Infrastructure, Jobs And Economic Growth

By ENERGY TOMORROW BLOG
on August 21, 2017 at 10:00 AM

We’ve posted quite a bit recently about the need for streamlining the federal permitting process for energy infrastructure (see here and here). An API study earlier this year estimated investments in needed natural gas and oil infrastructure could total more than a trillion dollars and potentially generate more than 1 million jobs through 2035. That’s a lot of economic potential linked to infrastructure – and in that context, President Trump’s new executive order modernizing and bringing greater accountability to the federal permitting process certainly is welcome.

It coincides with release of a new study, for North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), detailing the jobs and economic impacts of energy infrastructure construction. NABTU President Sean McGarvey and API President and CEO Jack Gerard talked about the study and America’s energy infrastructure needs during a conference call with reporters.

The pipeline employment study estimated that $6 billion to $28 billion was spent annually o n new additions to and the reconstruction of existing pipelines from 2006 to 2016:

 

The study:

Industrial construction is an important source of jobs for the skilled construction trades. Individuals who engage in industrial construction have certifications, licensing, and training that provide guarantees that they are competent in difficult, specialized work. Pipeline workers are an important segment of this group. Pipelines are important to the efficient operation of the U.S. economy, and pipeline construction is an important source of family supporting jobs for construction workers.

McGarvey said the study’s findings are noteworthy they show support for the economy during a period that included a recession. Pipeline construction jobs bolster America’s middle class, he said. McGarvey:

“We’re talking about average weekly earnings of almost $1,200 a week, to keep folks squarely in the middle class. We look forward, based on this study, to show the real impact of this industry on maintaining that floor.”

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Flawed System Lets Contractors Cheat Workers on Federal Building Jobs

AUG 21 2017, 4:58 AM ET
by MARYAM JAMEEL

This story was originally published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

Like many buildings of its vintage, the century-old headquarters of the United States General Services Administration was once lined with asbestos.

The hazardous mineral, used for fireproofing, filled nearly a half-million square feet of the building on F Street in downtown Washington. It took more than a hundred licensed workers almost a year to pry out the substance during a renovation that began in 2011. The workers would log nightly nine-hour shifts, spent mostly in air-tight spaces that reached 100 degrees.

The pay for this grueling task was dictated by the Davis-Bacon Act, a 1931 law that promises specific wages and benefits for construction work on government buildings and infrastructure. The compensation set by the U.S. Department of Labor under the act, based on location and job duties, is often higher than what’s offered on private-sector projects.

Three workers on the GSA job who spoke to the Center for Public Integrity said their employer didn’t tell them what they were owed under the law. They and 124 others filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division in 2011.

Investigators found in the workers’ favor, saying they should have earned $25.47 per hour including benefits, as skilled laborers, a specific category of employee under Davis-Bacon. Instead, their supervisors paid them $15.84 an hour and classified their work as general labor. Six years after the complaint was filed, the investigation remains open on appeal. The workers still haven’t gotten their back pay.

“You feel powerless,” said Luis Fonseca, one of the asbestos removal workers.

But in some ways, Fonseca and his former co-workers already have beaten the odds.

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Minnesota minimum wage set to rise with inflation in 2018

The minimum wage will rise by 15 cents to $9.65 per hour for most businesses around the state.

By Erin Golden Star Tribune
AUGUST 17, 2017 – 11:38PM

Minnesota’s minimum wage will increase next year by 15 cents to keep up with inflation, rising to $9.65 per hour for workers at many businesses across the state.

The increase, announced Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, is effective Jan. 1, 2018. It’s the result of a 2014 law that boosted the minimum wage to $9.50 and required the state to begin calculating automatic inflationary increases for each year, starting with 2018.

About 250,000 Minnesota workers earn less than $9.65 per hour. Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said in a statement that the wage bump is aimed at helping those residents build economic stability.

“Our state and nation was founded on the belief that hard work and opportunity should go hand in hand,” Smith said. “Raising the minimum wage will help make this value a reality for thousands of Minnesotans, many of them people of color and women with children.”
The new rate applies to workers at businesses with annual gross revenue of $500,000 or more. Employees at businesses with lower revenue, who now make $7.75 per hour, will see their minimum wage rise by 12 cents, to $7.87 per hour. That will also be the new training rate for workers younger than 20 for the first 90 days of employment, and for youth workers under age 18.

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North America’s Building Trades Unions Succeeds in Beating Back 3 Anti-Prevailing Wage Amendments

09/11/2017 – 3:47pm

As the U.S. House of Representatives was voting last week on appropriations bills to keep the federal government running, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) attempted to amend every piece of legislation to undo Davis-Bacon protections that ensure fair prevailing wages are paid on publicly funded construction projects.

