Safety and People First
This profile is part of the Frontline Forward series. Frontline Forward recognizes employers whose good jobs practices have protected, supported, and developed frontline workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The key job quality practices and policies that are highlighted throughout the profile are drawn from the National Fund’s Job Design Framework. Designing quality jobs is good for workers, businesses, and their communities.
Keeping workers safe and healthy keeps them working and getting paid. At DPR Construction, a global general contractor, craft workers say the company understood this long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and that this strong commitment to safety is a big reason why they were able to stay on the job when many others could not.
A culture built around safety
As a general practice, every day on a DPR work site begins with a group meeting, during which workers can raise concerns and offer suggestions for making the workplace safer. That commitment to open communication continues throughout the day: Every DPR construction site has a safety representative whose job is to make sure workers have the tools, supplies, and equipment they need to stay safe, that everyone is following safety protocols, and that anyone with questions or concerns has a way to get help.
“They always have a safety guy walking around, asking if everybody’s OK,” said Luis Morales, a drywall journeyman from Tampa, Florida. “That means a lot.”
Any worker can raise a safety concern and know it will be heard, said David Jimenez, a carpenter foreman in Richmond, Virginia. Jimenez has asthma and asked the company to ban smoking from the job site porta-potty area because the lingering smoke made it hard for him to breathe. DPR took action.
“They listen to what we have to say,” he said. “I can’t stress that enough. It’s really one of the few companies that takes the time to listen.”
– Luis Morales, Drywall Journeyman | Tampa, Florida
A crisis response that centers workers
When the pandemic hit, each DPR unit created a COVID-19 task force, which coordinates with a regional and national task force, said Chris Bell, regional manager at DPR. With input from workers, and coordination with local unions as necessary, the task forces determine how best to respond to pandemic-related concerns so they can keep people working safely.
Javier Campos, a general labor foreman in Irvine, California, remembers how quickly his unit responded when the pandemic hit. They immediately formed a COVID-19 response team that met all day, two days in a row, and “within 16 hours they had a plan in place.”
In addition to standard protocols, such as wearing face masks on the job site and keeping six feet apart, workers were divided into three shifts to minimize contact, Campos said. They brought on a team dedicated to cleaning and disinfecting equipment and restrooms throughout each shift. To reduce contact outside of work, they instituted new “no carpooling” guidance.
All of the safety protocols were created by DPR but supported by the union, Campos said. “Basically the union was looking at DPR like a model to promote. Like if they can keep going, why can’t other jobs do the same?”
Flexibility and financial support when they’re needed most
DPR also instituted contact tracing for workers who fell ill, quarantined anyone potentially exposed, and provided 36 hours of paid, online training that could be done remotely. Workers could take safety training classes, for example. Or, they could learn how to better handle stress, tips on working from home, how to give and receive feedback at work, or how to improve personal relationships.
Companywide, DPR also offered one-time hardship allowances up to $1,500 to help workers pay their bills during the early months of the pandemic, when some workers had their hours reduced. “I paid my light bill and my rent with that money,” remembered Morales.
David Jimenez, Carpenter Foreman | Richmond, Virginia
Gaining new skills offers security and growth
He said another reason people have been able to keep working is that DPR cross-trains them to work on any job that’s available. Though he normally does framing and pours concrete walls, he was shifted to another site to do housekeeping tasks when work slowed down.
Cross-training is something DPR has long found valuable. When the company hired Edseel Harold Flores, a carpenter in Orlando, Florida, they told him, “You don’t really have a job title at DPR, you have a responsibility,” he said. “We all might be framers or hangers, but our responsibilities change throughout the day and throughout the job site. We all get a chance to grow.”
– Javier Campos, General Labor Foreman | Irvine, California
Teams are stronger when everyone feels included
Team development is also valued at DPR. That makes communication critical, said Bell. Because the vast majority of the company’s frontline workforce is Hispanic, DPR offers not only English as a Second Language classes but also Spanish lessons for English speakers who want to communicate better with coworkers. The pandemic accelerated company efforts to make sure all of its signage and other communications were available in both languages.
Workers say they don’t just feel like a team at DPR, they feel like a family – and DPR’s people-first policies support that.
When a worker, or one of his or her family members, gets sick or dies, everyone at the company chips in to help. The company often offers paid leave during the crisis and other benefits and support, such as free counseling.
“If someone is going through hard times, they understand,” Campos said. Workers are encouraged to identify anyone who might need help and to give them support, to “see what they need and to let them know they can go take care of their private life and the job’s going to be waiting for them, you know?”
About Frontline Forward
With Frontline Forward, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions recognizes employers whose good jobs practices have protected, supported, and developed frontline workers throughout the pandemic and beyond. These businesses have made the workplace safer and provided compassion, support, and flexibility to families during this time of illness and uncertainty. They offer advancement opportunities, so workers are more resilient to future shocks. Most importantly, they’ve created a workplace culture that ensures every team member is valued and given the chance to take part in their own — as well as the company’s – success.
The Frontline Forward Principles
Frontline Forward is made possible through a generous investment from Walmart to engage service sector employers to improve the quality of their jobs.