This week, NLBMDA members, with their Federated Associations, are meeting with members of Congress and their staff to discuss several issues important to the lumber and building material (LBM) industry.
Traditionally, NLBMDA members fly to Washington, DC to participate in the annual Legislative Conference, a fast-paced event where members hear directly from policy experts and lawmakers, then flock to Capitol Hill to meet with members of congress, senators and their staff. This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NLBMDA adjusted the event to an entirely virtual experience. LBM Advocacy Week allows NLBMDA members to still connect with their policymakers and provide crucial insights into the LBM industry.
This year, NLBMDA is focusing on two primary issues: affordable housing, and COVID employer liability protections. Within the affordable housing “umbrella”, NLBMDA is advocating for specific provisions in any immigration reform package, concern over the Raise the Wage Act and issues around price volatility in softwood lumber. These issues are rooted in their impact on access to affordable housing and how these issues have a chance at being addressed in the current congress.
On softwood lumber, NLBMDA members are asking their members of congress to send a letter to the Department of Commerce on reengaging with Canada on a new softwood lumber agreement (SLA). The urgency to sign a new SLA is even greater given the dramatic volatility in lumber prices over the past year. This has caused the cost of building an average new single-family home to increase by more than $24,000 since mid-April 2020 according to the National Association of Home Builders standard estimates of lumber used to build the average home. Similarly, the cost of the average new multifamily unit has increased by $9,000 over the same period due to the surge in lumber prices. While not a true solution to the problem, entering into a new SLA will address the contributions that trade barriers have.
Another issue is the minimum wage. Legislation was recently introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to increase the federal minimum wage. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 (H.R. 603/S. 53) would gradually raise the federal minimum wage in annual increments from $7.25 to $15 by 2025. Thereafter, the federal minimum wage would be indexed to median wage growth. NLBMDA has serious concerns about the unintended consequences that would result from raising federal minimum wage, especially during this fragile period of economic recovery. A recent analysis conducted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) showed that the Raise the Wage Act would cost 1.4 million American jobs over the next four years. In addition, the analysis found that overall economic growth would be reduced and the price of goods would increase following the enactment of this law.
NLBMDA is also weighing on in immigration reform. An immigration solution is needed that protects the nation’s borders, includes a market-based visa program to fill workforce gaps in residential construction, and provides a workable employment verification system that includes appropriate protections for small businesses.
While NLBMDA believes that our nation’s immigration system is in critical need of reform, we are also concerned that policies could place an undue burden on employers and would expose them to significant liability by forcing them to certify the work eligibility of their employees without government-provided tools that ensure accuracy. Sanctions against employers should be reserved for intentional violations of the law, and employers should be provided adequate resources to assess their hiring practices and comply with all current and future requirements.
Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented immense and unprecedented challenges for America’s small businesses and their workers over the course of the last year. As the pandemic recovery continues, employers are facing the threat of unnecessary lawsuits related to COVID-19. NLBMDA strongly believes that negligent actors in society should be held liable for their actions during the pandemic.
However, employers that make good-faith efforts to comply with government mandates should not face the prospect of frivolous lawsuits that threaten the viability of their business and our nation’s economic recovery. NLBMDA members across the country have invested substantial resources to ensure their facilities are following the most recent COVID-19 health guidance issued by federal and state authorities.
The prospect of costly litigation could devastate small businesses that are just beginning to reopen their doors or have kept them open throughout the crisis. Past surveys have shown that many small businesses are one lawsuit away from closing for good. Absent a targeted safe harbor for those that work to follow applicable guidelines, the fear and uncertainty from boundless liability threatens to impede our country’s social and economic recovery. NLBMDA is supporting a targeted five-year employer liability protection for good-faith employers following health and safety regulations.
While LBM Advocacy Week is a shift in approach, the resilience of the LBM industry shows that the industry can be just as effective as we are when in-person at the Capitol.