MCAA Legislative Conference Top Issues For 2018

Stephen A. Borg

By the time you are reading this article, my hope is that you have already dusted off your suitcase, polished your comfortable dress shoes, and started packing for the 2018 Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) Legislative Conference. Last year we had over 125 meetings with Members of Congress and staff on both sides of the aisle from throughout the country. We are hoping that this year will see our most active participation levels and look forward to seeing you if you have already registered.

 

I wanted to spend the time this month briefly laying the issues that we will be discussing with Congress during this year’s Conference for those Members of MCAA and for those mason contractors who might be reading this and thinking of joining. As I try to remind you ever chance I get, our industry is only strong when we have an active, vocal, and passionate set of members and we would love to have you join us!

 

Below you will see a short background on each issue we will be raising. You will likely be familiar with many of these issues as we have discussed many of them at our Annual Convention and Midyear Meetings and spent time during last year’s “fly-in” touching on some of these issues as well. Even if you are not able to make it to Washington, D.C. this month lets take the time to let our elected officials know about the issues that are impacting our industry.

  • Workforce Development

Unfortunately, throughout the years, career and technical education (CTE) programs have become stigmatized, funding has dried up, and parents, educators, and governments have ignored the important roles these jobs play in our country.

Currently, the House Education and Workforce Committee is drafting legislation to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Act and we are hoping that the Committee will address this stigma and take steps to ensure that CTE programs are receiving the support and reforms that are needed. Businesses like ours need the opportunity to approach local high schools and CTE programs to discuss with parents and students what opportunities exist in the industry and in our local businesses. Business engagement needs to be a priority in this reauthorization and we look forward to working with Congress, states, and local governments to make the Perkins Act as robust and successful as possible.

The building trades and especially masonry offer many advantages to young workers:

  • Above average rate of pay
  • Steady work – always in demand as worker shortage expected long term
  • Rewarding work – pride in visible accomplishment
  • Benefits such as healthcare and retirement funds
  • Variety- not the same old office everyday

 

What we need to do moving forward:

  • Reauthorization of the Perkins Act
  • Incentives for high schools that participate in vocational programs
  • Educate parents and the public on the benefits of a career in masonry
  • Put an end to the stigma associated with vocational schools and their students.

 

  • Guest Worker Program

According to NCCER (formerly the National Center for Construction Education and Research) and its program “Build Your Future” there are nearly 500,000 jobs that will be open throughout the United States in the masonry/bricklaying field in the next three years alone.

MCAA supports a broad based, comprehensive immigration reform approach that includes provisions to secure our nation’s borders, creates a temporary guest worker program that meets the demand for labor, and creates a process for addressing the undocumented currently employed in the U.S. Recent estimates have shown that the construction industry will require an average of 185,000 new workers per year in the coming years to meet growing workforce demands, while at the same time baby boomers are continuing to retire at a very fast rate.

As evidenced by the data, the construction industry faces a growing problem of a shortage of skilled labor; some of this insufficiency is being addressed by the immigrant workforce and we would encourage you to include much needed reforms to guest-worker and visa programs as you move forward on infrastructure investment and immigration packages.

 

  • Misclassification of Employees

Some contractors in the construction industry are deliberately misclassifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees to avoid payroll taxes, insurance premiums and other employment expenses in order to boost company profits. This practice grossly undercuts honest, law abiding contractors and, in addition, deprives the federal, state, and local governments of millions of dollars in revenue.

Contractors who misclassify employees as independent contractors reduce labor costs by between 15-30%. This places honest contractors at a competitive disadvantage in an industry with only 20% gross margins.

By skirting around workers’ compensation premiums, honest firms are forced to compensate for shortfalls in these programs. These employers deny their workers the opportunity to obtain benefits regularly available to employees such as unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation insurance. This potentially causes a strain on the health care system and the workers compensation funds, which in turn leads to a rise in workers compensation premiums for firms paying into the system. In addition, this problem contributes to the current public health crisis and Medicaid crunch.

 

  • Opposition to the Timber Innovation Act

On March 7, 2017, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced S. 538 and on March 23, 2017 Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced H.R. 1380, bills to promote the use of wood in tall construction projects. The bills would establish a research program and grant money to study and encourage the use of wood for tall building construction, defined as projects more than 85 feet in height. Additionally, it would require the Secretary of Agriculture to work with the “wood products industry” to improve the “commercialization of tall wood building materials.”

Since October 2012, the softwood timber industry has operated an industry-wide check-off program according to the Bi-national Softwood Lumber Council “to fund a unified softwood lumber promotion program”. Let us be clear, the Mason Contractors Association of America does not oppose check-off programs, and we are in fact working with industry partners to pass legislation providing us with the legal authority to establish a check-off program for the concrete block industry. What we find egregious is that it appears that H.R. 1380/S. 538 is providing federal grant funds to ONEspecific industry at the expense of others and to an industry that already has a huge amount of industry backed funding to conduct the studies and promotion that are outlined in the legislation.

 

  • Silica

On December 22, 2017, the D.C. Circuit denied industry’s petitions for review of the rule. In a 60-page decision, the court was highly deferential to the Agency. While the court stated that the industry presented plausible alternatives to the final rule, ultimately the court deferred to the Agency’s decision-making. While the construction industry is, of course, disappointed with the decision, the litigation afforded the industry an opportunity to engage with OSHA on addressing our concerns with the final rule. Shortly after the beginning of the Trump Administration, the construction industry filed a Petition for Rulemaking, seeking for OSHA to re-open the rulemaking record on silica and, in particular, Table 1. That petition is still pending.

In addition, the construction industry opened settlement negotiations with the Agency. In direct response to the industry’s efforts, OSHA committed to issuing a Request for Information (“RFI”) on Table 1, which will lead to the Agency engaging in rulemaking to improve and broaden the table. OSHA also has requested input from the industry on what should be included in the table and the industry has already responded to this request.

Furthermore, OSHA agreed to issue Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing concerns of the industry with the application of the rule and how to reduce compliance burdens. Industry was given the opportunity to write the first draft of the FAQs and those have been submitted for OSHA’s consideration. The FAQs address all major sections of the rule including Scope, Table 1, Housekeeping, and Medical Surveillance.

With respect to the RFI and the FAQs, industry is working cooperatively with OSHA and the building trades. We hope that the FAQs will be finalized within the next 6-8 weeks and that the RFI will be published in the spring.

This gives you an idea of some of the main issues we will be discussing in Washington, D.C. this month. If you couldn’t make it this year, be sure to broach these topics with your elected officials when they are back home and mark your calendars to join in May 2019!