MEA Member Spotlight
MEA Member Spotlight
How MEA Managers Worked Together to Keep Construction Going and Workers Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last year, COVID-19 brought most business activities and operations to a screeching halt. San Francisco was the first major city to issue Stay-At-Home orders requiring all non-essential workers to begin
working remotely.

The orders directly impacted every City worker and agency, including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

As an essential services agency, half of SFPUC’s 2,300-member workforce continued working on-site to ensure that the City’s 24/7 water, power, and wastewater services remained uninterrupted.

SFPUC also delivers wholesale water to three Bay Area counties and hydropower to some of the City’s most important government assets and buildings, from City Hall and the San Francisco International
Airport (SFO) to the SFMTA’s transportation power lines.

Associated with these services, SFPUC is responsible for delivering billions of dollars’ worth of capital investments to ensure the resilience and reliability of the City’s critical infrastructure.

These large, complex construction projects are delivered throughout eight Bay Area counties and completed under a demanding schedule to ensure that the City is prepared for emergencies, such as
earthquakes, and adaptable to environmental considerations such as climate change and sea level rise.

Due to the unprecedented circumstances created by COVID-19, the SFPUC faced the daunting challenge of how to continue essential construction while maintaining the highest standards of health and safety for its workers. This required the immediate development and implementation of new safety standards and guidelines for a wide range of critical operations and construction projects.

To make it happen, Municipal Executive Association (MEA) managers Masood Ordikhani (SFPUC), Alaric Degrafinried (Public Works), and Alan Johanson (SFPUC) were tapped to convene a construction industry working group comprised of San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council leaders representing the City’s construction workers, as well as California’s leading contractors associations, including United Contractors (UCON) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). City managers with expertise on health and safety for construction projects were also included and made valuable contributions.
Alaric DegrafinriedAlan Johanson

The group worked tirelessly, utilizing national best practices, to develop and implement a comprehensive set of industry standards and guidelines that would allow SFPUC to continue essential public works construction in the safest manner possible. Masood, Alaric, and Alan sought consensus for their standards and guidelines from City department heads and fellow MEA managers, who were engaged in essential construction work during the pandemic, in order to gather and incorporate every one’s valuable input and insights.

As a result of their collaborative efforts, SFPUC’s consensus standards and guidelines were formally adopted by the City and became the legal requirements for the City’s construction industry. The impact of their work led the City’s Health Officer to issue a health order mandating that these health and safety standards be followed for all construction work performed in San Francisco.

Health officers across California and throughout the country also adopted and utilized aspects of the team’s consensus standards and guidelines.

As a result of Masood, Alaric, and Alan’s determination and efforts, SFPUC’s construction projects never stopped during the pandemic. Additionally, the City benefited from millions of dollars in cost savings
because other MEA managers were able to secure historically low financing for these construction projects.These projects served as a critical economic catalyst keeping thousands of Trade workers employed, earning prevailing wages and benefits.

At SFPUC alone, 4,447 Trades workers earned more than $76 million in wages and benefits between March 17, 2020 and April 30, 2021. The impact on San Francisco Trade workers was remarkable, with
more than 35% of the total 984,170 work hours being performed by San Francisco residents.

“With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it was more important than ever that San Francisco’s Trade workers remained safe and employed,” describes San Francisco Building and Trades Council President Larry Mazzola Jr. “This collaborative effort not only saved jobs, it created more. Our unions proudly continued our long history of delivering world-class service while maintaining strong safety standards for our workers.”

In addition to protecting critical infrastructure, the construction projects helped keep many local businesses open and their employees working. Between March 2020 and April 2021, SFPUC processed more than $717.6 million in invoices.

A full third of these dollars were invoiced by and paid to community businesses with more than $234 million of Local Business Enterprise invoices processed for San Francisco-based businesses alone.

In turn, these local businesses and their employees purchased equipment, food, and supplies from other local retail businesses, enabling those businesses to survive and contribute to the City’s tax base during an extremely challenging period of economic uncertainty.

“Proactive team collaboration was key,” explains Mark Breslin, CEO of United Contractors. “Many times, critical decisions are delayed due to second guessing or too much noise. In this case, we were all mission-driven and focused on positive outcomes for the lives on the line.”

To date, SFPUC has not had one employee working on any construction project test positive for COVID-19.

As the City transitions into a reopening and recovery phase, the work of Masood, Alaric, Alan and their colleagues have placed San Francisco in an especially strong position for continued economic growth and success as workers, contractors, and City agencies emerge from the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
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