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Questions About Labor Supply, Wages, Tax Breaks Surround Trump’s $1T Infrastructure Plan

Putting the shove in shovel-ready

Putting the shove in shovel-ready

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On its face, Donald Trump’s promise to invest one trillion dollars into our nation’s crumbling infrastructure looks like a good thing. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the the U.S. a D+ on infrastructure and decades of underfunding have left us in serious need of an overhaul. The ASCE estimates that it would take $3.6 trillion to bring everything up to snuff.

But a closer look at Trump’s plans raises concerns, the first of which is it will be a challenge to find enough skilled workers to fill the jobs:

Construction companies are already scrambling to fill open positions. Some 221,000 construction jobs were open in September, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is more than four times the number at the start of 2012.

Some two thirds of construction contractors report having a hard time finding skilled workers, according to a survey earlier this year by the Associated General Contractors, a trade group.

In states like Connecticut, officials have wondered publicly whether Trump’s plans will depress wages:

It’s happened before, says Lori Pelletier, president of the 200,000-member state AFL-CIO. She recalled that federal projects under the previous Republican president, George W. Bush, did not require contractors to pay employees the region’s so-called prevailing wage for federally financed projects.

“Even in states like ours where there is prevailing wage, it didn’t necessarily cover that work because it was federal dollars,” Pelletier recalled. “If Donald Trump is trying to bring back public-private partnerships we’re going to be going down a path that has problems.”

The threat of nationwide “right-to-work,” legislation that would disproportionately affect construction unions, throws another potentially damaging variable into the mix. Building trades unions are one of the few checks against the use of undocumented workers, which Trump has vowed to decimate, and are the main driver of wage and safety protections on construction sites:

David Roche, president of the Connecticut Building Trades Union, said he is concerned that Trump, with a reputation for hiring non-union workers for his own high-profile real estate projects, would attack trade unions when he reaches the White House in January.

[…] “If he makes a national right-to-work effort, it undercuts workers in other areas and would make Connecticut contractors uncompetitive” Roche said. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”


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