Infrastructure Bill Offers Telecommunications Unions a $43 Billion Boon

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The part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill dedicated to distributing $42.5 billion in broadband funds would give preference to companies with a record of following labor and employment laws—a requirement that, practically speaking, could give an advantage to professionalized union workforces over the constellation of subcontractors that power the telecommunications industry. Under the Senate-passed legislation, which the House could vote on this week, groups that receive federal money for broadband work—including state and local governments and nonprofits—would have to consider a company’s “demonstrated record of and plans to be in compliance with federal labor and employment laws” before awarding money for a specific project. Grantees would also be expected to prioritize three other factors: the speed of the proposed broadband service, how fast the project can be completed, and whether it’s in a high-poverty, underserved area. Companies with well-trained union workforces would likely have an easier time complying with the new federal requirements, giving them an edge in the bidding process. That has long been true for construction unions, which tend to negotiate competitive pay rates that comply with wage requirements on federal projects. Some unions predict the labor requirements could deter large telecommunications companies from seeking federal dollars for broadband expansion, while others close to the industry say the requirements could prove difficult to enforce.

Infrastructure Bill Offers Telecom Unions a $43 Billion Boon