TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update, July 2020
House and Senate leaders to continue to grapple with how best to respond to the ongoing public health and economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we discussed last month, the House has passed a $3 trillion "Phase 4" COVID response package (the "HEROES Act") that contains significant multiemployer relief and reforms, including authorizing the use of composite plans. Senator McConnell (R-KY) expects to develop separate legislation to respond to the House package later this month. The size and scope of the packages remain unclear at this point.
TAUC continues to work with construction contractors and several our building trades union partners to make the case that economic fallout from COVID has negatively impacted the multiemployer pension system and the time to act on comprehensive reform legislation is in the next response package. Despite the intense focus on the COVID-19 response, other legislative and regulatory developments are also having an impact on the union construction and maintenance industry.
Here is an exclusive update on policy and regulatory issues of vital interest to TAUC members.
As mentioned earlier, the House passed the HEROES Act that features comprehensive multiemployer pension reform legislation, including the "Giving Retirement Options to Workers (GROW) Act." To support this effort in the Senate, TAUC joined a coalition of 12 other building trade unions and contractor associations in submitting a joint letter to House and Senate leadership urging Congress to ensure that any multiemployer pension reform legislation includes composite plans. The letter also urged Congress to continue to work toward an agreement that will address the looming crisis in the multiemployer system by providing federal funding to secure the retirement benefits of millions of multiemployer pension plan participants.
Infrastructure Investment Legislation
Several committees have begun advancing pieces of surface transportation reauthorization legislation, which expires on September 30 of this year. The outlook for enacting a long-term authorization remains unclear given the volatile political environment, the focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lack of political will to identify the revenues necessary to support the needed infrastructure investment.
Earlier this month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the "Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act" (INVEST in America Act). This $494 billion legislation would provide $319 billion for highway investments (a $96 billion or 42%,increase); $105 billion for public transportation improvements (a $44 billion or 72% increase); and $60 billion for rail investments (a $50 billion increase).
The INVEST in America Act was included in a broad $1.5 trillion infrastructure package offered by House Democrats, the "Moving Forward Act." This infrastructure package is expected to be considered by the full House the week of June 29th. In addition to the surface transportation investments, this legislation provides $130 billion for schools, $100 billion for affordable housing, $100 billion for broadband, $65 billion for water projects, $70 billion for the electric grid improvements, $30 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for the postal service.
During floor consideration of the Moving Forward Act, the House defeated an amendment to repeal the application of the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirement to the Federal aid highway program and the Federal Transit program by a vote of 147-274.
The major impediment to moving surface transportation legislation remains how to pay for the investments. Neither the INVEST in America Act nor the Moving Forward Act propose to provide Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenues necessary support the investment levels called for in the House T&I Committee's bill.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – which has jurisdiction over Federal aid highways – reported out its five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill, the America's Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA), last summer. The legislation authorizes $287.3 billion in Highway Trust Fund (HTF) contract authority and $5.7 billion in general fund appropriations. This is a 27% increase in Federal aid highway funding over the investment levels contained in the current authorization. The Senate Banking Committee (which handles the mass transit provisions), Senate Commerce Committee (which handles the safety and rail provisions), and Finance Committee (which handles the revenue provisions) have yet to begin work on their sections of the bill. Like the House package, there is no specific pay for to support the additional investment called for in ATIA.
Finally, the Administration is reportedly preparing release its surface transportation reauthorization bill, the "DELIVER Act." Reportedly, the bill will include $1 trillion in federal spending, $810 billion of which will focus on surface transportation and the remaining $190 billion will be targeted towards energy development.
Paycheck Protection Program
Both the House and Senate passed legislation extending the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) until Aug. 8. House Democrats had planned to try to include transparency requirements to the program, but ultimately agreed to approve a "clean" extension with the Senate having left town for the July 4th Holiday.
The PPP has delivered more than a half-trillion dollars in financial support to small businesses and employers since it was enacted in early April.
OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Standard
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected an effort by the AFL-CIO to require the federal government to impose a single emergency standard for coping with COVID-19 in the workplace. The AFL-CIO had requested that OSHA implement within 30 days a universal "emergency temporary standard" for infectious diseases which would cover all employees and all industries in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Court ruled that OSHA has "considerable deference" in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and stated that OSHA has regulatory tools "to ensure that employers are maintaining hazard-free work environments…the OSHA reasonably determined that an [emergency standard] is not necessary at this time." It is not known at this time if the AFL-CIO will appeal the court's decision.
OSHA Silica Compliance Directive
OSHA issued a compliance directive for crystalline silica. The directive is designed to ensure uniformity in inspection and enforcement procedures in addressing silica exposures in construction, general industry, and maritime. Specifically, the directive provides OSHA compliance safety and health officers with guidance on how to enforce the silica standards' requirements and provides clarity related to alternative exposure control methods, variability in sampling, multi-employer situations, and temporary workers.