CRAL Contracting, Inc. CRAL’S Craig Zinserling walks the talk

Tami S. Scott

Perseverance is a character strength that most entrepreneurs would agree you must embrace to accomplish your dreams. This virtue is one that Craig Zinserling developed years ago, initially through watching and learning from his parents, Jack and Marcia. He would observe how they handled life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – just by sitting around their kitchen table and witnessing how they faced their challenges with a great attitude.

“You’re never given too much that you can’t handle,” he said. “My parents brought me up that way and [I’ve] been able to adapt that into my life.”

Zinserling, who founded CRAL Contracting, Inc., is celebrating the company’s 18th anniversary this year as an indoor air quality specialist. The “acronym” CRAL comes from combining Zinserling and his wife’s first names together: Craig and Lori. It’s perfectly fitting, too, since the company’s backstory involves a collaborative effort between the couple to get it started. “I’d always watched my father in his business endeavors, and I always aspired to have my own business,” said Zinserling, despite having worked his way up to a vice president relationship working for a national environmental contracting company. “My wife Lori – she would encourage me. We had many, many long discussions trying to figure out how to make that leap even though we had a mortgage, three kids, and a couple of car payments – how do you pay all that?”

They persisted and they made that leap but not without a multitude of sleepless nights, seven-day workweeks, and attending many of his son’s soccer games with laptop in tow. As the sole “employee,” Zinserling wore many hats, selling, managing, and actually doing all the jobs on his own.

“In the beginning, it was hard getting established, but we made it through and we were able to establish a foothold through relationships we had built here in Syracuse, having grown up here my entire life,” Zinserling added.

CRAL now has two locations – one in Syracuse and one about an hour and a half west of Syracuse, in
Rochester. Zinserling said the second location was a natural fit as he and Lori had lived there for some time, too.

The relationships he’s built over time have played critical roles in the building of CRAL and where it is today. For instance, once CRAL was established, its first customer was Crucible Steel in Syracuse – and that was in large part due to connections he made and maintained.

“If I have a friend who has a tax business or a barber shop, I’m giving my friend business even if it’s more money. I want to support my friends and those relationships that I’ve developed for over 55 years in Syracuse,” Zinserling said. “It’s a small town and doing work right and treating clients well will follow you.”

Loyal customers and a good-standing reputation also mean publicity in the form of “word of mouth.” When the pandemic began, Zinserling feared the worst.

“I think with any business owner, there was complete panic. From a business standpoint, I was wondering if I’d lose everything,” he said. “How do you close a business down and have no [money] coming in, and not be able to pay people? How will we survive?”

As the saying goes, perseverance pays off. Office staff continued to come to work and “didn’t skip a beat,” he remarked. The team was able to complete the projects for which they were hired and “like manna from heaven,” Onondaga County called CRAL for work. The first testing site had been set up in the inner city, but it needed disinfecting and sanitizing, and CRAL is the expert.

“Our crews [went in] on a daily basis with specialized equipment. They were in full PPE, we had HEPA air cleaning devices spread out throughout their facility and we were disinfecting, and sanitizing around the clock,” Zinserling said.

Soon after, this service branched out to private businesses and nursing homes throughout NYS and downstate into NYC. “The nursing homes weren’t set up for isolation and that’s what we do. We’re very good at engineering isolation, containment, and we would contain an entire wing of these nursing homes and put them under HEPA negative air pressure and disinfect and sanitize around the clock.”

Other than a few calls here and there from a private business or nursing home, Zinserling said that type of work is essentially over. Regular services, such as mold remediation, lead abatement, and asbestos abatement, can again take the lead in project acquisition.

Giving back

Zinserling remembers what it was like to find and rent office space when he was just a budding business owner himself. About six years ago, he began pursuing real estate to purchase and eventually found a building that was reasonably priced but had a large footprint – 22,000 square feet. “I don’t need that much space,” he said.

So, he came up with an idea that stuck and worked. He set up that building, and another one that he acquired, to be incubators for young local, minority entrepreneurs. “They rent a simple office from us and a space for their startup business.”

