It’s an exciting time to be part of the construction industry. The last several months have been full of promising news, especially for union labor. The U.S. economy continues to show signs of strength, with employers hiring at a rate that hasn’t been seen since the early 2000s. This booming construction market has led to a shortage of skilled laborers and others tradespeople, resulting in even more demand for the half-a-million highly trained, experienced workers who make up the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
The demand for skilled labor is likely to increase even further as both parties in Congress call for major investments in our nation’s roads, bridges, airports and drinking water, rail and energy systems. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently testified in front of a House committee that any infrastructure plan sent to President Trump would include wage protections for construction workers. Ensuring that Davis-Bacon and state prevailing wage laws are a part of federal and state construction projects is a major priority for LIUNA. The Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) also supports these laws for another important reason – evidence shows that states with strong prevailing wage laws have fewer on-the-job fatalities. For more on the connection between prevailing wage laws and construction safety and health, read this month’s article, “Prevailing Wage Laws Strengthen Worker Safety.”
In other positive news, the Department of Labor recently announced $10.5 million in continued funding for the Susan Harwood Training Grant program. These grants, which are available to both unions and joint labor-management associations, have helped bring highway work zone safety training to more than 7,000 LIUNA members. Highway work zones can be one of the most dangerous jobs LIUNA members face, and this training has been invaluable in helping keep members safe while they build and repair our roads and bridges.
While the last few months have brought good news, there are several national issues that are presenting challenges for both employers and workers. The lack of clarity surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act is a growing concern. The health care system affects everyone on some level, from current and retired members to LIUNA’s health and welfare funds and signatory employers. Whether the Affordable Care Act stays in place or is eventually amended or replaced, U.S. health care coverage and its associated costs will continue to be one of the Fund’s key areas of focus for the remainder of 2017 and beyond.
Another health and safety issue facing both employers and workers is the ongoing contradiction between federal and state marijuana laws. Despite a growing number of states with medical or recreational marijuana laws, the drug remains illegal at the federal level. Even in states where marijuana is legal in some capacity, employers can still require workers to pass a drug test as a condition of employment. This month’s article, “The State of Marijuana in the U.S. in 2017,” discusses this complicated problem in more detail and gives recommendations that both labor and management can put to good use.
While issues that impact the health and safety of LIUNA members on and off the job are often complex, the LHSFNA recognizes that these problems are worth tackling head on. The Fund is here to help LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, health and welfare funds and signatory contractors find solutions that keep LIUNA members healthy, happy and working safely.