August 9, 2022

A Union Plan for Financing Construction

Richard L. Trumka, president of the labor federation, will present the plan at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago as part of organized labor’s effort to get the federal government, banks and money managers to do more to issue bonds or create other mechanisms to finance infrastructure projects.

A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials said they planned to work with Deutsche Bank and other financial institutions in the hope of coming up with hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit large commercial buildings. Many building owners are hesitating to do such retrofits because they are highly leveraged and do not have the cash to make the investments. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. hopes its $10 billion will provide an incentive for banks and hedge funds to develop financing vehicles to make such projects happen.

“America’s construction workers need work and want to work,” Mr. Trumka will say, according to his prepared remarks, noting that unemployment is 16 percent in the industry. “Never in modern times has so much construction work needed to be done.”

A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials said they also hoped their plan would help persuade Congress to create a National Infrastructure Bank or a program similar to the expired Build America Bonds program, in which the federal government subsidized bonds issued by states and municipalities to finance bridges, airports or other infrastructure. While labor unions and many Democrats support such measures to create jobs, many Republicans oppose them because they will increase federal spending.

Mr. Trumka also will announce that labor unions plan to invest at least $20 million in the next year in energy-efficient retrofits of commercial, industrial and public buildings. That should not be difficult, federation officials have said, because union funds invested $97 million last year in energy retrofits for public housing.

Mr. Trumka also will say that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and building trades unions will work with community colleges and the government to train 40,000 new apprentices in specialty welding and other skills for energy-efficient projects. They will also seek to train 100,000 midcareer construction workers in new skills.

“The nation has over $2 trillion in infrastructure and social needs, and there is over $3 trillion in public sector pension funds,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and the leader of a group of public sector unions in the A.F.L.-C.I.O. that is studying the issue. “The question is, are there financially prudent ways to invest working men’s and women’s capital to create jobs and rebuild America’s infrastructure?”

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