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CT Construction Digest Tuesday March 30, 2021

Union eyes new jobs with Torrington school project 

Lance Reynolds   TORRINGTON — City residents believe the new Torrington Middle/High School could deliver more than a 21st-century education to students in grades 7-12.

The $159.6 million building, approved last November, could also bring the city “good paying jobs, secure benefits and family-sustaining wages” if the project’s building committee decides to enter a project labor agreement. That’s the message residents shared with the building committee last week.

A PLA is a collective bargaining agreement that guarantees construction projects are completed using union labor, while offering construction workers fringe benefits.

“It’s the only way to ensure resident requirements, resident participation and career opportunities for your residents,” said Joe Toner, executive director of Connecticut State Building Trades Council, which represents about 30,000 construction workers statewide.

Toner told the building committee that when his union is involved in a school construction project, it commits to offering students apprenticeship opportunities. His union also maintains frequent communication with school guidance counselors during and after construction, he said.

“When we get into a community, those relationships don’t end when the job is done,” Toner said. “We will continue to do what we need to do to make sure the folks up here are going to have an opportunity.”

Keri Hoehne, a mother of three students in the city’s public schools, volunteered on the project’s political action committee, Vote Yes New School Bright Future, leading up to last November’s successful referendum. She said the city needs to consider all aspects of entering a PLA. The City Council will determine whether a PLA is used for the project.

“If we are using Torrington and Connecticut taxpayer money, we should ensure we’re employing Torrington workers and we’re paying them family-sustaining wages and providing them with health insurance and retirement security,” Hoehne said. “A PLA guarantees taxpayer dollars will create good, local jobs for Torrington residents.”

The city is slated to receive an $85 million reimbursement from the state, lowering its share to $74.6 million. Construction of the targeted 284,295-square-foot building is scheduled to commence in spring 2022 and finish before the start of the 2024-25 school year.

Not entering a PLA would allow the building committee to find construction workers it feels are qualified for the project instead of relying on just union labor, said Christopher Fryxell, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Connecticut, a trade association serving construction professionals statewide.

“This isn’t a union versus non-union argument,” Fryxell said. “This is really a question of opportunity for some or opportunity for all.”

Building committee member Gary Eucalitto said he wants to ensure apprenticeship opportunities continue once the building is complete. He has familiarity with the Associated Builders and Contractors since he was a member of it.

“No offense, but you guys don’t offer apprenticeships,” Eucalitto said. “For Torrington, we are a union town when it comes to construction.”

In first week, Walsh talks about unions, jobsite inspectors, COVID-19 standard

Joe Bousquin  

 Shortly after being confirmed as secretary of labor on March 22, Marty Walsh highlighted a number of issues that he sees as critical priorities for the American workforce, including making sure workers feel safe on the job, revisiting the need for an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19, putting inspectors out in force on worksites, getting women back to work and rebuilding the middle class through union membership.

In the days following his swearing in, Walsh shared his thoughts on the issues he faces in his new role and emphasized his vision for the Department of Labor and OSHA.

"What we want to do is make sure we bring the confidence and the respect back to those workers who are working on behalf of the American people every single day. OSHA is a big part of it," Walsh told PBS's Judy Woodruff. "We are going to be hiring hundreds of new OSHA inspectors. We're going to get them trained up. We're going to get them out into the jobsites."

Dive Insight:

Walsh's comments came as President Joe Biden's administration vowed to focus on its $3 trillion Build Back Better infrastructure push, fresh off passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan earlier in March. While Walsh touted the importance of that legislation, he also carved out specific areas that he said were important to getting back to work, including issues important to contractors.

For example, while the American Rescue Plan extended $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefits through Sept. 6, Walsh said those payments aren't necessarily the best way to get people back to work. Many contractors experienced that early in the pandemic, when then-$600 supplemental weekly payments meant some workers earned more via unemployment benefits than at work.

"We can't continue to extend unemployment benefits and not to get our economy back up and going," Walsh told Woodruff, before highlighting his experience in the construction industry, and returning to his message of workers feeling safe on the job. "People need to be safe in their work site. I'm a former construction worker, and safety needs to be the No. 1 priority, not just in construction, but also all across the different industries all throughout our country."

