Biden Unveils Infrastructure Plan with Heavy Focus on Organized Labor

On March 31, 2021, President Biden unveiled his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan (AJP), which comes on the heels of the enactment of last month’s $1.9 trillion COVID-recovery legislation, the American Rescue Plan.

The AJP calls for $650 billion in infrastructure projects relating to clean drinking water, high-speed broadband, and affordable housing, and $621 billion for transportation projects, including highways, bridges, roads, railroads, and public transit.  It also includes $400 billion for home and community-based care for elderly and disabled people, and $580 billion for research and development, workforce development, manufacturing, and small business.  The AJP would be paid for in part by raising the corporate tax rate and the global minimum tax.

While no details of the bill have been released, its public roll-out highlighted a number of items of direct interest to employers.

Foremost, the AJP calls on Congress to enact the “Protecting the Right to Organize” or PRO Act.  As previously discussed, the PRO Act would represent the most dramatic rewrite of federal labor law in decades, and would have significant consequences for both non-union and unionized employers.  The PRO Act has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a largely party-line vote.  It is now pending in the Senate, where under current filibuster rules 60 votes are needed for its approval.

The AJP also places a heavy emphasis on organized labor, demanding “that employers benefitting from these investments follow strong labor standards and remain neutral when their employees seek to organize a union and bargain collectively.”  It further urges Congress to tie funding under the bill to project labor agreements (PLAs). Inasmuch as only 13% of private sector employees are currently unionized, limiting jobs created by the bill to unionized employers could exclude a significant portion of the American workforce from those new positions.  Similarly, the use of PLAs and prevailing wage requirements is predicted to increase the cost of projects funded under the bill by up to 20%.  In short, the proposal is firmly in line with then-candidate Biden’s pledge to organized labor that he would be “the strongest labor president you’ve ever had.”

As noted, details of the package still need to be drafted, and if history is any guide, it is likely that some elements of what the president has called for in the AJP may be dropped, others added, and still others modified.  Moreover, given the historically narrow margins in both chambers of Congress, it is likely that a significant amount of deal-making to ensure passage will shape any final legislation.  Littler’s WPI will continue to keep readers apprised of significant developments.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.