Fortunately, King’s efforts to cut wages have been unsuccessful. Every Democratic member and 54 Republicans voted “no,” on all three of King’s amendments. Each vote on King’s three amendments failed 173-240, with 54 Republicans siding with all Democrats in voting “no.” Every member of the Massachusetts delegation voted “no” in support of fair wages for America’s building trades workers.

Prevailing wage standards are a minimum wage for skilled construction work on publicly funded projects – including bridges, roads, water projects, tunnels, pipelines, municipal buildings, courthouses, schools and libraries. It is a market determination based on government surveys of the average pay rate (wages, fringe benefits, training contributions) for each construction craft in a geographic area. These standards are intended not only promote a level playing field for local businesses, but to support the training programs needed to prepare local workers for careers in the skilled crafts.

Research consistently shows that prevailing wage standards lead to better economic and industry outcomes – including more local jobs, less poverty, and safer, more efficient and productive worksites – with no significant impact on total project costs.

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Federal lawmakers seek to crack down on wage theft

By Mark Gruenberg, Press Associates Union News Service
August 20, 2017

WASHINGTON

Saying too many bosses steal workers’ wages, congressional Democrats introduced legislation to crack down on wage theft, through stiff fines, enabling worker class action suits, and, in the worst cases, threats of criminal prosecution.

The measure is designed to particularly help low-wage workers, the lawmakers said. But overall, citing Economic Policy Institute data, they said employers steal at least $15 billion yearly from workers.

“Today, across the country, many people are putting in long hours on the job and working hard for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of their wages,” said Senate co-sponsor Ed Markey, D-Mass.

“While the vast majority of employers do the right thing and treat workers fairly, too many others force their workers to work off the clock, refuse to pay workers the minimum wage, deny workers overtime pay even after they work more than 40 hours a week, steal workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassify workers to avoid paying fair wages.

“This bill will strengthen fundamental protections to allow workers to get the money they have earned through hard work and it will crack down on the corporations that subject workers to these abuses. These steps will help ensure our country can work for all Americans, not just the wealthiest few, so our economy grows from the middle out, not the top down,” he added.

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Raise wages, boost economy: Letters (CA)

By Letters to the Editor
September 6, 2017 at 12:01 am

Re: “State’s not-so-affordable housing plans” [Opinion, Aug. 31]: Your editorial advocates cutting the pay of construction workers to pad the profits of housing developers. Finally, we have an honest summation of the argument of the housing industry against the prevailing wage: profits before people.

The editorial, however, lacked credibility as well as heart. In outlandish fashion, it cited the recent bought-and-paid-for study funded by the California Homebuilding Foundation to say that the prevailing wage would result in a 37 percent increase in housing costs. The organization, of course, is made up of some of the biggest contractors and real estate developers in the state. And just as your editorial acknowledged, when it comes to maximizing profits, they’d rather pay their poverty wage than a prevailing wage.

In that process, distorting the truth and the facts is no big deal, and the predicted 37 percent housing cost increase that you quoted in your editorial has no basis in reality. In fact, it is up to six times higher than some numbers that the study’s same authors put out in some of their own previous reports.

More credible research puts the added cost of construction related to the prevailing wage at around 3 percent. The increase is then easily made up by savings associated with the skilled-and-trained prevailing wage work forc

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Builders, construction workers settle fight over California wage theft bill (CA)

BY ALEXEI KOSEFF
SEPTEMBER 14, 2017 9:52 AM

A contentious proposal that would put California builders on the hook for wage theft violations by their subcontractors has advanced to Gov. Jerry Brown after a last-minute agreement between the author and opponents.

The Assembly on Wednesday sent to the governor’s desk Assembly Bill 1701, which would allow construction workers who have not been paid for a job to seek their back wages and benefits, with interest, from the general contractor, even if they did not work directly for that company on the project.

Both the building industry and construction trade unions lobbied heavily on the measure, by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, in the final weeks of session, plastering websites with digital advertisements, passing out fliers on the sidewalk outside the Capitol and setting up an electronic billboard across the street.

Unions argued that AB 1701 gives workers a legal remedy when subcontractors skip town or file for bankruptcy before paying employees, while the building industry warned that it could drive up the cost of construction and worsen California’s housing crisis by potentially forcing them to pay twice for labor.

