A Divided Government, But A Massive Opportunity 

Stephen A. Borg

I sit here writing this article watching the television a full week after the 2018 Midterm Elections, as 10 House seats and 1 major Senate seat remain undecided and in the midst of some controversy. Pundits are busy spinning their takes on why and how Democrats took over the House and Republicans kept a razor-thin majority in the Senate. Was it the typical midterm blowback against the sitting President’s party in the House and the overplaying of cards on the Judge Kavanaugh battle in the Senate? Did suburban women come out in droves to vote against the President? Was rural turnout the key for the Senate Republicans to keep control? 

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea, and I would tend to argue that it was likely a combination of all those theories… but here is what I do know. With a slim Democrat majority in the House, a slim Republican majority in the Senate, President Trump sitting in the White House, and about 6 months to act in the 117th Congress before numerous Senators run out the door to run for President not much is going to get done in Washington, D.C. over the next 2 years. 

And before you start to get worried about what that might mean, please give me the time to share what I do think will get done and how it might allow us to boost our businesses and continue to move the masonry industry forward. While most people believe my above statement, there is a lot of hope and chatter in Washington, D.C. that two major bipartisan deals can get cut and signed into law before we head into full-on Presidential politics. A deal on prescription drug pricing and a major infrastructure investment package and the latter is where we should all be excited. 

 

Currently, the economy is beginning to show signs of great life, construction projects are popping up all over the country, and a lot of our Members are busier than ever. But there is one thing holding us all back… the lack of a qualified and willing workforce. During the MCAA Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas, I asked numerous Members how much they could expand their businesses if they were just able to find qualified workers and to a T every single one of them said they would expand exponentially, and this is all before the federal government injects millions of dollars into the economy in an infrastructure package.  

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.  

 And this is where we have a prime opportunity to make our voice heard, push hard for the enactment of the infrastructure package, and urge Congress to include a Construction Industry Guest Worker program as a part of this package.  In early 2004, then-President George W. Bush proposed a guest worker program under the pretense that it would be a system “matching willing workers with willing employers”. The following set of ideas made up President Bush’s plan and MCAA would support a plan based on similar principles: 

 

  • Eligible to participants applying from their home countries as well as to unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States (unauthorized immigrants would be required to pay a fee and prove that they are currently employed). 
  • The number of visas available for this program would be set to correlate with the number of open, available jobs. 
  • Visas would be portable, i.e. a visa would not be tied to a specific job but the immigrant would be able to change jobs. 
  • The temporary visas would be valid for 3 years and would be renewable. 
  • Immigrants applying from abroad would require an offer of employment from an American employer for a job that the employer could not fill with a domestic worker. 
  • After the initial domestic registration phase for unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States, the program would only be applicable to newcomers applying from their home country. 
  • Creation of an electronic database of willing foreign workers and willing American employers. After verifying that a reasonable effort was made to hire a U.S. citizen has been made, the government would then facilitate a match and begin processing the temporary work visa for an eligible applicant.  

Including a program related to the one outlined above in any infrastructure package would allow the masonry and construction industry to expand their businesses, take on the work that the package would create, and ultimately boost the American economy to levels we have not seen in quite some time. Fortunately for us, MCAA Members have been pushing this idea for the past couple of years during our annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. and we have teed this effort up with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. But our work has just begun. 

Once the 117th Congress is sworn in January of 2018, we will need your help in getting our message across to Members of Congress from both parties to ensure that any bipartisan infrastructure package includes a temporary guest worker program for the construction industry. The time is now to get involved and make our voices heard. For more information on this issue and details for our upcoming 2019 Legislative Conference please visit www.masoncontractors.org With so many new Members of Congress being sworn into the new Congress in January we need your presence in Washington, D.C.! Come join us in May of 2019 and make your voice heard!