Wherever you stand on the health care reform issue, I’ll bet you’ve expressed at least one of these emotions in the past few months: anger, confusion, helplessness, trepidation, frustration, surprise, disappointment and incredulity. I’m sure many of you, in the spirit of Christmas, are making a list of politicians you would like to see kicked out of Congress because of their “pay for my vote” schemes, and checking it twice.

And just when you think things couldn’t get worse (or better, for that matter), a last-minute amendment appeared that changes the game for the construction industry.
Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-Ore.) added a provision, which requires construction firms employing as few as five workers to be subject to health care coverage fines, into the Manager’s Amendment to H.R. 3590, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The health care legislation generally exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees from the fines levied on those who cannot afford to provide their employees with the federal minimum standard of health insurance.

Now, how does this make the act better? By kicking an industry that is already down, as some of the national contractor associations say?
To right the ship and be fair to everybody, as the sub associations assert?

Response was exasperatingly quick.

Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America: “Unconcerned that construction has endured more pain than any other sector, supporters of the Senate health care bill appear poised to exclude the industry from thoughtful measures designed to protect small businesses. With construction unemployment already at 19.4%, nearly twice the national average and higher than any other category, the Senate’s decision couldn’t come at a worse time for contractors. It is impossible to understand the wisdom of singling out small, mostly family-owned construction firms even though the vast majority of them already provide comprehensive health insurance. If Washington was looking for a way to push more construction workers into unemployment lines, the late-night amendment to the health care ‘reform’ measure does just that.”

Associated Builders and Contractors President and CEO Kirk Pickerel:
“Excluding small construction firms from the small business exemptions in the healthcare bill is irresponsible and economically disastrous. At a time when our industry is facing the worst construction economy in decades, the last thing contractors need is vast new mandates from the federal government dictating to them how they will run their businesses.”
Here’s what Merkley has to say about this issue (taken from his website): “Level the Playing Field for Construction Companies: Senator Merkley’s amendment to this bill creates fair competition for construction firms. Specifically, it establishes that firms of five or more employees that don’t provide health care will participate in a shared responsibility provision, leveling the playing field in the competitive world of construction bidding. Organizations representing about two-thirds of the industry have endorsed it, including Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, National Electrical Contractors Association, Finishing Contractors Association, International Council of Employers of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and The Association of Union Contractors.”

The Merkley amendment basically requires construction industry employers with over $250,000 in payroll or more than five workers to provide employee health insurance or pay a penalty.

NECA followed up with a response commending the Merkley amendment, saying
“Construction employers who fail to provide health care for their workers should not gain a competitive advantage.”

So, I don’t know how all this is going to end up in the final-final bill, but let me know what you think.

Happy Holidays to all! Before I sign off for the New Year, check the home page in the next day or so to see a slideshow of the winning teams of this year’s Best of California events. The two events, in San Francisco and Long Beach earlier this month, attracted large crowds and were enthusiastically supported. Thanks to all the participants. We had a great lineup of winners this year and keep your projects in mind for next year’s program.