President Trump continues to court construction unions, telling the North America’s Building Trades Unions annual legislative conference that he wants to rebuild infrastructure, streamline project permitting and reduce undocumented labor. Many of the estimated 2,500 attendees at the Washington, D.C., meeting welcomed Trump’s April 4 speech but wanted assurances the administration will leave intact Davis-Bacon Act prevailing-wage protections.
Trump said, “I have spent my life working side by side with American builders, and now you have a builder as your president.” He drew an ovation when he reiterated his push for a $1-trillion infrastructure program. “I’m calling on all Americans—Democrat, Republican and Independent—to take part in the great rebuilding of our country,” he said. Trump promised to speed up the project-approval process “so that long-delayed projects can finally move ahead.”
Addressing the gathering on April 3, NABTU President Sean McGarvey strongly countered criticism from “some commentators on the extreme Left” about union leaders’ and members’ meeting with Trump on Jan. 23, his first full working day in office.
Noting that union membership is split among Republicans, Democrats and Independents, McGarvey said the meeting addressed the infrastructure plan, clearly a key item to unions. He said Trump followed up on other subjects, signing directives the next day to advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. McGarvey declared, “You’re damned right we will attend that meeting because that’s what our job as building-trades leaders … requires.”
But McGarvey also said, “We were quite forceful with the president in stating our concerns that infrastructure investments must be coupled with strong community wage and benefit standards afforded under the Davis-Bacon Act.”
Further, McGarvey praised Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who, in his April 3 speech, warned of an “assault” in Congress on Davis-Bacon and project labor agreements, bedrock building-trades programs. Schumer drew long applause when he said, “They will change those laws … over my dead body.”
Schumer reminded attendees that, on Jan. 24, congressional Democrats proposed a $1-trillion, 10-year infrastructure plan, which would draw on only direct federal funds and all built “with union labor.”
Laborers’ union General President Terry O’Sullivan told ENR it was important for Trump to address the conference. “I think [it] speaks volumes about his respect for our unions and for what we do,” he says. Like many in construction, O’Sullivan says he is anxious to hear more details about the infrastructure plan.
The trades also want the administration’s pledge that wage requirements will remain in place. “The important part is the prevailing-wage protections of the Davis-Bacon Act,” says David Gray, business manager at operating engineers’ Local 181 in Kentucky. “We’ll be 100% on board with him if—and only if—he commits to prevailing wage.”
Tom Metzger, business manager at elevator constructors’ Local 7 in Baltimore, agrees, especially if Trump produces on infrastructure.
“If he supports labor, we’ll vote for him,” Metzger says. “We’ll be sure he stays in for eight years.”