Here is an update on policy and regulatory issues of vital interest to contractors and the union construction and maintenance industry.
Hopes for a major infrastructure investment package appear to be fading after President Trump walked out of a meeting with Congressional leaders last month. House and Senate Democratic leaders and the President had agreed to move forward on a $2 trillion infrastructure package this year at an earlier meeting. Not long after the initial meeting, however, it became clear that identifying the revenues to pay for this level of investment would be a major challenge.
Prior to the meeting, tension between the White House and Democrats escalated when Trump told congressional leadership that he wants his replacement for NAFTA passed before he will consider an infrastructure bill. Despite the White House's commitment to come up with a way to pay for the package, the President insisted Democratic leaders come to the meeting with their infrastructure priorities and how they proposed to pay for the investment. He also expressed frustration with the ongoing Congressional investigations. At this point, it does not appear an infrastructure package will come together.
Proposal to Undermine Registered Apprenticeships?
The Administration is expected to release a new rule overhauling the nation's apprenticeship and training system. The draft regulation is awaiting White House sign-off. One of the key aspects of the proposed system would be the establishment of the new "Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program" (IRAPs). These new programs are designed to work outside of the existing registered apprenticeship system and provide greater flexibility. It would also allow employers to design and certify their own federally assisted training programs with minimal government oversight.
This new approach has raised concerns with building trade unions and contributing employers - namely, that the new programs would lack sufficient government oversight and training standards and would ultimately undermine the current registered apprenticeship programs.
Department of Labor has issued guidance allowing for the establishment of the IRAPs. That guidance did not allow for the use of IRAPs in the construction industry and clearly stated that participants in IRAPs are not be considered apprentices under Davis-Bacon. It is widely reported that the Administration is reconsidering this construction exclusion in the proposed rule.
Bipartisan Legislation to Promote Registered Apprenticeships
Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) introduced bipartisan legislation to allow participants in registered apprenticeship programs to fund tools and equipment for the program out of a "529" college savings plan. H.R. 2679, the "529 Opening Paths to Invest in Our Nation's Students (529 OPTIONS) Act" authorizes individuals enrolled in a registered apprenticeship to use money from their 529 Education Savings account, tax-free, to pay for expenses associated with being an apprentice, including: books, supplies, and equipment; child care at a licensed day care center; transportation, and obtaining an industry certification, or other type of credential, in connection with such enrollment, attendance or completion of such program.