The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 12, 2015

News Briefs

By The Building Tradesman

Fast Track fight moves on to U.S. House

WASHINGTON (PAI) – After an expected Senate loss on so-called presidential “fast-track” trade promotion authority, workers, unions and their allies are concentrating and intensifying attention on the GOP-run House, where the vote is much closer and up for grabs.

Facing off against them: The combined forces of President Barack Obama, corporate titans and the House GOP leadership.

The Senate voted 62-37 on May 22 to approve fast-track, which would let Obama and his successor jam through Congress legislation implementing so-called “free trade” pacts with limited debate, no changes, no worker rights, no environmental protections and on single up-or-down votes.  House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants to pass fast-track by June 30.

But workers and their environmental, community, religious, retiree and human rights allies have marshaled forces to lobby lawmakers to oppose fast-track, notably the most-dangerous “free trade” pact it would allow, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“Who wants to buy a pig in a poke?”  Bricklayers President James Boland asks of the TPP.  “If it’s such a great deal, tell us what’s in it. And if I go into a union hall and make an agreement” – a contract with management – “I need to be able to explain it.  If I couldn’t, I’d get thrown out at the next election,” Boland adds.

The TPP, like other trade pacts, has been negotiated in secret, and Obama says he needs fast-track to keep the secrecy and assure other nations that once the pact is signed, it stays as all the nations agreed.  Unions and their allies reply it’s not secret for companies, but only for the U.S. people and their lawmakers: Obama’s trade representative has 600 corporate officials and lobbyists “advising” him in the room during the talks.

The Senate’s fast-track vote “puts the powerful ahead of regular people,” Teamsters President Jim Hoffa declared.

Not much 'mo' for U.S. construction 

The Dodge Momentum Index for U.S. construction "has been basically flat, consistent with other measures highlighting sluggish economic conditions," according to a June 5 news release from Dodge Data & Analytics.

The Momentum Index is a monthly measure of the first (or initial) report for nonresidential building projects in planning, which have been shown to lead construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year.

The index rose for much of 2014, but not so much this year. Even so, the Index in May was still up 6.1 percent compared to the same month a year ago.

Several factors are expected to help the Index move beyond its current plateau and regain an upward track later in 2015, including further improvement by market fundamentals for commercial real estate and the increased funding support for construction projects coming from state and local governments.