SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, says he fully expects President Trump to keep his promises to push a trillion-dollar infrastructure program and that he expects Congress to enact it by the end of the year.
He did not say, however, that all of the tens of thousands of jobs such a program would create would be union jobs.
McGarvey brushed aside criticism from some quarters in the labor and allied movements about his meeting with President Trump and three other building trades union leaders at the White House only three days after the inauguration of the new president.
“One thing for sure,” McGarvey said, “Like it or not, he’s the president of the United States.”
He predicted in an interview here during a break in last week’s meeting of the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council that the infrastructure bill will be passed by the end of the year after Congress “disposes of health care and after or with tax reform.”
McGarvey gave a thumbs up for the president’s plan and said his confidence that Trump will follow through is bolstered by the fact that, as he puts it, “Trump is on a mission to show that he is keeping his campaign promises.”
One of Trump’s big promises during the campaign was that he would invest heavily in infrastructure – roads, bridges, subways, railroads, tunnels, airports and retrofitting of buildings.
“Another reason I expect the legislation to pass,” McGarvey said, “is that polls show over 80 percent of the American people support the infrastructure plan.”
McGarvey was asked about Trump’s attacks on Mexican and Muslim immigrants, his support for right to work legislation, and his divisive approach to matters before and after his inauguration. “Trump says all kinds of things,” McGarvey said, “so we have to work to with him on getting the right thing done.”
He said the building trades leaders had raised with the administration the issue of opening up jobs in their trades to women and minorities.
“I had a conversation with Mr. Bannon [referring to Stephen Bannon, senior advisor to Trump] and the president about taking people of color and women and putting them in apprenticeship programs. President Trump understands the need for this,” McGarvey said.
McGarvey was asked also about concerns that the infrastructure program might be used to provide tax breaks to wealthy contractors who were already planning to build particular projects and concerns that primarily low-paying jobs might be created.
McGarvey brought up the Davis Bacon law, which guarantees that workers on federal construction projects anywhere in the country must be paid prevailing (not union) wages in that area. “Davis-Bacon will be in place on the projects,” he said. “The Republicans in the House don’t have the votes to kill it.”
Republicans have tried before to kill the law but too many of them, under pressure from constituents, have defected from their own party on the issue.
“Project labor agreements are also in place as part of an executive order,” McGarvey noted.
Project labor agreements are deals between contractors and unions that call for patterning wages and methods of settlement of disputes after union contracts. Contractors and workers strike up an agreement that remains in place at the worksite.
What McGarvey did not mention is that the current executive order on this matter was put in place by President Obama, not by President Trump and that PLA’s are in place on only a tiny minority of workplaces around the country.
McGarvey, who supports the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline and fracking for natural gas, was asked whether Trump could be trusted to keep his campaign promise to construct pipelines and other things with American made steel and U.S. sourced products.
“Sixty five percent of the Keystone Pipeline was already built and manufactured with steel from here in the U.S.,” he said. “President Trump though, was talking during his campaign about new steel. If the federal government has a role in the permitting process they (the Trump administration) will demand only domestically sourced production.”
There are sources that dispute McGarvey’s contention about the Keystone Pipeline being built with only U.S. Steel. An on-line article by CNN on March 3 and one by Fortune Magazine on March 4 contend that U.S. made steel is not being used.
Nevertheless, McGarvey said that events thus far are developing in a way that there can be confidence in Trump when he says he will use U.S. products in the infrastructure program.
“U.S. Steel,” McGarvey said, “has put in an $800 billion addition to make small-bore fracking pipe at its plant in Youngstown. Don’t forget, eight years ago no one even knew anything about fracking.”
A massive infrastructure program is important not just for job creation but for the nation as a whole, of course. The American Society of Civil Engineers concludes that the Trump program may actually be too small. The U.S., according to the engineers, has a 10-year infrastructure gap of $2 trillion – $3.6 trillion including roads, defective bridges, aging subways, faulty tunnels, air port runways and old buildings.
McGarvey said he is pleased that the Senate Democratic leader, Charles Schumer, backs the program and he says unions are ready to battle Republican opponents who may surface.
A group of these “Freedom Caucus” hard-line right-wing Republicans, led by Rep. Steve King, R, Iowa, is trying again to have Davis Bacon requirements removed. “But in the end he is not going to have the votes he needs to do that,” McGarvey said confidently.