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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
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!?!?!
Clearwire...no 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.
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.
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.
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.
NO WAY WILL I WORK FOR A TURFING COMPANY, MY FAMILY LIKES FOOD.
RULE THE AIR!
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.
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