom Browkaw calls the “greatest generation”.  A generation that grew up in a depression, fought in WWII, created a financial, social, educational, and geographic infrastructure that was the envy of world. They respected all individual’s right and freedoms. They worked hard, saved their money to have a comfortable retirement with enough to leave to their heirs.

A principle of doing good work, take your fair share of profit, and allow all other tiers to their respective share. It was the backbone of this country’s strength and respect. They have all retired; losing their pensions; with 1% interest rate; their saving are eroding, medical cost increasing at 30 percent per year; they’re facing losing their guaranteed health benefits, that  they paid for  (and deserve) through all their lives.

It’s due to the ethics of my generation. The same generation that runs the corporations and contractors in today’s wireless industry who have created a float by intentionally delaying payments, or penalizing a fair payment schedule by a 5% deduction. It’s a generation of generals who have no respect, much less appreciation, for their foot soldiers or the toll their actions puts on families.

The one who gets up every day, whether it’s 10º or 95º and climbs the cold gray towers 10 to 12 hours every day, or run dangerous heavy equipment, in a desperate goal to meet contractor’s unrealistic deadlines. Generals who require these vendors to obtain excessive limits of insurance, while they ride their backs by being self insured. Recently we’ve heard the same undertones of discontent, frustration, and exasperation.

We believe that the wireless industry worker should unionize. Before you demonize unions: history shows they were instrument necessary to protect the workers, when government could not.

 It was the unions that required employers obtain health insurance, which created a minimum wage, which created safety standards. In 1946 unions tried to bring unions into the South, They failed. As a result; wages, the standard of living, health benefits in the South has remained the worst in the nation the last 80 years.

It works because the unions have to live or died by profits of the corporation. If the corporation's profits were down, the union cooperated and reduce it demands. Look at what collective bargaining has done is sports.

Look at Delta Airlines, they were in bankruptcy, unions cooperated and now Delta is expanding. Eastern Airlines did not and it disappeared. Today, with the renewed anti-government trend (to which AT&T was the largest contributor of those special interest), creating a wireless union is the only viable solution to AT&T’s and other carriers along with their general’s nepotistic business ethic.

Marietta, GA

February 23, 2011
Some turfing company employees are poorly equipped
I have been in the tower business for about 15 years now. 

I have met some really good folks along the way.  But when you have people from these turfing companies who don’t know a bolt bag from a bull pin punching your sites, there is no way you will get paid on time. 

I do nothing but Verizon work these days as far as L&A goes. If it came down to me having to work for a “turfing company" , some other industry is gonna suffer cause me and my guys are gonna start cutting grass or trees or something. 


Morrisville, NC

February 23, 2011
Sick and tired and he's not going to take it any more
I just want to share this quick note with you, having too much coincidence involved not to.

This message was written February 23, 2011 from a crappy motel in a dinky little town, with internet at least.

In the recent past, I've been involved in the construction side of the Mobility project, to be vague.
To be not-so-short, I've encountered so much incompetence over the past few weeks that I finally broke down the other day and have told my boss I'm done.

I can't take it anymore, I'm done. I'm tired of this industry, I'm tired of this bull****. I'm tired of the bowing down to corporate beefcakes looking to find the cheapest bidder, I'm tired of not knowing what the **** is going on and what our priorities are.

I'm tired of the NOT KNOWING part of what is going to be required on the SOW to get paid. I'm tired of wondering how structurals pass engineering with some of the towers that are out there now, and how much we are having to take for granted these days, and how I fear that it's going to go too far and someone's going to die because of these ill-safety-conscious and profit-hungry companies.

How does a contractor putting a structure on a tower that was passed by engineering, be told not to contact them directly with questions anymore?  Isn't that how the 'ol'timers' used to do it? And that I didn't want to feel partially responsible for our company having to close its doors.

Concerned for my friends

February 19, 2011
Less than plumbers' wages paid by others, not just AT&T
I really enjoyed your article on the turfing vendor issues with ATT. You are right on the money but the truth of it is that this is not only limited to ATT.

We started a company over a year and a half ago and do a considerable amount of work for a radio manufacturer. Their terms of net 60 end of month essentially net 90 cripples small businesses, especially startups.

To compound the net 90 they have automated systems that the employees cannot even fix when an invoice gets "hung" or does not get paid in time so the net 90 turns into 120. 

Our goal as a small business is to provide quality services with knowledgeable technicians of which the customer requires specific expensive training that we are not able to recoup the cost on because the margins are so low in the pricing.

