Contractors Hit Capitol Hill, Push for Action on Pensions & Much More
by Todd Mustard & David Acord
Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ)WASHINGTON, DC - The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC), along with other member groups of the Construction Employers of America (CEA), participated in the annual CEA National Legislative Conference May 8-10. The much-anticipated conference brings signatory contractors from across the country to Washington to network with policy experts and engages in face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and their staffs.
The CEA is a joint initiative coordinating action on labor, workforce, and construction issues. It was created several years ago to promote our sector of the construction industry and to act as a counter to non-union contractor associations that push for policies that are often not in our best interests. Other leading construction specialty trade associations are also members of the CEA's public relations campaign and they include: FCA International; International Council of Employers of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers; the National Electrical Contractors Association; the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA); the Signatory Wall and Ceiling Contractors Association; and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA). You can learn more about the CEA at www.constructionemployersofamerica.com.
Congress Talks to Contractors
CEA's Legislative Conference attracted several high-level members of Congress this year, including Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ), co-creator of the Congressional Building Trades Caucus and co-sponsor of HR 4997, the bipartisan Growing Retirement Options for Workers Act (GROW Act), which would authorize the use of hybrid or composite plans to strengthen the multiemployer pension plan system. In his speech, Norcross noted that there are around 1,400 multiemployer plans covering 10.6 million people - but those plans collectively have a staggering unfunded liability of $68 billion.
"I understand the cost of doing nothing will take us all down," he said. Norcross described the GROW Act as a "wellness plan" that will help certain plans get healthier and be able to continue to serve retirees. But he cautioned that the GROW Act won't help troubled plans like Central States, which are on "life support" and will require more radical intervention. "If we don't get them to the emergency room and fix them, they're dead," he said.
Norcross also had harsh words for opponents of the GROW Act and hybrid/composite plans. "Those who somehow think the GROW Act will be the demise of Central States -- are you kidding me? We don't have to do anything and that will collapse of its own weight. Somehow suggesting that the GROW Act…is the cause for the failure of the multiemployer system, is nothing but a fabricated lie trying to blame someone else for the issues we are experiencing today."
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI)Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who made headlines late last year when she indicated a willingness to work with the Trump administration on infrastructure funding, delivered a stirring call for investment in roads and bridges. "Our infrastructure in this country was once the envy of the world," she said. "But we allowed [it] to fall apart. We are driving on crumbling roads…bridges are falling down for a whole variety of reasons…but we need tunnels and bridges to get fixed so that people can get to work. And our schools are out of date. We need to invest in them."
Dingell touted the Democrats' "Better Deal" plan, which would invest $1 trillion in infrastructure investment. "The American people deserve an infrastructure plan that will rebuild America and make sure our infrastructure is second to none. And when we do that, we will put people back to work," Dingell added.
However, newly elected Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) told the CEA audience that he does not believe a major infrastructure bill will happen this year. He also called for more cooperation on Capitol Hill, saying, "It's time to have more dialogue and not so many monologues." He cracked up the crowd by adding, "If you hear a politician say they know everything...run!"
Priority Issues for Contractors
Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL)CEA attendees did more than just listen to Congressmen - after the conference ended, they hit Capitol Hill to talk to their elected representatives, too. Attendees urged Senate offices to support the House-passed FAA authorization bill, H.R. 4 with Passenger Facilities Charges. They also asked for increased investment in the nation's infrastructure to levels that will ensure our public buildings, water systems, airports, transit and surface transportation network meet the demands of the 21st Century.
Here's a quick rundown of the other issues CEA Legislative Conference attendees discussed with their various representatives:
- Support passage of FY 2019 appropriations legislation that honors the highway and public transportation levels in the FAST Act
- Support final passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill and allow airports to increase Passenger Facilities Charges (PFCs)
- Identify sustainable revenue necessary to support the current levels of investment authorized to be spent in the Highway Trust Fund
- Include direct federal investments along with opportunities to leverage additional public and private funds
- Support efforts to improve delivery of projects and permit streamlining for infrastructure project.
- Prevailing wage should apply to these projects and Project Labor Agreements should be allowed where appropriate
- Skilled labor is critical to the success of these projects -- joint labor-management apprenticeship training programs are designed to address workforce shortages and federal infrastructure programs should recognize this commitment to workforce development by continuing and strengthening policies for private investment of the development of a skilled workforce
Paid family and sick leave policy was also addressed, and attendees asked their members of the House of Representatives to support provisions in H.R. 4219, Workflex in the 21st Century Act, which includes an ERISA preemption that would supersede all similar state and local leave mandates. They asked both Senate and House offices to consider the effect of mandated, paid family and sick leave policy on construction industry firms covered by collective bargaining agreements, and further requested that they consider the unique fluctuations in construction employment.
Some of the nuances that signatory contractors must contend with, and that Congress was educated on by CEA Legislative Conference attendees, included:
- Collective bargaining parties bargain specific pay and benefits policies that are designed to meet the needs of workers and the need of employers to deliver construction projects successfully.
- Owners place a high value on timely project completion and coordinating tightly scheduled crews performing their sequence of work on time is critical to successful subcontract performance and is key to being able to win the next bid.
- Efficient project delivery requires a balanced mix of skilled journeymen, apprentices, crew leaders and sub-journeymen and unplanned absences impair crucial timely performance.
- Construction industry jobsite employment and work requirements are radically different form employment patterns and work requirements in fixed-place indefinite term employment.
- Construction employment expands and contracts as projects begin and end. Compensation levels negotiated in collective bargaining agreements reflect that fluctuating nature of employment.
- The uniqueness of construction industry employment is recognized in a wide variety of federal statutes.
If you are interested in learning more about TAUC's government affairs activities, or would be interested in serving on TAUC's Government Affairs Committee please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at (703) 524-3336 x 112.