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2008 Specialty Construction Industry Legislative Conference

May 30 2008

The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC), The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) and the International Council of Employers of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (ICE) held their Inaugural Specialty Construction Legislative Conference on May 19th and 20th in the Nation’s Capital and hosted an enthusiastic group of labor-management benefits plan trustees and employer plan sponsors from around the country.

The conference opened off with a wide-ranging discussion of national political trends by award-winning author and political commentator Ronald Brownstein, who emphasized the unique nature of the current Presidential primary internet campaigns involving unprecedented participation of newer and younger voters, yet also noting some basic similarities in demographic and political dynamics with past campaigns as well.

Crucial issues relating to the future of health and welfare and pension plans sponsored by employer participants took center stage at the conference on Monday morning, May 19th, with policy makers from Capitol Hill and legislative staff for key lawmakers offering a broad range of well-informed discussion of the long term trends in national health and welfare and pension plan policy making – all crucial points of perspective for the contractor sponsors of those plans in the construction industry.

The conference also received a presentation on the new proposed Federal apprenticeship program regulations from Thomas E. Hartnett, chair of the Labor Departments Federal committee on apprenticeship and an attorney in government relations practice with the Albany NY law firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, PC; and Dana C. Daugherty, Deputy Administrator of the Labor Department’s office of apprenticeship. Participants raised a number of questions relating to the new proposed registration regulations and their impact on industry recruitment and the likely effects on established jointly administered and registered building and construction industry plans. Later, participants also raised questions relating to apprenticeship day school administration. After that, the conference considered broad labor and employment law changes in recent years, presented by John Ring, a partner in the Washington DC labor law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, and then engaged in some speculation about political trends and attendant policy changes after the general election in November, including the impact of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act and its impact on construction industry prehire collective bargaining agreements and benefit plans.

On the second day of the Legislative Conference, May 20th, the program opened with an insightful discussion on national retirement savings issues, from the well-established industry expert on those issues, Dallas L. Salisbury, President and CEO of the Employee Benefits research Institute in Washington DC. TAUC, MCAA, and ICE convened separately with key lawmakers on specific legislative measures moving on the Hill right now. New York Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-14-NY) opened the issues sessions with a spirited discussion of construction procurement reform issues, including the Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act (H.R. 3033, and S. 2904) recently passed by the House and moving now in the Senate on two legislative measures. Representative Maloney also pledged to continue to work with the group on a more detailed set of procurement reforms.

Following Maloney, was Washington Representative Jim McDermott (D-7-WA) laying out the details of the bill he introduced last month, the Taxpayer Responsibility, Accountability and Consistency Act (a bill similar to S. 2044 Independent Contractor Proper Classification Act) to finally stem one of the worst abuses confronting the construction industry overall and the taxpayers generally, stemming from abusive misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Representative McDermott, a high-ranking majority member of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged the long-standing support TAUC/MCAA/ICA and other allied specialty construction industry groups have given to legislative reforms of this key workforce standards issue going back to reform proposal in the mid-1990s.

Next, another House Ways and Means Committee majority member, New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell (D-8-NJ) addressed the group, focusing ion the likely but lingering repeal of the onerous 3% public contract tax withholding measure enacted in 2006, and set for implementation in 2011 if the industry fails in its efforts to bring the very few fiscal hawks on this issue around to better procurement policy considerations. Participants also pressed Representative Pascrell on issues relating to preserving and strengthening Davis Bacon /prevailing wage administration, and including building industry tax incentives for energy efficiency, hvac, and fire sprinkler retrofits in economic stimulus measures as sound energy, public safety and economic stimulus measures in the building construction industry.

Following Pascrell, Daryll Roberts, the Executive Director of the national military and veteran construction industry workforce recruiting program, Helmets-to-Hardhats (H2H), addressed the group, and described the steady and sustained progress the industry-leading workforce recruiting program has made in its first five years, with support from Defense Department funding. Roberts described new aspects of the program in the past year, including expanded outreach to more military bases, the new disabled veteran recruiting aspects of the program, the Wounded Warrior recruiting/outreach program, and beginning efforts to expand the H2H outreach to military spouses and families. Robert then introduced the latest ardent supporter of the program in Congress, Representative Peter Roskam from Illinois (R-6-IL). Congressman Roskam gave a detailed account of recent Congressional trips to Iraq, and pledged strong support for the H2H funding this year in Congress.

Significant progress on all these issues was again marked in individual lawmaker meetings, with co-sponsorship gains and support pledged on all these issues in lawmaker visits. For example, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) signed on to the 3% repeal bill, and various offices promised to look into H2H funding support, backing expanded procurement reform measures, supporting tax incentives for energy efficient commercial buildings and fire sprinkler retrofits, and finally pushing for long-overdue remedial measures to stem to the tax gaps relating top independent contractor misclassification abuses.

TAUC, MCAA, IFEBP and ICE have reviewed this year’s conference format and have begun laying plans for an expanded conference next year to be held May 18-21, 2009.

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