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WASHINGTON, DC – The 2016 Quality Construction Alliance (QCA) National Legislative Issues Conference, held May 10-12 in Washington, D.C., drew a record crowd of close to 200 contractor and employer association representatives. Attendees split their time between attending panel presentations and visiting Capitol Hill to lobby for the interests of the union construction and maintenance industry.
Affirmative Action, Fair Pay & Sick Leave
The event kicked off on Tuesday, May 10th at the Georgetown Marriott Hotel with several expert presentations covering Affirmative Action Plan Requirements for Registered Apprenticeship Programs; Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order 139673; and Paid Sick Leave Accrual on Direct Federal Construction Projects Executive Order 13706.
Former MCAA President Lonnie Coleman of Coleman Spohn Corporation and Laura Reyes Kopack, MCA of Detroit Government Affairs and Community Relations Director, gave compelling firsthand descriptions of how affirmative action has played a positive role in their respective careers and the benefits of having a diversified workforce. “I am a proud product of affirmative action,” said Mr. Coleman. “Let’s build a great America, an inclusive America.” He also quoted Lyndon B. Johnson who said, “Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.”
Lou Malone of O’Donoghue and O’Donoghue provided insight as to why the U.S. Department of Labor is updating its rulemaking on Apprenticeship Equal Employment Opportunity Regulations. Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees (JATCs) will be required to do a number of things under the proposed rule, such as analyze their existing apprenticeship pools, and compare them to the available pool within their respective communities to ensure that recruitment extends to all persons without regard to race, sex, ethnicity or disability. Mr. Malone noted that DOL’s recommendations include utilizing individuals from underrepresented groups to help recruit, mentor, and conduct exit interviews to ensure compliance is being met. Biddle Consulting Group’s Director of EEO/AA John Piatt also provided extensive comments on “Understanding Utilization Analyses of the Proposed Affirmative Action Obligations of Apprenticeship Programs.”
Center for American Progress Policy Director Karla Walter provided an overview of Executive Order 13673 on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces. The EO’s stated objective is to “promote economy and efficiency in procurement by contracting with responsible sources who comply with labor laws.” Under the Executive Order, before contracting officers may award contracts worth more than $500,000, prospective contractors must disclose violations of 14 labor laws and “equivalent state laws” within the preceding three-year period. These disclosures will then guide decisions on the contractor’s ability to ultimately be eligible for the work.
A&A Industrial Piping, Inc.’s General Manager Bill Albanese, Sr. gave the contractor’s perspective to this EO, and offered specific examples from his experience working in New Jersey. He testified before Congress on behalf of the QCA in September of 2015. Mr. Albanese compared the new disclosure requirement to the prequalifications many contractors already have to complete before bidding for federal work. Under the existing system, contracting officers are overburdened, as are labor compliance officers. If implemented, this new EO will require more bureaucrats to ensure compliance, but union contractors are less inconvenienced by these disclosure requirements than our competition.
MCA of New Jersey and Mechanical Contracting Industry Council of New Jersey General Counsel Jim Estabrook and MCAA General Counsel John McNerney covered the EO on Paid Sick Leave Accrual on Direct Federal Construction Projects. The union construction and maintenance industry should have an exemption for this rule because these types of benefits are already incorporated into the collective bargaining process.
Multiemployer Pension Reform
On Wednesday, May 11th, the QCA Program moved to the Newseum, and the first panel presentation was dedicated to Multiemployer Pension Reform. Former Congressman George Miller, who served as Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee from 2007 to 2011, moderated the panel.
National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP) Executive Director Randy DeFrehn provided an update on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s rejection of the Teamsters Central States Pension Plan’s proposal to cut retirement benefits to help stave off insolvency, and the impact that will have on the Pension Benefit Guarantee Board (PBGC) and efforts to get Composite Plans enacted as part of a new legislative package. “The long-term solvency of Central States is now questionable,” DeFrehn said, “and PBGC has projected that they will need some $15 billion in assets to remain viable when they are currently generating $250 million annually through PBGC contributions.” Such a scenario would require contributions to increase more than fourfold, which is a non-starter.
Senate Finance Committee Tax and Benefits Counsel Preston Rutledge weighed in on the political landscape and priorities of Congress, noting that what some may consider unrelated issues are coalescing under the umbrella of pension reform. These include the Coal Miner Plan, which would allow that pension plan to offset existing shortages by drawing from an existing pool of money in the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund or coal mine reclamation fund; Senator Portman’s Bill which would remove Treasury’s ability to override a vote by eligible retirees to approve benefit cuts under MPRA; Senator Bernie Sanders’ Bill that removes pension “orphans” from troubled pension plans like Central States; and a new Puerto Rico Bill that would assist in restructuring its debt, much of which pertains to public sector unions pension and other benefits.
Mr. Miller summed up the panel by saying, “Who is the Federal Government to stand in the way of this industry from saving themselves!”
Worker Misclassification, Energy & More
Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) discussed the bill he cosponsored with Congressman Donald Norcross (D-NJ) that would clarify worker misclassification in the construction industry. “New Jersey is projected to lose $500 million per year in revenue because of the misclassification of employees as independent contractors,” he said.
Representative Lou Barletta (R-PA), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and Representative John Delaney (D-MD) all spoke on the importance of the Federal Government’s investment in infrastructure and the impact it could have on the economy and our country’s competitiveness with the world. “Studies have shown that for every $1 spent on infrastructure, you see $2 of economic growth,” said Rep. Delaney.
Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) spoke on two bills related to energy investment, and noted a combined heat and power (CHP) project in Montpelier, VT that has saved the city millions of dollars.
Representative David McKinley (R-WV) finished the morning’s session by speaking at length about the new Congressional Building Trades Caucus, and the need to educate those on Capitol Hill of the unique issues impacting the construction industry. “I am one of two licensed engineers in Congress, out of 535. There are 242 attorneys, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just keep in mind that is what we’re dealing with.”
On Thursday, May 12th the QCA Program wrapped up back at the Georgetown Marriott, with North America’s Building Trades Union’s President Sean McGarvey addressing those in attendance. He provided a heartfelt perspective on MPRA’s impact on labor, and Treasury’s rejection of Central States. “It is always a powerful statement when both management and labor can walk into an office on Capitol Hill with the same message, and I applaud you on your efforts here this week!” said McGarvey.
To learn more about the Quality Construction Alliance, please visit www.qualityconstructionalliance.org.