The bad thing about it is that we the contractors control the market not the end customer.  I have seen per hour pricing come to us lower than what it would be to get a plumber to your house and that’s simply ridiculous.

Keep up the good work maybe contractors will get the big picture of the industry and start digging their heels in.

Lafayette, LA

February 18, 2011
UK not okay with turfing pricing
If  Vodafone had the bollocks to do that in the UK all of the riggers would have politely requested that they go stuff it and they would have had to build out their network using tin cans and string.

Miffed in Manchester

February 17, 2011
Ground swell of concern should be a concern of the CEO
With the trend of recent grass roots uprisings in the Middle East, heads of state soon found out that ignoring the message wasn't conducive to their longevity in office.

Any CEO of a major company that gets presented with a grass roots disenchantment from its vendors would be wise to pay closer attention to the issues.

Perhaps the time is right for a ground swell of contractors affected to get their message heard.

-- Concerned in Columbus, Ohio

February 17, 2011
Should weigh losses up to $12,000 an hour in vendor selection
There is only one issue I take with the article and that is vendors have always had the ability to say NO, and while that is painful, no customer is better than a bad customer.
AT&T Mobility suffers from the same disease as the other carriers or any large technically centric organization. A glance at any executive bio reads has served as chief operating officer, Broadband and Internet Services, Network Planning, Consumer Services, Engineering and Network Operations. It reads like a Greyhound bus ticket with all the proper punch holes all in the proper places.
Maintenance, and I include minor construction in that category, is one of the few areas in a corporation where a maintenance guy must to be posted and for an extended period of time. Network operations is a position that should not be shuffled in and out of every 18 to 24 months and whose evaluation should be bases largely on the individual's ability to produce long term sustainable policies rather than career progression or self-preservation.
Cost shifting has been a mainstay of the industry for years. AT&T Wireless Services, Inc. paid religiously on time 30 days net, in August 2002 they shifted to 45 days net. I do not know where they are now but it has probably gone down hill. Global Signal and Modern Technical Services each paid (according to contract) 45 days net but typically paid 90 to 120 days and near the end of our service with Global Signal it was 180 days, 120 days after we stopped responding to trouble tickets.
Here is what the executives are missing: maintenance costs run around 1.61 percent of cost of service; when a sector is degraded to the point of dropped calls the revenue lost per hour starts at $480/hr (no call load) or $12,000/hr (call load of 25) for an old 5 channel WCDMA site like Sprint when a site is LTE you are talking about 73 calls simultaneously per channel at $0.10 per minute. The bottom line is what I charge a carrier pales in comparison to lost revenue.
Vendor selection is paramount to carrier viability. Currently managers in markets select vendors based primarily on personal idiosyncrasies; the end result is they pick their friends, acquaintances or former business associates. 

All vendors should be selected objectively by outside market personnel and selection should involve published key performance indices (KPI) and should allow for some degree of exclusivity for a specific geographic area with pre-negotiated parts markups, minimum stockage levels for critical items and a response time.

Vendors with same day responses and repairs on the initial visit or who otherwise establish a pattern of short-term and long-term problem solving should be rewarded with financial incentives.
The notion that I have to accept less than full payment for work performed simply to get reimbursed in a shorter period of time is theft or extortion, take your pick. It has taken nearly eight years to get to this point, another five and the carriers will not have anyone willing to respond.

All in all though, you hit the nail on the head.

Dr. Michael S. Landa DBA
Chief Executive Officer
Landcraft Industries, Inc.

February 17, 2011
Says momentum must be maintained
Thank you Wireless Estimator for exposing this great debacle! I ask that you do not let this story fade and keep the awareness of this issue at a high level and hopefully someone will hear us that cares!

It is very hard as a contractor these days with all of the demands of owning a small business. You have the IRS, Worker's Comp, Insurance requirements, safety gear, vehicles, training, benefits and competitive wages to keep good people that provide a quality product.

After the "Turf Contractors" squeeze every ounce of profit out of the project before it is even started it makes it hard to stay in business no less provide a quality product.

Most of these "Turf Contractors" sell their customer on the basis of safety which we all know their real motive is profit. The biggest problem with these projects is not only the minimal amount of profit (if any) is the fact that they stretch out your pay date 90 days + and all of the vendors that sell us products we use for the projects require payment in 30 days.

The "Turf Contractors" are double dipping in the aspect that not only are they receiving money from the carriers but they are receiving interest on my money that they are sitting on.

