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OP-ED: Big industry goals for the Legislature’s short session

OP-ED: Big industry goals for the Legislature’s short session

SC2013_DJC_320x320This column originally appeared in The Daily Journal of Commerce in Buildings Bridges and Roads
By: Mike Salsgiver

Mike SalsgiverWith the Oregon Legislature’s “short” 2016 session rapidly approaching, Associated General Contractors’ major focus will be a “fix it” bill to remedy the mess that is the mandatory sick leave law. It went in effect on Jan. 1, and has proven complex and burdensome for the construction industry as well as Oregon’s business community at large. While concern for employees in many other industry sectors is valid, those in commercial construction should not be the target here.

Ours is an industry that pays high wages for highly skilled work. The continued increase in government mandates that interfere with the employer-employee relationship is harmful – not just in construction, but all business sectors. While AGC does not support mandatory paid sick leave, the passage of our “fix it” bill would ensure the least damage possible to our industry and our members by further defining “substantial equivalency” in the law and collectively bargained agreement and prevailing wage exemptions.

AGC is committed to the law’s goal of promoting a sustainable, healthy and productive workforce while ensuring that businesses operating in the state can continue to be economically sustainable, meet the demand for construction projects and bids, and provide thousands of jobs to Oregonians. We believe we already meet these goals. We hope the Legislature will let us continue doing so without having to further hurt ourselves in the process.

While leading the sick leave “fix it” fight, AGC will also be on alert for changes to Oregon’s workers’ compensation program. The Mahonia Hall reforms, as they came to be known, were passed during a special legislative session on May 7, 1990. Oregon’s workers’ compensation system has since become one of the most successful in the nation, with low costs for employers, improved workplace safety and innovative programs to help injured workers get back on the job.

It is our goal to remain vigilant about protecting a workers’ compensation system that works, and works well. There are only two legislators still serving who worked to put today’s system in place. That means we face an uphill battle of educating the growing number of freshman legislators about the importance of these rules to our industry. When bedrock systems are challenged, it is critical to remember that our workers’ compensation system is one of our state’s last remaining competitive advantages in terms of protecting and encouraging the business-friendly environment across the state.

As well as being on alert for any challenges to the workers’ comp system, AGC will continue to highlight the need for ongoing infrastructure investments in the form of a state-level transportation funding bill. Despite efforts by AGC and the broader business community to advocate for a transportation funding package during the 2015 session, the Oregon Legislature failed to deliver. The Washington Legislature passed a $16 billion transportation package, but we couldn’t find the votes to pass a package 45 times smaller. These in-state issues have halted the ability to get work into the pipeline, have further added to the nearly $12 billion backlog in work, and have even forced a number of contractors to close their doors or to look outside Oregon for work.

Investment in transportation infrastructure – in fact, any kind of public infrastructure – is a public duty. Finding resources to pay for transportation maintenance, modernization and operations is a fundamental obligation of government – arguably one of its most important obligations. The longer we wait, the more our transportation system will deteriorate, the more expensive the repairs will cost, and the longer it will take our industry’s highway and heavy civil sectors to fully recover.

Following the recent passage of the federal transportation bill (the FAST Act), AGC is hopeful that this Legislature will be able to see that essential investments in transportation are desperately needed across the state. At some point, there needs to be political will inside and outside government to face this problem and get major projects flowing again.

As the official start of the short legislative session approaches, we will continue to push an agenda that focuses on growing the economy and producing jobs while protecting the safety of our workers. Our industry has time and again demonstrated resilience in the face of incredibly difficult economic times. As we look to build the construction industry of the future, it is important to see how far we have come and the crucial investments that are needed to continue to move forward.

To continue building a strong economy, Oregon businesses need strong partners. Our elected officials have shown in the past that they are willing to work with us on issues of critical importance to the state’s future. We need that partnership to be strong once again.

For now, all eyes are on Feb. 1, when the 2016 Legislature convenes and begins to shape a growing and vibrant Oregon business climate of the future.

To view the column online, please click here (DJC subscription required).

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

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