He’s had several renters leave to buy their own real estate to work from and he said it’s so fun to watch. “It’s absolutely a joy for me to watch these young guys and gals pursue their dreams and be successful.”

Zinserling also sits on the board for David’s Refuge, a local charity that over the years has grown exponentially. The nonprofit provides respite and other support to parents and guardians of children with special needs or life-threatening medical conditions. Warren and Brenda Pfohl

formed David’s Refuge in honor of their son to encourage parents to keep pressing on. David was diagnosed with and battled Batten Disease for thirteen years.

“Parenting and marriage are difficult enough under regular circumstances and on top of being a full-time caregiver, it’s extremely difficult,” Zinserling said. “They really saw the need for caring for the caregivers.”

The organization provides caregivers with respite weekends, putting them up in nice places that also support the local community. To learn more about David’s Refuge, visit

Zinserling’s steadfast spirit is a trait that, by the way he chooses to live his life, does not go unnoticed. And because he has a deep, personal, and meaningful sense of meeting life’s challenges with patience and perseverance, he wants to help those he works with daily to adopt that same attitude.

Now having grown a company to include up to 50 employees, professionally surviving a pandemic, and personally helping others through complicated life journeys, Zinserling is a stellar example of success.

And so are those who have helped him achieve his dreams.

“We have a core group of staff that has been here from nearly the inception. They are the backbone of the business,” Zinserling said. “Frankly, I am no longer needed. They are so talented and caring that they run the business.”

For more information on CRAL Contracting, Inc., visit or call 315.671.6006. For more information about David’s Refuge, visit


Construction Career Aspirations Are Achievable

Earl Hall, Executive Director, Syracuse Builders Exchange

Long before governmental entities began to focus on “inclusivity” and other “workforce development” initiatives targeting minority, women and “disadvantaged” groups of people who may not have had a presence in particular segments of the economy, construction industry employers have tried for decades to include all people into the industry, including immigrants. The United States of America provides all people equal opportunity to participate in the economy, including the regional construction industry. Determination, self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed are human attributes necessary to be successful in life and business. Gul Ahmad Hamidi is an example of how an Afghan immigrant successfully entered the local workforce and pursued a career in the construction industry.

Hamidi was born in Afghanistan, earned a degree in Civil Engineering in New Delhi, India, and was a civil engineer and a construction project manager in Kandahar, Afghanistan. While his career accomplishments were impressive and his future full of opportunities, it all ended Aug. 31, 2021, when he escaped Afghanistan on a United States military C-17 cargo plane, leaving his family behind.

As an interpreter for the United States military, Hamidi was taken by the United States military and hidden for the month of August, before being rushed to one of the final C-17 cargo planes leaving Afghanistan. While on board, he assisted pilots by communicating important instructions and information to those on the plane, which was headed for Germany. Hamidi would spend the next several months at United States military bases in Germany and in Philadelphia, preparing to begin his new life in the United States.

In March 2022, InterFaith Works of Central New York introduced Hamidi to me via an email. He expressed a strong interest in working in the construction industry as a project manager. After meeting Hamidi during two different interviews, it was apparent that he had all the characteristics necessary to become a successful employee and a productive member of society as he embraced the United States’ way of life, freedom, and culture.

After interviewing with local construction companies and having nothing more than the clothes on his back and documents from the United States government, Hamidi was hired by one of the area’s premier general contractors. Today, Hamidi is enjoying the infancy of his construction career and the many wonderful benefits of living in central New York.

Hamidi is a shining example of one’s ability to pursue the American dream by applying the human attributes necessary to be successful in life and in one’s career. He escaped Afghanistan on the very last day before the Afghan government collapsed, now controlled by the Taliban. Arriving in central New York with nothing, Hamidi today has a car, an apartment, clothes, and money to enjoy the many entertainment opportunities central New York has to offer. He continues to send money back home to his parents in Afghanistan and saves money to someday own his own business or to buy a home.

