September is coming to a close, and I have to say it’s been a pretty good month. Lots of great things have happened. The House passed legislation related to workforce development, the Senate passed Water Resources Development Act legislation, we have settled our class-action lawsuit with AT&T and the Denver Broncos are 3-0 and sit atop the AFC West.
Developing a qualified, skilled labor force for the future is one of NUCA’s top priorities. On Sept. 13, the House passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 5587) by a whopping 405-5 vote. The House bill modernizes and reforms the Carl D. Perkins Act, first enacted in 1984, to strengthen career and technical education in America’s high schools and vocational schools. The bill encourages businesses and in-demand industries to partner with high schools and vocational schools to ensure curriculum and training meet the needs of the workplace. While the bill was designed to impact a wide range of industries, the construction industry particularly will benefit from these training reforms because of the increase in demand for skilled labor and the increasing reliance on technology in the workplace. It is unclear whether the Senate will take action.
In even better news, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) on Sept. 15 by a vote of 95-3. This legislation reads like a NUCA and infrastructure industry wish list: $70 million in new secured loans through the WIFIA program that could finance up to $4.2 billion in new water infrastructure projects; $1.4 billion for drinking water infrastructure in disadvantaged communities; a new Water Infrastructure Trust Fund; and even a water infrastructure workforce development program for advanced training in utility construction. It goes without saying, but this is a BIG win for NUCA members due in large part to our advocacy activities.
The House introduced a separate version of WRDA in May that is much less desirable, but Congress’ need to pass government funding measures held up action in the House because the original measure did not include funding to address the drinking water emergency in Flint, Mich. When an amendment to include $170 million for Flint was approved by the House on Sept. 28, both WRDA and a Continuing Resolution, which will fund the government until early December, cleared their respective hurdles before Congress recessed until after the November election.
NUCA will be running a full-court press to maintain as much as possible of the Senate version during negotiations. The final outcome will set the foundation for funding for years to come, so I encourage keeping an eye out for Will Brown’s Political Insiders newsletter (join by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) for legislative updates and ways to have your voices heard by your lawmakers. If we all act in unison, there’s no way Congress can deny us.
Also in September, AT&T settled our class action lawsuit challenging its repair bills for damage from cable cuts. AT&T has agreed to pay up to $15 million in cash and to change its future billing practices. The settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal court in Florida, is valued at more than $38 million. NUCA and three contractors — James D. Hinson Electrical Contracting Co., Blythe Development Co. and Callaway Grading Inc. — sued AT&T in 2013, contending AT&T has for years improperly marked up the labor rates on its facility damage bills using a hidden “claims processing” charge. The lawsuit also argued that AT&T’s charges for “loss of use” and “loss of service” were improper and added hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars to many bills.
Further information is available at www.attrepairclaimlitigation.com. This is another big NUCA victory for our industry. Maybe, as one company suggested, we now turn our attention to Verizon. Not a bad idea.
Finally, Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. This is an important election year for us all. Please encourage your family, colleagues and employees to register to vote, and take the time to discuss the implications of this election on your business and our industry. It’s been wild so far, and all indications point to a wild finish. Make sure you get to the polls to vote.
NUCA Chairman of the Board
Underground Infrastructure Technologies