It seems like once they get to the 90 day point they start making excuses of why not to pay you. I have seen it where we asked if we owe them any more closeouts and they tell us to submit one thing. We ask again where is the pay and they say submit this one more thing and it just keeps snowballing.

Another thing that makes it hard is when the "Turf Contractors" strong arm the site owners into using their contractors to build the whole site and not just the carrier portion.

I have also seen a "Turf Contractor" try to force contractors into using certain contractors that are not set up with them and refuse to get set up with them as if they were receiving a kickback of sorts.

It is amazing how they preach safety and yet circumvent the process when it benefits them. It is a rigorous process to get set up with them in the first place and it is a slap in the face when they tell you to use a contractor that refuses to jump through their hoops to get set up as a vendor.

I believe it is time to cut out the middle man and go back to the way it was when you worked directly for the carrier and their immediate employees. Please keep this going!

-- Fed up in Ohio

February 17, 2011
"Middle man" says you can make money
I am part of one of these “middle man companies ”. Everyone is quick to point fingers at cost, overhead, not being able to make a profit.

I’ve seen companies be successful on these builds first hand as someone who actually did the installs. You CAN make money.

Look at it from this point of view. I do agree to some of the statements made in this article. Don’t push the blame on just the “middle man”.

Look at the unethical business practices with your third party auditors. They come in reading a book not knowing anything and will fail a site due to their opinions.

Yet they will come to you and charge you $500 per site and guarantee it will pass.

Nothing like mob protection. I agree the pricing is low compared to past pricing. That being said, let’s not push blame on just certain areas. There are so many areas all the way from pricing all the way down to subs that have caused TURF to be a double edged sword. 

-- A look from the other side in Georgia

February 17, 2011
Agrees with contractor commentary
Whomever, had the foresight to write this article has never been more correct in stating the truth. As a contractor in this industry for 15 years I have never seen a more accurate statement.

Thanks for going public.

-- Kentucky

February 17, 2011
Any profit is impossible
It’s a wonder it’s worked this long.  Another thing, 5 to 8 percent net on this project is impossible.  Loss is the only outcome for the field contractor.

-- Concord, CA

February 17, 2011
Believes profit erosion is caused by contractors
Blame for the erosion of profits for contractors doesn't fall on anyone but the contractors themselves. As long as contractors continue to agree to lower and lower rates, this problem will have a detrimental effect on those businesses attempting to survive.

We have simply refused to participate in this circus of low bidders. We have an exemplary reputation, provide a valuable service to our clients and expect to be compensated accordingly.

As long as there are contractors with a short term view of this business who continue to accept work for minimum wage, this problem will persist.

-- Newport Beach, CA

February 17, 2011
Count discouraged engineers in too
This phenomena holds true for everyone doing business in the industry.  The cell carriers just want to see an engineer’s stamp and a permit - they don’t care about the quality of work that goes into it.

 It will take a tower collapse or a cabinet falling through the roof to make them open their eyes.

Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, prices just keep getting lower because people need the work. 

That being said, time to get back to designing (2) 40’ long x 12’ high screenwalls, a platform for 10000lbs of equipment, and seismic upgrades to a building for ¼ of the estimated fee we provided. 

It’s another case of “if you ever want to do another project for this carrier, you’ll do it for this price”. 

Discounted & Discouraged Engineer

February 17, 2011
Turfing isn't NATE's fault, but they should address it
I applaud the Commentary by CEL and couldn’t agree more with Mr. Sick and Tired from Phoenix, AZ.  Turfing, with its price drivers is a bad business model.  Unfortunately, though, Turf work is going on all around us.  Some sites are literally within a mile of our business, yet we can’t make any money doing it because the price drivers are about breakeven. 

And then the turfing contractor wants to pay you in about 100 days.  You are essentially financing the project.  That doesn’t pencil out so we don’t participate. 

I too have felt this issue could be discussed within NATE, as Mr. Sick and Tired pointed out.  NATE’s board of directors are comprised of tower contractors, like us, and could be providing a venue for this conversation as an online forum just like Wireless Estimator has done here.

Forgive me if there is such a forum and I have somehow missed it.  But, I don’t think NATE will ever address issues like turfing because NATE accepts membership dues from practically anyone; tower owners, broadcast corporations, project management companies and wireless phone companies, not just tower erectors. 

Last I checked, though, NATE didn’t stand for the National Association of Wireless Project Managers.  It stands for the National Association of Tower Erectors . 

With that said, turfing isn’t NATE’s fault.  And turfing isn’t the only issue that needs to be talked about among tower construction/ maintenance companies. 