ETS not dead yet

Along those lines, Walsh also left open the possibility of OSHA issuing an ETS for COVID-19. While President Biden gave the agency a March 15 deadline to consider the necessity for a uniform set of rules to combat the spread of the virus in the workplace, it didn't meet it, and Walsh said the issue was still on the table.

"I have another briefing today to talk about the emergency temporary standard, and then hopefully we'll have something we'll be all looking at some point real soon," Walsh told the Washington Post in an interview published March 24. "We're going to take our time to get it right."

Unions and the middle class

As an appointee of Biden, who has pledged himself to be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen," Walsh, a former labor organizer himself, highlighted his own affinity for unions.

"If you look at the decline of the middle class and you look at the decline of the labor movement, there's a correlation between the two of them," Walsh told PBS. "And I think that when you see more people joining unions and getting into them, you'll see more people in the middle class."

At the same time, when asked if the administration could help reverse the trend of declining union membership, he said it wasn't his job, or that of the administration, to build unions' member rolls.

"I don't necessarily think it's up to the administration or me to do that. It's about organized labor. That's their role and responsibility to do," Walsh told PBS. "But I do think the Labor Department has an opportunity to have a bigger role. There's an administration now in Washington that is labor-friendly."

Women returning to work

Another issue Walsh highlighted at multiple points in his public comments was funding for enhanced child care programs to help women get back to work. That was the focus of his comments Thursday as he the toured Bright Start Early Care & Preschool in Washington, D.C.

"As people go back to work, women are disproportionally impacted by the COVID crisis and having good childcare, this is great childcare, that's one of the reasons we came here," he said after walking around the facility and meeting employees, children and parents, according to The Hill.  

'We Seem To Be An Afterthought': East Windsor Gets Dealt Out Of Gaming Agreement

Frankie Graziano  East Windsor town officials want to know why the future of their casino project is being shoehorned into sports betting legislation.

The recent landmark gaming deal between the governor’s office and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations included a provision to halt construction of the proposed Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor.

The Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans formed a partnership a few years back to build a $300 million casino in East Windsor that was supposed to be the first in the state off tribal land and a direct challenge to MGM’s Springfield casino.

But now it might not happen. Jason Bowsza, East Windsor’s first selectman, sees the abandoning of this project as a “sweetener” for the state.

“We seem to be the afterthought of this whole discussion where, in conversations with the administration and conversations with each of the two tribes, what we get is no commitments about anything,” Bowsza said. “So, it’s very difficult to see a bright side for the town of East Windsor here.”

Gov. Ned Lamont always saw a sports betting deal as one part of what he’s called a “global gaming resolution.” Putting the East Windsor project on ice makes him less vulnerable to a lawsuit from MGM. But where do the people of East Windsor fit into this resolution?

“East Windsor as I understand was not a big piece of the negotiations that we’re working on here, but I know there’s some land -- we’ll see what the future of that is,” Lamont said recently. “But I care deeply about making sure that the town prospers going forward.”

The other big question is what happens to that prime piece of land, which is right off I-91.

“Holding that property undeveloped for an undetermined number of years moving forward is absolutely not in the best interest of the town of East Windsor,” Bowsza said.

The chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe said the way the deal is written, a casino could be built in East Windsor 10 years from now.

“Essentially, it’s a 15-year deal. At the end of that first 10 is when the restriction on East Windsor is lifted,” said Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. “And then, we would move forward at that point.”

James Gessner Jr., the chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, wouldn’t rule out something else going in there first.

“I don’t think it’s something that we’re against, but I think it’s something we can figure out for the town of East Windsor,” Gessner said.

As it stands now, the town is already down $50,000 in tax revenue it used to get with a closed-down Showcase Cinemas inhabiting the space. And then, there’s unrealized revenue, including an anticipated $5.5 million in property taxes the first five years the casino was supposed to be in business, along with $3 million in public safety dollars the tribes promised to give the town every year it was open.

It’s all serious dough for a town with a $40 million budget.

