Tudor Van Hampton
Construction in San Antonio bustled near the city’s convention center, where AGC members discussed immigration.
The Associated General Contractors of America could not have picked a more appropriate place to hold its annual meeting. San Antonio is inside a state that one member calls “ground zero” for immigration reform. Contractors last month debated in the Texas city how to integrate the nation’s roughly 12 million undocumented workers, from whom construction employs an estimated 25% of its labor force, without losing badly needed help.
As the March 21-24 meeting started winding down, few attendees noticed a bipartisan House bill that was introduced on March 22 by Congressmen Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Called “Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy” (STRIVE), the bill would step up border security, increase criminal penalties for aliens, set new fees and controls for temporary work visas and create a way for employers to verify status by the “improvement of security features” of existing Social Security cards.
Although the bill says it would “prohibit” the use of a national identification card, the American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against it, saying the bill “attacks privacy” by creating a national card “under the guise” of Social Security.
But U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, who spoke at the meeting, said that verifying status is key to future reform. “It’s very difficult to know what documents are legal. The idea is to give the employer the tools so the employer can help us enforce the law and at the same time allow us to hold the employer accountable,” he said. In an address to the nation last May, President Bush called for a “biometric” identification system, which AGC members generally have supported.
At first glance, the bill seems to protect employers. “We’re hopeful because it’s bipartisan,” said Jeffrey D. Shoaf, the trade group’s senior director of government affairs. “It’s a promising first start.”
Tudor Van Hampton
Gutierrez said that he was hopeful for reform soon. “I believe that we are going to get it done this year,” he said. “Thousands of jobs are not being filled. Without immigrants, we won’t have enough workers. And without workers, we won’t be able to grow our economy.” Later at AGC’s meeting, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that the government hire United Parcel Service to track immigrant workers. The audience cheered.
Contractors then turned to more mundane legal matters in a closed-door session where they looked at the latest draft of American Institute of Architects’ A201-1997 general conditions contract, up for revision this year.
Leading the seminar was J. William Ernstrom, general counsel for St. Louis-based Alberici Group, who said the revision presented “a number” of concerns that may inhibit AGC’s endorsement.
Operating under a cone of silence with AIA, Ernstrom declined to go into specifics. But another source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the draft could hold contractors liable for a third party’s site activities and force them to inspect work not in their contract scope. One AGC member exiting the session called the meeting “sad.”
AIA engaged AGC three years ago, notes Suzanne Harness, AIA’s document director and counsel. She adds that owner groups, which were inactive or nonexistent during the last document review, thought the 1997 revision was “skewed” in favor of contractors. “We are really trying to...put it more back into balance,” she says. AIA expects to publish in the fall.
Contractors, meanwhile, moved forward on a set of competing documents, as AGC approved 100 new forms developed with 18 other trade groups including owners, designers and sureties. “The AIA 201 documents are going to come very soon as a second choice to the consensus documents,” Ernstrom said. AGC expects them to be available in the fall.