Capitol Update – 09/27/2021
California unemployment claims rocket higher, worst in five months
The total number of claims is the highest the first-time jobless filings have reached since the week ending on April 24 — nearly five months ago — when jobless claims totaled 78,600 for that week, this news organization’s analysis of the Labor Department posts shows. George Avalos in the San Jose Mercury
Citing religious beliefs to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine could cost you your job
As more employers require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, more workers are finding religion. Or rather, “sincerely held religious beliefs” that, they say, prevent them from getting the shots. Jon Healey in the Los Angeles Times
Contractors react to upcoming federal vaccine mandates
Since President Joe Biden issued plans to mandate vaccines in some workplaces earlier this month, a number of construction companies are encouraging their employees to get vaccinated and are trying to figure out what the new rules mean for their workplace.
Biden announced on Sept. 9 that private employers with more than 100 employees will be required to either mandate vaccines or conduct weekly COVID-19 testing, while government employees and employees of government contractors will be required to get vaccinated, with no option for regular testing in lieu of vaccination. These policies are expected to affect over 100 million workers. DPR Construction, a California-based commercial contractor with over 9,000 employees, is gearing up to meet the new mandate, according to Jay Weisberger, communications leader at DPR. The company recently implemented a system where employees can share their vaccination documents with the human resources department. Company officials estimate that more than 50% of the workforce is vaccinated. EllisDon and PCL Construction, two of Canada’s largest general contractors, announced last week that they are implementing vaccination verification requirements. Both companies will require Canadian employees working at any location on company business to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 1. Unlike the Biden administration mandate on government employees, testing will be offered as an alternative to full immunization. While Associated Builders and Contractors encourages people in the construction industry to get vaccinated, the group has concerns about several “unresolved questions” related to the new COVID-19 vaccine policies, according to Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs. ABC officials plan to share these concerns with the Biden administration. Other contractor groups said Biden’s actions are too broad and would put undue burdens on firms that are already having a hard time finding workers. They are concerned that workers will leave their jobs rather than get vaccinated.
US infrastructure drive may end up short of workers
New jobs are touted as one major benefit of Congress’ infrastructure bill, but it’s already difficult to find workers for existing jobs in the sector. A study by the National League of Cities found that 30% of such positions are considered hard to fill, suggesting that “the workforce we currently have is not able to meet our country’s needs or ambitions,” says NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony. Full Story: Route Fifty
US outlook for Western water dims further
The outlook for the prolonged Western drought is more problematic than it has ever been, according to a report by the Bureau of Reclamation that points to the rapidly declining Colorado River and its first shortage. Low water levels that are projected to grow worse on Lakes Powell and Mead are also troubling, raising the prospect of further water cuts for the 40 million people who depend on these sources. Full Story: The Associated Press
US home construction up in Aug.
Multifamily building was particularly strong as US housing starts rose 3.9% last month from July and climbed 17.4% from August 2020, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the Census Bureau. Permit issuance for new homes also showed gains at 6% month over month and 13.5% from a year before. Full Story: MarketWatch (tiered subscription model)
Wildfire Survivors Urged to Hire Only Licensed Contractors for Repairs, Debris Clearing or Rebuilding
Contractors State License Board cautions consumers to check licenses and avoid being victimized by unlicensed individuals.
Devastating wildfires have destroyed thousands of structures in California and many survivors must now clear property and start the rebuilding process. The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) urges wildfire survivors to hire only California-licensed contractors to avoid being victimized by unlicensed persons and transient criminals. Additionally, wildfire debris removal should not be done without first reviewing federal and state options or before consulting local officials. More information is available on the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services website under “debris removal.” “Disasters bring out the very best in people, with strangers and neighbors helping each other,” said CSLB Registrar David Fogt. “Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals are drawn to these areas and try to take advantage of vulnerable home and business owners. Wildfire survivors need to be especially cautious about hiring reputable, licensed contractors to repair, rebuild, or clear property.” A CSLB-issued license is required for any construction job totaling $500 or more in labor and materials. Additionally, it is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area. Licensed contractors have met experience and testing requirements carry a license bond, passed a criminal background check and carry workers’ compensation insurance for employees. To help survivors, CSLB’s Disaster Help Center webpage offers publications and videos. These include an After a Disaster, Don’t Get Scammed brochure, and a Rebuilding After a Disaster video and fact sheet. All information is also available by calling CSLB’s Disaster Hotline, 800-962-1125, which is staffed Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by calling the automated assistance line at 800-321-CSLB (2752). “CSLB will aggressively seek those trying to take advantage of wildfire survivors by partnering with local and state agencies to conduct sweeps and undercover enforcement operations in disaster areas,” Fogt said.
California lawmakers withhold $4.2B from high-speed rail project
California legislators ended their 2021 session last week without releasing $4.2 billion in funds for the state’s high-speed rail project from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a move that could end up delaying the $100 billion project further if hard-to-find workers leave for other jobs during the funding gap. Gov. Gavin Newsom requested the funds in May, which were approved by voters via Proposition 1A in 2008, to finish construction in the Central Valley, kick off new work between Merced and Bakersfield, continue planning for the 520-mile line and position the project to compete for more federal infrastructure funds, according to his budget plan. But state legislators, led by Assembly Transportation Chair Laura Friedman and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, have argued for allocating the money to other urban transportation projects since the high-speed rail job has ballooned in costs and faced numerous delays. “What do you need $4 billion for this year, when they spend about a half a billion a year, and they have not provided us any real details about what the money would go toward this year?” Friedman said, according to Streetsblog California.
San Diego County issues RFP for “pumped hydro” project
The San Diego County Water Authority and the city of San Diego have issued a request for proposal seeking a full-service, multidisciplinary team to build and operate one of California’s biggest “pumped hydro” projects. The $1.5 billion San Vicente Energy Storage Facility would contain about 8,000 acre-feet of water and would connect to the San Vicente Reservoir via a tunnel system and an underground powerhouse.
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