Members of Congress brought SMACNA contractors up-to-date on the latest policies and legislation moving through Congress including infrastructure investment, composite pension plans and several other hot topics during the Construction Employers of America (CEA) National Issues Conference, May 7-9, in Washington, D.C.
The first day featured policy experts who discussed family paid and sick leave, pharmacy benefit issues, and pension plans. Aruna Vohra, a senior consultant with Horizon Actuarial, discussed the rising costs of drugs and the complex supply chain that moves drugs from manufacturer to patient.
“The lack of transparency within the system has resulted in unsupportable pricing,” noted John McNerney, general counsel with the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, who advised contractors to call for more transparency and pricing alternatives with their legislators.
Randy DeFrehn, CEO DeFrehn and Associates, and Cary Franklin, managing consultant of Horizon Actuarial, discussed pension reform and composite plans. “You need to educate lawmakers’ staffs on multiemployer plans,” DeFrehn advised. “I’m concerned about where we are headed. There are a lot of healthy construction plans and they don’t want to subsidize the unhealthy plans. We want to keep the conversation going.”
“The vast majority of plans are healthy and will survive,” Franklin noted.
On the second day, contractors heard from several members of Congress. Investing in the nation’s aging infrastructure was on the minds of many.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th-Virginia) advocated for an immediate investment in the nation’s infrastructure. “It’s an investment that brings a return,” he argued. “China is making an investment in their infrastructure. They have high-speed rail systems, new bridges, airports and roads. They have not held back on their investments.”
“If we do not heed the warning of America’s crumbling infrastructure, we are handing our competitiveness over to China,” Connolly said.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-20th-New York) agreed. “Roads and bridges are not enough. We have to include broadband and make our systems more efficient.”
He advocated for improving energy efficient buildings in the process. “We need to include buildings in our infrastructure plans. As energy is getting cleaner, we need to generate electricity as efficiently as we can. We cannot make the transition if we fail to address retrofitting in the industrial, commercial and residential setting.”
Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), advocated for his controversial bill, the Green New Deal, introduced in early 2019, to create thousands of union jobs while improving infrastructure and ending climate change.
“We can engage in massive job creation to save all of creation,” he said. “The Green New Deal is a historic generational commitment to end climate change and [develop] the single largest force of blue-collar job creation in this country. It uses simple leverage to spur public and private investment.”
“It is explicitly calling for high-quality union jobs and would create opportunities for project labor agreements, Davis-Bacon, all the things you are fighting for every day,” said Sen. Markey. He added, “This mobilization will spur massive growth and manufacturing in the U.S. This will strengthen unions to collectively bargain and stop the transfer of American jobs so we can grow domestic manufacturing in the U.S. It builds a climate-resilient future. You are the innovators, the builders, the workers that will accept this challenge.”
Rep. Chari Bustos (D-17th-Illinois) highlighted the priorities of the newly elected freshman class in the 116th Congress. “There are three things to accomplish. Bring down the cost of prescription drugs, make a two-trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure to rebuild America, and clean up the mess in Washington, D.C.”
The conference included a legislative dinner where members were honored for their contributions to SMACNA’s legislative agenda and to SMAC PAC. More than 70 SMACNA members took part in more than 100 meetings on Capitol Hill with their legislators to advocate for these issues and the industry.
The CEA is a coalition of seven national specialty contracting associations of which SMACNA is one. The CEA collectively raises awareness of the value of high-quality construction and coordinates action on labor, workforce, and construction issues to strengthen the industry.
Members may learn more and read the CEA issue sheets on the SMACNA website.