TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update – March 2018
With a budget agreement in place to increase caps on both defense and non-defense spending, Congress is now working to finalize the FY 2018 appropriations bills by the March 23rd deadline. Appropriations Committee staff have been meeting behind closed doors to negotiate individual spending bills. The final legislation will package together all 12 appropriations bills and has set off a scramble in D.C. to attach other pieces of legislation to the must-pass omnibus bill. TAUC and its partners are pushing for the inclusion of multiemployer pension reform legislation to authorize the use of composite plans (see below) in this package.
Here is an exclusive update from TAUC on policy and regulatory issues of vital interest to contractors and the union construction and maintenance industry.
Multiemployer Pension Reform
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ) have introduced legislation — H.R. 4997, the “Giving Retirement Options to Workers Plan” (GROW Act) — which would modernize and strengthen multiemployer pension plans by providing local joint labor-management trustees a new voluntary (not mandatory) tool to ensure the long-term viability of their funds by authorizing more choices in retirement plan models. The bill would provide these benefits at no cost to the federal government or pension plan participants.
TAUC, along with the other members of the Construction Employers of America and the North American Building Trade Unions, have sent letters to Congress supporting this legislation and encouraging congressional passage of the bill. We have also been pushing aggressively for the inclusion of the bipartisan GROW Act in the omnibus appropriations bill to be considered later this month. We urge all members to contact their members of Congress to ask them to cosponsor H.R. 4997 and support inclusion of the GROW Act in the omnibus.
While we are pushing on composite plans, there is also action on addressing failing plans like the Central States Teamster plan. As part of the budget agreement reached last month, congressional leaders established a joint House-Senate “super committee” to provide recommendations and legislation to address issues related to the solvency of multiemployer pension plans and the PBGC. The committee is charged with providing legislative recommendations by Nov. 30th of this year.
The members of the committee are:
The Trump Administration released its long-waited infrastructure package with its fiscal year 2019 budget. The proposal calls for investing $200 billion in new federal money over 10 years, which the Administration claims will generate a total of more than $1.5 trillion in total infrastructure investment after contributions from state and local governments and the private sector. The budget does not specify where the $200 billion would come from to pay for the additional funding. The proposal also includes significant proposals to streamlining reviews and Federal permit reform designed to ensure that environmental reviews and the permitting process do not take more than 2 years for all projects.
Congressional reaction to the proposal has been somewhat skeptical. While members welcome the President’s proposal, most stopped well short of endorsing any of its specifics. Congressional hearings on the proposal began last week and are expected to continue over the coming weeks. Legislative action is not expected before early this summer.
While the timing for action and the ultimate success of the infrastructure package remains in doubt, the budget agreement reached by congressional leaders included an additional $10 billion per year in both FY 2018 and 2019 to invest in infrastructure. It is not clear how the funding will be allocated at this point.
On a related note, President Trump has proposed raising the federal tax on gas and diesel by 25 cents to pay for his infrastructure plan. This proposal was quickly denounced by conservatives. Support for a gas tax increase has been building among key Republican members and outside allies, including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The current 18.3 cents per gallon federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993. The Congressional Budget Office projections show that the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is supported by gas tax revenues and provides investment in Federal surface transportation programs, is projected to run short on funds to reimburse states and local agencies for construction work in FY 2020.
In response to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce on the impact on national security from imports of steel and aluminum under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, President Trump announced his intention to impose tariffs of 25 percent for foreign-made steel imports and 10 percent for imported aluminum. He is expected to sign a formal order this week. It is not clear how the planned tariffs would be implemented or if any products or countries would be exempted.
The House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions; and Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing to explore the impact of the opioid epidemic on workplaces and workers. At the hearing, witnesses presented data showing that the total nationwide economic burden of the opioid crisis in 2016 exceeded $95 billion. This includes loss of productivity and earnings, increased healthcare costs, and increased expenditures on criminal justice, child and family assistance, and education.
Based on preliminary date for 2017, this cost has continued to rise. If the epidemic continues to grow at its current rate, the total economic burden from 2017 to 2020 could exceed $500 billion for the entire US. The employer witness at the hearing discussed how the opioid misuse has increased work-related accidents, employee turnover, and worker compensation costs, and is impairing employer’s ability to hire and retain workers.
Apprenticeship Task Force
TAUC recently sent a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Acosta regarding a proposal being considered by the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion to create “industry-approved” apprenticeship programs outside of the current register apprenticeship system. We encouraged the Secretary to work to ensure that the new guidelines not apply to or undermine the registered apprenticeship programs in the construction industry.
The task force was created by President Trump to explore opportunities to expand access to apprenticeship programs. The executive order establishing the Task Force called for scaling back the government’s role in creating and monitoring apprenticeship programs and reforming the current apprenticeship programs to allow businesses, unions and other groups to directly develop and monitor them.