60 Transportation Construction Associations Send Letter to Secretary of Transportation

In a May 13 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, 60 transportation construction and allied associations expressed continued opposition to mandated hiring preferences on federal-aid highway and transit projects (sometimes called “local hire”). Led by ARTBA and the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, the group noted potential compromises in worker safety, project cost increases, and retaliatory hiring restrictions could result from ending a longtime federal prohibition on these mandates.

 May 13, 2021 

The Honorable Pete Buttigieg 

Secretary of Transportation 

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE 

Washington, DC 20590 

Dear Secretary Buttigieg: 

We commend you and President Biden for your commitment to launching a much-needed and long-overdue renewal and revitalization of the nation’s infrastructure networks. A robustly funded and appropriately structured initiative has the potential to spur meaningful economic activity and attract bipartisan support. 

From first-hand experience, you and the president know pitting interests, communities, and individuals against one another in a legislative discussion is not a path to unity. In that regard, we urge your caution in considering modifications to the procurement of federal-aid transportation infrastructure projects. While some existing practices can certainly be improved and we are open to such a dialogue, we must not overlook the successes and benefits of existing procedures. 

Our associations and members share a particular concern about mandatory hiring preferences on federal-aid highway and transit projects. Longstanding federal policy has prohibited these mandates, and for good reason. The unintended consequences of this approach include the following: 

  • • Creating “winners and losers” in a state’s employment market. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, 90 percent of the value of all highway and street construction work in each state, on average, is performed by contractors located in that state. This means the vast majority of federal-aid highway funds already support employment of individuals residing in the state to which those funds are apportioned. Mandating project employment for individuals within narrower geographic boundaries will simply preclude other residents of that state from those opportunities. It may also cause multiple localities to adopt retaliatory hiring restrictions, further segmenting job opportunities. 
  • • Compromising safety on the job site. For the safety of the travelling public and construction workers, it is imperative that all project personnel are adequately trained and skilled in work zone safety practices, as well as other critical tasks. Highway and public transportation construction projects cannot be built anywhere and by anyone. Placing inexperienced workers in potentially hazardous work zones can undermine jobsite safety. However, geographic hiring mandates often require virtually immediate employment of favored individuals regardless of their training, and project-based mandates frequently result in only short-term employment. These realities conflict with the best practice of thorough, ongoing safety training – and long-term career building – for transportation construction personnel. 
  • • Increasing costs on projects. In the procurement process, contractors “price” their perception of risks on a particular project, which factor into their bids. More mandates result in higher bids. In a 2015 nationwide survey of transportation construction firms, 74 percent said they would likely add costs when bidding on a project that included a hiring mandate, due to related risk, training requirements, and potential financial penalties. Ultimately, higher costs result in fewer projects and job opportunities overall. 

We recognize—and fully endorse—the stated goals of hiring initiatives: creating and supporting employment opportunities through federal transportation investment. However, the best ways to ensure this result are by 1.) growing the transportation construction market through multi-year increases in that federal investment, 2.) working with the industry to fashion targeted hiring initiatives on a cooperative or incentive basis, and 3.) helping local communities provide career and technical education programs, exposing students to construction careers and teaching them essential craft skills. 

The transportation construction industry continues to have workforce needs. Our member-firms welcome anyone who is serious about joining their team and helping build projects safely and efficiently. 

While there is debate on what the focus of a federal infrastructure initiative should be, recent experience has shown strong bipartisan support for building and maintaining transportation infrastructure facilities to promote interstate commerce. In turn, this will create employment opportunities across the nation. We look forward to working with you to achieve these goals. 

Sincerely, 

American Road & Transportation Builders Association 

Associated General Contractors of America 

American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA) 

American Concrete Pipe Association 

Associated Equipment Distributors 

National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) 

National Ready Mixed Concrete Association 

National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association 

AGC of Metropolitan Washington DC 

AGC of Missouri 

AGC of South Dakota, Highway-Heavy-Utilities Chapter 

Alabama Road Builders Association 

Arizona Chapter Associated General Contractors 

Arizona Transportation Builders Association 

Associated General Contractors of California 

Associated General Contractors of Colorado 

Associated General Contractors Florida East Coast Chapter 

Associated General Contractors of Georgia 

Associated General Contractors of Iowa 

Associated General Contractors of Kentucky 

Associated General Contractors of Maine 

Associated General Contractors of Minnesota 

Associated General Contractors of Mississippi 

Associated General Contractors of New Hampshire 

Associated General Contractors of New York State (AGC NYS) 

Associated General Contractors of North Dakota 

Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia Chapter 

Associated General Contractors of Texas 

Associated General Contractors of Utah 

Associated General Contractors of Virginia 

Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin 

Associated General Contractors of Wyoming 

Associated Pennsylvania Constructors (APC) 

Association of Oklahoma General Contractors 

Carolinas AGC 

Colorado Contractors Association 

Construction Industries of Massachusetts 

Construction Industries of Rhode Island 

Contractors Association of West Virginia 

Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, Inc. 

General Contractors Association of New York 

Georgia Highway Contractors Association 

Indiana Constructors, Inc 

Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association 

Inland Northwest AGC 

Kansas Contractors Association 

Kentucky Association of Highway Contractors 

Long Island Contractors’ Association 

Maryland Transportation Builders & Materials Association 

Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association 

Mississippi Road Builders Association 

Montana Contractors Association 

Nebraska Chapter Associated General Contractors 

Nevada Chapter AGC 

Ohio Contractors Association (OCA) 

Southern California Contractors Association (SCCA) 

Tennessee Road Builders Association 

Utility & Transportation Contractors Association (UTCANJ) 

Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance 

Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association