For years, Infrastructure Week has been regarded with skepticism and disappointment, if not outright disdain and ridicule.
This year, however, there is a palpable sense of excitement and hope as we witness a paradigm shift in our approach to rebuilding America. The Biden-Harris administration has taken bold steps to prioritize infrastructure development, ushering in an era of progress and opportunity for American workers.
Less than 100 days into President Joe Biden’s term, Congress passed and Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan. This landmark piece of legislation deals largely with infrastructure and has provided crucial support to working families across the nation, not only helping keep them afloat during challenging times but also addressing their high costs of child care.
It’s also secured the pensions of millions of building trades members for the next half-century; despite significant opposition, Democrats rallied together to save the multi-employer pension system, demonstrating their commitment to the well-being of working-class Americans.
The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act eight months later has set the stage for a construction job boom and an economic recovery in the United States. This bipartisan bill, the most significant infrastructure investment in our history, paves the way for millions of well-paying jobs nationwide and a much-needed overhaul of our power grid, water pipes, ports, and roads, bridges, rail, and other transit infrastructure. By allocating funds to repair and modernize these essential systems, the Infrastructure Act kicks off a generational investment that will revitalize neglected communities and restore U.S. standing on the global stage.
North America’s Building Trades Unions has stood firmly behind this transformative legislation and commended lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who negotiated in good faith to deliver for the American people. By supporting the Davis-Bacon requirements in the Infrastructure Act, these lawmakers ensured that construction jobs will be performed to the highest standards of quality, with respect for labor rights, and with the utmost concern for worker safety.
It’s worth noting that to date, this law represents the largest application of Davis-Bacon — a crucial piece of pro-worker legislation from 1931 that established requirements for paying local prevailing wages on federal public works projects — on federal infrastructure spending: The Infrastructure Act covers approximately 90% of the programs and spending involved.
The Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to revitalizing American manufacturing is also evident in the CHIPS and Science acts. Those pieces of legislation aim to reinvigorate domestic manufacturing and strengthen supply chains, reducing our reliance on foreign countries for high-tech products. By bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, we not only bolster our economy but also ensure our national security and technological advancement.
Additionally, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) marks a significant milestone in combating climate change and driving clean energy innovation. This legislation, also passed during Biden’s tenure, will create millions of middle-class, family-sustaining jobs while making vital investments in clean energy infrastructure. Importantly, for the first time ever, the IRA expands the core labor standards of the building trades by requiring the use of registered apprentices and payment of prevailing wages on projects funded by federal clean-energy tax credits.
The restoration and strengthening of Davis-Bacon regulations are critical to ensuring strong labor standards in federal investments. In addition to the work chartered by the Infrastructure Act, prevailing wage protections are also in place for the CHIPS grant program and the IRA, further solidifying a commitment to fair compensation and high labor standards.
Federal investments in infrastructure must continue to prioritize labor standards — particularly prevailing wages — to help create middle-class-sustaining jobs and lift up underprivileged communities. The Biden-Harris administration has made it clear that it will work with partners who embrace these policies, play by the rules, and prioritize worker well-being over shortcuts.
Unlike previous presidencies, this administration has turned Infrastructure Week from empty rhetoric into tangible reality. It has delivered on the promise of good union jobs for American workers, instilling hope and restoring faith in the power of government to enact meaningful change. As we witness the resurgence of American manufacturing, the growth of clean energy jobs, and the prioritization of labor standards, we are building the future of America once again.
Infrastructure Week 2023 stands as a testament to the transformative potential of strong leadership and a commitment to the welfare of working families. Let us seize this moment and come together as a nation to rebuild and revitalize our built environment and to create a brighter tomorrow for all Americans. The future is within our grasp, and it is up to us to build a foundation that will carry us forward for generations of unionists to come.