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Industry readies for regulatory attitude adjustment under Trump

Troy Thompson, an Axley Brynelson attorney who represents construction contractors in labor and employment matters, says firms need to stay on top of new regulations. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Troy Thompson, an Axley Brynelson attorney who represents construction contractors in labor and employment matters, says firms need to stay on top of new regulations. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

It’s no secret that many in the construction industry are optimistic about what Donald Trump’s presidency could mean for them in the coming years, especially when it comes to the way his administration might handle labor regulations and related matters.

Yet, a Wisconsin construction-labor lawyer says contractors shouldn’t expect quick relief, and is recommending that they make sure they are prepared to come into compliance — even if they think the rules are likely to change soon.

It may seem hard to believe, but Trump was sworn in as president only about eight weeks ago. Since then, he and his fellow Republicans in Congress have been busy handing out new directives and introducing legislation to roll back much of what was enacted by his predecessor.

Many industry officials, for instance, praised the U.S. Senate for voting to reverse the Obama Administration’s “blacklisting” rule, which required contractors who plan to bid on federal contracts to first disclose any labor-law violations they’ve had in the past three years.

These actions, as well as Trump’s emphasis on trimming government regulations and adopting pro-business policies, has the industry hopeful that more regulations from the Obama years may be revisited or repealed.

Officials at the Associated Builders and Contractors, a group largely representing non-union shops, said the Department of Labor is likely in a “holding pattern” until a new secretary is confirmed.

However, they expect the department to take a different approach under the Trump Administration to regulating the construction industry.

“Associated Builders and Contractors is optimistic that under (Secretary of Labor nominee) Alexander Acosta the DOL will pivot from the government-knows-best attitude of the last eight years to a new approach that encourages feedback and insight from the business community,” Ben Brubeck, vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs with the ABC, said in a statement.

But Troy Thompson, a lawyer who represents construction contractors in labor and employment matters, cautioned employers to not be hasty.

Although he expects some shakeups in agencies like the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, any substantive changes will take time, he said.

In the meantime, firms need to stay on top of new regulations, which don’t stop at the various OSHA rules that were handed down in the Obama Administration’s final years.

“It can be a challenge for employers to stay on top of all changes at the state, local and federal levels, but ultimately they’re required to comply with the laws that apply to them,” Thompson said.

Even so, Thompson said he would be surprised if OSHA does not undergo at least a few changes.

He noted that OSHA officials have seen no need at times in recent years to warn employers before putting out press releases announcing that they’ve been cited for a violation.

“That’s fundamentally unfair,” he said, adding that he expects these trials in the “court of public opinion” to end.

Likewise, Thompson believes the new administration will review recent increases in OSHA penalties.

Last fall, federal officials raised OSHA penalties across the board by 78 percent, and made plans to adjust the amounts in accordance with inflation every year afterward.

The change brought the maximum penalty for serious violations from $7,000 to $12,741. A maximum penalty for a willful or repeated violation — previously capped at $70,000 — is now $126,749.

There are, of course, a number of other Obama Administration rules that the industry hopes will be subject to revision or full repeal.

Thompson said he doesn’t expect much to change when it comes to new rules meant to limit workers’ exposure to beryllium and silica. Yet, he suggested a new rule requiring employers to submit workplace injury and illness statistics to a public database may be revisited.

“There may be some interest in whether OSHA will move forward with its electronic record-keeping rule, which goes into effect this summer,” he said.

Thompson noted that OSHA can only go so far without undermining its mission to protect workers and others from workplace hazards.

“OSHA’s longstanding mission is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards,” he said.


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