Yet the measure received overwhelming support Wednesday when it came up for a vote in the Assembly, passing 52-13. Just before that, Thurmond said, he submitted a letter to the Legislature stating his intent to carry a follow-up bill. It will remove a section of AB 1701 that builders worried could be used to hold them liable for further monetary damages.

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It’s accountability time in the construction industry (CA)

Tony Thurmond’s Assembly Bill 1701 is a simple but powerful piece of legislation that will bring accountability to the private construction industry

By Robbie Hunter
This article was published on 08.17.17.

When it comes to protecting construction workers in the underground economy,the history of California has found that the buck stops . . . nowhere.

Most of the cheating, most of the rip-offs, most of the theft of workers’ wages takes place two or three rungs down from the general contractors at the top of the construction pyramid. There’s so much of it that the overwhelmed state Department of Industrial Relations can’t keep up on the enforcement end. The outcome: tens of thousands of construction and other blue-collar workers are denied hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost wages, while the state is shorted somewhere between $8.5 billion and $28 billion a year by employers who don’t pay their taxes.

It’s a situation studied to death by academicians while lawmakers have hesitated to throw up the stop sign.

Finally, somebody in Sacramento is doing something about it. Assemblyman Tony Thurmond has taken the lead, and if his colleagues in the Legislature follow it, we might soon have a mechanism to crack down on the cheating.

Thurmond, a Democrat from Richmond, is the author of Assembly Bill 1701, a simple but powerful piece of legislation that will bring accountability to the private construction industry. The bill maintains that if you are the general contractor on a construction project, and if your sub-contractors-or even their “sub-subs”-stiff a worker out of his or her pay, you are liable. End of story.

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Newly available wage theft data shows nearly 130 Colorado employers with violation (CO)

Adrian D. Garcia
August 24, 2017

The state of Colorado is starting to name companies that steal wages from their employees, ending decades of businesses being able to shield their identities under claims of trade secret protections.

Nearly 130 employers have been ordered to pay employees $547,780.90 in back pay and penalties since April 13. The companies were also ordered to pay the state another $170,750 in fines in connection with wage-law violations, according to the data shared Monday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The new transparency around wage theft violations comes after a Rocky Mountain PBS investigation into Colorado’s wage-theft secrecy in 2015 highlighting how “you can’t know if your favorite bar stiffs its servers” or “if your future employer cheats its workers” because a state law from 1915 allowed companies to keep their wage law violations from the public by claiming the information contained “trade secrets.”

In 2016, state Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and former state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City, both Democrats, attempted to change the law. They were unsuccessful.
This spring, Danielson tried again. She partnered with state Sen. John Cooke, a Greeley Republican, and ultimately got through the Wage Theft Transparency Act.

The act, signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in April, clarifies that wage law violations are not confidential and should be released to the public. The state still has the ability to withhold some information like an employer’s exact vacation policy if the company can successfully show why the info is a trade secret and shouldn’t be released to the public.

“These companies, in theory, without this new law could continually commit wage theft and continually cheat and steal from their employees,” Danielson said. “This is is the kind of legislation that will protect workers all across the state.”

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Prevailing wage: Good for workers, good for business (CT)

AUGUST 28, 2017
KIMBERLY GLASSMAN

Gov. Malloy and the legislature are considering deep cuts to municipal aid in order to rectify an over $3 billion budget deficit. Connecticut’s Conference of Municipalities (CCM) is rightfully concerned, and looking for other means to keep municipal budgets balanced. One of its main proposals is to raise the thresholds as to when our state’s prevailing wage law is triggered on public construction projects.

Connecticut’s current prevailing wage thresholds are $400,000 for new construction and $100,000 for renovations. If a project falls below that threshold, then workers only have to be paid the minimum wage. When CCM proposes an increase to the thresholds, they’re proposing that more construction workers be paid the minimum wage rather than the family sustaining prevailing wage.

The truth is CCM’s proposal will make Connecticut less competitive. Our neighboring states, Massachusetts and New York, have a zero threshold on prevailing wage, meaning that the wage protection is triggered on dollar one on public works projects. Rhode Island’s prevailing wage threshold is $1,000, which is less than the federal threshold of $2,000. And New Jersey’s threshold is $15,444. We don’t want to lose skilled workers to our surrounding states.

Opponents to prevailing wage perpetuate a misconception that the wage protection somehow only benefits union workers or union companies. But that is not true. Non-union contractors also perform work on publicly funded projects. And all construction workers, regardless of union affiliation, benefit from the prevailing wage law. Prevailing wage rates are based on surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor of what local contractors actually pay workers on public works projects in the state.

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