Hamidi’s story reinforces the notion anyone can be successful in entering and participating in the construction workforce. Being successful in a career is not a right – it is earned. It is earned by self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed. Overcoming adversity is something most people experience at some point in life, whether it is personal or career.

Hamidi’s story is compelling and is a prime example of how citizens in New York who really desire to enter the construction industry workforce can do so, if they have the drive and commitment to be successful in life and with their chosen career.

Understanding Workers’Compensation Insurance Rates

Steven Bell, Vice President of Underwriting & Sales, Lovell Safety Management

For the last seven years, Workers’ Compensation (WC) Insurance has been one of the few bright spots in the insurance landscape. Unlike other coverages, rates for WC have been falling. More importantly, insurance carriers have had an appetite for WC risk, and market competition has benefited employers throughout the state. As 2024 approaches, the landscape is changing ever so slightly as carriers appear to be becoming more selective. What does that mean for the typical construction company? When the market begins to turn, it first starts to affect businesses with higher losses. At this point, your WC costs should not be rising unless you have had adverse loss experience or payroll growth.

Several key trends that are expected to shape the WC market in the coming year:

1. Loss Costs, Experience Rating and Rates: Effective October 1, 2023, WC loss costs/rates on average will decrease another -2.6%. Since 2017, WC loss costs/rates have decreased approximately 45% in New York. There are many factors that have been driving the loss cost/rate decreases, such as loss experience and development; loss frequency, severity, and wage trend factors; loss adjustment expenses; benefit levels; catastrophe and disaster premium; and industry differentials. While all these factors play a role, the future wage trend had the most impact on loss costs. All other factors being equal, as more wages are paid, more premium is generated and, if losses remain the same, then loss costs/rates will go down.

Experience Rating is designed to modify the loss cost to better fit an individual employer’s loss experience. You may have seen a larger credit or debit on your most recent renewal due to the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (NYCIRB) changing the methodology and formula for determining your experience modification. To temper the change, NYCIRB used the lowest of either the new formula, a claim-capping procedure, or the old formula plus 30 points. Effective 10/01/23, the new formula will use the lowest of either the new formula or claim capping procedure, which may further impact these changes.

Since 2022, we have seen a steady increase in interest rates. While higher interest rates can stagnate economic growth, they may extend the competitive workers’ compensation market as improved investment returns may offset the need to increase pricing if losses and frequency deteriorate.

2. Regulatory Revisions: In 2023, the legislature passed two bills that may impact system costs: the Minimum Weekly Rate A.2034-A/S1161-A and the Mandatory Initial Hearings A.6208/S.5867. The Minimum Weekly Rate legislation establishes a new minimum weekly indemnity rate of compensation that would be indexed to not less than 1/5 of the State Average Weekly Wage (SAWW) or the employee’s full wages if equal to or less than 1/5 of the SAWW. The Mandatory Hearing legislation will require the Workers Compensation Board to index a claim upon receipt of a medical report, hold a hearing within 60 days, or 45 days upon request, hire stenographers to record hearing minutes and send all notice decisions to claimants in their native tongue. All businesses should be concerned about the potential financial impact of these bills.

3. Technology: The latest technological trend is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Carriers are actively deploying AI to improve claim processing, early intervention, diagnosis, treatment, fraud detection, pricing, and loss prevention. In terms of occupational safety, you will see the rise of AI tools such as wearable technology that can monitor employee vital statistics and monitor things like air quality and warn workers instantly of unsafe air quality. Other technology includes video monitoring where AI monitors video of employee activity identifying unsafe behavior and actions and instantly sends out notices to address them. While these potential advancements may be able to impact safety, they raise concerns about privacy.

