What’s Next for Trades in DC?

WASHINGTON, DC—The Building Trades achieved important victories in the first eight months of the Biden Administration. A $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill has passed the Senate and another for $3.5 trillion may be coming.

Those were major speaking points of Building Trades and government leaders at the 2021 Legislative Conference of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU).

“In the past 60 years, I have never seen an Administration prioritize workers as much as this one,” said NABTU President Sean McGarvey, keynote speaker at the annual event on June 5.

In 2020, NABTU launched a comprehensive campaign to generate votes for the Democratic ticket of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. It succeeded in replacing former President Donald Trump, who had delivered empty promises to labor, and providing a split in the Senate to join the Democratic-majority House of Representatives.

“This Administration’s transition team immediately engaged with you in every important aspect of the construction industry,” McGarvey said. “You got more than just rhetoric—you got a seat at the table.”

Strong Labor Standards

Overall, Trades employment and membership are on the rise to pre-pandemic levels.

McGarvey praised Biden’s removal of the anti-worker General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board and passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, which he called “the most impactful piece of legislation for the poor, working class and middle class in my entire lifetime.” It included a massive rescue, totaling $86 billion, of failing multi-employer pension plans on which Building Trades workers rely.

Biden shares labor’s goal of rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure with a workforce that has standards and protections advocated by unions.

The symbol is a Twitter hashtag: #LaborStandardsNow.

“If a project receives federal investment—either in whole, or in part—strong labor standards like prevailing wage, registered apprenticeship utilization and local hire absolutely must be attached to it,” McGarvey said.

Workers First

After McGarvey spoke, national leaders took the Zoom stage to proclaim their connection to the Building Trades.

“Now as we build back better from this crisis, we are going to put workers first,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She said Biden’s American Jobs Plan “will create millions of good-paying jobs in building our nation’s infrastructure,” from roads and bridges to public transit, ports, waterways and airports.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York promised to work hard to pass the American Jobs Plan. “It will be the largest investment in workers in construction in our lifetime. And we want to make sure that an infrastructure package comes with ironclad Davis-Bacon provisions so workers will earn a prevailing wage. We are not going to let scabs get around it.”

Biden wants to give unionized labor a foothold in this nation’s clean energy industry as it expands, said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. The Administration is “laser focused on seizing the opportunity of a clean energy economy for union workers,” she said, envisioning union careers in building wind turbines and electric vehicles.

Richard Neal (D-Mass), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said currently “the unionization rate within our green energy economy is too low.” Ron Wyden (D-Ore), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said his committee recently voted in favor of proposed legislation to overhaul tax incentives for clean energy production and for the first time, would require recipients of such incentives to pay the local prevailing wage.

Millions of Jobs

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the American Jobs Plan calls for investment “in job training and apprenticeship programs, particularly for women and people of color.” She said, if enacted, it would “create millions of jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

NABTU’s McGarvey pointed out that the Building Trades have reached the highest percentage of female enrollment in authorized apprenticeship readiness programs, with nearly a quarter of graduates being women.

“Listen, the pandemic isn’t over yet, and our economy isn’t back to full strength,” McGarvey said. “There is no better way to honor the legacy of those we’ve lost and all that has been sacrificed than to help this Administration and Congress get these major pieces of legislation that matter to regular people in this country across the finish line.”