When the private sector does not address a major issue, the public sector will often step into the vacuum and do it. The construction industry has been slow to embrace the principles of social responsibility and sustainable value, focusing instead on whatever it takes to be lowest bidder. As a consequence of this, government is adopting policies that reshape the rules for the industry.

On Monday, October 6th, the Austin Community College Board of Trustees will consider a resolution addressing wages and working conditions on future construction projects included as part of a combined $386 million bond package. Bond packages for new construction typically enjoy broad and strong support from our industry, but the Austin AGC is troubled by certain provisions that will impact the day-to-day operations of companies performing the work.

What’s even more problematic is that the resolution appears to have been crafted without input from a broad range of the local construction community. This is especially puzzling when you consider that the owner in this case has the word “community” as part its official name. To be fair, ACC Trustees have a priority focus on local education, not construction, issues.    Read more » about Austin Community College Proposes New Construction Requirements, Fails to Consult Contractors

Texas is an economic engine unlike any other, but there are things that could put the brakes on our dynamic growth.  Congested highways and the unreasonably long commutes that go along with them have the potential to slow commerce in a way that promises to be detrimental to the Texas economic experience.  With over 1,000 people moving here each day, we’re told to expect as many as 18 million additional vehicles on our roads by the year 2040.  That’s 45 million cars and trucks.

When Governor Rick Perry first took over the central office at the Texas Capitol in 2000, the state had zero debt for roads.  One of Perry's enduring legacies – for better or worse – is that he embraced government debt to finance construction of highways.  Now the credit card is maxed out, and voters across the ideological spectrum are opposed to more toll roads.   Read more » about Texas Voters to Decide on Taking a Step Forward for Road Construction

Some employers mistakenly believe that wage and salary information can be kept confidential.  In my law practice, I occasionally see policies stating that employees may not discuss compensation with their co-workers.  Such policies are illegal.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) takes the position that discussing compensation and benefits is “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act.  An employer who tells employees not to discuss such matters is risking an unfair labor practice charge and sanctions by the NLRB.

Depending on the content, social media posts may be “protected concerted activity.”  Check with your employment lawyer before firing anyone for social media activity.  That Facebook post complaining about low wages, long hours or a bad boss may be legally protected.

There is a new development for federal contractors.  Earlier this year President Obama signed an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from taking adverse action against employees or applicants for discussing compensation.  The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) just issued proposed regulations and we are in the comment period: visit their website to read the proposed rule and add your comments.   Read more » about Compensation Information is Not Confidential

President Obama over the weekend backed away from his own timeline on executive action for immigration policy, something that's been a top concern for construction and other industries that find it difficult to find a sufficient number of authorized workers.

In the 3½-minute video below from NBC’s Meet the Press, Obama blamed the delay on the shifting politics of the issue brought on by the crisis along the Texas-Mexico border.  That’s after NBC’s Chuck Todd pressed the president on whether he is dragging his feet because Democratic senators in Republican states fear a backlash at the polls in November:

“‘The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,’ Obama said.  ‘I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy.’”   Read more » about The Trades Go Wanting for Workers While Obama Stalls on Immigration [VIDEO]

Because of an absence of federal action on the problem of rampant worker misclassification in construction, we continue to track the progress of states across the nation that are trying to deal with what's been called “a cancer” in the industry.  Lawmakers in Minnesota have gotten particularly aggressive, pushing a registry for subcontractors that can be easily checked and then revoking licenses of contractors who don't comply.

Via Jonathan Barnes at the Engineering News-Record:

“After some success with the new effort, the Minnesota legislature recently extended the state's Contractor Registration Pilot Program for another year, saving it from expiring on June 30 as it was set to do, and extending its life until at least June 30, 2015.   Read more » about Minnesota Misclassification Crackdown Gets Results

The following article was originally published in the Houston Chronicle.  Reprinted with permission.

Trade is at the very heart of economic success in Texas.  Every year, Texas companies export hundreds of billions of dollars in goods and services to foreign markets.  In fact, Texas has ranked as the nation's number one exporting state for 12 years in a row.  Trade funnels hundreds of billions of dollars back home to support Texas jobs, families, and our state's much-envied economic might.  But for all of our exporting success in Texas, federal trade policies are holding the whole country back from its economic potential.  It's critical that Congress act quickly to expand our foreign trade if we hope to get our national economy back on track again.

The positive economic impact of trade is undeniable, for Texas and for the United States.  Here in Texas, of our total annual $1.4 trillion Gross State Product, or GSP, more than $250 billion comes from exports.   Read more » about Expand Trade, Expand the Economy

Amid the chaos in Congress and the humanitarian crisis on the Texas-Mexico border, construction executives from the Lone Star State traveled to the White House this past week to urge President Barack Obama to be smart about any executive action he might take to address longstanding challenges in immigration policy.

Their message to top administration officials was that it would be preferable for Congress to pass legislation on the issue.  But in the absence of that – and seeing no evidence that the US House will act – the Republican businessmen from Texas would be okay with an executive order from the Democratic president allowing for millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States as long as they can pass a background check, are identified, and taxed.  As envisioned, this would amount to an expansion of the president’s controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.  That executive action, as you may be aware, puts deportations on hold for two years for young immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.  Those waivers are renewable.

Houston construction executives Stan Marek and Gregg Reyes, along with immigration attorney Beto Cardenas, met late Friday with Obama senior advisers Cecilia Munoz and Valerie Jarrett to talk about what might happen next as the administration grapples with immigration policy.   Read more » about Texas Construction Executives Press the White House on Immigration Reform

The following is excerpted from an article by Ulf Wolf which was originally published in Construction Dimensions, a monthly publication by the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry.  Reprinted with permission.

You find yourself underbid by 30 percent.

The contractor in question swears on a stack of Bibles that all of his labor is legal and documented and that he, as required by law, pays payroll tax and workers’ comp for all of his crew just like everybody else (all the while his nose grows faster and longer than Pinocchio’s ever did).

Meanwhile, the general contractor has a complicated job to get done and may be unaware of any violations on his job site (or he may look the other way) while the owner – well, the owner doesn’t really want to be bothered with “details.”   Read more » about Immigration Reform and the Shadow Economy