4. Labor, Subcontractors, Independent Contractors, and Gig Contractors: The shortage of labor has employers expanding the use of subcontractors, independent and gig contractors. New York has clear rules such as the Fair Play Act, that distinguish an independent contractor from an employee and additional rules that define who is chargeable for the premium. The Fair Play Act rules can be difficult to understand but as a simple rule of thumb, if you hire someone to do work for you and they don’t have valid WC coverage it is likely you will be charged premium for a portion of that work. In summary, it is likely the New York State’s WC market in 2024 will remain competitive for most employers. Political and Regulatory reforms have the potential to increase system costs, but only if signed into law by the governor. AI technology is poised to significantly impact carriers, employers, and workers as its use continues to evolve. Finally, the use of subcontractors needs to be closely monitored to ensure proper coverage, and avoid premium charges.

For more information on workers’ compensation, please contact the professionals at Lovell at 1-800-5-LOVELL or visit online at

Deducting Business Travel Expenses

Nicholas L. Shires, CPA, Dannible & McKee, LLP

Historically, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the tax deductibility of travel expenses within the construction industry. The shift to a more remote workforce resulting from the pandemic has furthered complications and confusion. We will answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about deductible business travel expenses.

When Are Business Travel Expenses Deductible?

Business travel expenses are deductible when an individual must travel away from their tax home or main place of work for business reasons. This is a straightforward definition, right? Well, maybe additional clarification is needed. 

An individual is traveling away from their tax home if they are away for more than an ordinary workday and need to sleep to meet the demands of their work while away. Obviously, this brings in the cost of traveling to the destination. It also brings in deductible expenses such as lodging, meals, cleaning (uniforms, work clothes, etc.) and telephone costs.

Where Is an Individual’s Tax Home?

The answer to this question is complicated. Generally, your tax home is your regular place of business, regardless of where you maintain your family home. It includes the entire city or general area in which your business or work is located. For instance, if you’re living Central New York while working in a main office in
Syracuse, your tax home is considered Syracuse and the immediate surrounding area.

In the construction industry, individuals will often have more than one regular place of business because they work on different job sites. In these cases, their tax home their main place of business or work. An individual’s main place of business or work is determined by:

  • The total time the employee ordinarily spends in each place,
  • The level of business activity in each place, and
  • How much money the employee earns at each place.

It is important to note that commuting travel is not deductible. Therefore, an individual cannot deduct the cost of traveling between their main place of business or work and their residence. They can, however, deduct the cost of traveling between business locations. This means that traveling from the main office location to a job site would be deductible.

How Do You Handle Temporary Work Assignments?

It is common within the construction industry to have a temporary work assignment at a different location than the individual’s tax home. In cases where an employee’s work location assignment is temporary, the individual’s tax home doesn’t change, and the individual is considered to be traveling away from home for the entire period of the assignment. Generally, a temporary assignment in a single location is one that is realistically expected to last (and does in fact last) for one year or less.

An employer can deduct an employee’s travel expenses if the employer paid or incurred those expenses during an employee’s temporary work assignment and the employee’s work assignment doesn’t last for more than one year.

If an employee is given an indefinite work assignment at a different location, the individual’s tax home changes to the new work location. This would be the case if the employee is scheduled to work at a job site for work expected to last longer than one year. In this situation, the employer cannot deduct the employee’s expenses as business travel expenses while they are working at the new location because the employee is not considered to be traveling away from his tax home. Individuals with indefinite work assignments must include in income any amounts they receive from their employer for living expenses.

What Travel Expenses Are Deductible?

To be deductible, business travel expenses must be ordinary and necessary expenses for traveling away from home for a business, profession, or job. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in the individual’s trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate for the business.

Examples of deductible business travel expenses include:

• Travel by airplane, train, bus or car between the individual’s home and business destination;
• Fares for taxis or other types of transportation between an airport or train station and a hotel, or from a hotel or to a work location;
• Shipping baggage and sample or display material between regular and temporary work locations;
• Using a personal car for business travel;
• Lodging and meals while away;
• Dry cleaning and laundry while away;
• Tips paid for services related to any of these expenses; and
• Other similar ordinary and necessary expenses related to business travel.

What Records Should Be Kept?

