History of the Roofing Contractors Association of Washington

“Sometimes to see where we are in the present and where we are going in the future, it is sometimes a good idea to look at the past. The RCAW has gone through many changes since its inception. The Late Eric Pettersen, a past RCAW President and Board Member, shared his memories of the RCAW in this article extracted from the 2002 RCAW newsletter.”

“It’s been over thirty-one years since I first started attending RCA meetings. My, how things have changed! Monthly meetings were held in a restaurant where Bellevue Square now stands. It was truly a “good old boys” club and I was the only kid.

It was a great group of people, proud and successful contractors in their own right – people like Pete Stanley, Merle Wright, Vic Otlans, Mel Bosnick, Walt Crow, Bud Yost, Rudy Baack, Leigh Haight, Oscar Puetz, Bill Spafford, Walt Smith, Jerry Kotson, Vince Pirak, Eddie Larson, Rich Bratland, Monty Moore, Bill Linklater, Pad Finnigan, Don Heldman, etc., etc.

Diverse, interesting, friendly, and maybe only slightly opinionated?  Yes. Did we have spirited discussions? Yes. Did we have fun and make good friends? Absolutely. What an opportunity it was to get to know most of the contractors in the commercial roofing market within a few months.

It was a completely different association those days. The by-laws restricted the contractor members to only those who were signatory to the Roofers Union Labor Agreements. The primary function of the association was to serve as a collective bargaining group for the labor negotiations and contract administration with the Seattle and Tacoma Locals of the Roofers Union. Further, the vast majority of the roofing work in this area, except single-family residences, was done by union roofers.

In the late seventies, the landscape began to change. Open shop construction began to emerge in all markets and the State and Federal Government had the increasing propensity to promulgate regulations that were to affect every aspect of our businesses. It is also clear that the roofing industry as a whole needed to improve its image in the community. The hard working and honest people with integrity were not credited with such character to the extent they deserved.

These emerging trends triggered a complete paradigm shift within the association in the late seventies and early eighties. The RCAW got completely out of the collective bargaining business and into lobbying, industry promotion, and membership services. The management, by-laws, and funding all had to be changed to reflect these shifts in focus.

Money was always a problem in the early years because the association was much smaller and depended on dues for financing. This changed dramatically with the advent of the “Industry Fund”. This source of funding was created to provide money for promotion of the industry, improving its image, and to have a presence in Olympia to represent our interests.

The industry fund was a unique vehicle for funding, whereby, the contractors “Taxed” themselves based on roofing labor hours as a part of the collective bargaining agreement with the roofers union. This worked pretty well for a while, but some of the larger contractors provided a disproportionately large part of the funding for the association. The larger contractors were paying in many thousands of dollars per year (in 1970’s dollars) to this fund. This funding source became a big problem with the rapid emergence of open shop construction while the union contractors footed the bill for the majority of the promotional and lobbying efforts. It was clear after awhile the association had to wean itself from this type of funding.

I dwell on this issue because of the significance the “Industry Fund” played in providing the “bridge” money to move the association forward to answering the challenges noted above. It provided a rapid financial momentum to hire a full time “Executive Director”, open an office and to begin the business of industry promotion and representing our interests in Olympia.

It is an important historical fact that these early contractors were not legally obligated to sign a labor agreement with an industry fund provision, but most did. We owe these contractors our gratitude for the considerable financial commitment in those years; for without it I believe the association would not have answered the new challenges of the changing landscape.

The early “Management” was limited to a part time position. “Executive Secretary” more closely described the job. There was no association office and the job consisted mostly of taking minutes and recording the finances. Some of you will remember the names of the people in this position as Bert Bryant, John Morell, and Jack Goodhue.

The first full time Executive Director was Meg Jacobsen, the first woman in any part of the association leadership. With her presence, the rough edges of the meetings began to disappear and her efforts began the current tradition of putting a positive professional face on the association and moving forward with the new direction. Future Executive Directors included Mary Jacobsen, Lois Sadler, Betty Baxter, Mistie Chiddick, Patti Harmon and Sefton Oxford

Throughout the history of the association suppliers, manufacturers, and industry professionals have been a part of the membership as non-voting associate members (As of 2007, all RCAW members have voting rights). Their support has always been an important factor in the success of the association.

During the eighties there were major changes in the by-laws intended to help the RCA grow. Positions were created on the board for one manufacturer representative and one distributor representative.

The most significant change came when contractor membership was opened up to include non-union contractors. We also moved to include members from Eastern Washington. These by-law changes were intended to expand the influence of the RCA and to offset the loss of the industry fund financing. We also hoped to attract new talent to the board of directors with new energy and ideas.

The relationship that was forged with the Independent Business Association (IBA) and Gary Smith has been crucial to our reference in Olympia. No one contractor or group of contractors has the time or expertise to represent us as he does.

As many things change, some things never do. The RCA is still the best available forum for networking and keeping up to speed with the industry.

Finally, the annual golf day remains the most popular and best-attended event of the year, which proves the RCA is not always about work.”

Author: 2002, The Late Eric Pettersen, Past RCAW President & Board Member, Owner of Cascade Roofing & Sheet Metal & updated by various Executive Directors,