TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update, April 2020
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 emergency has overtaken Washington and the Congressional agenda. After finalizing a $2.2 trillion emergency response package, Congress is out of session until at least April 20, Congressional offices are closed, and most federal agency staffers are working remotely. Despite these challenging circumstances, TAUC continues to work with our partners to ensure the voice of the union construction and maintenance industry is heard in the development of the policy responses to address the public health crisis and the resulting economic stabilization and recovery.
Here is an exclusive update from TAUC on policy and regulatory issues of vital interest to contractors and the union construction and maintenance industry.
Congress and the Administration are scrambling to address the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial actions are focused on supporting the medical response and providing direct support for those impacted by the public health crisis.
The bill also provides refundable tax credits to employers to cover wages paid to employees while they are taking time off under the bill's sick leave and family leave programs. A full summary of the paid sick and family medical leave provisions of H.R. 6201 can be found here.
During negotiations over the final package, Democrats tried to include additional funding for ailing multiemployer pension plans. The House Democratic package included a loan program based on the Butch Lewis Act – which passed the House last year – as well as the GROW Act. There are also reports that Democrats wanted to include authorization of the use of composite plans. Unfortunately, these provisions were not included in the final package. There are hopes that Congress will address the multiemployer crisis in subsequent emergency recovery legislation. We will continue to monitor discussions over inclusions of pension provisions.
First, the CEA sent a letter to Congressional leaders outlining our concerns with aspects of H.R. 6201 and additional steps we believe the federal government must take to ensure the union construction is not negatively impacted by the response to the Coronavirus outbreak and urge that any actions taken support the union construction industry and allow our member firms to continue to provide work opportunities to their employees. Specifically, the letter urged Congress to take steps to address the amount of tax credit offset on the cost of expansion of paid sick leave, address the looming multiemployer pension crisis and authorize the use of composite plans, urge steps to protect joint labor-management health and welfare plans, and increase infrastructure investment.
The CEA also sent a letter urging that construction be considered an essential activity. To stem the spread of COVID-19, many state and local governments have issued mandatory quarantine orders. The CEA urged congressional leaders to ensure that the federal government explicitly recognize construction activities as essential to ensure public health and safety during this pandemic.
Industry Recognized Apprenticeships Rule
Before Washington attention shifted entirely to dealing with the coronavirus, the U.S. Department of Labor issued its final rule on Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs). The rule addressed concerns raised by TAUC in the organization's comments submitted on the proposed rule.
First, the rule clearly and definitively exempts construction from the scope of the IRAPs rule. DOL stated that it will not recognize any IRAPs that are intended to train apprentices in construction-related activities, concluding that the construction industry is already well-served by the current privately funded registered apprenticeship system administered jointly by union labor and management.
The final rule also address TAUC's concerns with the DOL's narrow definition of construction used in the proposed rule, which could have excluded "maintenance" activities and created confusion in the field. The final rule definite construction activities as "consisting of the erecting of buildings and other structures (including additions); heavy construction other than buildings; and alterations, reconstruction, installation, and maintenance and repairs."
Senate Energy Package
Earlier this month, the Senate failed to advance a bipartisan energy package that had been under consideration on the Senate floor. The American Energy Innovation Act was introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). The energy package included more than 50 energy-related measures passed by the Energy Committee and contained provisions on Department of Energy clean energy technologies research and development, critical minerals, and efficiency. The package was designed to boost federal support for a range of energy sources to "strengthen the domestic economy, national security, and international competitiveness while facilitating cleaner energy that protects human health and the global environment."
Consideration of the bill fell apart over a bipartisan effort to vote on an amendment related to phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and a Federal preemption of state HFCs programs. This amendment was one of more than 185 on the energy package and drew opposition from Senator John Barroso (R-WY), the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. A bipartisan group of senators objected to Barroso's effort to preempt states from enacting more stringent HFC cuts than federal reductions. Ultimately, there was not enough support to allow the bill to advance and it was pulled from consideration.