The business traveler should keep well-organized records that substantiate the amount, time, place, and business purpose of their travel expenses. A business traveler must substantiate the cost of each separate expense for travel, lodging and meals. Incidental expenses, such as taxis, fees, and tips, may be totaled in reasonable categories.

Besides keeping receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements, bank statements (for debit card purchases) and other documents, an individual traveling for business should keep a diary, log or calendar noting the dates and times of any business travel, as well as the business reason for that travel.

As the deductibility of travel expenses continues to become increasingly complex, it is a great idea to have a plan. I always recommend consulting with your tax professional up front to properly document and structure an expense reimbursement plan to maximize the tax benefits of business travel costs.

Nicholas L. Shires, CPA, is the partner-in charge of tax services at Dannible & McKee, LLP, a public accounting firm with offices in Syracuse, Auburn, Binghamton and Schenectady, New York. The firm has specialized in providing tax, audit, accounting and advisory services since its inception in 1978. For more information on this topic, you may contact Nick at (315) 472-9127 or visit
online at

NYS 2023 Workers’ Compensation Updates

Brett Findlay, Vice President, Business Risk Specialist, OneGroup

In this article, we’ll give a brief update on the significant changes to New York State Workers’ Compensation in 2023. None are as big as the 2022 change to the experience modification rating formula (or EMR), the effects of which some policyholders with effective dates prior to October 1, 2023, have yet to see .

Yet again, an aggregate rate decrease is on the horizon, minor increases to both the maximum weekly payroll limitation cap and maximum weekly workers’ compensation benefit are now in effect, and the New York State Assessment dropped in January. Also, the impacts on individual workers’ compensation policies from the changes to the experience rating (EMR) formula have come to fruition.

On May 15, 2023, the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board filed its annual loss cost indication with the New York State Department of Financial Services. An approved and published filing for the expected decrease of 2.6% of the overall loss cost level was confirmed and announced Aug. 1, 2023. The change in rates is effective on policies renewing on or after Oct. 1, 2023. This is the eighth consecutive year with an overall workers’ compensation rate decrease in New York state.

The impact of the loss costs, or rates, will vary depending on each individual classification code. For an understanding of the potential impact on your business, please reach out to OneGroup; you’ll find our contact information below.

Again, it is important to note that these rate changes will not go into effect on any individual policy until Oct. 1. If your effective date is before that date, you will have to wait until your policy renewal before any potential rate changes apply. Regardless of when your effective date is, you should know the exact rate changes to your classifications sooner rather than later. It’s important to not only forecast the future costs of your program, but also to develop a plan for your upcoming renewal.

Also, the maximum weekly payroll limitation/cap for eligible classifications has risen. Effective July 1, 2023, the new cap is $1,718.15. This is a 2% increase from last years’ cap of $1,688.19 and a 7% increase from 2021 cap of $1,594.57. This will have an impact on the cost associated with eligible employers’ workers’ compensation premiums. Furthermore, the maximum weekly workers’ compensation benefit rose from $1,125.47 to $1,145.43 effective July 1, 2023.

In January, the New York State Assessment saw another decrease. This year the assessment dropped to 9.8% from 10.2% in 2022 and even more so from 11.8% in 2021. Overall, there’s been a 17% decrease in the aggregate cost to policyholders since 2021.

As far as the new formula to determine Experience Modification Ratings, or EMR’s, those changes went into effect on Oct. 1, 2022. The formula is significantly different than in years past. OneGroup has been monitoring the impact on policyholders, hosted multiple educational seminars and developed materials to explain the changes in detail. The formula changes significantly impacted many businesses, both positively and negatively. For more information on how you have been or will be affected, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

Finally, you may ask what any of this means for your organization? For any individual questions and/or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Brett Findlay, Vice President of Business & Construction Risk. We are a team of specialists, dedicated to risk management and construction industry-specific insurance issues. We hope to serve as a resource to your organization for all your construction specific questions and concerns. OneGroup takes great pride in being at the forefront of industry trends and assisting others where we can.

