SMACNA members, along with other specialty construction member groups in the Construction Employers of America (CEA), participated in the annual CEA National Issues Conference, May 8-10, in Washington, D.C.
The program brought together an impressive group of legislators, policy experts, and contractors to share opinions and strategies on multiemployer pension plans, infrastructure investment, paid family and sick leave, energy efficiency, tax reform, and more.
The packed 2-1/2-day agenda facilitated face-to-face meetings between contractors and legislators where all sides expressed their sense of urgency for Congressional action on pension reform and infrastructure, with a uniform opinion that doing nothing is not an option. Legislators mentioned repeatedly the importance of pension reform and the D+ rating of America’s crumbling infrastructure.
The legislative conference is all about advocacy and approximately 60 SMACNA members from 20 states took part in more than 100 meetings with their legislators where they discussed the ramifications of these issues on their businesses, their employees, and the industry.
Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st-N.J.), an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan Giving Retirement Options to Workers (GROW) Act (H.R. 4997), which would authorize the use of hybrid or composite plans to strengthen the multiemployer pension plan system, addressed the group, emphasizing the urgent need to give plans the voluntary Composite Plan option.
Norcross is also a member of the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans—a bipartisan, bicameral committee tasked with finding solutions for failing plans and addressing funding issues for the PBGC by the end of November, in time for consideration in the lame-duck session of Congress.
Rep. Norcross, the only IBEW card-carrying electrician in the U.S. House, thanked the audience of signatory contractors for providing good jobs to their workers so “they can have a good life and can retire,” he said. “That is not lost on me as a former business agent.”
“The last thing you want to tell someone is that the pension they’ve worked for is not going to be there,” he explained. “The GROW Act would be an option for plan trustees and the cost of doing nothing will take us all down.” Rep. Norcross noted that too many of the 1,400 multiemployer plans, covering 10.6 million people, are seriously underfunded.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12th- Mich.), who, like Norcross, is a member of the Select Committee, was adamant about the need to stabilize pensions. She too, thanked the audience for hiring union men and women, saying “I go to the union hall every weekend and listen to what they have to say.”
The need for Congressional action on infrastructure spending, was addressed by both Rep. Dingell and newly elected Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). Jones stated, that like all states, “infrastructure is something Alabama would like to see.” Dingell said she surprised people last year when she agreed to work with the Trump administration on infrastructure funding. “We have to do something about infrastructure in this country—it is broken.”
Rep. Dingell did focus on the Democrats’ “Better Deal” plan, which would invest $1 trillion in infrastructure. She urged attendees to return home and “scream to their legislators about the broken infrastructure and hold them accountable.” Sen. Jones agreed, saying, “it is time to put aside partisan issues and find common ground and expand opportunities for all.”
In a refreshing evening of bipartisanship, Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th-N.J.) and Tom Reed (R-23rd-N.Y.), co-chairs of the bipartisan Problem-Solvers Caucus took to the mic at the All-Association Congressional Reception on Wednesday, May 9, and jovially explained their personal friendship as legislators, as well as the purpose of the 48-member bipartisan group which is split evenly among Democrats and Republicans.
Admitting that partisanship had gotten out of control, this group is developing a culture of trust and is committed to getting to “yes” on important issues, realizing that it is far too easy to get to “no,” the Congressmen explained. “Let’s focus on what we can get done. People want us to get things done.”
Military Construction, Davis-Bacon, and Apprenticeship
On the final day of the conference, the attendees heard from Rep. Don Bacon (R-2nd-Neb.), multiemployer pension experts, and a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) deputy outlining the DOL’s apprenticeship policy review process. Rep. Bacon, a former U.S. Air Force general now serving on the House Armed Services Committee, discussed base construction plans and the need for skilled labor and experienced contractors on military construction.
Importantly, Rep. Bacon expressed thanks for SMACNA’s education efforts on Davis Bacon, which resulted in his becoming an outspoken supporter of Davis Bacon on federal construction, reversing his position with votes against prevailing wages when he first arrived in Congress.
Well-known to SMACNA members, multiemployer pension experts Randy DeFrehn, former director of the NCCMP, and Cary Franklin, Horizon Actuarial, presented a detailed and methodical case for the GROW Act to strengthen multiemployer plans to prevent further weakening of the plans, employers, and the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).
DOL Deputy Molly Conway closed the conference, explaining the Trump Administration’s Apprenticeship Task Force, its goals, and progress to date. Ms. Conway also spoke of the skilled labor needs for the nation, Department efforts to establish a long-term policy to increase apprenticeships and expressed hope that the task force report will support industries and workers seeking a skilled training option to achieve a middle-class lifestyle.
Stay Informed. Stay Active.
All members, even those who did not attend the CEA National Issues Conference, can make a difference on issues that matter most to our industry by reaching out to their Members of Congress through SMACNA’s Take Action webpage. SMACNA works every day for members on Capitol Hill, but it is members’ action supporting SMACNA’s legislative objectives that pays off for SMACNA and members’ businesses.