As Inauguration Day approaches, you’re probably hearing a lot about proposed changes from President-Elect Joe Biden and his incoming administration. Biden and his team have been very open about plans to reverse certain policies enacted by President Donald Trump, including the construction of a border wall and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. Something that isn’t always in the headlines that might be on your mind is what the change in presidents will mean for the construction industry. Many are wondering if the Biden administration will seek to reverse regulations around the construction industry or tighten them as he takes office. Whether you are an investor, a builder, or in the concrete formwork ties market, you may wonder what changes could impact you and how.
An oft-cited example is an executive order signed by President Trump in the summer of 2020 that told agencies of the federal government to waive environmental regulations and take any other actions necessary in pursuit of streamlining and expediting infrastructure projects. Designed to encourage economic recovery and help the construction business adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, this order effectively removed responsibility for federal agencies to follow regulations established by the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act. Many have wondered if a Democratic administration will reverse these orders.
Anticipated Climate in 2021
According to Jimmy Christianson, the Vice President of Government Relations at the Associated General Contractors of America, a number of changes could take place immediately following Biden’s inauguration. Christianson says that one of the first things to occur will be a federal regulatory freeze, in which any proposals come to a halt. This would allow time for the new administration to set its priorities, which are likely to include new Department of Labor rules and guidelines surrounding who is an employee versus who is an independent contractor.
Ben Brubeck, the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Vice President of Regulatory, Labor, and State Affairs, said that he also thinks the National Labor Relations Boards’ joint-employer rule will receive attention quickly. This rule redefined joint-employer status and set out requirements for employer communication with unions, as well as created responsibility for unfair labor practices. It also limits joint-employer status to companies that share control of activities like wages and hiring.
Construction-Related Rules to Watch
There are a number of other items high on the radar of construction industry experts.
Overtime Rules – Under former President Barack Obama, the DOL proposed a raise in minimum salary from $23,600 to $47,476, meaning employees would have to be paid the higher amount to be exempt from overtime pay. The Trump administration lowered this number to $35,568, but Brubeck believes it may be raised again by a Biden cabinet.
Persuader Rule – This rule required employers to disclose attorney-client communications that related to labor union organization efforts. Implementation of this was blocked by a Texas court, leading to Trump’s Department of Labor rescinding the rule altogether. The Biden administration has claimed a much more positive view of unions and could look to reinstate this.
Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Act – Commonly known as the blacklisting rule, this required contractors who bid on federal construction projects above $500,000 to submit their history regarding labor compliance for a DOL review before they could be awarded a job. This was repeated under the Congressional Review Act in the early months of Trump’s presidency, meaning it technically can’t be brought forward again, but Biden could propose milder versions of the same rule.
In addition to these specific rules, Biden will have the power to issue executive orders and to fill cabinet positions that can impact these departments. Changes in who is in charge of enforcement and their position on the issues could have a big impact.
While we don’t know exactly what will transpire under a Biden presidency, you can expect at least some changes in the landscape of construction regulations. Many changes will come at a high, federal level and not impact your day to day work or your use of tools like concrete forms. Others may have big impacts, whether positive and negative, on your organization or role.
Ultimately, movement on infrastructure will be one of the most major items to watch out for especially as the Biden administration will need to push for an economic recovery.