For the last three to five years, when I ask pool and spa builders what’s new, most have said the same thing. It goes something like this: “Price competition and illegal contracting are killing us.”

It seems the government just might be listening.

In February, a coalition of agencies in Southern California’s Riverside County – about an hour and a half east of Los Angeles – arraigned a builder/service firm for failing to report employees on their construction side for workman’s comp and other such insurances, and for trying to pass off service techs as independent contractors when they didn’t meet the criteria. Now that the county’s district attorney has learned how the industry works, staffers plan to look for other such pool and spa contractors by acquainting themselves with the local players and assessing their workload by observing how much product they buy, asking around to learn how many accounts they have and, for especially suspicious characters, obtaining information about bank accounts.

In Texas, the U.S. Department of Labor has taken a San Antonio builder to court for allegedly failing to record and pay overtime.

At issue in cases like these is not only the possibility that employees have been unfairly treated, but also that, by failing to properly compensate employees for overtime, they reduce their own overhead unfairly, making it tough for above-board companies to compete. 

In Sacramento, some bills are being introduced to help combat illegal activity by enabling or inducing various agencies to do such things as share information to help in cooperative efforts to catch illegal contractors in the act. 

But as one builder reminded me last week, it’s not just about the big-time offenders -- those operating without a license, renting out another’s license, or completely avoiding workman’s comp insurance. There are others out there who are a little guilty, who file all the right paperwork but fudge a little, or indirectly. They might choose to remain ignorant to the fact that some of their subcontractors are operating illegally, for instance. As this builder source of mine explained, some may feel forced to behave this way to stay afloat.

The inpiduals in the above cases remain to have their day in court, and neither has been proven guilty. But whether or not they turn out to have committed the crimes, we all hope actions like these will help create an environment where those who operate above board no longer feel punished for it.