You can find out more about us here: or more specifically, insurance/uniqueindustry-solutions/construction-industry/.

Please feel free to call me directly at (315) 280-6376 or email me at for any further clarification.

Roadway Excavation Quality Assurance Act

Diana Plue, Esq., Sheats & Bailey, PLLC

New York State has once again passed new legislation that will affect contractors and their bottom line. The state has passed new legislation known as “The Roadway Quality Assurance Act” that amends Labor Law §220 and adds a new section, Labor Law §224-f. The purpose of this act is to ensure that when a private utility company hires contractors or subcontractors to perform work that requires a permit for the excavation, opening or use of a public street those workers are paid prevailing wages. 

The Roadway Quality Assurance Act mandates that contractors and subcontractors to a utility company, as defined under Public Service Law §2 (23), pay prevailing wages to workers performing work on a “covered excavation project.” Utility Company is defined as individuals or corporations that operate an agency or agencies for public service and are subject to the jurisdiction, supervision, and regulations prescribed in the Public Service Law. 

A covered excavation project means a construction project where a permit is issued by the state, a county or a municipality to a contractor or subcontractor of a utility company to use, excavate, or open a street. The statute does not define “use” or provide any guidance on what “use of a street means, but we believe it will be liberally construed. The prevailing rate to be paid is the prevailing rate set for the trade or occupation performing the work in the locality where the covered excavation project is situated. 

Covered excavation projects are not considered public works but are subject to the requirements of: (a) Labor Law §220, which limits a legal work day to 8 hours and requires overtime for all hours worked over 8 hours a day, requires payment of prevailing wage and certified payroll be maintained and also sets out consequences for failure to pay prevailing wage; (b) Labor Law §220-a, which requires subcontractors upon receipt from the contractor or subcontractor above them of the schedule of prevailing wages to review such schedule and submit a verified statement to the above entity that the schedule was reviewed and the subcontractor will pay the applicable prevailing wage and also requires contractors to certify to the owner that all certified payroll has been received from subcontractors and the amount, if any, that is known to be owed to laborers; (c) Labor Law §220-b, which addresses the withholding of money to contractors for the benefits of laborers who were not paid and addresses penalties contractors and subcontractors may be assessed for failure to pay prevailing wages; (d) Labor Law § 223, which makes a contractor responsible for a subcontractor’s failure to pay prevailing wage; (e) Labor Law §224-b, which allows the fiscal officer to issue a stop work order to any contractor or subcontractor not in compliance with Labor Law section 220, 220-a, 220-b and 224-f and; (f) Labor Law §227, which discusses the procedure to review an order by the fiscal officer pertaining to hours of labor or prevailing wage rates under Labor Law §220. 

Utility company contractors and subcontractors as a condition to the issuance of a permit to use, excavate or open a street on a covered excavation project must file with the department of jurisdiction an agreement confirming that the payment of prevailing wages to workers on the project has been contractually mandated. Labor Law §224-f, defines Department of Jurisdiction as “the state, board or officer in the state, or municipal corporation or commission or board appointed pursuant to law, whose duty it is to issue a permit to a utility company, or its contractors or subcontractors, for a covered excavation project.” 

The New York State Department of Labor has indicated this prevailing wage will be enforced like any other prevailing wage in New York state. If an employee is not being paid a prevailing wage for their occupation, they can file a complaint with the Bureau of Public Work. Also, violations of this new act (i.e., Labor Law §224-f) will be subject to determinations and orders pursuant to Labor Law §220-b.

This Act was signed into law on Aug. 16, 2023. Despite aspects of the law being unclear and there being no guidance on its application, the law will go into effect on Sept. 15, 2023, and will apply to all contracts for construction and permits issued on a covered excavation project on or after its effective date. 

For more information, contact Sheats & Bailey, PLLC; a law firm dedicated to serving the construction industry. Tel: (315) 676-7314 

The information provided in this article is not intended to serve as specific legal advice for any particular situation. Competent legal and experienced counsel should be consulted.