From the desk of Howard Zetah …
March 19, 2020
The Honorable Tim Walz
130 State Capitol
75 Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
Department of Labor and Industry
Dear Governor Walz:
First and foremost we would like to express that we stand with you and other public officials as you begin to implement appropriate measures toward containing COVID-19. We are grateful that you are doing everything in your power to minimize that devastating impact across all industries and social activities. We understand these are unprecedented times and we are eager to find an innovative solution during this unsettling period in our State’s history.
As a representative of nearly 2,000 residential builders who employ 45,000 workers across Minnesota, our builders primarily work on borrowed money and interest that must be paid regardless of a work stoppage. Not only are we looking for the workers’ interests, but also the thousands of homeowners who rely on this work to quickly and efficiently move into their homes.
Like many other industries, this virus outbreak poses an all too familiar threat of economic disaster for the residential construction industry. With an ominous job market looming resulting from whispers of a likely recession, keeping 65,000 Minnesotans employed is the second most important action at this moment. As states and cities across the nation begin to limit interaction with the public we ask that officials be aware of the unique impact felt by the residential construction industry, some of the challenges and concerns include: permit hearings, building inspections, access to land records, and ability to record deeds and mortgages. Fortunately, there is an option that could allow us all to move forward safely and proactively.
As of March 16, 2020, Emergency Executive Order 20-01 (“Executive Order”) and the declaration of a peacetime emergency became effective as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Executive Order states that “Minnesota has taken proactive steps to ensure that we are ahead of the curve on COVID-19 prevention and response.” One such proactive step that would curtail the effects of COVID-19 is by ensuring that individuals have the ability leave their residence to provide any services or perform any work necessary to the operations and maintenance of residential infrastructure, including, permitting, inspection, construction, transferring and recording of ownership of housing. Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 12.21, subdivision 3 (10). Allows the Governor to “alter or adjust by executive order, without complying with sections 14.01 to 14.69, the working hours, workdays and workweek of, and annual and sick leave provisions and payroll laws regarding all state employees in the executive branch as the governor deems necessary to minimize the impact of the disaster or emergency, conforming the alterations or adjustments to existing state laws, rules, and collective bargaining agreements to the extent practicable.” This statute gives you the authority to allow this vitally important industry to continue operations.
Our immediate concern is to abide by the restrictions set forth by the CDC. Specifically, meeting the social distancing requirements and limiting group gathering sizes to fewer than ten people. Construction, by nature, is a practice of social distancing because most projects have workers dispersed on tasks located more than 6 feet apart. Our organization is eager to partner with local government agencies to ensure that permit reviews, inspections and construction are carried out on time while still satisfying the local jurisdiction’s need to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of their staff and the community at large. Some suggestions on how to accomplish this goal would be contracting with other jurisdictions that may be unable to perform the inspections, contracting a licensed building inspector to be designated by the Department of Labor and Industry, and contacting the Department of Labor and Industry to determine if they have inspection resources available to perform the inspection.
We appreciated the time taken to review this letter. Respectfully, request that you consider residential construction an essential service, so that individuals may continue to provide any services or perform any work necessary to the operations and maintenance of Minnesota’s infrastructure, including permitting, inspection, construction, and transferring and recording of deeds.