The Biden administration makes a swath of ocean between New York and New Jersey an offshore wind zone.

Lisa Friedman and

The Biden administration announced a plan on Monday to vastly expand the use of offshore wind power along the East Coast, aiming to tap a potentially huge source of renewable energy that has so far struggled to gain a foothold in the United States.

The plan would designate an area between Long Island and New Jersey as a priority offshore wind zone and sets a goal of installing 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines in coastal waters nationwide by 2030, generating enough clean electricity to power 10 million homes. To help meet that target, the administration said it would accelerate permitting for proposed wind projects off the Atlantic coast, offer $3 billion in federal loan guarantees for offshore wind projects and upgrade the nation’s ports to support wind construction.

The White House said on Monday that the plan would avoid 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The moves come as President Biden prepares an approximately $3 trillion economic recovery plan that will focus heavily on infrastructure to tackle climate change, an effort he has framed as a jobs initiative. Officials made a similar case on Monday, saying offshore wind deployment would directly create 44,000 new jobs, such as building and installing turbines, and indirectly create another 33,000.

“The president recognizes that a thriving offshore wind industry will drive new jobs and economic opportunity up and down the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico and in Pacific waters,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said during a briefing on Monday.

Republicans said they were skeptical of Mr. Biden’s promise of millions of “green jobs.” They have criticized his earlier moves to suspend new oil and gas leases and revoke permits for the Keystone XL pipeline as responsible for killing well-paying jobs in their states.

Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, called offshore wind a “new, untapped industry” that “will create pathways to the middle class for people from all backgrounds.”

Last month, the Biden administration took a key step in approving the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts — a project that had stagnated under the Trump administration. The proposal for 84 large turbines with 800 megawatts of electric generating capacity is slated to come online by 2023.

Vineyard Wind is one of 13 offshore wind projects proposed along the East Coast, and the Interior Department has estimated that as many as 2,000 turbines could be rotating in the Atlantic Ocean by 2030.

Democrats start preparing a path for Biden’s spending plans, but it will be a bumpy one.

Jim Tankersley and 

WASHINGTON — Senior Democrats on Monday proposed a tax increase that could partly finance President Biden’s plans to pour trillions of dollars into infrastructure and other new government programs, as party leaders weighed an aggressive strategy to force his spending proposals through Congress over unified Republican opposition.

The moves were the start of a complex effort by Mr. Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill to pave the way for another huge tranche of federal spending after the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that was enacted this month. The president is set to announce this week the details of his budget, including his much-anticipated infrastructure plan.

He is scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to describe the first half of a “Build Back Better” proposal that aides say will include a total of $3 trillion in new spending and up to an additional $1 trillion in tax credits and other incentives.

Yet with Republicans showing early opposition to such a large plan and some Democrats resisting key details, the proposals will be more difficult to enact than the pandemic aid package, which Democrats muscled through the House and Senate on party-line votes.

In the House, where Mr. Biden can currently afford to lose only eight votes, Representative Tom Suozzi, Democrat of New York, warned that he would not support the president’s plan unless it eliminated a rule that prevents taxpayers from deducting more than $10,000 in local and state taxes from their federal income taxes. He is one of a handful of House Democrats who are calling on the president to repeal the provision.

And in the Senate, where most major legislation requires 60 votes to advance, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, was exploring an unusual maneuver that could allow Democrats to once again use reconciliation — the fast-track budget process they used for the stimulus plan — to steer his spending plans through Congress in the next few months even if Republicans are unanimously opposed.

While an aide to Mr. Schumer said a final decision had not been made to pursue such a strategy, the prospect, discussed on the condition of anonymity, underscored the lengths to which Democrats were willing to go to push through Mr. Biden’s agenda.

The president’s initiatives will feature money for traditional infrastructure projects like rebuilding roads, bridges and water systems; spending to advance a transition to a lower-carbon energy system, like electric vehicle charging stations and the construction of energy-efficient buildings; investments in emerging industries like advanced batteries; education efforts like free community college and universal prekindergarten; and measures to help women work and earn more, like increased support for child care.

The proposals are expected to be partly offset by a wide range of tax increases on corporations and high earners.