AGC IS COMPRISED OF 26,000 MEMBER FIRMS. THAT’S ONE HECK OF A “BUILDING” BLOC FOR THE 2014 CONGRESSIONAL RACES.
BY AMY DREW THOMPSON
This election cycle, rather than focus on the myriad shifts in the political climate, AGC Chief Executive Officer Stephen Sandherr instead lasers in on what he says hasn’t changed, most notably the deadlock between Congress and the administration.
“If anything there’s been even further polarization of the parties,” he says, “and a complete inability to accomplish big-ticket items. As a consequence, there has been an accelerated regulatory agenda from the administration.”
As was the case during the 2012 election, Sandherr notes, overreach is rife and still pings as a primary concern on the AGC’s radar. Fortunately, the recipe for avoiding potentially worrisome regulation – environmental, labor and otherwise, however hasn’t changed, either.
All it will take to tip the scales in the industry’s favor, he says, is member education, involvement and above all – action.
From redefining our scope of the nation’s bordering waters to an increase in lead paint regulations, Sandherr says members should find the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) present agenda worrisome.
“The expansion of lead paint rules will have a costly impact on the renovation of public buildings,” he explains, “and the possible imposition of an e-reporting rule (he likens this procedure to track reporting) will be a headache for contractors.”
Sandherr says the EPA is also looking to regulate post-construction storm water runoff, “where even after the contractor has turned over the facility and has no control over how it is used or maintained, it could still be potentially liable for any runoff issues.”
Meanwhile, in the labor arena, “you could be looking at e-reporting rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, at the silica rule – which would try to establish a threshold for exposure that is simply unattainable. Not to mention additional costly requirements for contractors. And proposed new rules from the Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board may very well make it easier for unions to organize….”
Overall, he notes, more oversight is key.
“Over the last 30 or 40 years, we’ve gotten into a situation where Congress enacts broad legislation with little detail. We need more limitations on the scope of what regulatory agencies can do to make sure they’re not legislating without Congressional authority.”
Immigration reform figures in the mix, as well. And though Sandherr notes that border security is essential, AGC would like to see something that addresses its workforce needs. “We have shortages in this country,” he says emphatically.
“We’ve been looking for reform that permits contractors to rely on a source of labor that is here legally and then – in saying that some of these folks may have come here illegally – they need a way to earn a conditional, probationary and temporary status so they can continue to work here. Not only do they have skills useful for our industry, some have been trained by our own members. There needs to be a pathway for people working in our industry to gain some type of legal status.”
The biggest prize of the 2014 cycle is control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win the majority.
“Political pundits and prognosticators are predicting a shake-up where Republicans take control,” says David Ashinoff, director of PAC and advocacy for AGC. “They simply have the mathematical advantage. They’ve also managed to recruit top candidates who are less prone to making major mistakes on the campaign trail.”
At press time, the GOP was expected to pick up Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. “The seats are in states where Gov. Mitt Romney handily beat President Obama,” Ashinoff explains. If the wins happen, the party will look to Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina.
Additionally, he notes, there has been a major push within the greater business community. “They’re becoming more involved in the primary process. We’ve seen a lot of groups who wouldn’t normally endorse or support campaigns early in the nominating process now do so.”
Even with the predictions favoring a Congressional takeover, Ashinoff admits the time between now and November amounts to a political eternity. “Anything can happen. One candidate could say something, do something, and it can completely turn the race over.”
It’s not surprising. And if there’s a lesson to be learned in the wake of some recent election shake-ups, perhaps most notably the stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, says Sandherr, “it’s that politicians ignore their constituents at their peril.”
THE APPROACH: CONSTRUCTION VOTES & THE AGC PAC
Cantor’s colleagues are doubtless taking note as their own jobs come up for renewal. And while the AGC’s lobbying efforts are an ongoing daily – the association employs roughly 30 full-time employees in Washington for precisely this reason – the Virginia election is solid proof that the only thing necessary to beat even the most highly funded campaigns is showing up at the polls.
Deployed back in 2012, ConstructionVotes.org is the industry’s own brand of “Rock the Vote,” a campaign to register members, tell them where they can vote and educate them about candidates and pertinent issues.
“Voting in elections is critically important, but even more so the business community,” says Ashinoff. “We need members of our industry to show up on Election Day and so we wanted to create a platform which helps member companies provide the necessary information to their employees, friends and families. Essentially, it’s a one-stop shop in trying to get out the vote for AGC.”
Back in 2012, the brand-new site had some 7,000 unique visitors in the month leading up to the election. “We expect those numbers to be up this year,” says Ashinoff, who recently oversaw the site’s redesign. “It’s very quick and easy…. And also a resource for AGC member companies. It provides companies with a guide to help encourage employees to participate in the political process and vote on Election Day. In fact, we’ve made it very simple for our members to navigate and download resources.”
Non-partisan template language is available to create everything from posters to social-media posts (#constructionvote is the Twitter hashtag, for example) to make it simple for companies to drive employees to the polls on November 4. “It’s completely unbiased,” Ashinoff notes.
And high in demand.
According to research from the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), most workers want information from their employers about candidates, issues and elections and consider their employers the single most-trusted source of this information. Ashinoff says the stats should put AGC member companies at ease.
“This survey shows no reason for there to be any concerns that employer communication with employees on political issues could adversely affect voting behavior. In fact, more than 25 percent of respondents said that employer-provided information makes them more likely to vote and provides useful information … [ConstructionVotes.org] resources help facilitate a dialogue between our member company executives and company employees.”
While the revamped site serves as a useful tool that AGC places directly into members’ hands, its political action committee (PAC) remains vigilant in our nation’s capital.
“Our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. regularly make decisions that impact our member companies and their bottom lines,” says Ashinoff. “These decisions are sometimes helpful – like the repeal of 3 percent withholding measure. But more often than not, they can hinder growth, as we have seen with the passage of Obamacare, the failure to address our broken immigration system and Washington’s reluctance to address our growing infrastructure maintenance backlog.”
As the leading association representing commercial construction, AGC of America, he notes, is the best way to get involved in shaping Washington’s agenda – and members can do so via the nonpartisan PAC, through which voluntary contributions are pooled.
“These support pro-construction candidates for election to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the White House … [people who] will help AGC advance key legislative priorities, including preserving stable tax rates and policies, stabilizing federal capital investment programs and fighting unreasonable and burdensome regulations.”
No effort, says Sandherr, is too small. A quick visit to ConstructionVotes.org allows users to punch in their zip code and find their district’s senator or congressperson. “They can send a quick email,” says Sandherr. “We fill out the whole thing for them so they can make their voice heard.”
Can something this simple really help? In fact, he says, it’s very important. “The last thing we want when we go into a member of Congress’ office about a specific issue is having him or her turn to a staffer and say, ‘Well, are we hearing from constituents about this?’ and have that person say, ‘no.’
Instead, AGC reps can walk into the office armed with the names and companies of those for whom a given issue looms large.
“When we walk in and say, ‘We have copies of 30 emails that were sent from your district, from the CEOs of 30 construction firms,’ that’s powerful. Extrapolate on that. How many employees work for these firms…?”
Do the math. That’s a lot of votes, a lot of pro-construction voices. “It maximizes the impact of our meetings,” says Sandherr. “And it takes less than a minute to do.”