Customers that let “Two Men and a Rope” onto their bid lists, when the customer knows they are not fully qualified, is another problem. 

The Commentary by Wireless Estimator and Sick & Tired in Phoenix is true, unfortunately.

Sick and Tired in the Midwest

February 16, 2011
The optimist or the realist?
Sadly enough, your article was too true!

However, as I view the  industry at large and consider the enormity of the projected build plan over the next 4 to 5 years, I am convinced that the Turfing/Management Groups will have to “come off the dime” to get their work done.

The only carriers that will get their networks built out will be the ones that are willing to be fair and kick the costs back into a model that is mutually equitable for all.

There’s actually so much work projected, the Turfers are going to start vying amongst themselves for the “Contractor Community” to “get on board”.

They’ll be fighting each other...they’ll have to! We’ve dug in our heels and we’re here to stay! It’s just a matter of time.

That’s the way I see it!


February 16, 2011
I don't have a margin of error
Plain, simple, straightforward. I climb these towers. It's my life on the line when contractors are forced to cut short on spending to stay afloat and build these towers to the minimal requirements possible.

To the writer of "Now you've gone and done it" you WILL hear me complain. Reason being, yes you may get business to fix it, but how many times do you think a climber has climbed one of those towers BEFORE you get to fix it.

All it takes is ONE bolt missing at the wrong spot, ONE j-bolt missing from a ladder. One anchor point not done right. ONE mistake to take my life. I don't have a margin of error for my life.

Amarillo, TX

February 16, 2011
With a 5% net, downsizing is a consideration
You have done a great service to everyone in the industry. Thank you! This has been a problem for years that needed to be exposed and not just talked about at company meetings as tempers flared whenever the sorry relationships between the turfing vendor and the contractor were discussed.

We've often thought of downsizing because we can't survive with a nickel net profit. Believe it or not, that's true and we're an excellent company with great management.

Good job. Great article! I hope AT&T takes notice.

An upset Austin, Tex. Tower Company

February 16, 2011
Now you've gone and done it!
You won't hear me complain about them. My most profitable work is fixing the mistakes caused by unqualified contractors that are hired because they're the only ones that will work so cheap!

Buffalo, NY

February 16, 2011
Supplier says it's not just the contractors suffering
Outstanding commentary on the regretful state of affairs caused by these turfing contractors.

As a major supplier to these vendors, we too are affected by the turfers.
But for us it's a double whammy. Their pricing has put some of our customers out of business so we not only lose a valuable contractor, we're stuck with uncollectable debt.

City-State name withheld upon request

February 16, 2011
AT&T should take notice
Great work!!! I'm hoping that AT&T's management takes this concern seriously after reading your article...and I'm sure they will see it.

They have to decide if the benefits they receive from having the turfing vendors manage their builds are worth the liabilities of poorly constructed sites and a diminishing pool of talent.

Atlanta, GA 

February 15, 2011
No pride or relationships in Phoenix
This article was right on target! In the years past a carrier worked with local contractors building relationships and the contractors were responsive to the carriers needs. A contractor knew what the carriers expected and delivered it.

Now, with the insertion of the “middle man”, that has all changed and not for the better.  No relationships, no pride of ownership or wanting to do a good job for the carrier because they took care of you and you want to take care of them.

 It is beyond comprehension why these turf vendors are being used, often their so called project managers have little if any experience in the wireless industry. They are using the contractors to fund their business and have dictated prices which are impossible to make a profit.

Nowhere else in the construction industry is a contractor expected to carry the cost of a project for 90 days. In fact, it is usually much longer than 90 days because it takes weeks, sometime months for the turf vendors and PM firms even to issue a PO.

Something has to give. Quality? Safety? Staying in business? What is it? 

If the carriers don’t  wake up to what their vendors are doing to us contractors than maybe the tower companies like ATC, Crown, GTP and others will.

It's got to be a burden with all the liens being filed. Maybe they can demand contractors working on their sites are paid in 30 days. That’s a nice thought!

This should be the #1 topic at NATE. How do we combat these companies that keep eroding our profits, putting our companies out of business.

Contractors, stop accepting contracts for payment terms of 60+ days or pay when paid. Start marking up the “drivers” and stop letting them dictate what market value is.

AT&T, T-Mobile, and others, you know who you are, why don’t you extend the same courtesy to your customers you do to your contractors and let them pay in 90 to 120 days.

Or better yet, why don’t you put a little integrity back into the industry and require your turf vendors to change their business practices to something more ethical.

Sick and Tired
Phoenix, AZ

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